As President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken ponder how to entice the Palestinian Authority (PA) to negotiate with Israel, a far more significant problem is being ignored. The Biden team marched along, facilitating a transfer of money to the PA and reopening the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem, another Palestinian demand, without tangible reciprocity. But this will not reveal the elephant in the room: an inevitable, coming uprising by Hamas in the West Bank.
Palestinian Israelis refuse to acknowledge the dilemma they put Jewish Israelis in when they choose to align themselves with the enemies of the Jewish state.
In 2003 at the height of the Second Intifada, I tagged along with a group of American Conservative Rabbis who went to Israel to show solidarity with the Jewish state. We were brought to the King David Hotel to hear from then-foreign minister Shimon Peres, and the event was covered by Israeli television. During the Q&A, I asked Mr. Peres if there was a fifth column brewing in Israel among Israeli Arab citizens, “fifth column” being a term used for citizens who sympathize and support an external enemy.
Peres looked at me with an angry stare, and I will never forget what he said to me. “I do not like that expression. I do not like that term.” He then proceeded to march off the stage.
The point in telling this story is that for generations, Israeli leaders have not been willing to contemplate the possibility of a painful truth of what Palestinian Citizens of Israel (PCI) truly believe about living as citizens in the State of Israel. Suppose that the most Israel can offer PCIs (Israeli Arabs) – full rights, recognition of their Arab identity and economic empowerment, while simultaneously accepting the responsibilities of living as minority citizens in a Jewish state – doesn’t meet the minimum they can accept, namely the eradication of the Jewish nature of the State of Israel?
Too many PCIs and anti-Israel activists believe Judaism is only a religion, not a legitimate national movement of a people or a civilization. Despite having freedom of speech, religion and the press, and elected Muslim members in the Knesset, and being freer than any other Arabs in the region, Israel to them will never be a democracy so long as it retains the Jewish nature of the state and the Jewish right of return for Jews living in the Diaspora.
In 2018 I wrote an article titled, “What Do Palestinian Citizens of Israel Want?” This was based on a MEPIN/Keshet seminar I helped organize in which we met with Arab academics and school children and Israeli Arab mayors, and visited Arab colleges, teachers and human rights organizations. That was just the beginning. To deny that PCIs have faced discrimination in allocating government funding, infrastructure and employment opportunities would be to deny reality. As Yossi Klein Halevi said, “Palestinian Israelis have a profound sense of dislocation, humiliation and grievance going back to 1948. Palestinian Israelis are conflicted, as the country they reside in is at war” with their brothers over the Green Line.
But then I asked Palestinian Israelis, if all the economic inequities were magically erased, would they then accept living in a Jewish state assuming the responsibilities of minority citizens? None said yes, proving this is an existential, not an economic issue. They do not believe Israel ever had a right to be created on land that was once Islamic or was their ancestral home.
The current Gaza war between Israel and Hamas may not differ from the three previous military actions (2008, 2012 and 2014) between Israel and the terrorists in Gaza. Israel will not risk the lives of its soldiers or innocent civilians embedded within Hamas military assets in an attempt to replace Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and then having to take charge of civil services for the Gazan people. It will “mow the grass” and hopefully buy a few years of deterrence.
What is different about this war is that the Palestinian Arab street in the West Bank and Palestinian citizens of Israel are openly cheering on Hamas. Hamas told PCIs to “rise up” against “our enemy and yours.” And a not too insignificant number of Israeli Arab citizens responded by lynching Jews, burning synagogues and fomenting pogroms. This is of existential importance, especially when 21% of your population empathizes with an enemy who wants to end your existence. Far-right Jewish nationalists attacking Arabs in retaliation have fanned the flames of violence. They also need to be condemned and incarcerated – one standard of justice and the rule of law for all.
So does Israel have a civil war on its hands? Are the Abraham Accords in danger of collapsing because of the allegation that Israeli security entered al-Aqsa Mosque for no reason? Can’t the world see that Hamas has exploited a land dispute involving just a few Arab families to weaken the Palestinian Authority and prevent a groundbreaking possibility of an Israeli Arab party joining a coalition as a full stakeholder?
So, where do we go from here?
Palestinian Israelis complain about job discrimination because employers favor Israelis who served in the military. But when presented with the option of compulsory non-military civil service to match fellow Jewish citizens, leveling the playing field for employment opportunities, they overwhelmingly reject that option. There is almost no acknowledgment that they, too, have the responsibilities of citizenship.
You can’t complain you aren’t getting your fair share when you refuse to do compulsory civil service to match the time young Jewish citizens give to the nation. Palestinian Israelis refuse to acknowledge the dilemma they put Jewish Israelis in when they choose to align themselves with the enemies of the Jewish state.
Israeli Arab politicians elected to the Knesset, except for Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am party – who seemingly prioritized the PCIs he represents and who wants to work with the Israeli government – have bordered on treason for years. Mansour Abbas’s pragmatism is a significant reason that Hamas wanted to fight a war at this time, lest Arab citizens in Israel look towards a new path that could reconcile them with the Jewish majority.
The Middle East is in flux, and Israel may be facing one of the most critical tipping points in its history. How Israel deals with its Arab minority over the coming years may rival in importance the threat of 150,000 Hezbollah missiles and Iranian nuclear weapons capabilities. As Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, the internal Jewish-Arab violence is “no less dangerous than the Hamas rockets…. We must not win the Gaza battle and lose at home.”
If President Joe Biden changes or adjusts the Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—then he is obligated to bring it to Congress. This is not the wishful thinking of critics of the agreement; it is according to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) of 2015.
In May of 2015, Congress passed INARA, giving itself the right to review any future agreements or modifications reached regarding the Iran nuclear deal, in essence reserving the right to assess any changes made. Since it’s almost impossible to restore the deal intact since six years have passed since it was written, a return to the JCPOA promised by Biden means a new agreement. The administration’s strategy will be to ignore Congress, claiming that any changes will not be substantive, so INARA does not apply.
According to former Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker, writing in RealClearWorld, “The Act mandates congressional review—and provides for potential disapproval—of not just the JCPOA, but any “agreement related to the nuclear program of Iran … regardless of the form it takes … the Act (also) prohibits the extension of sanctions relief during the 30 days the law sets aside for congressional review of any nuclear agreement with Iran.”
Biden promised to rejoin the JCPOA, and lengthen and strengthen the unsigned agreement. Unfortunately, his Iran envoy Robert Malley has said that if Iran returns to full compliance, then they will immediately get sanctions relief. Does that mean removing all sanctions, including those for their egregious human-rights abuses, missile proliferation and counterterrorism? U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that no significant amendments will be added before rejoining the agreement. I don’t follow the administration’s logic—beginning negotiations with the wily Iranian regime by giving away all its leverage.
In response this month, Sens. James Risch (-Wis.) and Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) introduced legislation called the Iran Sanctions Relief Review Act of 2021 (S. 488) to address the administration’s contradictory approach and messaging. Risch said, “It’s increasingly clear that the Biden administration’s promises to ‘lengthen and strengthen’ the Iran nuclear deal are instead an attempt to re-enter the flawed 2015 JCPOA at any cost. … This bill would require Congress to approve any Biden administration effort to lift sanctions against the Iranian regime. The United States currently maintains a position of significant leverage with Iran because our sanctions are working. Given that reality, the administration should keep its promises to address the JCPOA’s looming sunsets, as well as Iran’s regional terrorism, ballistic-missile activity and wrongful imprisonment of Americans.”
And that is where INARA comes in. If Biden keeps his promise to be the anti-Trump, following the law he needs to go back to Congress before obligating America to trust the theocratic Islamic regime, which hid and lied about its nuclear program for decades. Like all recent executives of both parties, Biden will claim that foreign policy is the exclusive purview of the president. That is because the Senate has allowed presidents to run roughshod over its constitutional duties for decades. The Senate should speak up now—that includes members on both sides of the aisle. Will Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who voted against the deal the first time, speak up again and act? The JCPOA in 2015 should have been submitted to the Senate as a treaty, being the most consequential American foreign-policy agreement of the 21st century.
According to an article in Foreign Policy by Daniel Kutzer, Aaron Miller and Steven Simon, “Little constituency exists in Washington for returning to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran on precisely the same terms as before. Republicans and even some crucial Democrats oppose it.” If that is true, then the president is bound by law to send any updates or changes to Congress for review.
I received a request from a reader about what voters should “ask for” from Congress. First, don’t be fooled by rhetoric that claims we are all on the same page, agreeing that Iran should never get a nuclear weapon. That does not mean and is not the same as improving the JCPOA now. When Brett McGurk, Biden’s national security council coordinator for the Middle East, said this week concerning the United States and Israel’s goals regarding Iran, “there is no disagreement. … Iran can never get a nuclear weapon, period,” that is political doublespeak. It does not address that the JCPOA, which the administration has vowed to return to, still allows Iran to develop an industrial-size nuclear program in less than 10 years when its sunset provisions fully kick in.
The answer for pro-Israel Americans is to let the Democratic Majority for Israel, the Jewish Democratic Council and their state legislators know the JCPOA’s weaknesses are your No. 1 foreign-policy concern. Let them know you expect Biden to keep his word to strengthen and lengthen the deal, but to do it before rejoining a flawed JCPOA. And you want the Senate to be able to weigh in and review the modifications. Let them know that rhetoric alone without a fundamental change of the sunset provisions is not enough. The handwriting is already on the wall for a return to the old JCPOA. Now is the time to speak up.
Previously published in the Jerusalem Report. Written with Sarit Zehavi.
Does the US fully understand Iran’s grand designs for the Middle East?
The Iranian regime presents its long-term strategic plan to export the Islamic revolution as a religious duty. Establishing civilian communities and loyal fighters in surrounding lands to further its sphere of influence and exert control is an integral part of their plan.
The goal is to make these tribal communities financially dependent on the Islamic Republic while proselytizing Shi’ism and increasing the respect for their brand of Shi’ism in these vulnerable populations. Israel watched this strategy play out in Lebanon and is now seeing it implemented in Syria and Iraq.
In 2018, after Syria’s President Bashir Assad regained control of southern Syria with Iran and Russia’s help, Iran began cultivating and investing in the local Syrian population. It used a strategy that helped civic organizations along with economic investment. Iran planned to turn southern Syria into a dependent front line against Israel, mimicking the infrastructure and populace under Hezbollah’s control in Lebanon.
The research and educational think tank Alma (co-writer Sarit Zehavi is the founder and CEO) has uncovered civic foundations under Iranian control in Syria, receiving direct funding from Hezbollah and Iran. At the same time, their combatants are embedded within the civilian Sunni population.
According to Alma’s research, after the reconquest of southern Syria, there was a concerted effort to take over mosques and establish Hussainiyas (Shi’ite religious gathering sites). The goal was to ingratiate themselves with the population who would become dependent on Iran for all aspects of their economies, education, and religion.
The Iranian-controlled axis from Tehran to Beirut includes Shi’ite brethren, and co-opted Sunnis, Druze, and Alawites. Iran’s imperialistic ambition is always on the lookout for opportunities to embed itself within local populations to exert new influence. Whether it was the instability of the Arab Winter in 2011 or the chaos that followed in the Syrian civil war, Iran has a single-minded focus on perpetuating its revolutionary plans and dominating the Middle East and beyond.
To understand what is happening in Syria, you need to understand Lebanon. Since Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government with cabinet ministries, it allows them to transfer monies to themselves. The estimated amount of financial support Hezbollah sent to the Lebanese provinces of Tyre, Bint Jbeil, and Marjayoun in 2020 was twenty-two billion, one hundred thirty million Lebanese pounds for health, education, and social services. Unfortunately, there is little counterweight from the Lebanese government to oppose Iranian influence as it provides few public services to its people, especially in Hezbollah-dominated regions.
Iranian-controlled Hezbollah fills the void, providing the daily necessities, a terrorist organization masquerading as a social movement to create dependency and willing soldiers. Hezbollah is also the dominant political organization that effectively controls an impotent Lebanese government. Shockingly, there are still European nations that treat Hezbollah as a legitimate political entity, making a disingenuous moral distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wings.
The Achilles heel of American foreign policy is that it changes every four years with a presidential election. The US is profoundly disadvantaged in creating long-term planning to oppose Iranian influence. In contrast, authoritarian regimes like Iran, Turkey, and Russia can remain in place for decades, knowing they can strategize for the long term.
Today, Israel’s north is in the hands of the Iranians. Israel knows it, but the US doesn’t fully appreciate it, minimizing the Supreme Leader’s and his Revolutionary Guards’ apocalyptical words as hyperbole and rhetoric. The US incorrectly believes that sending one hundred forty million dollars a year to the Lebanese Armed Forces provides an effective counterweight to Hezbollah. When Iranian and Hezbollah leaders deliberately lie (taddiyah), it is part of a grand strategy to defeat the greater and lesser Satans – the US and Israel. What all American administrations since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 have in common is a difficult time fully comprehending the Iranian Twelver Shi’ite mindset that prioritizes Islamist imperial desires over its people’s well-being.
US Democratic Party administrations’ single-minded focus on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear deal) in dealing with Iran serves them poorly in understanding Iran’s goals. In particular, it distracts from what is likely to be the arena for the next major Middle East War on Israel’s northern border, with Iran calling the shots.
For decades, US Congress members have visited Kofi (café) Annan, a coffee shop at an old Israeli fortification on Mount Bental that looks into Syria’s Golan. In plain sight is the abandoned old city of Quneitra that seems just a stone’s throw away. They were told that this was Israel’s quietest border, at least until the start of the Syrian civil war. Today Iran has created and controls civilian life in the Quneitra, Daraa, and Suwayda districts of southern Syria, in plain sight of Cafe Annan. The civilian establishment solidifies the long-sought-after Shi’ite Crescent across the Middle East, an Islamist conduit for the transfer of precision-guided weapons systems and military personal, as part of an extended-range plan to destroy Israel.
In March 2021, Hezbollah chief Nasrallah looked directly into the camera and told the world that if we had “accurate (precision-guided) missile factories, we would tell everyone with “pride.” But “we don’t have anything of the kind.” On the contrary, Alma has overwhelming documentation of weapons depots, launching pads, and missile factories throughout Lebanon and Syria.
It should make everyone pause because they are embedded in civilian neighborhoods. Especially in Beirut, Hezbollah hides missile launching sites and rockets within heavily populated civilian areas. Using Wikimapia, an open-content collaborative mapping project site on the internet, Alma exposed rocket launching sites next to Al Rassoul Al Azam Hospital. Another production site for Iranian Fatah-110 missiles is located in the Ghobeiry neighborhood, near the Lebanese Ministry of Labor, another civilian facility. Prime Minister Netanyahu also exposed missile factories in the Alelichi neighborhood under four seven-story residential buildings’ housing foundations, next to a medical center and church. In the Shuifat area, a missile factory is hidden under civilian housing and is next to a mosque.
Can you imagine the international uproar if Israel, in retaliation for a Hezbollah attack against Israeli civilians, struck a mosque or apartment house from where the missiles were fired?
In January, Alma Research and Education Center published a connection between two military facilities and a Lebanese charity. The Islamic Shi’ite Waqf Committee in Burj al Barajneh is complicit in hiding Hezbollah’s Fatah 110 missile launch sites within Beirut. The Hussein Maktabi High School and the Burj al Barjneh-America Football Stadium are situated next to missile sites. Launchers and missiles were found not only next to the hospital but next to the Al Aytam petroleum facility, many restaurants, and the Ansar football (soccer) field.
The local Lebanese council members demanded the Lebanon Armed Forces investigate the use of a hospital by Hezbollah, but the LAF claimed there was nothing there. They are simply intimidated by Hezbollah. The local council members resigned in protest, not wanting to be blamed if another massive Beirut port explosion occurred under their watch.
Iran and Hezbollah have taken notice of Alma’s embarrassing exposés. The research center in Galilee is now in the Islamist’s crosshairs, literally. Hezbollah made public the exact coordinates of Alma’s research and educational facility in Galilee, where Congress members often visit. Alma has been cyber-at-tacked multiple times by Iran and its proxies.
This is what Hezbollah posted on its page: “Who is Alma? The Zionist Alma Center is an educational and research center dedicated to fabricating security lies on the northern borders of occupied Palestine and educating Zionist opinion-makers, research centers, academia, and others on how to make innocent civilians a military target in war.”
Nasrallah said, “Hezbollah points the finger of blame and repeated claims, that Alma is nothing more than a branch of the Israeli government.” In reality, Alma is independent and receives no funding from the IDF. Scapegoating to deflect your deficiencies is a tried and true formula of Islamist regimes. Facts are inconvenient problems when you have brainwashed those who have trusted you to protect them, and you not only fail to deliver but put them in harm’s way by using your people as human shields.
Why is Hezbollah taking this so seriously? In part, the information Alma exposes is damaging, as it justifies Israel’s repeated attacks to thwart the Iranian missile threat. But even more critical is that Hezbollah’s strength is that it receives the support of the Shiite population. If it loses the people’s help, its legitimacy could crumble. Exposing missiles and launchers next to schools, hospitals, residential neighborhoods, and sports facilities have struck a nerve with Hezbollah. They know that this is a line in the sand that the local population may not stand for as it purposely endangers their families and neighborhoods.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi has made clear that Hezbollah’s human shield strategy doesn’t grant Iran’s Hezbollah proxy immunity against future attacks. Israel will attack legitimate military targets as long as the military advantage outweighs the civilian loss. And yes, this is according to international law. In response, Nasrallah has said there is no difference between Israeli civilians and soldiers, an old story first told by the Palestinians to justify terrorist attacks on Israeli innocents.
Hezbollah and Iran are banking on winning a propaganda war against Israel. The global community would judge Israel harshly if more Lebanese are killed than Israeli civilians, a cynical battle of moral equivalence.
In a future Israeli northern war, Iranian-controlled militias that have partially withdrawn from Syria could quickly return to Israel’s Golan border in great numbers if the border gets hot. Missiles could fly this time from not only Lebanon but Syria, Iraq, and even Yemen.
Israel knows it will have to strike fast before the diplomatic fallout constrains its efforts, as the Israeli people who will suffer terribly will demand an overwhelming response, knowing the Lebanese and Syrian human shields will be paying the price.
Israel is worried that if the US rejoins the JCPOA, sanctions relief will directly flow to Iran’s proxies. That will increase the chance for war. The Biden administration should hold fast to sanctions no matter how immovable the Iranians are on the JCPOA, especially if they want to minimize the chances for a northern Israeli war with Iran and its proxies. At the very least, the sanctions against Iran for missiles and terror will be maintained.
How did we reach a point where America’s most important ally in the Middle East is forced to deal with Russia if it wants to act against Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militias in Lebanon and Syria? Today, all of the Middle East’s major players, from Iran to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Israel, know that Russia is the “go-to mediator” that has relations across the region’s ideological spectrum and can successfully navigate between opposing sides.
As Jonathan Spyer wrote in the Jerusalem Post, Russia “maintains open channels …with the main players …which the United States has chosen through weariness or other priorities to keep absent. … [Russia is] comfortable in the environment of frozen conflicts and divided countries. … Under Biden [the U.S.] shows no signs of wanting to come roaring back to major commitments in the region.”
America has outsourced its foreign policy in the Middle East to Russia, which has forced Israel to change its approach to its most imminent threat from its northern Iranian front in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. With American financial help for its anti-missile systems and Israel’s essential intelligence-gathering to advance American national security interests, the U.S. and Israel are indispensable allies. Beyond that, there is little America can do, or is willing to do, since it has decided not to be an active player in the Levant.
The relationship between Israel and Russian President Vladimir Putin is a complex cat-and-mouse game, in which Russia winks and allows Israel to strike its erstwhile allies — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Iranian-controlled militias. Yet, Russian interests demand that it also keeps those entities in control of Syria and Lebanon to solidify the crucial gains it attained by supporting the Syrian civil war’s winning side. Russia’s Syria victory allowed it to expand and upgrade its Tartus seaport on the Mediterranean Sea, a warm water port that expands its regional influence toward Europe. Add to that its upgraded Khmeimim Air Base near the Syrian city of Latakia, and Russia is as much a victor as Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
According to the former head of research for the Israel Defense Force Military Intelligence Division, retired Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, “Everyone understands that Israel isn’t acting against the Syrian regime [as long as it is not] doing anything that jeopardizes Russian interests. Russia appears to be giving Israel a free hand against game-changing technology transfers from Iran, as long as it plays by its rules.”
How did Russia become the most influential force in the region?
The die was cast nearly 10 years ago when former President Obama allowed his chemical weapons “red line” to be crossed, choosing not to militarily respond to Assad’s use of sarin gas that killed 1,400 civilians. Instead, Obama chose to abandon Syria and turn over the removal of chemical weapons to Putin, who was more than willing to accept the invitation as a path to becoming the dominant power in the Levant. The Obama administration apparently was convinced that turning Syria over to the Russians would be analogous to America’s experience with Vietnam. Russia thanked Obama and immediately proceeded to change the Syrian war in favor of Iran and Syria.
According to The Atlantic, “Obama’s failure to follow through on (his) threat … has continued to haunt America’s involvement in the Syrian tragedy. The subsequent U.S.-Russian agreement to dismantle Syria’s chemical arsenal did not prevent the horror of April 4  when … Assad’s forces mounted a new sarin attack on civilians. … The agreement and its implementation mechanism were deeply flawed.”
Israel’s long-term plan of playing Iranian Whac-a-Mole — hitting game-changing military targets as they emerge throughout Syria, Iraq and Lebanon — needs Putin’s consent. Israel’s continuing air campaign must be coordinated with the Russian military to avoid its accidentally targeting Israeli aircraft. Neither Israel nor Russia would like Russia’s advanced S-400 anti-aircraft system to shoot down an Israeli jet aircraft, or worse, to force Israel to target a Russian missile system in response. That would be a diplomatic disaster. Syrian anti-aircraft destroyed a Russian plane during an alleged Israeli missile strike in 2018.
The unspoken “quid pro quo” between Israel and Russia is that Israel must settle for half a loaf. It can attack Iranian proxies and their advanced missile facilities, but it must accept a permanent Iranian presence and influence in Syria, just as it has in Lebanon with Hezbollah. In 2017, Russian promises to keep Iran and its proxies 53 miles away from the Israeli Golan evaporated almost from the moment they were uttered.
Russian pronouncements regarding Israeli actions in Syria and Lebanon are decidedly hostile. According to Newsweek, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov said, “Israel is attacking Hezbollah; Hezbollah is not attacking Israel. … The problem is Israel, not the Iranians. … There is no way we are approving any Israeli strikes on Syria.” But so far, it’s more Russian bluster than any tangible action inhibiting Israeli actions in Lebanon and Syria.
Israel knows the address is Moscow if it wants to advance its interests and attempt to minimize Iranian entrenchment in Syria. Watching Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Hezbollah’s Lebanese parliament leader Mohammad Raad be given equal access and respect in Moscow this month must have turned a few Israeli stomachs. Then again, Russia is no angel — it delights in any opportunity to diminish the United States.
The status quo in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq won’t last forever. Iran could turn the screws on Israel at any time if it senses weakness or military advantage. With American willingness to return to the Iranian nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Israel could decide at some point to strike Iranian nuclear facilities, prompting a massive Iranian directed attack emanating from Syria or Lebanon. The likelihood that the situation on Israel’s northern border would spiral out of control over the next decade is high. However, Israel and Russia share an interest in not letting things escalate. Russia wants to solidify its gains, and Israel would like to avoid the costs of a major war with Iran.
If Israel’s northern Iranian border gets hot, some would argue that it is in American interests to actively engage in diplomacy to quiet the situation. The last time the U.S. worked with Russia on the northern border, the U.S. trusted Putin to keep Iran from permanently entrenching itself on Syria’s border with Israel. As with chemical weapons, Russia held the cards and did as it pleased, making America look impotent to its allies and enemies alike. With both Democrats and Republicans eager to get the U.S. out of the Middle East, Israel is left to deal with Russia for the foreseeable future.
Where are their voices for freedom of speech when their pro-Israel students and their speakers are screamed down in the name of racism, apartheid and colonialism?
The growing acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism by scores of nations, including the European Union, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and our own country, have made critics of Israel apoplectic. This is because the IHRA asserts that many forms of anti-Zionism rise to the threshold of anti-Semitism. This has driven both anti-Zionists and harsh critics of Israel to find ways to undermine the legitimacy of IHRA. The most recent attempt is to create new definitions of anti-Semitism that minimize or eliminate any association between anti-Semitism and delegitimizing Israel’s existence.
Recently, a group of 200 university professors has taken up the mantle against the IHRA with their Jerusalem Declaration of Anti-Semitism (JDA). It states that opposing Zionism or Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state doesn’t necessarily constitute anti-Semitism. It defines anti-Semitism as discrimination, prejudice or violence against individual Jews or Jewish institutions, but eliminates any association between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. It is as if they are living in a time warp, damning old-time anti-Semitism while ignoring the most recent and virulent strain of anti-Semitism emanating mainly from the hard left. That virus has mutated from the politically incorrect prejudice against the Jewish religion into the new anti-Semitism, hatred of the Jewish nation. As one of the signatories said, “The Israeli government and its supporters have a keen interest in blurring the distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism to paint any substantive, harsh criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians as anti-Semitic.”
According to the JDA definition of anti-Semitism, “hatred of Israel” is not anti-Semitism. Boycotting, demonizing and sanctioning Israel is not anti-Semitism. Mind you, this is not just BDS of products from the West Bank, but boycotting all of Israel because it does not have a right to exist, as their Palestinian supporters allege. Sorry professors, this is anti-Semitism in its most blatant form. One doesn’t even need the IHRA definition to know it.
Harsh critics of Israel are alarmed that the IHRA definition is gaining more legitimacy, adding more national governments, colleges, organizations, and local and state governments to the list of supporters. And they worry for a good reason. IHRA explicitly targets all forms of anti-Semitism—from old-time right-wing hatred of Jews to today’s progressive anti-Semitism. Right-wing anti-Semitism gets all the notoriety because it is often manifested as local violence against Jewish people or their property. Left-wing anti-Semitism is ubiquitous on college campuses among academics and pro-Palestinian students, and of more significant consequence, advocating policies that threaten an entire country’s safety. And being Jewish does not mean that someone who supports reprehensible anti-Jewish policies gets a pass.
Signers of the JDA twist themselves in knots claiming that anti-Israel actions don’t have much to do with anti-Semitism. Yet many of them are invested in Palestinian “rights” and disregard Palestinian society’s pervasive advocacy of hatred and violence, from their mosques to media to schools and government, which is blatantly anti-Semitic. When these professors next go to Ramallah, they should notice that the word “Jew” and “Israeli” are interchangeable. Palestinian calls for two states—one binational and the other Arab—are just fine with them, knowing that this would mean Israel’s demographic destruction.
Many of these professors who rightly claim love for the freedom of speech are mute about today’s campus environment, where pro-Israel students are demonized, intimidated and restrained from their First Amendment rights by Palestinian supporters. Protecting students who disagree with your perspective used to be a pillar of academic freedom, but too many professors are activists first, not academics. Silence makes one complicit in stigmatizing Zionist students and pro-Israel professors. This is the very definition of illiberalism. Where are their voices for freedom of speech when their pro-Israel students and their speakers are screamed down in the name of racism, apartheid and colonialism? Is that not anti-Semitism?
One signer of the JDA claimed the IHRA had reached a “point where Palestinian students feel threatened on campus.” This is Orwellian. A primary reason for the need for the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism was the threats and intimidation to Jewish students on campus by Palestinians and their supporters. A 2015 Brandeis University poll of North American colleges’ Jewish students found “nearly three-quarters of the respondents reported having been exposed … during the past year to a least one anti-Semitic statement.” There is little evidence of any concerted intimidation against Palestinian students. Still, they and their progressive supporters are often the perpetrators of anti-Semitism against Jewish students who are pro-Israel.
True academic integrity should demand that many of these professors define themselves as pro-Palestinian or anti-Zionist and not hide behind the pro-peace, pro-Israel moniker. Who are some of the signatories? City University of New York professor and New York Times writer Peter Beinart wrote an article in July 2020 titled “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State.” In response, the ADL’s deputy director said “such calls are themselves anti-Semitic, or at the very least, as in the case of Mr. Beinart, play into the hands of the anti-Semites.”
Another endorser of the JDA definition is the anti-Zionist Richard Falk. Former President Barack Obama’s representative to the Human Rights Council, Eileen Donahoe, called his comments on Israel “deeply offensive,” condemning them in the “strongest terms.” She charged that Falk had a “one-sided and politicized view of Israel’s situation and the Palestinian Territories.” No wonder he signed a definition of anti-Semitism that minimized equating anti-Zionism with Jew-hatred.
So kudos to those professors who fight against right-wing anti-Semitism; we should all join them. But shame on them for claiming that it’s not anti-Semitism to back the BDS movement, to deny the Jewish people a right to self-determination, to allow Israel to be judged by a double standard and to intimidate Jewish students on campus because they are pro-Israel.
How can a democratic nation fight and defeat asymmetric enemies in the 21st century?
Previously published in the Jerusalem Report.
by Dr. Eric R. Mandel
The recent International Criminal Court decision to investigate Israel for “war crimes” in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) highlights not only the hypocrisy of the international community’s anti-Israel bias but the difficulty of militarily responding to terrorists who play by no rules.
Can America and Israel ever receive a fair hearing in analyzing the complexity and legality of their military actions against asymmetric actors? Especially when international bodies like the UN Human Rights Council are dominated by some of the worst human rights abusers in the world. These anti-American and anti-Zionist organizations have become weaponized political instruments in a war of lawfare against the US and the Jewish nation.
Israel faces asymmetric threats from Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iranian-controlled militias in Syria and Iraq. America has at least a 40-year history of fighting non-state actors in the Middle East – from the Iranian-orchestrated bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut to one of the worst asymmetric actors, Islamic State.
Israel’s dilemma is that what the US did to ISIS, with civilians embedded within its terrorist network, would not be tolerated by a world with double standards for the Jewish state. Israel will continually be delegitimized for its response to attacks from civilian areas, where its enemy cynically uses civilians as human shields.
Proportional responses are a matter of ongoing debate in this murky environment. Let’s be clear: “Proportionate” does not mean that if Hezbollah or Hamas sends 100 missiles indiscriminately into Israeli civilian communities, Israel should be expected to send 100 missiles into Palestinian or Lebanese communities. That is immoral and would never even be considered by any democracy, especially Israel or the US.
Articulating a policy on what constitutes a proportional response in asymmetric warfare is both in American and Israeli interests. This past February, the US struck Iranian-controlled weapons depots in Syria in retaliation for an attack on American soldiers at a US base near the Erbil international airport. One American soldier was injured, but 22 Iranian militiamen of the terrorist organizations Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Is that proportionate or disproportionate?
According to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, “The strikes were necessary to address the threat and proportionate to the prior attacks.”
What is not acknowledged by critics is that it is well within the bounds of international law to retaliate even if the number of casual ties turns out to be more than were incurred, especially if the enemy deliberately uses civilians’ lives for propaganda purposes.
When civilians are inadvertently killed in homes where missiles are stored or whose living room is used as an entrance for an attack tunnel, is it still legal to attack those homes as long as you try to minimize civilian casualties? How do you cope when your intelligence finds kindergartens or hospitals used by terrorist organizations to store weapons or mount operations against your civilians? Israel has called off many operations, walking the fine line between a nation’s obligation to protect its civilians and its moral responsibility to minimize danger to the enemy’s non-combatants.
What is a proportionate response? It behooves Israel, the US and all Western nations not to wait until after civilians are killed in confronting an enemy, but to clearly state what proportionality is, and in a very public way.
Proportionality is wholly misunderstood by democratic governments, the press and the public. It is not the number of causalities that determines proportionality but the necessity of the military action balanced against the potential civilian loss.
As Victor Davis Hanson said, “Every Hamas unguided rocket is launched in hopes of hitting an Israeli home and killing men, women, and children. Every guided Israeli air-launched missile is targeted at Hamas operatives, who deliberately work in the closest vicinity to women and children.”
According to Human Rights Watch, no fan of Israel, for a specific attack on a military objective to be lawful, it must discriminate between combatants and civilians. The expected loss of civilian life or property cannot be disproportionate to the attack’s anticipated military gain.
Does Israel take care to avoid civilian casualties, even when they are purposely placed in harm’s way?
Asa Kasher, the co-author of the first IDF Code of Ethics, said, “We can’t separate the terrorist from his neighbors. The terrorists have erased the difference between combatants and non-combatants. They operate from within residential areas. They attack civilians. The world doesn’t have a clue what proportionality is. Proportionality is not about numbers.”
According to international law, the question of proportionality is whether the military benefit justifies the collateral damage. As for B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, all have double standards. For them, there is the poor, pitiful side and the strong side. Testimony that comes from the pitiful side is taken at face value. They think it is immoral to give priority to the defense of the citizens of your state over the protection of the lives of the neighbors of the terrorists.”
The number of casualties, civilian or combatant, is not a determinate for proportionality. War crimes and proportionality are for those who target civilians, are indiscriminate in their attacks, or cause disproportionate civilian loss. Israel does not target civilians, but you would not know that from reading European newspapers or reports from so-called human rights organizations in which body counts determine proportionality.
Jeffery Goldberg, writing in 2014, hit the nail on the head in describing terrorist actors. “Hamas is trying to get Israel to kill as many Palestinians as possible. Dead Palestinians represent a crucial propaganda victory for the nihilists of Hamas. It is perverse but true. It is also the best possible explanation for Hamas’s behavior because Hamas has no other plausible strategic goal here.” This is the strategy of Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah and ISIS.
As Middle East analyst, British Col. (ret) Richard Kemp said, “Of course innocent civilians are killed in every war; war is chaotic and confusing, and mistakes are frequent, but mistakes are not war crimes.”
The problem is that the international community judges a disproportionate response by a body count. A democracy like Israel will always lose because its asymmetric enemy uses its citizens as human shields, hoping to demonize Israel and deter legitimate use of force.
A few years ago, I spoke to the international medical director for Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, who told me that in the 300 villages he had visited in southern Lebanon, there was not one where missiles were not placed in civilian homes. This man was no Zionist.
All of this came to the fore in February when the ICC ruled that it is under its jurisdiction to investigate Israel for war crimes for its past military activity in the Gaza Strip. Also, it wants to determine if settlements in Judea and Samaria also constitute war crimes against the Palestinians.
The ICC is also supposedly looking into the potential war crimes of Hamas. Yet, it seems morally perverse to equate Hamas, a designated terrorist entity that indiscriminately targets Israeli civilians while using human shields to induce Israeli retaliation, with a democratic nation that tries as much as any other military on earth to minimize enemy civilian causalities. I have witnessed this firsthand along the Gaza border.
The three-judge panel ruling in favor of investigating Israel in 2021 is a far cry from former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who said in 2006 that the ICC’s Rome Statute “permits belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur.”
The goal of Hamas and Hezbollah is to induce Israel to kill their civilians for political and diplomatic gain. Knowing international arbiters act only as bean counters plays right into their hands.
Whether from the north or south, Israel’s next war will again feature the use of human shields. This time it will be on a massive scale, with the inevitable international condemnation. Lt.-Col. Sarit Zehavi’s ALMA think tank, with the best expertise on Israel’s northern border, has documented many precision-guided missile factories purposely placed in civilian neighborhoods, next to schools, gas companies, and recreational facilities. It takes a herculean effort to fight UN officials and progressive media outlets who don’t hide their bias against Israel, choosing civilian body counts as their weapon to delegitimize Israel, knowing full well that Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to minimize civilians’ causalities.
Since the term “disproportionate” has been politicized and misused, it is appropriate to ask if an overwhelming response can be legal and justified if it acts as a deterrent to further attacks against your civilian population? What if it is the only effective deterrent against an asymmetric enemy that doesn’t play by international conflict rules, strategizing that it will not be on the receiving end of more missiles than it sends?
Can a case be made for a disproportionate response? Yes, it is called the Powell Doctrine and, in the long run, can decrease casualties by deterring the enemy. According to the late Charles Krauthammer’s interpretation of the doctrine: “The key to success in a military conflict is the use of overwhelming force. For decades the US had followed a policy of proportionality: restraint because of fear of escalation. If you respond proportionately, you allow the enemy to set the parameters… you grant him the initiative.”
In 2006’s Second Lebanon War, Israel’s alleged use of disproportionate force deterred Hezbollah for nearly 16 years. Yet just two year later, the international community ganged up on Israel after Operation Cast Lead in 2008, alleging excessive force constituting war crimes that culminated in the infamous but now discredited and retracted Goldstone Report. The current ICC investigation against Israel for war crimes in 2014 is a continuation of the diplomatic war to discredit Israel and undermine its right to exist like every other nation in the world.
So what can US President Joe Biden’s administration do? It is in America’s interest to protect Israel and itself, so it shouldn’t wait until missiles fly in the next inevitable war. Being proactive before the next war, articulating an American policy on proportionality, would protect both your ally and yourself.
Sooner or later, the US will also be on the docket of the ICC for war crimes. In any war, bad things happen, and yes, war crimes occur. The difference is that for America and Israel, they are far and few between, are legitimately investigated, and punishment is meted out when warranted. Just ask the soldiers in Israeli or American military prisons.
The international community’s goal is to redefine proportionality and tar Israel and America by isolated incidents for political gain. Don’t be misled. Both nations follow the rule of law that is guided by their democratic values.
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”
During a visit to Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Dubai two years ago, it became clear to me that the people and leadership of the Gulf States were not only amenable but anxious to develop relations with Israel, harboring no deep resentments. My group included two Israelis with dual citizenship, and when it was revealed they were Israelis, only cordial relations followed. But normalization still seemed a bridge too far to cross in the immediate future.
The magnitude and potential of the new ground-breaking normalization agreements with Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco, and Sudan, should not be taken for granted. Success is not inevitable, as all parties must take extreme care to nurture, maintain, and grow these relationships for regional stability, where predatory nations like Iran will be on the look-out for cracks in relationships to undo this process.
Critics have disparaged normalization as only transactional relationships, not based on interests that are long-lasting. What they fail to see is that almost all international diplomatic relationships are created and sustained not by the goodness of nation-states but with the expectation of mutual benefit to advance both nations’ interests. One exception was the American recognition of Israel in 1948, an almost entirely valued-based diplomatic recognition by President Truman, where his American State department made a strong case to throw Israel under the bus for Arab oil.
Today’s new normalization agreements are essential for all of the parties’ economic interests and security benefits. First world economies like Dubai and Israel can quickly take advantage of each other’s expertise and access to the world. At the other end of the spectrum, Sudan got off the American terror watch list by recognizing Israel and would be smart to let Israel help advance its third world economy.
Muslim majority nations that don’t prioritize Islamism realize that Israel is a necessary addition not only for economic and security interests but also because it will help advance their relations with America, still the only democratic superpower in the world. Despite its Islamism, even Turkey has maintained strong economic ties with Israel, although Turkish President Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman Islamism and hegemonic goals outweigh the return to a normal relationship.
Today’s new normalization agreements are essential for all of the parties’ economic interests and security benefits.
Once the taboo of making peace with Israel is not held hostage to Palestinian intransigence, other Muslim nations will follow. However, for normalizations to be long-lasting, they must include the people-to-people interactions that are now occurring with Bahrain and the UAE. It cannot just be the military-to-military or leadership-to-leadership relationships that define the cold peace between Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.
The new normalization agreements should prompt the Egyptians and Jordanians not just to use Israel for their intelligence and security interests but to put their toe in the water to begin to end the endemic anti-Jewish rhetoric that permeates their government-controlled media, schools, and mosques. It will lead to a more sustainable relationship for their self-interests, based on human interactions between ordinary citizens to break down the barriers of hate.
Turning Egyptian and Jordanian normalization with the Jewish state warm after years of demonization and scapegoating will require overcoming difficult obstacles and the need for American leadership. They must come to see that the coldness of the current “cold peace” is against their long-term survival. With the rise of political Islamism from Iran, Turkey, and Qatar, and the failing states in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria, moderate Muslim nations need Israel as much as Israel needs them.
The nurturing of the seedlings of reconciliation and normalization could easily be disrupted from both within and outside their countries. At present, the fear of Iran is the glue that holds together the new relationships between the Gulf states and Israel, as well as the cold peace with Egypt and Jordan. But as with everything in the Middle East, new and unanticipated challenges will emerge that will require the creation of crisis teams to deal with all types of contingencies and threats so that the relationships can be kept on a sound footing.
America is turning east to confront China, and Muslim nations know that they may be more self-reliant than in the past. Cruise missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and Shiite militias undermining fragile states like Iraq are likely to increase, bringing instability and the possibility of regional war ever closer. That is why the normalization process’ success is necessary for the stability of the moderate Sunni nations. They will need to work in concert with Israel when Iran decides to cross a line that could set the region on fire.
Iran is in Israel’s backyard in the Golan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Gaza, while the Gulf states know that they are no match for Iran if the American military leaves the region. They will need to develop some publicly expressed security alignment with the most effective military force in Israel as a hazard warning to Iran.
Hopefully, President-elect Biden and his new foreign policy team will value the new diplomatic relationships and not neglect them simply because the Trump administration created them. I America wants to pivot east and minimize its footprint in the Middle East, it will need to nurture the new normalization while working to develop new ones. Putting their efforts into a return to Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution is the wrong path forward for Middle East stability at this time. And yes, transactional relationships are just fine as long as the people to people component is included.
The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House of Representatives, and their foreign policy advisers. He is Senior Editor for Security at The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JTA, JNS, Thinc., the Forward, and Israel Hayom, among others.
Hadar Susskind, the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, penned an article in JTA titled, “Normalizing relations with the UAE does nothing to help fix Israel’s existential problems. … Frankly, we see little reason for celebration.” How sad, political and myopic a viewpoint. Even the progressive Haaretz newspaper called it a “historic signing.”
When I was in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai last year, accompanied by two Israelis, there was an enthusiasm for continuing the under-the-radar cooperation between these moderate Arab states and Israel for their mutual benefit. But the consensus view was that until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved, the relationship would be confined to an indefinite state of limbo. The Palestinian veto held sway in Arab capitals as it had since the infamous three “No’s” of the Khartoum Conference more than 50 years ago: No peace, no negotiation, no recognition of Israel.
After 72 years of saying no, some moderate and stable Arab states have begun to prioritize their own interests over the Palestinians, and with a remarkable and courageous step have decided to recognize Israel and normalize relations. How can one not celebrate the third and fourth Arab states, after Jordan and Egypt, to make peace with Israel with the likelihood of more on the way. Morocco, Oman, Sudan, Chad and Saudi Arabia are all on the flight path to normalization. If we were not in such a hyper-polarized political climate with a lightning rod of a president, these developments, if under a Barack Obama administration, would be placed on the fast track for a Nobel peace prize.
Yet Susskind looks through a lens that sees everything through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Israel as the intransigent party that has blinded him and his fellow travelers to the complex reality of the situation, completely ignoring the fact that peace has not been achieved because of the Palestinians. Their demand for an unconditional right of return of descendants of refugees, something Einat Wilf calls the “War of Return,” is a demand that has not been granted to any other refugee group and is minimized or ignored by progressive “peace” advocates. He says that the signing is happening as Israel “continues to entrench the occupation,” completely ignoring the quid pro quo for an agreement that suspended the extension of sovereignty into any new territory in the West Bank.
It cannot be repeated often enough that under Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority could have had a state with more than 100 percent of the territory of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) with land swaps and eastern Jerusalem as their capital. But because of its corruption, inability to sign an end of conflict agreement with Israel and contest with their rival Hamas to show who can more honor terrorists, the Palestinian people have become the real losers. That is why Israeli society has moved from the center-left during the Oslo years to the center-right today. Progressive voices like Susskind and Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street are magnified by like-minded mainstream American media and progressive groups, but they are unrepresentative of the vast majority of Israelis who have to live with the consequences of imposed solutions. There is something unseemly and condescending when one democratic nation tells another democratic nation what is in its best interests, especially when it deals with existential security issues.
The peace deals between Israel, UAE and Bahrain (and those to follow) are the best thing that could happen to the Palestinian people, but perhaps the worst thing for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. It is now up to the Palestinian people—the most subsidized people in the world—to end their grievance and victimization industry, and demand a new leadership that is more pragmatic. It needs a leadership that will prioritize the interests and well-being of their people, not letting the anti-Semitic ideology that permeates their mosques, textbooks and media to continue to ruin their chance to join their Arab brethren in the Gulf states in economic progress and the path to their own state. That begins by openly accepting a Jewish state in a territorial dimension that allows for its security.
Palestinians and their supporters, like Susskind, cannot remain blind to the reality of where the region is going, and that their Arab brothers will leave them behind as the intransigent player. If they care about Palestinians, then they will embrace these normalization deals as an opportunity to restart negotiations—something Abbas has avoided for years.
As far as an existential issue, while the Palestinians issue must be dealt with sooner or later, the true existential issue for Israel and the moderate Sunni world is Iran and its hegemonic ambitions. The Palestinians are not the primary issue for Arabs or for Israel’s immediate security, as evidenced by these treaties and the lack of outrage in the Arab world, except by the political Islamists in Tehran and Ankara.
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”
The term “pro-Israel” has become has become a lightning rod, due in part to President Donald Trump’s many self-described pro-Israel statements and actions, and the scorn many people have for just about anything he says or does.
Writing in Haaretz, Jonathan Tobin said, “Democrats and never-Trump former Republicans argue that even if you support the president’s policies, they are bad for Israel… the association with Trump is tarnishing the Jewish state… [yet] if Democrats are increasingly divided on Israel, this is a trend that long predates Trump and was largely weaponized by Barack Obama’s feud” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Iran nuclear deal.
Eight years ago, when asked what it meant to be pro-Israel, David Shipler, the former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, said, “It seems obvious to say that being pro-Israel means supporting Israel’s survival, security and well-being as a just and prosperous society. Nobody would disagree.”
Is that definition of being pro-Israel obvious to most Jewish Americans today?
Twenty-five years ago, pro-Israel was clearly understood to mean that you supported Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, respecting the democratically elected government as the will of its people who put their children and themselves in harm’s way every day. Fifty years earlier, six million Jews were slaughtered, with Israel being the refuge of the tiny remnant that survived, along with 750,000 Jews ethnically cleansed from Arab lands. Israel’s six million was to be protected and defended by the Jewish Diaspora so a second Holocaust could never occur again.
That never meant that Israel was always right, but to be pro-Israel you believed Israel was right more than wrong, and certainly more moral than its neighbors, which imported European style antisemitism on top of their own anti-Jewish animus. That – combined with misogyny, authoritarianism and a profound lack of human rights – made Israel the clear choice for American sympathy across the political spectrum.
With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency and his stated goal to put “daylight” between America and Israel, the definition of what it meant to be pro-Israel was put under stress, as most American Jews overwhelmingly voted for Mr. Obama, as they have consistently voted for the Democratic Party in every election cycle.
At the same time a new organization came on the scene that supported a more much critical attitude to Israel that was adopted by the new administration, hoping to re-define what it means to be pro-Israel. The primary focus of J Street changed the positive shared values and security-based “special relationship” to highlighting Israel’s occupation of the disputed territories, calling for punishing consequences for Israel’s intransigence.
This resonated with many young Jewish adults who were immersed in college campuses where intersectionality is the prevailing wind, Israel being the victimizer and the Palestinians being the innocent lamb. Although J Street and its college subsidiaries claimed they were in favor of a Jewish and democratic state and against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, it still provided forums for those who believe in BDS as the best method to pressure Israel to change its ways.
WITH THIS, the foundation of what it meant to be pro-Israel for young as well as older Jews began to crumble.
This culminated in the Obama administration’s orchestration of the passage of UNSC Resolution 2334 that labeled any Israeli presence in West Bank (Judea and Samaria) a violation of international law. Being pro-Israel now meant that if you believe Israel has legal rights over the 1967 line, you are a supporter of an international crime against humanity. To Israel’s critics, everything about Israel is defined through the lens of its occupation of the disputed territories.
Enter Donald Trump, and the “pro-Israel” moniker became even more politicized, if that were possible, by challenging Jewish Democrats’ loyalty to the Jewish state. This occurred contemporaneously with the rise of the Democratic congresswomen who routinely crossed the line into anti-Zionism and antisemitism without incurring any consequences.
Trump’s “pro-Israel” support of Israel’s annexation of the Golan, extension of sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank, withdrawing support to the Palestinian Authority for supporting terrorists, have all been condemned by J Street as wrong and counter-productive. The organization’s advocacy, primarily in support of the Palestinian position, seems to have been re-invented into what it claims is an authentic 2020 pro-Israel position.
So what should define pro-Israel in 2020 across the political spectrum?
Here are a few suggestions.
Being able to say the Land of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people.
That the state of Israel is entitled to exist as a Jewish and democratic state without qualifiers.
Respecting, even if not agreeing, with the outcomes of Israel’s elections
Not supporting boycotts, divestment or sanctions in any form.
Not allying with anti-Israel organizations that question Israel’s right to exist.
If you are pro-peace but advocate in favor of the Palestinian narrative that Jews are not indigenous, the creation of the state is illegitimate, you cannot spin that as being pro-Israel.
If you advocate for a binational state you are not pro-Israel.
You are pro-Israel if you demand any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict include an “end of conflict agreement” that all claims are forever ended, including the Palestinian right of return.
This list is certainly open to debate, but the hope is that it can create a dialogue into what pro-Israel should mean in 2020 and beyond. Just because you are Jewish does not automatically give you higher standing or the claim that anything you advocate is pro-Israel.
Whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden prevails in the November election, the eventual winner’s positions and actions over the next four years will challenge the very definition of what “pro-Israel” means. The ever-expanding and contracting tent of who is within or outside the pro-Israel tent will challenge Jewish Americans and their supporters in Congress for the foreseeable future.
The writer is director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for The Jerusalem Report/Jerusalem Post, and has written in The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld, The Forward, i24, Israel Hayom and Defense News.