Category Archives: U.S. – Israel Relationship

Is it too late to salvage the US and Israeli-Jewish relationship?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

There was a time when religious and non-religious Jews, capitalists and socialists, Democrats and Republicans, Americans and Israelis, looked past their differences and political allegiances and united for a common good.

It was the time of the fight for the human rights of Soviet Jewry, when the greater good of freeing Soviet Jews from the repression of the “Evil Empire” masked many of those groups’ profound differences.

Of course we celebrate the victory of the downfall of the Soviet Union, freeing millions of Jews and other dissidents from tyranny, but the camaraderie and sense of purpose that illuminated a shared vision for attempting to save a lost remnant of the Jewish people by the free Jews around the world showed what a unity of purpose can do when Jews stand together.

When we are at our best, when we celebrate our commonalities, our shared humanity, our pride in belonging to a unique civilization and tradition that has given so much to the world, we stand as one people and can do great things.

Unfortunately that sense of purpose and unity are largely gone both within the American-Jewish community and in the relationship between much of America’s Jewry and their Israeli cousins.

A recent poll of Israeli and American Jews regarding whom they favor in the American presidential election revealed results that were polar opposites. The overwhelming majority of Israelis favor the reelection of President Donald Trump, despite his personal flaws,  crediting him with moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, putting consequences on the Palestinian Authority’s incentivizing of terrorist activity, and for the first time laid down a peace plan that prioritized Israeli security interests, while creating the diplomatic work for Israel’s first peace treaties with Arab nations in a generation.

On the other hand, American Jews overwhelmingly favor the defeat of Trump, prioritizing domestic progressive or liberal concerns over Israeli security concerns.

It is no surprise there is a profound difference between the two largest Jewish communities’ perspectives. Israelis live as a majority in their own state and are unashamed of their Jewish particularism and the pride afforded to them by their ability to defend themselves after two millennia of persecution directed at Jews.

American Jews live as an accepted minority in a Christian-majority nation, with growing antisemitism cropping up to the right and left.

American Jews have a much more universalistic perspective, identifying Judaism more as a religion they have or had, and are uncomfortable with the survival issues of the Jewish state. This has led too many to not only criticize Israel but even join with boycotters and delegitimizers who share their progressive values.

Too often they define Israel by what they disagree with, whether it is their criticism of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) monopoly on religious affairs, or their simplistic understanding of the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reflexively siding with the Palestinians as victims.

When American Jews see Judaism only as a religion, they miss out on the beauty of their own heritage, that Jews are a diverse people of every color, and don’t appreciate the miraculous fulfillment of their millennial long national aspirations, fulfilled in their lifetimes.

For an Israeli, religion is just one part of the Jewish mosaic. An atheist in Israel can have a very Jewish identity, but for an American who has no religious affiliation and for whom Israel is a tertiary issue, their progeny’s Jewish identity will likely disappear within a generation or two.

Has the divide reached a tipping point where only two generations ago, Jews from America considered Israeli Jews their brothers and sisters but for many, they now only consider them at best distant cousins who they have little in common with. A 2018 AJC survey found only 28% of Israelis consider American Jews “siblings” – and that was more than twice as high as the 12% of American Jews who viewed their Israeli counterparts that way, and Israeli Jews are more than twice as likely as their American counterparts (81% to 40%) to say that being Jewish is “very” or “most” important in their lives.”

SO IS there still a compelling case for American Jews to support Israel? Do American Jews want to abandon 7 million fellow Jews who are in the crosshairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has vowed that its mission is to eradicate the Jewish state as an affront to Islam?

Seventy years ago American Jews we’re not able to save the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis due to a combination of a lack of information, and a lack of influence and power. Today there is no excuse for not knowing the dangers Iran poses to the existence of the Jewish State or the rise of political Islamism in many countries, with its quest to delegitimize and destroy the only nation state of the Jews.

Democracies help democracies, and even if you are a loosely afflicted American Jew, Israel should be important because it advances American security interests.

Is there a way forward?

Let’s start with some respectful tolerance for each other‘s situation. For Israeli Jews, more open mindedness toward unfamiliar American liberal religious movements would go a long way. For American Jewry, an appreciation that life as an Israeli is nowhere as easy as our very comfortable life in America. Americans have not had a compulsory draft putting their children in harm’s way for more than 40 years.

Whether Donald Trump is reelected or Joe Biden becomes president, either will strain the relationship between Israelis and American Jews.

What we need now are organizational, religious and political leaders who prioritize unity as they did during the fight for Soviet Jewry, explaining how Jewish education and Zionism benefit the American Jewish community, while also explaining that tikkun olam, repairing the world, can also embrace Israel’s needs.

The first step is acknowledging the problem, the second is realizing that the relationship must be saved for the benefit of both Israeli and American Jews. The message of the 2018 AJC survey is clear, “If the concept of a global Jewish community…is to retain any meaning, each of its two major components (Israeli and American Jew) must develop a greater appreciation for the priorities and needs of the other.”

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House and their foreign policy advisers. He is the senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post, and has appeared in The Hill, i24, RealClearWorld, JNS, JTA, Defense News, Rudow Iraqi media, and The Forward.

Which Course Will New Admin. Set for US-Israel and US-Iran Relationships?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

What is needed from the new president is a clear articulation of a coherent foreign policy, for America to show leadership for its allies, and repair its image as a toothless superpower.

After inauguration, President Donald Trump will be challenged with complex decisions regarding Iranian imperialism and America’s relationships with its regional allies and enemies.

Trump articulated two contradictory approaches to foreign policy during his campaign. He spoke about a more isolationist approach to American engagement, while also warning would-be enemies that anyone challenging the US should expect a vigorous response. Time will surely tell whether or not this president’s red lines are to be crossed with impunity.

With regard to Iranian expansionism, the administration will have to decide whether the Iranian ambition for a contiguous Shi’ite-dominated region stretching from Tehran to Beirut is something that affects American national security interests enough to warrant a significant response.

Will a Trump administration risk unraveling Obama’s nuclear deal if Iran continues to act blatantly to destabilize the region? The Iranian strategists can be expected to test the new president to see how far they can go.

1. Will the new administration continue the Obama administration’s indifference to Iran’s support of Assad’s genocide?

2. Would Trump consider no-fly and safe zones in Syria, and then go into the business of nation building to prevent safe regions turning into statelets of terrorism?

3. Will he ally with Russia and Syria to bring down Islamic State (ISIS)?

4. Will the new administration impose limits and consequences, with teeth, for Iranian actions compromising American security interests?

5. What will Trump do about the American hostages taken by Iran since the JCPOA was signed?

6. What will Trump do the next time Iranian speedboats threaten American naval ships in the Straits of Hormuz?

7. If Yemen’s Houthis again use Iranian- provided missiles to threaten a US Navy ship in Bab el Mandeb, will the response be weak, or will it send a message?

8. Will the administration continue to allow Iranian adventurism in Iraq? Iran and the rest of the Middle East are watching.

As for Trump’s policy proposals regarding Israel, they are overall very positive, but the question is will they be a priority issue for the president, or remain a wish list that gets put on the back burner?

President Barack Obama coerced Israel into accepting a reduced MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) that included provisions hurting the Israeli defense industry, not allowing Israel to ask for more aid even if it is endangered, and gave no extra funding to balance the danger to Israel inherent in the Iran deal. Trump’s advisers have said the new administration will allow Israel to ask for more aid, but what about the rest of the MOU’s provisions?

The promised move of the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv would send the right message to the world: Israel is here to stay. The move to the western part of Jerusalem should have never been postponed indefinitely by administrations of both parties, but will Trump act decisively to move the embassy in his first year?

Cutting funding to the antisemitic UN Human Rights Council is a no-brainer, and should be a slam-dunk for this president. Obama’s reengagement with the UNHRC was a disgrace. Trump’s team also promised to veto any UNSC resolutions that single out Israel; something the Obama administration might not be doing in its final months.

As for the promise to fight the insidious boycott movement, by having the Justice Department “investigate coordinated attempts on college campuses to intimidate students who support Israel,” this will be a challenge. Many will claim it is an infringement of the First Amendment’s freedom of speech.

Finally, Trump’s promise to demand the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state makes complete sense, as it is the ultimate litmus test of whether the Palestinian Arabs could ever accept Israel within any territorial parameters. He should also throw in a demand for an end-of-conflict resolution as a prerequisite both parties must agree to before negotiations begin.

America is a divided country, easily manipulated by its media that views the Middle East through the prism of America’s adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump has repeatedly said that American intervention in the region was a mistake. So how will he respond to new threats from Sunni or Shi’ite Islamists?

In today’s Middle East, America is perceived to be a power on the decline, without the resolve to put its soldiers in harm’s way. What is needed from the new president is a clear articulation of a coherent foreign policy, for America to show leadership for its allies, and repair its image as a toothless superpower.

This will not be an easy task for any president, especially one who must now define which type of foreign policy he wants for his country. Being president is very different from being a candidate.

The author is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists on issues related to the Middle East.




America, Turkey and a Misguided Foreign Policy

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

It should be remembered that until recently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan supported Islamic State (ISIS) against Syria’s Bashar Assad, before it turned against him.

Friday night’s failed coup was Turkey’s last hope to stop the Islamization of its government…Reflexively, Western leaders rushed to condemn a coup attempt they refused to understand. Their reward will be a toxic Islamist regime at the gates of Europe.’ – US Army Lt. Col. (ret.) Ralph Peters

The mainstream account of American foreign policy in the Middle East over the past seven years is that the Obama administration has taken a hands-off, more isolationist approach, extricating America from its misguided entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In reality the president chartered a well thought-out agenda to profoundly reshape the whole Middle East, realigning relationships, redefining American interests, while endangering the fragile balance between Arab and non-Arab Muslims, Sunnis and Shi’ites. To most observers, American influence and interests have been undermined and weakened in the region.

A combustible combination was created, siding with Shi’ite non-Arab Persian Iran over Sunni Arab and non-Arab Muslims. Within the Sunni world, the president chose Islamist Sunni leaders affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt over an authoritarian pro-American dictator, while in Turkey we supported with acquiescence the Islamization of the eastern flank of NATO, undermining our security interests.

It should be remembered that until recently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan supported Islamic State (ISIS) against Syria’s Bashar Assad, before it turned against him.

We choose to ignore the growing authoritarian and contradictory anti-Western choices of President Erdogan.

The Islamist Turkish regime under Erdogan grew more authoritarian by undermining and weakening the independent judiciary, police, media, opposition leaders, journalists and secular military leaders, intimidating them, imprisoning them and replacing them with like-minded Islamists.

So when the coup was in its infancy, it was no surprise that the administration immediately sided with the “democratically” elected Muslim Brotherhood-like government of President Erdogan.

Mainstream journalists also misread the situation, thinking that a military coup in 2016 would be similar to a secular military coup of the 1980s. Too many seemed to be totally unaware that Erdogan had eviscerated the army of its secular leadership, making an Islamist coup as likely as a 20th-century-style secular Turkish generals’ coup.

So while I was listening to National Public Radio’s coverage of US Secretary of State Kerry’s visit to Russia, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the Syrian situation, I was startled to hear Kerry’s response to the question about Middle East hot spots.

The Turkish coup was a day away, but the first thing he said about the instability in the Middle East had to do with Palestine and Israel.

Palestine and Israel? Are you kidding? Genocide reigns in Syria, Iran is abrogating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), you are clueless about what is about to happen in Turkey, while Yemen, Iraq and Libya are magnitudes of order more precarious and threatening to the worldwide proliferation of terrorism, yet Israel is the first thing you speak about as a hot spot in the Middle East? To this administration the key stumbling block to regional stability is Israeli intransigence. Israel remains relevant only as a scapegoat to deflect attention from the hideous behavior within the Muslim world and worldwide Islamist terrorism, while focusing on Israel allows the Europeans to appease their discontented growing Muslim minorities by blaming Israel for all of their ills that they are too afraid to confront.

Kerry, like most of the Obama administration, is still wedded to the antiquated concept that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most important issue of the Muslim and Arab world. How wrong and dangerous for American national security interests. If there were no Israel, Sunni-Shi’ite hatreds, international terrorism and the massacres and genocides would still be occurring.

The administration’s myopic view of the region ignores these realties, making common cause with Russia over Syria, in effect stabilizing the genocidal Assad regime, and empowering Hezbollah and Iran.

If a Palestinian state is to be created as part of a two-state solution, that solution must include genuine security for America’s indispensable ally Israel – security from the animosity of a people that has been nursed on anti-Semitism and sacred vows never to coexist peacefully with non-Muslims in the Middle East.

Yet Kerry’s statement is no slip of the tongue. He has already conceded a Palestinian state before an international audience that is just waiting for American legitimization at the United Nations this fall.

So while Assad besieges Aleppo’s 300,000 civilians, and Turkey balances on the edge, the administration remains focused on untying the Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

What they should be doing is repairing American bridges to the Sunni world, and reshaping the Turkish Islamist government’s relationship to Washington, beginning with reconciling Israel and the Sunni world over shared interests.

Instead, the president and John Kerry have in effect thrown America’s lot with Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Assad, and any regime aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.

And I thought the Donald and Hillary show was scary.

The author is the director MEPIN™ (mepinanalysis.org), read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.




US Elections: Who is Best for Israel, America and the World?

In such uncertain times, it’s important to have someone leading America and the free world who will try to balance American strength, American interests and pragmatism for the greater good.

A generation or two ago Jews of the American Diaspora didn’t feel the love and security we take for granted today.

They used to ask “Is it good for the Jews?” about so many topics, none more often than the political leadership of the country.

As beloved as FDR was by the majority of American Jewry in the 1940s, his legacy became tainted in retrospect with the revelations that he could have, but choose not to bomb the instruments of the Jewish genocide in Europe, to the extent that planes returning from missions taking them over concentration camps just dumped their remaining bombs in the English Channel.

Even today, when a Wall Street tycoon or someone with an obviously Jewish surname commits fraud or worse, there is a collective but unspoken sigh in American Jewry, that it is a black mark upon the Jewish people.

Which brings us to a topic I was not planning on writing about: the wildly unusual American presidential political scene. Only the Republican presidential debates could make the vitriol of the Israeli Knesset look tame.

I brief members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and my lodestar as an American is United States national security and the US-Israel relationship, which to my mind overlap 95 percent of the time. If there were no Israel, America would need to create one to gain the intelligence and security advantages that its only reliable friend in the region brings to the table.

It is speaking season for me in the States, and the tone and feedback I am receiving in the Q and A’s and conversations after the talks is quite disturbing.

It is not news that America is a hyperpolarized country or that many have a “throw the bums out” mentality regarding politicians.

But what has really troubled me is the depth of concern that people share with me, that our country is headed the wrong way, including in its relationship with Israel.

Every political season has its own unique characteristics. This cycle the public’s appetite for a populist like Donald Trump, or a socialist like Bernie Sanders is unlike any political cycle in recent memory, with some very scary rhetoric including everything from wholesale ad hominem attacks to uncharacteristic American bad-mouthing of minority communities.

With the explosion of the Internet over the past 20 years, we know that many Americans, especially younger ones, get most of their news from echo chambers that just reinforce their preconceived viewpoints. Young people who think out of the box or disagree with the conventional wisdom tell me that they are afraid to post challenging articles in fear of being “unfriended.” Just ask pro-Israel kids on today’s college campus.

I am shocked how many people tell me with absolute certainty that facts they read on the Internet are as certain as the Rock of Gibraltar. It is as if were they were reading the front page of The New York Times in 1960, before it began to editorialize the news pages with its political leanings and became agenda driven like so much of the mainstream media, on Israel and various other topics, so that its readers can no longer safely distinguish the news from the opinions of the editors.

This year I am being asked much more often than other years which candidate is not only best for America, but also best for the US-Israel relationship. I have shared my opinion privately in the past, but this cycle’s stakes for America and Israel are too high to remain silent.

Trump’s populist bullying, viciously demeaning anyone who opposes him, is feeding on the fears and despair of Americans, and is a very troubling sign of the state of our republic. His rhetorical flourishes have more in common with Mussolini than with Washington, Lincoln and Reagan.

On Israel, other than saying vaguely that he will be Israel’s best friend, like his “beautiful” tax return that he chooses to withhold, he has shown a lack of understanding of the region. There is little doubt that at least on Israel, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John Kasich have much deeper knowledge of the facts, and perception of Israel as an ally. On other topics Trump is even more frightening, as his proposed trade wars could bring the world economy into a recession or depression with even worse consequences of unrest within the populaces. And we all know who is often the scapegoat when things turn sour around the world.

Senator Cruz, who is no liberal, worked across the aisle with Democrat Kristin Gillibrand, condemning the labeling of Israeli goods from over the Green Line as a “de facto” boycott of Israel, according to Al-Monitor.

Senator Rubio has led on a number of important issues to strengthen the US-Israel relationship. According to The Hill, when Trump told the AP that “a lot” of peace in the Middle East “will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal – whether or not Israel’s willing to sacrifice certain things,” Rubio responded, “There is no moral equivalence between Israel and those who seek to destroy her.”

Placing the onus on Israel for the Middle East’s problems, implying the Gordian knot to untie in the region is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, highlights Trump’s profound misunderstanding of the Middle East. As Ambassador Yoram Ettinger wrote, “How could the resolution of the 100-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict facilitate the resolution of the totally unrelated 1,400-year-old Sunni-Shi’ite war?” On the other side of the aisle, Hillary Clinton has a long history of telling people, especially pro-Israel Americans, what they want to hear, yet excoriating Israel as secretary of state on issues that previously would have been of secondary importance. Her rhetoric of support has never matched her actions.

Trump’s hardly credible claim that his earpiece didn’t work when asked to disavow the neo-Nazi David Duke’s endorsement is reminiscent of Hillary’s infamous kiss of Suha Arafat in November of 2000 after Arafat claimed Jews were deliberately poisoning Palestinian children. As the New York Times reported at the time, Clinton showed “clear signs of discomfort during the remarks, but gave Arafat a polite, salutatory kiss when she left.” As per Clinton’s usual approach, she switched gears when she saw the political winds blowing in the wrong direction and belatedly said the remarks were “inflammatory and outrageous.”

So the question comes back to what I am continually asked during my speaking tour, and even in the Knesset: whom do I support for president, who is best for the Israel, who is best for America and the world in the 21st century? No one knows what the future will bring, and no one knows what events will take place during the next American president’s term.

As my mother says, man plans, God laughs (she says it in Yiddish).

Few remember that George W. Bush was primarily interested in domestic affairs when he took the oath of office in 2001, but his eight years in office were defined not by that agenda, but rather the agenda imposed upon him by 9/11. His legacy for good or ill lies in his response to world events he didn’t ask for.

So in such uncertain times, it’s important to have someone leading America and the free world who respects American exceptionalism with humility, and who will try to balance American strength, American interests and pragmatism for the greater good.

Narcissism and egocentrism are not qualities of leadership, certainly not for the most important person in the world, during what looks like one of the world’s potentially most transformative moments.

I do not want Trump to be the standard bearer of our country. I do not want Clinton either. I do not want a socialist, and the remaining Republicans may not rise enough in the delegate count in April, May or June to stop the populist momentum of Trump.

A Republican Senator friend told me that her answer to whether she will support Trump is “anyone but Hillary.” I don’t think that is good enough anymore.

I agree with Mitt Romney: “I cannot in good conscience vote for a person who has been as degrading and disruptive and unhinged as I’ve seen Donald Trump be.”

The author is the director of MEPIN™ and is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ (mepinanalysis.org) is read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.




The Iran Debate: The View from Congress

Last week I was privileged to speak with members of Congress and the their foreign policy experts as the deliberations and votes on The Iran Deal were taking place.  My objective was to explain that despite the manipulative political machinations that deprived the American people of an up or down vote on the agreement, there was much that can be done.

The emphasis needs to change from the focus of sanctions on nuclear weapons that the president will waive, to enacting new sanctions on the Islamic Republic for its egregious support of terrorism and human rights abuses, which threaten both our allies and our national security interests.

Watch my latest vlog to learn more about The Iran Debate:

 

 

 




Does an ‘Ally’ Have the Right to Redefine Zionism?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post.)

The founders of Israel were mostly secular and atheist, seeing themselves as a people, rather than a religion, returning to their homeland.

“The fact Obama linked the State of Israel’s legitimization to the Holocaust in that speech [Cairo 2009] was him adopting the Arab narrative: We’re here because of the Holocaust, not because of Jewish roots and 3,000 years of history.” – Former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, June 27, 2015

Michael Oren’s new book, Ally, has generated lots of attention. The mild mannered historian turned diplomat turned politician is now in the cross-hairs of the Obama administration, his political rivals at home and progressive Jewish figures. What has drawn such animus to Oren from the administration are some unpleasant truths about the US-Israel relationship under President Barack Obama that he reveals. As Newsweek reported, “Oren blames President Barack Obama for the sorry state of US-Israel relations and most of what’s wrong in the Middle East.”

As I have said for several years, I believe the president thinks of Israel as more a strategic liability than a strategic asset, and that his goal since day one of his administration has been to change the relationship with Israel and turn toward the Muslim world, particularly favoring the fundamentalist regime controlling Iran. Or, as Oren put it, to create some daylight between the two long-time allies. The White House has indeed supported some important military aid to Israel during these years, but meanwhile has jeopardized Israel and America’s foreign policy interests in pursuit of a friendship with the reliably unreliable mullahs of Iran.

One revelation that is not entirely new but is essential to address if your vision is a two-state solution based on a respect for both parties’ narratives is Oren’s assertion that the president believes Israel’s raison d’etre is the Holocaust, with only incidental incorporation of other Jewish history. This is very important, because if it becomes part of the mainstream narrative regarding Israel’s founding, Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state can be challenged, making it the only state in the world required to kneel and beg for its right to exist.

The charge that Israel exists only as a consequence of the Shoah has created both a firestorm and confusion among both American Jewry and the wider Jewish Diaspora. This is particularly relevant as the Palestinian Authority is currently attempting to delegitimize Israel by going to the ICC (International Criminal Court) seeking support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to question Israel’s right to exist. Therefore it is imperative to understand and educate America about what Zionism really is, and how the two most pivotal events of the 20th century affecting world Jewry relate to one another. In an era when much of the world, and many on American academic campuses, see Zionism as racism and colonialism it is incumbent upon pro-Israel supporters to communicate the truth clearly.

After President Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech in which he reached out to the Muslim world, his comparison of the plight of Palestinians to the survivors of the Shoah outraged many people.

Anne Bayefsky, who directs the Touro College Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, challenged the president’s assertion that, “The aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied,” for, she said, “around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries. A Jewish homeland in Israel is not rooted in tragedy or in centuries of persecution around the world. It is rooted in a wondrous, unbroken, and spiritual relationship to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem for thousands of years.”

Former ADL leader and Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman responded that the president was implicitly asserting that Israel’s legitimacy is based on the “suffering of the Jewish people’s “tragic history” and not on their historic ties to the Land of Israel. Obama’s choice of words and his decision to mention only the Holocaust as a reason for the creation of the State of Israel “gave fodder to the many in the Arab world who argue against the legitimacy of Israel.”

So if the Holocaust had not occurred, would there be an Israel? According to Tom Segev, a center-left historian and a reliable critic of Israel who has written extensively on the issue, “The State of Israel would have come to being even without the Holocaust. It was a result of 30 years of intensive work by the Zionist movement.”

But rooted in the Muslim world is the irrational contradiction of both denying the Holocaust while perpetuating the narrative that the Arabs were unfairly made to pay the price for the Holocaust in the creation of Israel, with the forced imposition of a non-indigenous Jewish people on the region.

SO DID nations of the UN vote in 1947 to create Israel only out of guilt at their complicity in the genocide of the Shoah? Is Zionism simply a reaction to the Shoah? If, as President Obama and others contend, the creation of Israel is solely due to the Holocaust, then the Palestinians have an argument. It then follows that Zionism is not a many-centuries’ yearning to return to ancient land, but was a simply spur-of-the moment land grab.

Modern Zionism is not a reaction to the Shoah. It began well before WWII and the Holocaust, only partially motivated by the anti-Semitism that preceded the Shoah; recall Herzl’s reactions to the Dreyfus Affair. On the one hand, Zionism is an affirmation of the Jewish people’s 2,000-year-long yearning to return to their ancestral homeland, manifested in the daily prayers of the Jewish people.

On the other hand, the founders of Israel were mostly secular and atheist, seeing themselves as a people, rather than a religion, returning to their homeland.

Jews learned that without a national homeland, nations and communities infected with anti-Semitism offered at best temporary shelter, all too often as tides shifted offering only humiliation, expropriation and expulsion. The horrors experienced over the centuries in the Diaspora, punctuated by pogroms, inquisitions, crusades and culminating in humanity’s descent to its lowest level in the Shoah, made the prayers and hopes for salvation and return to Zion more desperate and poignant, but the yearning to return, “next year in Jerusalem,” was always there, in good times and bad.

Zionism is a modern word to describe an ancient desire to return to the Land of Israel. Necessity and modernity played a part, but the desire for a Jewish homeland started in earnest in the 19th century, and culminated in the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate for a Jewish national home in Palestine. The European and Russian anti-Semitism of the Kishinev pogroms, the Dreyfus Affair, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and WWI all occurred years before the Shoah.

As Israeli statesman, former defense minister and Haaretz columnist Moshe Arens said, “In the minds of some, the establishment of the State of Israel is linked to the Holocaust, or even seen as a direct result of the Holocaust.” Which is precisely why the writers of Israel’s declaration of Independence purposely omitted any reference to the Shoah.

International organizations and governments did write the international law to help create the modern state of Israel, but shrugged their shoulders when the state was immediately attacked at its birth by five Arab armies. As Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer said, “Israel didn’t come into being because of the Shoah, Israel exists in spite of it.”

It was Israelis who fought back and saved the country from extinction. It was a Jewish desire for millennia to return to the Jewish homeland that preserved the dream.

On the Jewish Agency for Israel’s website they ask the question: “Did the State of Israel come about because of the Holocaust? Imagine the Holocaust happening before a single kibbutz was built, before a flourishing Jewish culture had been reestablished in Israel, and without armed Jews fighting to defend themselves in the Land. Would any one have supported Jewish sovereignty in that situation? Surely not!” The Holocaust was a contributing factor to the timing and circumstances of the struggle for independence. It certainly affected the kind of Jewish state that was created, its population mix, its self-perception and its worldview. But the events that underpin its creation are located elsewhere.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders. He regularly briefs members of Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

 




Why does President Obama Treat His Friends as Enemies, and His Enemies as Friends?

(Published previously on The Jerusalem Post)

With his misguided and naïve outreach, the president has spawned a new Iranian assertiveness, bolstered by an economic resurgence directly related to our unilateral concessions on sanctions.

Less than a day after the Republican midterm election landslide, President Barack Obama lashed out against the Republican Party as if it were America’s primary adversary in the world. On the very next day, we learned the president was secretly negotiating with one of America’s most implacable enemies, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

After six years of trying to placate America’s enemies, you would think that Obama would have learned that, in the Middle East, weakness is seen as weakness. The response to weakness will be – as it always is – increased demands, greater intransigence, disrespect and violence.

If repeating the same mistakes is astute American diplomacy, then President Obama and his foreign policy advisers are masters.

Somehow, the president has concluded that Islamic State (IS) is a much more dangerous threat to America than Iran.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Iran is a powerful nation-state that is developing nuclear weapons, while it remains the leading state sponsor of worldwide terrorism. As Shahram Akbarzadeh opined in Al Jazeera, “From Iran’s point of view, history is on its side… Iran maintains the most battle-ready military force…

buttressed with strong political ties with Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah.

The Iranian leadership remains confident… to reclaim its role as regional leader.”

As dangerous as IS potentially is, Iran is infinitely more dangerous to long-term American security interests.

If the president thinks Iran is a bulwark against Sunni jihadist terrorism, then he really doesn’t understand the nature of jihadist Shi’ite Iranian hegemonic ambitions.

The president apparently thinks there are gradations within radical Sunni and Shi’ite Islamism, some of which can become partners for shared US interests. This misguided policy was most evident with the president’s assessment that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt could be a moderating democratic Islamist movement. He still does not realize that Iran, Islamic State, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Boko Haram and al-Shabab are different sides of the same coin.

It is a risky bet for the US to align with Shi’ites, who represent 15 percent of the Islamic world, while abandoning our Sunni “friends,” who share with us a common security interest and who represent 85% of the worldwide Muslim population. If we advocate a value-based foreign policy, then we should align with smaller groups (like Israel or the Kurds) that share our principles. However, Iranian radical Shi’ite Islam and Sunni radical Islam of all stripes are two enemies that should be weakened, not embraced.

There is no reason for America to partner with unsavory “friends” in the Middle East.

Nor is it an option for America to follow the misguided foreign policy of my fellow ophthalmologist Senator Rand Paul and completely withdraw from the region. That is a prescription for disaster.

With time and increased American energy independence, we should strategically distance ourselves from repressive Gulf States, without abandoning them to populist Islamist movements. We also need to support Egypt as a friend, despite its military-led government. This balancing act will require experienced diplomatic leadership, something in short supply in the Obama administration.

Yet, Obama is still sending secret messages to the ayatollah in the hope that he will sign a nuclear agreement.

It would leave the odious, repressive Iranian government even more empowered to torture its people and spread Shi’ite radicalism throughout the world. This is the very definition of diplomatic negligence.

It is ironic that the Iranian people are our most natural allies, and are most likely to become democratic if only given the chance. President Obama’s abandonment of the people of Iran to the ayatollah during the 2009 Green Revolution for the possibility of détente was both morally wrong and a disaster for American national security interests.

What should be done? Firstly, the nuclear negotiation deadline must not be extended. Current sanctions must be enforced, and new sanctions considered. In addition, Congress should write new, veto-proof legislation in anticipation of European nations trying to circumvent sanctions. In tandem with these measures, lines of communication with Iran should be left open.

The most likely way to limit Iranian nuclear ambitions is by asserting diplomatic and economic strength. That is the only way to get their attention.

My friends on Capitol Hill really do get it. They have watched the president dilute sanctions and, in the process, allow Iran to move away from the brink of economic collapse.

With his misguided and naïve outreach, the president has spawned a new Iranian assertiveness, bolstered by an economic resurgence directly related to our unilateral concessions on sanctions.

It is time for Congress to assert its constitutional rights and become the president’s foreign policy partner. This is a bipartisan issue and should not be politicized by the fringes of either party. Let’s hope the president, in his final two years in office, can learn from the past, become more humble in his assessments, show less hubris and display as much conciliation in dealing with his fellow Americans, the Republican majority, as he has displayed in dealing with Iran.

The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.

 




Secretary of State Kerry Simply Doesn’t Learn from His Mistakes

(Published previously on The Jerusalem Post)

Kerry will again be raising the profile and influence of nations and organizations that are historically biased against Israel. And he still is not learning from his mistakes.

“US Secretary of State says that unrest between Israel and the Palestinians fuels unrest in the Middle East.” – The Jerusalem Post

“There wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment.” – US Secretary of State John Kerry

By blaming Israel for fueling the rise of radical Islamism, US Secretary of State John Kerry reveals a lack of comprehension that the rise of radical Islam is in fact rooted in long-standing religious geopolitical rivalry, and has little to do with Israel. His use of this rationale to justify restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks transforms his opinion from embarrassing to dangerous.

I spoke last week to the Middle East dialogue group at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA ). The group included students from Egypt, Israel, China, the US, France, the Netherlands and Morocco.

What follows is what I told them.

The rise of Islamic extremism in the modern period began with the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and the response of the Sunni world to the new Shi’ite assertiveness. The vicious rivalry between the Sunnis and Shi’ites began anew.

Wahhabi Sunnis created and supported al-Qaida and propagated a radicalization of the whole Sunni world. Shi’ite Persians wanted hegemony in the region partly because of their maltreatment at the hands of Sunnis over millennia. The fundamentalist Iranian state became the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, with the blood of many Americans on its hands.

Israel has been around for 66 years.

The Sunnis and Shi’ites have hated each other for 1,400 years. Israel has little to do with extreme Islamism, except for being a convenient scapegoat. Naïve Western diplomats believe Israel is the root cause of the problem primarily because autocratic and corrupt Arab leaders tell them so.

Kerry and his team should ask themselves the following questions: • What does Israel have to do with the Sunni-Shi’ite war playing out in Syria, Iraq and Yemen? • What does Israel have to do with Qatar and Kuwait supporting al-Qaida in Syria? • What does Israel have to do with Iran’s despicable human rights record? • What was Israel’s connection to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood – before Israel even existed? • How did Israel force the Arab world to import Nazi anti-Semitism as exemplified by the Hamas Charter, that rivals Mein Kampf? • What does Israel have to do with NATO ally Turkey becoming Islamist? • What is Israel’s role in the Islamist persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Middle East’s ancient Christian population? Kerry’s nine-month deadline for the last round of negotiations was probably the most important reason for Operation Protective Edge. Yet there is no indication Kerry understands that it is he who was the cause of so much death and destruction.

Now he wants to restart the peace talks. Violence inevitably and unfortunately will follow and again Kerry will find someone other than himself to blame.

There are reports that the Quartet of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia will be meeting soon to discuss the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Has anyone stopped recently to look at the makeup of the Quartet? The US, Israel’s only friend, will be represented by Kerry, who is convinced that the occupation – not Palestinian intransigence – is the cause of all problems.

It only gets worse from there. The EU cannot decide which is more important to do first – boycott Israel or recognize a Palestinian state. The UN’s disproportionate focus on delegitimizing Israel is the very definition of anti-Semitism. To its shame, 120 UN states of the “non-aligned movement” are lined up in back of the world’s leading state sponsor of terror – Iran.

In light of Russia’s current occupation of northern Georgia, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, perhaps they are best suited to discuss occupations.

Yet Kerry will again be raising the profile and influence of nations and organizations that are historically biased against Israel. And he still is not learning from his mistakes.

The author, an MD, is founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network.




Israel, US, and the World Community Face Upcoming Diplomatic Clash

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Next, America will pressure Israel to open trade and sea routes in the name of humanitarianism and insist the PA be present at the crossings.

“For Hamas… and I suspect for many Palestinians in the West Bank – the only solution is Israel’s elimination.

For many Israelis, the only solution is to continue to occupy all captured territories until the Palestinians commit to peace and recognition.”– George Friedman, Stratfor

Sooner or later, a fragile cease-fire will be negotiated, and a lull in hostilities will take hold. For how long, no one knows. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon clearly do not want to re-occupy Gaza or control a population raised on allegiance to terrorism and hatred of Jews. A military operation to eradicate Hamas and all affiliated terrorist groups would take many months, if not years, to achieve. The toll on IDF soldiers and Palestinian civilians will be beyond what the US, the world, or Israel can bear. This is not good news for Israeli communities in the south. Add to this the danger of the potential chaos and anarchy that may ensue in the vacuum that would be created with the fall of Hamas.

If the Palestinian Authority is unwilling to govern Gaza because it fears accusations of complicity with the Zionist enemy, who will step in? Forgotten is that the collapse of peace talks in May preceded the June kidnappings and Operation Protective Edge. The primary American negotiator, Martin Indyk, a reliable critic of Israel, blamed Israel for the failure of the talks. Indyk blamed Israel despite the fact that it was PA President Mahmoud Abbas who broke his promise not to go to the UN for recognition.

Abbas knew that neither Indyk nor US Secretary of State John Kerry would blame him for the failure of talks. Nor did the formation of the unity government of Fatah and Hamas factor into the US’s decision of whom to blame – even though the PA was supposed to have one government and one army.

(Hamas is 100% independent from the PA.) This brings us to the upcoming collision between the US and Israel. Kerry and US President Barack Obama will claim that this Hamas-initiated war is actually an opportunity for a breakthrough for peace. Despite President Abbas still demanding the right of return for refugees, and vowing never to accept a Jewish state, he is seen as a trustworthy negotiating partner by the US administration. (Kerry apparently still believes that his destiny is a Nobel Prize for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite the more overwhelming concerns of global Islamist jihad growing throughout the Middle East, threatening American national security interests.) American pressure probably will be in the form of a quid pro quo. We will try to stop the PA from charging Israel with war crimes before the International Criminal Court, the US will say, but you, Israel, must agree to negotiate based on the 1967 “borders,” and allow the PA to include Hamas in a technocratic government. There will be language and rationalizations that Hamas accepts previously signed PA treaties, but anyone other than the naïve, malevolent or ignorant will dismiss this as folly.

Next, America will pressure Israel to open trade and sea routes in the name of humanitarianism and insist the PA be present at the crossings.

With global jihad on the march throughout the Middle East, Hamas will rightly claim victory if it is not completely demilitarized, and its commerce and trade are reinstated. The billions in foreign aid that will pour into Gaza will erase any memory of the pain Israel inflicted as deterrence against future missile and tunnel attacks.

The US will likely clash with Israel over what constitutes effective demilitarization. Israel’s past experience with international forces and false promises in this regard justifies any skepticism on its part. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was supposed to keep southern Lebanon missile-free after the Second Lebanon War in 2006. UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon) allowed nearly 100,000 Hezbollah missiles to enter Lebanon over an eight-year period (2006- 2014), and intercepted none.

Similarly, UN Resolution 1860 called for the prevention of “illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition” to Gaza after Operation Cast Lead in 2008.

Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014 clearly demonstrate the ineffectiveness of international guarantees for demilitarizing Islamist terrorists.

A bipartisan American Congress has been much wiser and realistic about whom to call America’s friend in the region, and it is not the administration’s choice of Qatar and Turkey, Hamas’ main supporters.

The author is founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network.




Progressives and Moral Equivalence during Operation Protective Edge?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Operation Protective Edge is a fight between good and evil. There is no moral equivalence here.

From the Hamas Charter: • “Israel will exist…until Islam will obliterate it” (Preamble) • “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them” (Article 7) • “There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad” (Article 13) • “[Peace] initiatives…are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement” (Article 13) At a time when the Jewish Diaspora should be coming together to fight a movement whose raison d’etre is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews, progressives have introduced a concept of moral equivalence into debate on a conflict that is as close to black-and-white as one could imagine.

Haaretz recently featured an article titled, “Is Israel Committing War Crimes in Gaza?” Yet, the Geneva Convention states: “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.” Translation: According to international law, Israel can legally attack military targets “protected” by human shields.

Yet Israel, unlike almost any other nation in an equivalent situation, chooses to carefully minimize aiming at legitimate military targets to minimize civilian casualties. This, because civilians were purposefully placed there by Hamas.

Progressive Zionist Rabbi Eric Yoffie describes Operation Protective Edge as the same “cycle of violence [that] has repeated itself endlessly.”

“Cycle of violence” is a neutral proxy for moral equivalence, and equal culpability. Hamas, the genocidal organization that aspires to kill Jews worldwide, and Israel, the vital democracy under existential threat for its entire existence, are immorally conflated by most of the world. “Stop the Rockets, Stop the Settlements,” is the headline of Rabbi Yoffie’s article about Hamas and Operation Protective Edge. He writes, “Israel’s settlement policy is an utter disaster. It has no supporters of consequence anywhere in the world.”

If Hamas didn’t fire rockets, there would be no cycle of violence.

Why do progressive Jews feel the need to bring the issue of settlements into Israel’s conflict with Hamas – while the fighting is still raging and 5,000,000 Israelis are under threat – a conflict between good and evil that is so obviously black-and-white? There have been no settlements in Gaza since 2009, since which time the Palestinians could have turned Gaza into Dubai, but instead chose to turn it into a terrorist enclave.

Hamas does not want to destroy Israel because of settlements.

Hamas considers even Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba settlements.

Rabbi Yoffie writes that progressives are “encouraged by signs of moderation from PA President Mahmoud Abbas.” What signs? President Abbas is now serving the 10th year of his four-year term, and he still demands the right of return for Palestinian descendants of refugees to Israel proper. He refuses to recognize a Jewish state. He refuses to sign an end-of-conflict agreement, demanded by prime ministers Rabin, Barak and Netanyahu.

Most egregiously, Fatah’s military wing is now operating in Gaza with its “unity” partner Hamas, firing missiles at Israeli civilian targets.

In this context, so-called “moderation” and war crimes seemingly go hand in hand.

Progressives ignore the belief of many Israeli officials and military analysts that if Israel left the West Bank today, it would be overrun by Hamas within days. It would be 100 times more dangerous than Gaza is now.

While sirens were ringing in Tel Aviv last week, Obama’s Middle East representative Phillip Gordon was at a “peace” conference in Tel Aviv, chastising Israel.

“How can Israel have peace if it’s unwilling to delineate a border, end the occupation?” he asked.

When will progressives realize that the Arab speakers invited to “peace” conferences tell their Jewish audience what it wants to hear? The audience never gets around to reading the Arabic translation.

Operation Protective Edge is a fight between good and evil. There is no moral equivalence here. In 2005 the Palestinians had open borders, and there was not a Jew in Gaza, but they chose terrorism when they took over. Maybe someday they will change their minds. Until then the world should not confuse self-defense with genocide.

The author is founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network.