An earthquake has hit the Israeli political scene. Its longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, now leads the opposition after 12 years. For an America that counts on a strong and stable Israel as part of its core security interests, this profound change in Israeli politics is a moment of both potential and vulnerability.
The article states Prime Minister Netanyahu’s long tenure has left a “lasting legacy. He shifted the fulcrum of Israeli politics firmly to the right —and presided over the dismantling of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”
The Israeli polity shifted from center-left to the center right not because of Mr. Netanyahu, but because of the Second Intifada beginning in 2000. That was when President Arafat rejected a Palestinian state and East Jerusalem as his capital and started the bloody Intifada of homicide bombers in Israeli malls, restaurants, and busses. Israelis were shocked and realized that their hopes for compromise with their Palestinian neighbors were an illusion. In 2008, an even more generous offer of 100% of the West Bank, East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital, and even control of the Temple Mount was rejected by the moderate Palestinian President Abbas.
For all of his triumphs and faults, Netanyahu did not dismantle the peace process or move Israel to the right. That was the Palestinians themselves, who could have had a state at least five times over the last 73 years.
Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s article says that a two-states-for-two-peoples (Arab and Jewish) solution is the only “answer to the national aspirations of both the Jewish people and the Palestinians.”
Interestingly, she chooses not to mention the most significant event that occurred during her tenure as Foreign Minister, that when Prime Minister Olmert offered Palestinian Authority President Abbas 100% of the West Bank with land swaps, East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and internationalization of the Temple Mount, Mr. Abbas never even responded. He was not willing to give up the demand for an unlimited right of return of descendants of Palestinian refugees that would demographically destroy the Jewish state, as well as signing an end of conflict agreement to end all future claims.
Ms. Livni says that neither side will ever accept the narrative of the other and won’t convince the other of “who has more rights to the land.” That may be true, but what is needed is for each side to respect the narrative of the other and be willing to compromise. Only then will the possibility of a resolution of the conflict come into view.
I read the New York Times lead story this weekend, “Life Under Occupation: The Misery at the Heart of the Conflict,” as a justification for this Gaza war and militant violence. Personal stories to pull at your heartstrings are the strategy of pro-Palestinian organizations and the Times.
“Mr. Abu Alia seethed as he described seeing his son outside in the dark, ‘afraid, crying because of the soldiers, and I can do nothing to protect him. It makes you want to take revenge…. But we have nothing to defend ourselves with. Stone-throwing must suffice. We can’t take an M-16 and go kill every settler. All we have are those stones. A bullet can kill you instantly. A little stone won’t do much. But at least I’m sending a message.’”
A few years ago, I debated a J Street representative at the Columbia Graduate School of International Affairs. After my presentation, which presented the conflict in all of its complexities, the J Street representative said, I cannot argue with any of Dr. Mandel’s facts, but let me tell you about… He then went on to tell a litany of personal stories of suffering.
I believe I lost that debate because I did not pull at the audience’s heartstrings, purposely manipulating people’s emotions so they could avoid the more challenging task of evaluating the merits of each debater’s arguments.
I should have spoken about the equally compelling tragic stories of Israeli children and residents of Israel’s South who live continually with traumatic stress. One psychologist in Sderot told me 80% of the residents suffer not from PTSD but rather from continual traumatic stress.
As in the case of my J Street debater, what was left out of the Times news article was any context. There is a word for one-sided news articles. It is called advocacy journalism, meant to convince the reader of the writer’s opinion. Personal narratives are there to make you sympathize with one side or the other. What was most egregious in the article and in that debate was the complete lack of context.
Israel left 100% of Gaza 16 years ago, and Gaza could be flourishing today like Dubai, in Palestinian-controlled territory. Instead, Hamas has committed innumerable war crimes, sending thousands of rockets into Israeli civilian areas while using Gaza residents’ children as human shields.
The only reason Israel controls the Gaza borders is that if it did not, there would be an unrelenting resupply of Iranian missiles and weapons, killing and maiming thousands of Jewish civilians. Excuse Israel for doing the No. 1 thing a nation should do – protect its civilians so they are not living with fear every hour of every day.
The author seemed to have amnesia, leaving out that the occupation of the disputed territory could have ended numerous times over the last 72 years if the Palestinians had accepted a Palestinian state living next to a Jewish state. They refused that in 1937, 1947, 1967, 2000, 2001, and 2008. That is because Palestinian Arab leadership prioritizes destroying a Jewish state more than it wants a Palestinian state. Something you won’t read in a J Street press release. An ADL survey showed that the Palestinian people has the highest ranking for antisemitism in the whole world, at 93%. This was not a poll of anti-Israel bias but blatant stereotypical Jew-hatred.
The pretext for this war, according to the article, was the decades-long court case involving a few families in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The article chose not to mention that Jews have owned the homes since the 19th century, and the tenants have been offered to remain in their homes if they pay rent.
Palestinian supporters have chosen select facts to advance their charge of ethnic cleansing and Judaization of Jerusalem. On a political level, it would have been better for Israel to have ignored this dispute, allowing the Arab residents to stay and having Israel compensate the owners. But Israel is a democracy with the rule of law and courts for real estate disputes.
Perhaps it is time for Israel to realize that the world and a growing part of the Democratic Party will never see Israel as anything but an occupier. Maybe the unrelenting double standard against Israel should be seen as an opportunity for Israel to choose its security borders and not wait for the Palestinians. Heck, nobody thought the Abraham Accords would ever happen. This certainly would upset many people. But considering decades of Palestinian rejection of their own state because they would have to sign an end-of-conflict resolution, accept a demilitarized Palestinian state and end the demand for a right of return, maybe the time has come for Israel to set a new path.
Advocacy journalism can inspire Israel to take the initiative and control its own destiny, as it lives in a woke world where its right to exist is fair game, and violence against Jews is excused as a natural reaction to occupation.
So here are some proposals to get people’s blood pressure to boil.
1. Israel unilaterally defines its borders based on security considerations
2. No further Jewish building in the areas designated for a future Palestinian-controlled territory.
3. Jewish growth is confined to the settlement blocs or settlements essential for security considerations.
4. Continued Israeli security control of the designated future Palestinian territory until the Palestinians can unreservedly sign an end-of-conflict agreement and recognize a Jewish state next to an Arab one. That could take generations, if not longer.
5. Consider drawing the lines of a future Palestinian state that would incorporate areas within pre-1967 Israel with an Arab population. If Arab citizens of Israel want to keep their Israeli citizenship, they may need to move to Israel or remain Israeli citizens living under the Palestinian Authority.
6. Redefining Jerusalem’s artificially created borders to designate overwhelmingly Arab Muslim areas of Jerusalem for a future Palestinian entity, thereby demographically moving hundreds of thousands of Arabs from the census of Israel, if and when Palestinians decide to live in peace with a Jewish state. All Jewish holy sites and neighborhoods remain under Israeli control.
7. Tangible consequences when Hamas sends rockets into Israeli civilian areas.
Mind you, this is all to stimulate debate. None of this would satisfy the international community, the Times, the Biden administration, or for that matter many Israelis, like my fellow columnist Caroline Glick. But it is food for thought.
The Times writers believe Israel is an apartheid state and want Israel to become a binational state – in other words, the demographic destruction of a postcolonial aberration of Jewish racism.
So is it the time for Israelis to consider taking their future into their own hands, offering an olive branch to future Palestinians, that a Palestinian state could be theirs for the asking?
The status quo may be the safest choice for Israel to avoid sanctions from the Biden administration, the EU and the UN. However, now is the time for Israelis to have a serious internal debate about the future, to move forward without waiting for the Palestinian leopard to change its spots.
This war was more about sabotaging the emerging Israeli-Gulf relationship and preventing an Islamist Israeli-Arab party from joining an Israeli government, than it was about a few homes in Sheikh Jarrah. But admitting that would undermine the thesis of advocacy journalists.
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.
In the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine, there is an essential component that well-meaning Western negotiators have underestimated: religion factors more into the equation the West might expect, even for secular Arab citizens.
Religious beliefs are a core reason that many Palestinians cannot accept the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism (Zionism) or peoplehood. For them, it is a religious obligation never to cede land that once was Islamic. The Western mindset can’t fathom the importance of this, unable to comprehend that there is no separation of mosque and state for these believers. If it were simply about haggling over borders, the conflict probably would have ended long ago.
Israelis also have a religious narrative, especially among those who settle the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) for religious reasons — the biblical homeland of Jewish people.
With the Biden administration re-engaging with the Palestinian Authority and restoring funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine refugees, it would be wise to reflect on past failures in achieving Middle East peace. This requires something difficult for Washington: thinking beyond conventional State Department wisdom. Typically for Washington diplomats, it is all about Israeli settlements and not the role that religion plays in the conflict.
But Western analysts have underestimated the vehemence of those who believe that Judaism is only a religion, and not a people or a nation. From their perspective, the Jews don’t have a civilization or one with legitimate aspirations for their ancestral home in the Levant. On the other hand, they feel a duty to keep, or to regain, control of any place that once was under Islamic control.
For example, the first Islamic presence on the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif), the Dome of the Rock, was built in the late 7th century, nearly 1,600 years after the Jewish temple first stood on that location. If you listen to the Palestinian Authority’s line, never mind the archeology, Jews were never there and are simply colonialist interlopers.
Western experts should appreciate the importance of the Abraham Accords, in which moderate Islamic nations chose pragmatism and respect for their Jewish cousins’ claim to nationhood. It could be a gift to create a new paradigm between the Israelis and Palestinians. But only if a new Palestinian leader emerges in the image of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ), a pragmatic Sunni moderate who signed a peace treaty with Israel, will there be a chance to resolve the conflict anytime soon. Such a leader must accept a Jewish state without territorial demands dictated by strict interpretation of Islam. Many Middle East experts failed to see the Abraham Accords coming, wherein Arab states would recognize Israel and choose moderation over religious orthodoxy.
The origins of the Israel-Palestine conflict were never simply territorial, ending in Arab and Jewish states as envisioned in United Nations Resolution 181. The most unmistakable evidence is that former leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas both declined offers for a Palestinian state and Arab East Jerusalem as the capital in 2001 and 2008, respectively.
Western foreign policy officials say that we all know how this conflict has to end — two states for two peoples, with a division of the land and Jerusalem based on the 1949-1967 Armistice Lines. Yet, they forget there were those who would not sign an armistice unless it made clear that these lines would not be permanent borders, insisting instead on a ceasefire that stated, “The Armistice Demarcation Line is not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary,” so it could not legitimize a Jewish entity.
Today, conventional Western wisdom is that Palestinians sustained “Al Naqba,” a “catastrophe,” with the creation of the State of Israel, which expelled 600,000 indigenous people. But this catastrophe for the Palestinian people wasn’t only of Israel’s doing. Respecting Palestine’s loss is something with which most Israelis could empathize — if most Palestinians could overcome the belief that Israel has no right to exist. Both peoples must learn to respect the other’s narrative.
Religion was a motivating factor in Palestinian leaders and Arab nations not accepting a Palestinian state in 1948, 1967, 2000 and 2008. This more realistic, but politically incorrect, narrative is not one that today’s foreign policy experts want to accept.
America should not mediate any negotiation for final-status talks without a precondition: The signing of an unassailable end-of-conflict treaty, stating that neither side can have claims on the other’s territory. That is a non-negotiable demand to avoid past failures, because it would mean the religious dimension of the conflict is addressed regarding territorial concessions.
Palestinians deserve a government that prioritizes their future and begins the process of accepting the painful compromises needed for their economic empowerment and freedom. With Palestinians about to vote in legislative elections, it is incumbent on the U.S. to articulate a clear position on what it expects of Palestine and Israel.
If accepting Zionism and embracing the principles of the Abraham Accords is a bridge too far for the political leaders to cross at this time, a good beginning would be to foster grassroots dialogues between moderate Muslim and Jewish religious leaders, who can see the humanity in the other people with whom they are destined to live in the land. Who knows — if the Abraham Accords were possible, anything may be possible?
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.
In 2017, Congress passed the bipartisan Taylor Force Act (TFA) to put an end to the Palestinian Authority (PA) practice of using US taxpayers’ dollars to finance “Pay for Slay,” a policy rewarding terrorists and family members of imprisoned and deceased terrorists. The legislation’s clearly expressed goal is to deny the PA funding until it stops their program of incentivizing and paying for the murder of civilians.
The bill was named after an American Army veteran who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was killed by a Palestinian terrorist while visiting Israel. The PA media called his killer a “martyr,” and he was venerated throughout the Palestinian territories.
The Taylor Force Act requires the Biden State Department to issue a report to Congress for Acts of Terrorism. Despite the report’s conclusion that the PA “has not terminated payments for acts of terrorism to any individual (and) has also not taken proactive steps to counter incitement to violence against Israel,” the administration’s report states that the “Biden-Harris Administration has made clear its intent to restart assistance to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Which is to say, they intend to ignore the continued support of terrorism and resume supplying the money.
The Biden administration claims it can restore funding to the PA without violating the TFA. It claims its goal is to provide humanitarian assistance, rebuild trust with the Palestinians that was undermined by the Trump administration, economically stabilize the government while advancing the moribund peace process with Israel.
The Trump administration cut off funding to the PA and UNWRA, the UN agency that financially supports descendants of Palestinian refugees. The Biden administration is also planning as a goodwill gesture to reverse Trump’s decision to close the PLO / PA office in Washington, which was done to give more consequence to their continuing to incite and pay for terrorism.
The State Department report is clear enough; it says the “PA expressed its intention to expend approximately $151.6 million in payments to convicted prisoners, administrative detainees, and former prisoners (and) expressed its intention to expend approximately $191 million in support of families of deceased Palestinians referred to as ‘martyrs’ by the PA.” In November 2020, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said they would “remain loyal to the souls of martyrs, the blood of injured, and the sufferings of prisoners… we will not abandon them.”
The perverse incentive used by the PA is that the more gruesome and worse the attack, the more money the imprisoned “martyr” and his family receive through the PA’s Martyr’s Fund. The PA spends nearly $350 million per year on Pay for Slay, but just $220 million for its other welfare programs for the rest of its citizens.
In Washington today, everything is seen through a political lens. In 2017, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said, “Abbas has to stop making payments to terrorists and their families, and all elected officials should call them out.” Will Schumer, now majority leader, challenge the president of his party to keep the pressure on the Abbas and enforce the law? Or will he go along with spinning some words to fashion a legal loophole to allow money to flow to the PA? The PA would like to create a legal fiction by distributing the money through the PLO, Abbas being both the president of the PA and head of the PLO.
For the first time in 16 years, the Palestinian people will be voting for a new president and parliament. The list of potential candidates is not promising if you are looking for moderation. The leading candidates try to outdo one another with their non-conciliatory rhetoric and incitement of violence.
The Biden administration should learn from prior administrations’ failures. America giving the PA carrots without reciprocal concessions has never been fruitful. As surely as the sun rises in the east, giving up leverage for nothing gets you nowhere with the PA/PLO.
The administration needs to uphold the Taylor Force Act.
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.”
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.