Tag Archives: Israel

The Senate’s Role in Military and International Affairs

{Previously published by the JNS}

U.S. President Joe Biden ordered airstrikes late last week in eastern Syria against the Iranian-controlled militias, Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada. This was in retaliation for their most recent attack against an American base in northern Iraq (Kurdistan) that injured an American soldier and killed allied personnel.

According to Politico, “The Biden administration is taking heat from fellow Democrats as lawmakers pressure the White House to provide a legal justification for (the) airstrike…giv(ing) new ammunition to lawmakers who want to roll back broad presidential war powers (claiming) offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional.”

For years, I have written and urged members of Congress to exert their constitutional role in foreign affairs and not be a rubber stamp for executive actions, whether they are kinetic or diplomatic. Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Tim Kaine of Virginia—members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations—claim that Congress must be consulted according to the War Powers Act (2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq) for military actions. Their goal is transparent: extricate America from its forever wars in the Middle East. Last year, the Democratic-controlled House voted to end military actions against Iran after the U.S. strike against Iranian terror mastermind Gen. Qassem Soleimani for directing strikes against the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and bases in Iraq.

Although I disagree that the president has to clear all military actions with Congress, Congress does have a right to demand that they be briefed on significant engagements. Their opinion is to be taken seriously. However, the final decision is still with the president. Senators have many ways of punishing a sitting president if he/she does not take their advice with the proper respect it deserves.

Yet such punctilious study of the Constitution, as the senators claim, regarding the controversial use of war powers by this president is absent in their support of Biden’s desire to rejoin America’s most consequential treaty in 50 years without a Senate vote as proscribed by the Constitution.

The importance of the Iran nuclear deal—or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—and its binding consequences demand the Senate’s deliberation and approval. Murphy and Kaine were against using the constitutional standard for treaties in 2015 and remain curiously silent today for members who demand that America follow the rule of law regarding the War Powers Act, which is legislative but doesn’t have the gravitas of the Constitution itself.

The Constitution demands that the president make treaties with the Senate’s advice and consent, providing two-thirds of the Senate vote in favor (Article II, section 2). Murphy and Kaine want to check presidential power concerning military actions, which is their prerogative. However, abandoning the demand that the Senate be presented with the JCPOA as a treaty smacks of politicization that undermines American national security interests and the American people’s will.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Texas), a longtime anti-war advocate who also favors limiting presidential military actions, should be applauded for honesty. She makes it clear that military action should be stopped so as not to handicap America’s return to the Iran nuclear deal. This is something most advocates of the JCPOA choose not to articulate, hoping that the American people will not catch on. This is the same logic used by the Obama administration in not adding sanctions for Iran’s malevolent behavior after 2015, lest it cause Iran to walk away from its legacy foreign-policy achievement.

Lee’s wing of the party wants to give Iran a pass on attacking Americans and American bases. To say nothing of attacking its own people, being complicit in the Syrian genocide and its role in the humanitarian disaster in Yemen—all to rejoin a nuclear deal that guarantees a revolutionary Islamist Republic nuclear weapons while it vows to destroy the State of Israel and burn effigies of the Great Satan.

Unfortunately, advocates like Murphy, Kaine and Lee subscribe to the discredited idea that the nuclear agreement ends Iran’s ability to have a nuclear weapon. Although former President Barack Obama said the JCPOA “cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to the bomb,” he also said that in 2028, just seven years from now, “breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.”

So is a temporary pause in its nuclear program, which would end sanctions and empower this malign regime, something any president should be able to do of his or her own accord? The financial rewards of sanctions relief should be reserved for an indefinite end of their nuclear program, the end of the sunset provisions, and nothing less, something the current JCPOA does not do.

So which is it: Senators and the Constitution only when it is politically convenient, or doing what the Senate is supposed to do and look beyond the political fray and prioritize the Constitution and American national security interests?

As former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren and Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in Jan. 21 article “The Case Against the Iran Deal” in The Atlantic: “Reviving the JCPOA will ensure either the emergence of a nuclear Iran or a desperate war to stop it.” It is hard to believe that Kaine and Murphy would want that.

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 the senior editor for security at “The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

A Cold Egyptian-Israeli Peace Undermines Both Culture and Security

by Marwa Maziad and Eric Mandel

{Previously published in The National Security Magazine}

Recently, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet in Egypt for the first time in a decade to discuss their shared interests. This includes the growing threat of their political Islamist adversaries, Iran, Qatar, and Turkey. The agenda consists of improving economic ties, finding new opportunities created by Israel’s normalization with Arab Gulf nations, and exploring ways that Egypt could facilitate talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. What is missing is the desire to restart a people-to-people exchange to strengthen the peace accord, arguably essential for long-term regional integration and stability.

President Sisi sees the handwriting on the wall. He knows the Biden administration will be more critical of Egypt than previous ones. Sisi sees Egypt as part of a coalition of Arab states and Israel, strategizing together to mitigate the consequences of Biden’s plan to turn back towards Iran, as he rebalances American relationships in the Middle East away from the Arab Quartet (Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain) by rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear agreement).

American sanctions relief will inevitably be part of rejoining the nuclear deal. It will embolden Iran and be taken as a sign by its Islamist partners to challenge Egypt and its allies. Turkey wants sovereignty in the Eastern Mediterranean energy corridor, while Iran desires a Mediterranean naval base on the Syrian coast. Qatar, the political Islamists’ banker, believes it has the upper hand over the United States because it hosts America’s Central Command and U.S. Air Force Command headquarters at its al Udeid air base. How the new rapprochement between Qatar and the Gulf States will translate into any Islamist moderation or cooperation against Iran is a big unknown.

According to the American Security Council Foundation, “For ordinary Egyptians, a combination of opposition to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, lingering hostility from when the countries were at war and antipathy from some officials means that contact with Israelis is rare. The ties that do exist are often secret… The so-called cold peace is the result of a dual approach by Cairo in which it engages in a warm relationship at the top, but still limits social and institutional ties, in part due to fear of losing public legitimacy.”

But does this strategy of maintaining a cold peace between the peoples help long-term Egyptian security interests, especially in light of a new Middle East where political Islamism is an ascending threat?

President Sisi should consider that one possible strategy to indirectly strengthen Egypt’s relationship with America is to draw closer to America’s closest friend in the Middle East, Israel. The Biden administration and the majority of Congress will favorably view an opportunity to warm the relationship between the two American allies through economic and personal interactions.

The choice is not clear cut. Some might argue that it is in Egypt’s interest to not only preserve the treaty but to strengthen it, as political Islamists want nothing better than to undermine the accord, create distrust in the Egyptian public, and threaten Sisi’s political legitimacy. But Egypt doesn’t want Israel taking it for granted, especially as the most populous Arab nation of over one hundred million people that took the risk to sign a peace agreement.

Both Egypt and Israel know they need their peace treaty to endure. Political Islamism’s goal is to weaken that treaty and eventually take over Egypt. The treaty’s Achilles heel is the lack of human interaction between the two peoples. Although the cold peace has survived for over forty years, there is nothing inevitable about it lasting for another forty years. According to Ephraim Inbar, director of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), the distrust is “rooted [in] cultural and religious barriers” with the Arab world viewing Israel as an “alien body.” Although Morocco’s, Bahrain’s, and the United Arab Emirates’ relationship with Israel is new, the level of interaction between their peoples has already surpassed Egyptian and Israeli exchanges over the last thirty years.

Why should this matter? Some experts will say that as long as their respective military and intelligence services’ cooperation is strong, the soft power of people-to-people interactions is of minor consequence. With the common enemy of political Islamism threatening both nations, this should be enough, and taking the risks of changing the Egyptian people’s perception of Israelis is a bridge too far to cross.

Unfortunately, as evident from the Arab uprisings of the past decade, political discontent can rise anew over time. In a world controlled by malign social media forces, Islamists have become experts not only in riling up discontented populaces but can coordinate uprisings by merely pressing a few keystrokes on a computer, instantaneously sending their rallying messages of destabilization to millions. The Brotherhood and Salafists brought the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to Egypt’s presidency in 2012. There is no guarantee that next time the Egyptian people will be able to throw off the yoke of political Islamism as they did with the Egyptian military’s help, one year after Morsi’s rise to power.

Egypt needs stability, intelligence, economic security for its people, and military prowess to survive in a world where its rivals, Turkey, Qatar, and Iran, are looking to destabilize it. The Turkish-Qatari alliance would like a compliant and like-minded Egyptian leader like Morsi. This is not a war between Sunnis and Shiites, but a confrontation between moderate Sunni Arab states and ideological political pan-Islamists.

Real stability would need a new approach. It is crucial that Egypt’s people self-examine their beliefs about who their friends and enemies are. Today the Egyptian people still see the Jewish state more as an enemy than a friend. The memory of four wars, 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, still resonates strongly with them. During the Mubarak era, contrary to the state’s official stance of peace, the media, schools, and mosques at the societal level portrayed Israel as a perpetual enemy. To President Sisi’s credit, he has hesitantly begun to change this dynamic, and his invitation to Netanyahu is a good first step.

Things may be looking up for the relationship. According to a report in the Times of Israel, Israel’s new Ambassador to Egypt Amira Oron believes relations are already improving. Oron says that new possibilities for cooperation are emerging in Mediterranean energy development.

For their part, Israelis have not been able to find common ground with the Palestinian Arabs, who have the sympathy of their fellow Arabs. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, what matters is the Egyptian people see Israel as victimizing their brethren. Arab nations making peace with Israel today had become frustrated with Palestinian intransigence, that the Palestinian Authority chose not to negotiate with Israel when it offered East Jerusalem as their capital and 100 percent of the West Bank with land swaps in 2008.

Political Islamism has weaponized the Palestinian issue. Egypt need not double down by placating their populace with more criticism of Israel but begin the complicated process of changing the way the Egyptian people view Israel. An excellent place for Egypt to start would be to offer to broker negotiations with Israel based on two states for two peoples, a Palestinian Arab state and a Jewish state, with Palestinian refugees welcomed by the Palestinian entity.

Egypt has joined moderate Arab states, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Morocco, and Bahrain, in opposing the rise of the political Islamists. Morocco cut off relations with Iran two years ago because it supported insurgents in Western Sahara, and the Gulf States fear that Iran will try to reduce them to satraps, as they have done to Lebanon. With the United States as a less reliable ally, as it turns away from the Middle East and focuses on its greatest threat, China, the moderate Arab states, and Israel will need to work together as never before.

A new Egyptian initiative that would change the messaging about Israel, as it appears in their government communications, national media, schools, and mosques, would help strengthen the treaty. If there is an end to Covid-19 travel restrictions, encouraging the Egyptian people to visit Israel and welcoming Israelis to Egypt would begin to break down barriers of suspicion. Egyptians already have business partnerships with Israelis through the QIZ arrangements that allow both to export to the United States.

Inviting more Egyptian businesses to partner in the Israeli economy in shared enterprises would be a winning proposition. This can come in baby steps and follow the path of their Emirati cousins. Reconciliation of the peoples would set an example to Palestinians to create a new playing field to resolve the conflict once there will be a younger generation of Palestinian leadership, allowing both the Israelis and Palestinians to find a compromise.

A year ago, no one predicted 50,000 Israelis would be visiting Dubai in a month’s time, and many Arabs are coming to Israel to investigate business opportunities. Thinking out of the box means recognizing that the old paradigm of scapegoating Israel undermines Egyptian national security interests. President Sisi is on the right road; now, he needs the support of like-minded moderate Arab leaders, journalists, and academics, to secure Egypt’s future.

Marwa Maziad is a Non-Resident Scholar at the Middle East Institute.

Eric Mandel is a Jerusalem Post columnist and the founder of the Middle East Political and Information Network.

Will Riyadh, Manama be Iran’s next targets?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

It has been seven years since an Iranian member of parliament, who reportedly was close to the Supreme Leader, claimed Iran already controlled four Arab capitals. This occurred after Iranian supported Shia rebels, the Houthis, conquered the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. So what are Iran’s next targeted Arab capitals? 

Iran is more patient than the West, willing to wait years for the right opportunity to pounce. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the capital of the desert Kingdom, is undoubtedly high on the theocratic Islamist Republic’s list, especially as the holiest cities in the Islamic world, Mecca and Medina, are ruled by their rival, the Sunni Saudis. American policy makers underestimate Iran’s desire to export its revolutionary message; rejoining the JCPOA will do nothing to moderate their determination to change the face of the Islamic world by in effect conquering the region.

Today, Iran effectively controls Beirut, Lebanon through its Hezbollah division. Baghdad, Iraq is under Iranian influence through control of the Iraqi Parliament’s pro-Iranian majority, and their affiliated Iraqi militias under the Iranian Republican Guards Corps’ authority. Damascus, Syria is in the Iranian camp because Syrian President Assad acquiesces in Iranian control throughout southern Syria being grateful for them saving his despicable regime, and also powerless to resist their entrenchment there anyway. 

And in Sanaa, Yemen, the Iranian proxy Houthis are on the march again, looking to permanently control the vital Bab El Mandeb passage between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. This strategic choke point connects the Mediterranean Sea with South Asia and the Far East through the Suez Canal. 

The Iranians next Arab capital to target could be Manama, Bahrain. Iran considers Shiite majority Bahrain its own. If the Iranians feel empowered by American weakness over time, Bahrain may be targeted by Iran to test America’s resolve to curb Iran’s imperialist ambitions. If this occurred and America did not back Saudi efforts to fight an Iranian incursion on the western bank of the Persian Gulf, a stone’s throw from Saudi territory, it would be a major destabilizing development for the region. The JCPOA’s sanction relief fuels the fire.

The Biden administration is gaining a reputation for itself in the Middle East as willing to talk the tough talk against adversaries, but America’s Sunni Arab allies don’t believe Biden’s crew are willing to walk the walk of tangible actions that match their rhetoric. Timothy Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen said the US is “not going to allow Saudi Arabia to be target practice,” reacting to the recent increase in missile and drone attacks against the kingdom. Yet White House spokesperson Jen Psaki undermined the credibility of that support by saying, “We’ve made clear from the beginning that we are going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia.” The Iranians are loving it.

Noting more contradictory messages, according to AP, the State Department warned Houthi rebels to stop killing civilians, “just 48 hours after moving to strike the group from a terrorism blacklist.” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, We urge the Houthis to refrain from destabilizing actions.” I am sure they and their Iranian patrons are shaking in their boots. 

The message is clear to Iran: rejoin the JCPOA, and we will only challenge you rhetorically. In reality, we will turn a blind eye on your missile development, attacks on US allies, undermining Iraq, and your human rights behavior, from targeting gays and women who don’t toe the line, to assassinating your political opponents. Empty rhetorical warnings. Sounds like the Obama administration all over again. 

Just think of the chemical weapons red-line that Syria crossed and Obama blinked, undermining American credibility throughout the world. Biden’s resurrection of the Obama administration’s Middle East team sends at best mixed signals to Israel, while making our Gulf allies feel more vulnerable to abandonment. 

As the former director general of the Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs General Yossi Kuperwasser said, Iran doesn’t believe President Biden would put all military operations on the table. Iran is a good poker player and they know the current administration is bluffing.

BUT THE most prized Iranian Arab capital is Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Supreme Leader and his Shiite revolutionary regime’s primary desire is the Arabian peninsula where Mecca and Medina, the holiest cities in Islam are located, and it galls them that are under Sunni control. Shiite Iran believes, and with some justification, that Shiism has been delegitimized by Sunnis over the centuries. The Islamic Republic of Iran believes its destiny is to control the Middle East and beyond, based on a dangerous mix of modern political Islamism with ancient Persian imperialism.

Last year’s devastating cruise missile attacks against Saudi Arabia, emanating from Iranian-controlled proxies in Iraq and Yemen, exposed the soft underbelly of Saudi defenses. Despite its size and strategic depth, Saudi Arabia’s vastness is also a vulnerability where anti-missile and drone defense is a more complex challenge than in Israel, whose Achilles heel is the opposite, having too little strategic depth. 

The message Iran hears from America is that the US is distancing if not abandoning Saudi Arabia. Based on this assessment Iran is going to test American limits to see how far it can go before the US is forced to act and support its Sunni allies. Nothing makes this more explicit then when the administration repeatedly says the nuclear agreement is entirely separate from all of Iran’s other malevolent activity, and sanctions will be rescinded by simply returning to the JCPOA. 

Iran’s strategy is to increase their provocative behavior as a bargaining chip to gain leverage in negotiations with America. For example, Iran will be rewarded in negotiations for stopping Iranian-controlled attacks against Saudi Arabia, knowing that billions of dollars are on their way into the Supreme Leader’s and the Republican Guards’ coffers. They can always return to their aggressive behavior at a more opportune time when America is distracted with other foreign policy challenges. 

Saudi Arabia is a flawed ally seen by the Biden administration as murderers in light of the Khashoggi assassination. In the words of President Biden, it is a “pariah” nation. Yet its strategic location and the free flow of oil is still a Western priority for the stability of the world economy. 

The best way to change the Saudis’ human rights behavior and curb its nuclear ambitions in response to the JCPOA is to quietly pressure the Kingdom behind the scenes, with an implied threat of a distancing of relations if it doesn’t improve its behavior. However, the Biden administration’s public chastisements and public abandonment threats only embolden the Iranians, destabilizing the region by inviting Iran to take more risks against Saudi Arabia through their proxy network. And it will force Saudi Arabia to turn to China as their superpower friend, something not in America’s national security interest. The Chinese are already binding many of the region’s players through their Belt and Road economic initiative.                                                                                                                                                 
It was music to the Iranian Supreme Leaders’ ears when Biden said he “would make it very clear we were not going to … sell more weapons” to Saudi Arabia.” 

Biden has already snubbed the Crown Prince (MbS), stating that he will not speak with him directly, only his ailing father. But MbS is the de facto leader and will likely control Saudi Arabia for the next 50 years.  

But just as I would recommend that Biden speak to MbS, I even more strongly recommend that he talk directly to the only real power in Iran, the Supreme Leader. The claim that the Iranian President has independent decision-making power is ludicrous. It plays into their negotiating strategy, which they used brilliantly to their advantage from 2012-2015 with John Kerry, Robert Malley and Wendy Sherman. 

America’s goal for the Middle East is stability, not the virtually impossible resolution of it many age-old conflicts. The best path for American, Israeli, and allied national security interests is to encourage and nurture the Abraham Accords, which are the most effective non-kinetic counterweight to Iran at this time. 

Desperately trying to revive the current form of the JCPOA without concurrently prioritizing the normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia sends the wrong message to Iran. American weakness increases the chance for Iran to take aggressive actions and the possibility of Shiite control of Saudi Arabia in this generation. That is something not in American national security interests, unless we want to be pulled back into another Middle Eastern conflict.

The writer is the senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report. He is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House of Representatives, and their foreign policy advisers. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JNS, Thinc., JTA, the Forward, Israel-Gulf Report, and Israel Hayom among others.

Normalizations Must Be Nurtured and Act as a Model for Other Nations

{Previously published in The Israel Gulf Report}

During a visit to Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Dubai two years ago, it became clear to me that the people and leadership of the Gulf States were not only amenable but anxious to develop relations with Israel, harboring no deep resentments. My group included two Israelis with dual citizenship, and when it was revealed they were Israelis, only cordial relations followed. But normalization still seemed a bridge too far to cross in the immediate future.

The magnitude and potential of the new ground-breaking normalization agreements with Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco, and Sudan, should not be taken for granted. Success is not inevitable, as all parties must take extreme care to nurture, maintain, and grow these relationships for regional stability, where predatory nations like Iran will be on the look-out for cracks in relationships to undo this process.

Critics have disparaged normalization as only transactional relationships, not based on interests that are long-lasting. What they fail to see is that almost all international diplomatic relationships are created and sustained not by the goodness of nation-states but with the expectation of mutual benefit to advance both nations’ interests. One exception was the American recognition of Israel in 1948, an almost entirely valued-based diplomatic recognition by President Truman, where his American State department made a strong case to throw Israel under the bus for Arab oil. 

Today’s new normalization agreements are essential for all of the parties’ economic interests and security benefits. First world economies like Dubai and Israel can quickly take advantage of each other’s expertise and access to the world. At the other end of the spectrum, Sudan got off the American terror watch list by recognizing Israel and would be smart to let Israel help advance its third world economy.

Muslim majority nations that don’t prioritize Islamism realize that Israel is a necessary addition not only for economic and security interests but also because it will help advance their relations with America, still the only democratic superpower in the world. Despite its Islamism, even Turkey has maintained strong economic ties with Israel, although Turkish President Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman Islamism and hegemonic goals outweigh the return to a normal relationship.

Today’s new normalization agreements are essential for all of the parties’ economic interests and security benefits. 

Once the taboo of making peace with Israel is not held hostage to Palestinian intransigence, other Muslim nations will follow. However, for normalizations to be long-lasting, they must include the people-to-people interactions that are now occurring with Bahrain and the UAE. It cannot just be the military-to-military or leadership-to-leadership relationships that define the cold peace between Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. 

The new normalization agreements should prompt the Egyptians and Jordanians not just to use Israel for their intelligence and security interests but to put their toe in the water to begin to end the endemic anti-Jewish rhetoric that permeates their government-controlled media, schools, and mosques. It will lead to a more sustainable relationship for their self-interests, based on human interactions between ordinary citizens to break down the barriers of hate. 

Turning Egyptian and Jordanian normalization with the Jewish state warm after years of demonization and scapegoating will require overcoming difficult obstacles and the need for American leadership. They must come to see that the coldness of the current “cold peace” is against their long-term survival. With the rise of political Islamism from Iran, Turkey, and Qatar, and the failing states in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria, moderate Muslim nations need Israel as much as Israel needs them. 

The nurturing of the seedlings of reconciliation and normalization could easily be disrupted from both within and outside their countries. At present, the fear of Iran is the glue that holds together the new relationships between the Gulf states and Israel, as well as the cold peace with Egypt and Jordan. But as with everything in the Middle East, new and unanticipated challenges will emerge that will require the creation of crisis teams to deal with all types of contingencies and threats so that the relationships can be kept on a sound footing. 

America is turning east to confront China, and Muslim nations know that they may be more self-reliant than in the past. Cruise missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and Shiite militias undermining fragile states like Iraq are likely to increase, bringing instability and the possibility of regional war ever closer. That is why the normalization process’ success is necessary for the stability of the moderate Sunni nations. They will need to work in concert with Israel when Iran decides to cross a line that could set the region on fire. 

Iran is in Israel’s backyard in the Golan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Gaza, while the Gulf states know that they are no match for Iran if the American military leaves the region. They will need to develop some publicly expressed security alignment with the most effective military force in Israel as a hazard warning to Iran.

Hopefully, President-elect Biden and his new foreign policy team will value the new diplomatic relationships and not neglect them simply because the Trump administration created them. I America wants to pivot east and minimize its footprint in the Middle East, it will need to nurture the new normalization while working to develop new ones. Putting their efforts into a return to Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution is the wrong path forward for Middle East stability at this time. And yes, transactional relationships are just fine as long as the people to people component is included. 

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House of Representatives, and their foreign policy advisers. He is Senior Editor for Security at The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JTA, JNS, Thinc., the Forward, and Israel Hayom, among others.

How should Netanyahu approach the new Biden administration?

{Previously published by the JNS}

In the winter of 2015, one of Israel’s most senior security cabinet officials asked me what advice should he give to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in regard to Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation to speak before the U.S. Congress, laying out his case of why the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, was a “bad deal” for both Israel and the United States. My answer surprised him. I told him not to accept the invitation, but to wait a few months until the Israeli election was concluded. I learned later that Netanyahu’s former Ambassador Michael Oren also told him to decline the invitation. This is in contrast to Israel’s ambassador at the time, Ron Dermer, who incensed the Obama administration as the one who “orchestrated the invitation” and wrote much of the speech.

Why is this history relevant for Netanyahu in 2020? There is an analogy to today. He is likely to create conditions in 2021 for a new election to avoid handing over power as promised to Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The Biden administration would likely be negotiating with Iran, once again at a time when Netanyahu’s hold on the leadership of Israel is in doubt, as it was in 2014. This should be kept in mind by the Israeli prime minister before he has his first meeting with the Biden people, and strategizes how he should approach the new administration.

The 2014 visit to Congress was ill-timed, coming before an Israeli election later that spring. If Netanyahu won and formed a coalition, he could then have come later in the spring with a stronger mandate as the newly re-elected leader of Israel with a better chance not to throw kerosene into the fire of American politics. Any newly elected Israeli leader would naturally have asked to come to speak to U.S. leadership. If an audience with the president were denied, it would have been seen by much of the American public as petty politics on the part of the Obama administration. According to an NBC poll at the time, 68 percent of Americans “believed Iran was not going to abide by the nuclear agreement.”

I was and still am a strong critic of the JCPOA, believing that it undermines American and Israeli security interests, being both dangerous and unprecedented in giving a nation on our terror list the right to enrich uranium.

Yet knowing all of that, I still told my Israeli friend to try and dissuade Netanyahu from coming to Congress in 2014, even though I knew that Obama and his team had completely misled the Israelis, keeping them in the dark about the secret negotiations despite assurances that they would be kept in the loop, knowing the JCPOA was an existential issue for Israel’s survival.Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Although some blame the frosty relationship between Obama and Netanyahu for his administration’s actions, most think that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s relationship with the Israeli prime minister was always warmer. However, we don’t really know whether Biden will prove more sympathetic to Israeli interests than Obama was. We do know that he fully supported the JCPOA and was aware of the behind-the-scenes maneuvers to keep the Israelis in the dark.

The Obama administration policy from 2009 on was to create “daylight” between Israel and the United States, and to move closer to the Iranians. Keep in mind it was Biden who told the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, “Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing that you say, but I love ya.” That was 2014—the same year that the administration was secretly negotiating with Iran. So with act two of the JCPOA about to preview, it would behoove Israel and its supporters to review all of the history, mistakes and consequences related to the nuclear agreement.

In 2014, I spoke with the foreign-policy advisers of the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressing my concern that they were being outmaneuvered by the Obama administration, which was cleverly creating a backdoor pathway for Senate approval of the agreement with only a minority of the Senate in favor of the deal. I emphasized that the JCPOA rose to the level of a treaty and should be submitted to the Senate as such, which would require 60 senators to vote in favor of its passage, as it was the most significant American foreign-policy commitment of the 21st century. In the end, the Obama administration brilliantly outmaneuvered the Republican leadership and was able to advance the agreement with something akin to an executive order, with only 42 senators in favor. The next year I was told by that same Senate office that when Europeans came to visit Washington, they were astonished that the JCPOA was not passed as a treaty.

If President-elect Biden re-enters the JCPOA or renegotiates a new agreement, will the 2021 Republican Senate try to weigh in? Will Netanyahu try a new approach, having learned the lessons of interfering in American politics? Biden promises to re-enter the deal in his first few months, so time will be of the essence.

The Obama administration took its revenge for the Netanyahu speech before Congress, when a year-and-a-half later, in December 2016, the United States orchestrated the passage of UNSC Resolution 2334, labeling any Israeli presence over the 1949 armistice line (1967 line or Green Line) an international crime and upending the UNSC Resolution 242, the keystone document that previously acknowledged that Israel was never supposed to return to the indefensible borders of 1967.

So how should Netanyahu approach dealing with Biden, knowing he wants to restart the JCPOA in a few months’ time and wants to fulfill his campaign promise to reopen the PLO mission in Washington, the U.S. Consulate in eastern Jerusalem for Palestinian use, and restore some funding to the Palestinians, even if they have to ignore the Taylor Force Law denying American funding to a Palestinian Authority that rewards and incentivizes terrorism?

The two leaders know each other very well. They also have clashed with each other for years over settlement building, most recently when mid-level Israeli officials announced settlement building during a Biden visit to Israel, embarrassing the vice president, who choose to publicly lash out at Netanyahu despite the prime minister’s apology.

Unlike the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which not only saw eye to eye with him on almost every issue—with tangible actions ranging from the U.S. embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to acknowledging that Israeli settlements do not break international law—Biden and his advisers want to promote a more balanced narrative and promote the aggrieved party of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They could, if challenged by the Israeli government, even choose to join the international community in boycotting Israeli goods from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

Netanyahu needs to prioritize his goals before engaging with the new administration. There is no doubt that the nuclear deal is the No. 1 issue on Israel’s plate, and there are rumors that the new administration, unlike the Obama one, will actually listen to Israeli suggestions for a new nuclear deal.

The Israeli prime minister’s highest priority is to emphasize to Biden that he shouldn’t rush to rejoin the flawed deal without significant changes to the agreement, as many of its provisions will sunset in less than five years. He must convince Biden that the United States has new leverage with the Trump sanctions in place, which have caused the Iranian economy to be under tremendous strain. The revolutionary regime’s first goal is to stay in power, and it worries about a rebellion from within. This is a great American advantage for negotiations if it is appreciated, as it could force the ayatollah and his minions back to the table.

“Patience, patience, patience with Iran” should be the bywords for the Biden administration, along with the willingness to leave negotiations if the regime’s leaders don’t meet the minimum threshold to truly end the Iranian nuclear program forever.

Netanyahu’s second goal is to continue the normalization process with the Arab world. Getting the Biden administration to prioritize this early on when there is still a window of opportunity for new nations to join will require him to give Biden something back in return. That inevitably will be something in regard to the Palestinians and Israeli settlement-building.

With the Israeli prime minister looking to renege on his deal to hand over power to rival Benny Gantz next year—and another potential contender, Naftali Bennett, gaining popularity from the right—he will be seriously challenged to advance Israel’s long-term goals while advancing his own political interests.

For his legacy, I would urge him to think of the long-term survival of the U.S.-Israel relationship in light of the challenges Biden will face from his own party regarding the Palestinians, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and prioritize the nuclear deal and normalization, offering some carrots to the Palestinians. The P.A. is dysfunctional, and the Palestinian people don’t trust their leadership, now in the 15th year of their four-year term, so even optimists in the Biden administration know that there is a limit to what can be achieved.

You don’t get something for nothing, and if Netanyahu can get 80 percent of Israel’s agenda in line with a President Biden, that is a huge win for America and Israel.

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.”

Is it true that normalization doesn’t improve Israel’s existential problem?

{Previously published by the JNS}

Hadar Susskind, the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, penned an article in JTA titled, “Normalizing relations with the UAE does nothing to help fix Israel’s existential problems. … Frankly, we see little reason for celebration.” How sad, political and myopic a viewpoint. Even the progressive Haaretz newspaper called it a “historic signing.”

When I was in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai last year, accompanied by two Israelis, there was an enthusiasm for continuing the under-the-radar cooperation between these moderate Arab states and Israel for their mutual benefit. But the consensus view was that until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved, the relationship would be confined to an indefinite state of limbo. The Palestinian veto held sway in Arab capitals as it had since the infamous three “No’s” of the Khartoum Conference more than 50 years ago: No peace, no negotiation, no recognition of Israel.

After 72 years of saying no, some moderate and stable Arab states have begun to prioritize their own interests over the Palestinians, and with a remarkable and courageous step have decided to recognize Israel and normalize relations. How can one not celebrate the third and fourth Arab states, after Jordan and Egypt, to make peace with Israel with the likelihood of more on the way. Morocco, Oman, Sudan, Chad and Saudi Arabia are all on the flight path to normalization. If we were not in such a hyper-polarized political climate with a lightning rod of a president, these developments, if under a Barack Obama administration, would be placed on the fast track for a Nobel peace prize.

Yet Susskind looks through a lens that sees everything through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Israel as the intransigent party that has blinded him and his fellow travelers to the complex reality of the situation, completely ignoring the fact that peace has not been achieved because of the Palestinians. Their demand for an unconditional right of return of descendants of refugees, something Einat Wilf calls the “War of Return,” is a demand that has not been granted to any other refugee group and is minimized or ignored by progressive “peace” advocates. He says that the signing is happening as Israel “continues to entrench the occupation,” completely ignoring the quid pro quo for an agreement that suspended the extension of sovereignty into any new territory in the West Bank.

It cannot be repeated often enough that under Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority could have had a state with more than 100 percent of the territory of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) with land swaps and eastern Jerusalem as their capital. But because of its corruption, inability to sign an end of conflict agreement with Israel and contest with their rival Hamas to show who can more honor terrorists, the Palestinian people have become the real losers. That is why Israeli society has moved from the center-left during the Oslo years to the center-right today. Progressive voices like Susskind and Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street are magnified by like-minded mainstream American media and progressive groups, but they are unrepresentative of the vast majority of Israelis who have to live with the consequences of imposed solutions. There is something unseemly and condescending when one democratic nation tells another democratic nation what is in its best interests, especially when it deals with existential security issues.

The peace deals between Israel, UAE and Bahrain (and those to follow) are the best thing that could happen to the Palestinian people, but perhaps the worst thing for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. It is now up to the Palestinian people—the most subsidized people in the world—to end their grievance and victimization industry, and demand a new leadership that is more pragmatic. It needs a leadership that will prioritize the interests and well-being of their people, not letting the anti-Semitic ideology that permeates their mosques, textbooks and media to continue to ruin their chance to join their Arab brethren in the Gulf states in economic progress and the path to their own state. That begins by openly accepting a Jewish state in a territorial dimension that allows for its security.

Palestinians and their supporters, like Susskind, cannot remain blind to the reality of where the region is going, and that their Arab brothers will leave them behind as the intransigent player. If they care about Palestinians, then they will embrace these normalization deals as an opportunity to restart negotiations—something Abbas has avoided for years.

As far as an existential issue, while the Palestinians issue must be dealt with sooner or later, the true existential issue for Israel and the moderate Sunni world is Iran and its hegemonic ambitions. The Palestinians are not the primary issue for Arabs or for Israel’s immediate security, as evidenced by these treaties and the lack of outrage in the Arab world, except by the political Islamists in Tehran and Ankara.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

Does the Beirut explosion increase chances of a northern war with Israel?

{Previously published by the JNS}

As officials in Lebanon continue their investigation into the devastating explosion at the Beirut port, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been quick to deny any responsibility claiming the explosion “has nothing to do” with the group. “We don’t rule the port or administrate it … nor do we know what’s going on there … our responsibility is resistance [against Israel].” In reality, both the United States and Israel believe that Hezbollah controls much of the port as well as Beirut’s airport, both conduits for weapon transfers from its patron Iran.

Nasrallah’s comments come amid mounting anger among ordinary Lebanese at the negligence, corruption and mismanagement of successive Lebanese governments, in which Hezbollah is a dominant player that has allowed an enormous stash of combustible ammonium nitrate to sit at Beirut’s port for more than six years. The port warehouse that exploded on Aug. 4, held 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate—a chemical used for fertilizer and as an ingredient in bombs. To put that in perspective, Timothy McVeigh used about 2.4 tons of the same chemical in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

So who in Lebanon could have an interest in keeping such vast quantities of explosive material close at hand?

“We have nothing in the port: not an arms depot, nor a missile depot nor missiles nor rifles nor bombs nor bullets nor ammonium nitrate,” protested Nasrallah. Despite his desperate attempts to distance the group from this tragic blast, most Lebanese will assume that the ammonium nitrate belonged to the militia for use in Syria and against Israel. As their grieving turns to outrage, Hezbollah is expected to be the people’s target.

And that is leading many to conclude that this explosion will deter the Iran-backed terrorist group from aggressive action, at least for a while. According to Haaretz’s defense analyst Amos Harel, “For Hezbollah, Beirut’(s) devastation makes provoking Israel even riskier … (Lebanese) public pressure may lead to a real attempt to demilitarize.’ The conventional wisdom is that Hezbollah’s leader and Iran are in no position to confront Israel now. But a wounded animal is far more dangerous … .”

With fury directed at Hezbollah, could it revert to the tried-and-tested response of terrorist organizations and authoritarian regimes, and try and turn the people’s attention away from its own incompetence and complicity, and scapegoat its opponents? Nothing works better in the Arab world than to blame Israel, or better yet, escalate violence by provoking an Israeli response that will assuredly kill Lebanese civilians who are used as human shields. Hezbollah’s modus operandi is to stockpile munitions and missiles in civilian areas, intentionally placing innocent citizens in harm’s way. Israel has long warned that it will strike if its security is threatened, so could Hezbollah try and force Israel into the fray, and divert the anger elsewhere?

Some see a parallel and historical precedent for another popular uprising of the Lebanese people against Hezbollah. In 2005, Hezbollah and Syria assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, precipitating the Cedar Revolution, a mass movement of the Lebanese people that forced Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon. Two movements arose, the March 14 coalition lead by Rafic’s son, Raad, with Western and Sunni backing, faced off against the opposing March 8 coalition movement backed by Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.

In 2006, Hezbollah instigated the Second Lebanon War by killing eight Israeli soldiers and abducting two others. During the 33-day war, Hezbollah fired rockets into Israel; the Israelis retaliated and devastated Lebanon. Hezbollah remained the dominant force in Lebanon and over time gained more military strength, while effectively increasing its control and participation in the Lebanese government.

As the Lebanese government investigates the cause of the massive explosion at the port, will it look at itself in the mirror? Will it see its own corruption and acquiescence, allowing Hezbollah to control Beirut’s airport and ports, permitting the Lebanese Armed Forces to become a shell of an army, cowed by Hezbollah, Syria and Iran? Its incompetence and weakness leave its fate and potential war with Israel in the hands of Hezbollah and Iran.

If these growing protests do lead to more pressure against the Lebanese government, the chaos and anarchy that may follow could actually serve Hezbollah’s interest, with Lebanese society retreating to their warring camps of the March 8 and March 14 movements. This would then circumvent the potential for a large Lebanese consensus to come together against Hezbollah and its Iranian patron.

And to be clear, it is Iran that ultimately pulls the strings. Although Hezbollah is the dominant player in Lebanon, it is not an independent actor. Hezbollah is better viewed as a division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; its leader follows the explicit orders of the Iranian ayatollah based on the religious doctrine of Twelver Shi’ism that gives ultimate authority to the Supreme Leader in Iran.

How the Beirut port blast will affect Iran’s master plan to convert tens of thousands of Hezbollah’s conventional missiles into precision-guided projectiles that could overwhelm Israel’s multi-layered missile defenses, and accurately strike its most vital security and infrastructure locations, is not known.

However, Hezbollah may decide to make lemonade out of lemons, and utilize this as an opportunity for Iran to transfer precision systems into Lebanon under the guise of humanitarian shipments avoiding the inevitable Israeli attacks. If Iran brings game-changing weapons directly into Lebanon—smuggled along with aid deliveries—Israel would not dare act, knowing the reaction of the world in light of the suffering of the Lebanese people. Yet in time, Israel could be forced to strike to stop weapons transfers it deems game-changers, escalating the chance for war.

Before the explosion, Hezbollah was increasing its activities on Israel’s northern border with terror cells probing multiple locations and provoking fire from Israel’s army. A Western perspective has claimed that the combination of the ongoing economic devastation of Iran’s and Lebanon’s economies by the coronavirus, coupled with the U.S. sanctions campaign against Iran, have reduced Tehran’s ability to fund its proxy armies, decreasing chances for confrontation. However, this explosion has now made the region even more volatile, and the Beirut chaos may increase the possibility of violence spiraling out of control. As Seth Franzman wrote in National Review, “If Hezbollah does capitalize on this disaster, it will only accelerate Lebanon’s economic collapse, and hold the country hostage in a future war with Israel.”

If the pressure against Hezbollah from Lebanon’s Sunni, Druze and Christian citizens for storing munitions in civilian areas escalates, will Hezbollah and Tehran back off and opt away from confrontation, or will they conclude that a northern war with Israel is their best bet to deflect the fury burying their incompetence in the lives of the human shields that will inevitably pay the price?

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.”

Michelle Makori is an internationally acclaimed television journalist, news anchor, reporter and producer. Most recently, she was the lead anchor and editor-in-chief at i24News. Makori has also worked as an anchor and reporter for Bloomberg, CNN Money, CGTN and SABC.

What does pro-Israel mean in the age of Trump?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

The term “pro-Israel” has become has become a lightning rod, due in part to President Donald Trump’s many self-described pro-Israel statements and actions, and the scorn many people have for just about anything he says or does.

Writing in Haaretz, Jonathan Tobin said, “Democrats and never-Trump former Republicans argue that even if you support the president’s policies, they are bad for Israel… the association with Trump is tarnishing the Jewish state… [yet] if Democrats are increasingly divided on Israel, this is a trend that long predates Trump and was largely weaponized by Barack Obama’s feud” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Iran nuclear deal.

Eight years ago, when asked what it meant to be pro-Israel, David Shipler, the former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, said, “It seems obvious to say that being pro-Israel means supporting Israel’s survival, security and well-being as a just and prosperous society. Nobody would disagree.”

Is that definition of being pro-Israel obvious to most Jewish Americans today?

Twenty-five years ago, pro-Israel was clearly understood to mean that you supported Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, respecting the democratically elected government as the will of its people who put their children and themselves in harm’s way every day. Fifty years earlier, six million Jews were slaughtered, with Israel being the refuge of the tiny remnant that survived, along with 750,000 Jews ethnically cleansed from Arab lands. Israel’s six million was to be protected and defended by the Jewish Diaspora so a second Holocaust could never occur again.

That never meant that Israel was always right, but to be pro-Israel you believed Israel was right more than wrong, and certainly more moral than its neighbors, which imported European style antisemitism on top of their own anti-Jewish animus. That – combined with misogyny, authoritarianism and a profound lack of human rights – made Israel the clear choice for American sympathy across the political spectrum.

With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency and his stated goal to put “daylight” between America and Israel, the definition of what it meant to be pro-Israel was put under stress, as most American Jews overwhelmingly voted for Mr. Obama, as they have consistently voted for the Democratic Party in every election cycle. 

At the same time a new organization came on the scene that supported a more much critical attitude to Israel that was adopted by the new administration, hoping to re-define what it means to be pro-Israel. The primary focus of J Street changed the positive shared values and security-based “special relationship” to highlighting Israel’s occupation of the disputed territories, calling for punishing consequences for Israel’s intransigence.

This resonated with many young Jewish adults who were immersed in college campuses where intersectionality is the prevailing wind, Israel being the victimizer and the Palestinians being the innocent lamb. Although J Street and its college subsidiaries claimed they were in favor of a Jewish and democratic state and against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, it still provided forums for those who believe in BDS as the best method to pressure Israel to change its ways. 

WITH THIS, the foundation of what it meant to be pro-Israel for young as well as older Jews began to crumble.

This culminated in the Obama administration’s orchestration of the passage of UNSC Resolution 2334 that labeled any Israeli presence in West Bank (Judea and Samaria) a violation of international law. Being pro-Israel now meant that if you believe Israel has legal rights over the 1967 line, you are a supporter of an international crime against humanity. To Israel’s critics, everything about Israel is defined through the lens of its occupation of the disputed territories.

Enter Donald Trump, and the “pro-Israel” moniker became even more politicized, if that were possible, by challenging Jewish Democrats’ loyalty to the Jewish state. This occurred contemporaneously with the rise of the Democratic congresswomen who routinely crossed the line into anti-Zionism and antisemitism without incurring any consequences.

Trump’s “pro-Israel” support of Israel’s annexation of the Golan, extension of sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank, withdrawing support to the Palestinian Authority for supporting terrorists, have all been condemned by J Street as wrong and counter-productive. The organization’s advocacy, primarily in support of the Palestinian position, seems to have been re-invented into what it claims is an authentic 2020 pro-Israel position.

So what should define pro-Israel in 2020 across the political spectrum?

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Being able to say the Land of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people.
  2. That the state of Israel is entitled to exist as a Jewish and democratic state without qualifiers.
  3. Respecting, even if not agreeing, with the outcomes of Israel’s elections
  4. Not supporting boycotts, divestment or sanctions in any form.
  5. Not allying with anti-Israel organizations that question Israel’s right to exist.
  6. If you are pro-peace but advocate in favor of the Palestinian narrative that Jews are not indigenous, the creation of the state is illegitimate, you cannot spin that as being pro-Israel.
  7. If you advocate for a binational state you are not pro-Israel.
  8. You are pro-Israel if you demand any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict include an “end of conflict agreement” that all claims are forever ended, including the Palestinian right of return.

This list is certainly open to debate, but the hope is that it can create a dialogue into what pro-Israel should mean in 2020 and beyond. Just because you are Jewish does not automatically give you higher standing or the claim that anything you advocate is pro-Israel.

Whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden prevails in the November election, the eventual winner’s positions and actions over the next four years will challenge the very definition of what “pro-Israel” means. The ever-expanding and contracting tent of who is within or outside the pro-Israel tent will challenge Jewish Americans and their supporters in Congress for the foreseeable future.

The writer is director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for The Jerusalem Report/Jerusalem Post, and has written in The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld, The Forward, i24, Israel Hayom and Defense News.

Are Beinart and Rogen the handwriting on the wall for Diaspora Jewry?

{Previously published by the JNS}

Much has been written about Peter Beinart’s recent article “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State” and Seth Rogen’s simplistic ill-informed podcast delegitimizing the State of Israel. When you are praised by the anti-Semitic Code Pink organization as Rogen was, you know you have crossed a line—whether intended or not—into the BDS anti-Israel world that claims Israel is the worst nation on earth, an ethnically cleansing illegitimate enterprise from its beginning. Rogen’s defenders claimed he apologized, except that he didn’t. “I did not apologize for what I said. I offered clarity.” That is the very definition of not apologizing. Blaming his childhood Jewish education for his adult ignorance is pathetic. The best he can say is that Israel has a right to exist.

The important question to ask regarding their outrageous statements is whether these are indicative of where the American Jewish Diaspora is headed.

Let’s be clear from the start. Criticism of the Jewish state is the national sport of Israelis and for Jewish Americans of all stripes. The false claim that those who support and defend the right of the Jewish state to live in peace and security are a non-thinking, biased group that never sees anything wrong with the actions of the Jewish state is simply false and a tactic of Israel critics to delegitimize those who support Israel, warts and all.

So let’s do a simple test to gain some insight into the potential staying power of American Jewry for the long term, at least in quantifying the number of future identifiable Jews. Honestly ask yourself what percentage of American Jews, who are not Orthodox or Zionists, will have grandchildren and great-grandchildren be Jewish beyond defining it as enjoying bagels and being proud to have an ancestry of one Jewish grandparent.

If we are honest, the answer isn’t pretty. Unless you are a Zionist or Orthodox, your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be further and further estranged from their past, beyond a spit test sent to you by ancestry.com or “23andme.”

Yes, there will still be some small number of Jews who continue to identify as Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist, and will fulfill the fine aspirations of each one of those denominations, but they will be far smaller in number. As a Conservative Jew, it’s painful for me to admit the truth.

The American-born Israeli novelist Hillel Halkin asked, “What binds American Jews together today? Most of us are secular; the religious bond is gone. Few of us speak Hebrew; the language bond is gone. What remains is the historical narrative of 80 generations and Israel, the realization of that dream and the spiritual and cultural light that radiates to the rest of the world. If we abandon Israel, we abandon our future. If Israel is gone, Jewish life will be gone in one or two generations. … If we forget that narrative, gone is our Jewishness. Throughout our history, the driving engine of survival has been the hope for returning to sovereignty in the birthplace of our history—Eretz Israel. The State of Israel is the culmination of this dream.”

Today’s young Jewish Americans don’t relate to Israel, as their cultural immersion from middle school through graduate school has painted Israel as the last illegitimate remnant of imperialism, which should be expunged for society to advance. If they care about their Judaism, it is overwhelmingly defined by tikkun olam, repairing the world—a lovely universalist concept that is an important part, but not in itself enough, to make one Jewish. If that is your primary identification with Judaism, you may be a wonderful person, but there is no compelling reason to pass your Jewish identity on. If you also see the Jewish state as anachronistic and militaristic—something that you cannot be associated with to live with your progressive ideology—then you take a step towards Beinart and Rogen.

This all sounds harsh, perhaps a little over the top. But to ignore the facts and reality of what is happening to liberal American Judaism, especially if you care about Judaism’s future in the diaspora, is to bury your head in the sand.

Since most American Jews will not become religious, much less Orthodox, and don’t identify in religious terms in the contemporary post-denominational era, the only sure way to have a continuation of Jewish identify in the Diaspora for the future is to connect to Israel in some way. If you are an atheist and a Zionist, you have a much better chance that your progeny will be meaningfully Jewish than if you are estranged or hostile to Israel and consider your Jewishness to consist of being a really nice person.

With an overwhelming intermarriage rate—and most American Jews uninterested in Judaism as a religion except for maybe a family Passover seder—then a re-engagement with Zionism may be the last hope for maintaining the Jewish census in America. This should begin by ending the false narrative of only seeing Israel through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and defining it completely by its “occupation” of the disputed territories. Otherwise, Peter Beinart and Seth Rogan are truly the handwriting on the wall for American Judaism.

Learn to love Israel on your own terms and pass it on to your children. It will preserve your 3,000-year-old heritage and legacy for future generations, with all its beauty and complexities.

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.”

Biden vs. Trump on Israel and anti-Semitism

{Previously published by the JNS}

A pro-Israel friend of mine told me that he wished AIPAC would publish an unbiased list comparing the policy differences between former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. President Donald Trump in regard to Israel. It was refreshing to hear in our current political climate someone who wanted to objectively analyze past actions and future policy positions of the candidates, as well as looking at their current foreign-policy advisers and associates.

In the minefield of American politics, trying to look at the facts in context and draw conclusions is almost impossible, as ad hominem attacks rule the day—unfortunately, many of them justified.

Trump haters see a president who is a narcissistic and racial divider, lacking intellectual depth and with a willful aversion to the truth. To others, Biden represents a person who has lost his cognitive abilities and is completely under the sway of the anti-Israel progressive wing of his party. Those progressives want to tear down America and create a Socialist republic that redistributes wealth; they call for reparations; and promote a victimhood mentality that allows Palestinians to remain as perpetual victims, while viewing Israel as a colonialist enterprise that should be sent to the scrapheap of racist regimes.

Now that I have your attention and have raised your blood pressure, let’s try, without contempt or bile, to compare what Trump and Biden have said and done concerning Israel and American Jews. The list is not exhaustive, but it should stimulate your intellectual curiosity and motivate you to Google for more answers. Bottom of Form

Critics of Trump claim that he is the icon of white supremacists who hate Jews, dog-whistling anti-Semitic tropes that only they can hear. Biden will often cite Trump’s divisive words in at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., that exhibited anti-Jewish vitriol as the best example. Some claim that those words were taken out of context.

Supporters of Trump will claim that he is the most pro-Israel President in history, sanctioning the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, cutting off funds to UNWRA for perpetuating a false narrative that descendants of Palestinian refugees are entitled to go into Israel, penalizing the Palestinian Authority for incentivizing terrorism, and acknowledging that Israel has international legal rights over the 1967 line, allowing it to extend sovereignty into the West Bank.

For clarity, Israel truly annexed the Golan Heights because it had a previous legitimate stakeholder, Syria, whereas Israel cannot technically annex anything in the West Bank because the last legal entity, the Ottoman Empire, does not exist anymore. Article 80 of the U.N. Charter memorializes Israel’s rights in the West Bank, so the proper term would be extending sovereignty, rather than annexation. The wisdom of exercising those rights is subject to a legitimate debate between Trump and Biden supporters.

Critics of Trump claim that his one-sided actions against the Palestinians have made a two states for two people’s resolution of the conflict almost impossible. An icon of J Street and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Peter Beinart, went so far as to write a New York Times opinion piece titled “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State.” Critics claim that Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” Mideast plan grants Israel land in the West Bank, and would turn Israel into an apartheid and undemocratic state undeserving of American support. There is a new Democrat House letter demanding the end of funding for Israel in response to its “annexation.”

Trump supporters claim that Biden, despite Iranian transgressions of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, intends to rejoin that fatally flawed agreement, which endangers both U.S. and Israeli national security interests. Made under the Obama administration, it willfully ignored Iran’s increased human-rights abuses against its citizens, its missile development and its support of global terrorism (particularly against the Jewish state), while enriching the Islamic Republic with billions in sanctions relief.

Biden supporters claim that the JCPOA was a good, if imperfect, agreement that ended the ability of Iran to ever have a nuclear weapon. Critics claim that the deal is actually a pathway to an Iranian nuclear weapon, legitimizing their possession to a terrorist regime that has called time and again for the annihilation of America and Israel, as they have to wait only a few years for the deal’s nuclear prohibitions to expire.

Biden supporters acclaim the Obama passage of UNSC Resolution 2334, which stated that Israel would be in flagrant violation of international law if it keeps possession of any land over the 67 Line, as advancing peace and a two-state solution because it forces Israel to negotiate based on the 1967 line, which is the Palestinian position. Critics claim this hurts Israel’s security by undermining UNSC Resolution 242, which recognized Israel’s 1967 defensive line as unacceptably vulnerable to its neighbors who have repeatedly launched wars against them, acknowledging that Israel can never go back to that indefensible position.

Biden supporters claim that he and President Barack Obama were very pro-Israel, as evidenced by the largest financial-aid package ever given to Israel, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) worth more than $30 billion during the course of 10 years. They also say that Biden was supportive of additional aid to help Israel with its anti-missile system. Critics say that the amount of the MOU was actually reduced as punishment for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu going to Congress against Obama’s wishes to fight against the Iran deal—the Obama administration’s prized foreign-policy legacy. Advocates of military aid to Israel point out that almost all the money given to Israel for defense spending goes to American contractors, thereby helping the U.S. economy, and that this is a two-way street, as Israeli soldiers are arguably doing our work for us, being our only reliable ally in a region of fickle dictatorships.

Trump supporters say that if you want to look at where Biden is going on Israel, you only have to look at the head of his foreign-policy transition team, Avril Haines. She signed a J Street letter critical of Israel advocating for a more “balanced” position in the Democratic Convention Platform, treating Israel and Palestinians equally, and would not be “silent on the rights of Palestinians, on Israeli actions that undermine those rights and the prospects for a two-state solution.”

Biden supporters say that if you want to know who Joe is, just look at his statements at AIPAC conventions over the last 30 years, and the pro-Israel letters and legislation that he has signed onto. In 2016, he said, “Israel will always exist strong and capable as the ultimate guarantor of security for Jewish people around the world. That is the abiding moral obligation we have.” Biden supporters claim that Trump crossed the line when he claimed that Jews who vote Democratic are disloyal. Biden responded, “Mr. President, these comments are insulting and inexcusable … . It may not be beneath you, but it is beneath the office you hold.”

Trump supporters claim that the charge that he is anti-Semitic is ludicrous, as his grandchildren and daughter are Orthodox Jews. His executive action protecting Jewish students on college campuses from harassment and intimidation for expressing their pro-Israeli advocacy is now protected under the Civil Rights Act and applauded by pro-Israel supporters, but condemned as a violation of free speech by progressives who support Biden. According to AMCHA—an organization that battles campus anti-Semitism—the Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition equating anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism has seen a 300 percent increase in challenging that definition, something that has been incorporated into the Trump strategy to fight anti-Semitism.

In America today, getting anyone to appreciate or respect different policies and opinions is a lost cause. The visceral reaction to Trump is palpable, and his rhetoric does him no favors. For others, Biden is no different from the progressive anti-Israel “Squad” in Congress, and his articulation problems do him no favors. Biden’s much-anticipated choice of a vice-presidential candidate will be venerated on the left and excoriated on the right.

American Jews vote overwhelmingly Democrat, and for many, Trump’s divisive actions have made this an easy choice. For a minority of American Jews, Biden may be a good man, but has lost his way on Israel and would be a dangerous choice for its long-term security. His stated policy to rejoin the Iran deal poses a serious threat to Israel, and his views on the Palestinians and international law are naive at best, and dangerous at worst.

America will survive Trump or Biden. But for the minority of American Jews who have Israel as one of their top-five policy issues in voting for a president, would  Biden or Trump be a better choice to enhance U.S.-Israeli relations? Or would one of them actually endanger Israel by his policy decisions?

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.”