Tag Archives: National Security

Is Jewish Unity an Israeli National Security Issue?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

For the foreseeable future America is indispensable for Israel’s national security interests, and Israel is indispensable for American defense interests.

Now that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has temporarily mollified the America Jewish community by kicking the can down the road on the controversial conversion legislation, leaving the Western Wall issue unresolved, this is a good time to think about the relationship between American Jews and Israel.

1.  Is American Jewish support of Israel essential for the survival of the Jewish state?

2.  Does the Israeli government understand how much America’s support of Israel might be weakened by the alienation of ardently Zionist but not so religious Jews who make up much of the core of groups like AIPAC, AJC and StandWithUs, and pour their lives into defending the Jewish state?

3.  Do secular and religiously liberal American Jews now calling for boycotts of Israel because of disagreements on religious pluralism realize how much damage this might create for both US and Israeli national security interests?

During the years of contention when the Obama and Netanyahu administrations overlapped, I repeatedly tried to tell members of the Israeli coalition governments that there was a dangerous and growing divide between large segments of American and Israeli Jewry.

Addressing this problem should be considered an Israeli national defense priority, as Israel needs American Jewish support to defend itself in the court of world opinion, in Congress, fighting boycotts worldwide and to resist journalistic and organizational attacks that aim to delegitimize its very existence.

There is nothing inevitable about American support for Israel. Suppose a large part of the American Jewish community becomes estranged from the Jewish state, vocally denouncing it either because of bickering among Jews about issues of religion, or Diaspora Jews back-seat driving Israel’s painful search for workable ways of dealing with neighbors whose determination to kill them or drive them out of their homes seems implacable.

Might their vocal demands that Israel be punished succeed in undermining Israel’s national defense, which is a keystone uniquely positioned to defend their American national security interests? Too many in the Israeli government remain tone deaf to the gravity of a loss of cohesion between the Diaspora and Israeli Jewish communities, and how it can directly affect their core security concerns.

At the same time, American Jews must in the name of diversity and pluralism make the effort to respect and understand the complex realities of Israel’s multi-party democracy, where the majority of today’s citizenry are Sephardi or Mizrahi, not European Ashkenazi, who view religious issues differently.

American and Israeli Jews need to learn to respect each other’s understanding of how they define their Jewish identity, which is overlapping but different. As Jonathan Tobin wrote in Haaretz, “ Secular Israelis think of religion as only one aspect of Jewish identity that many see as optional… but to be a Jew in the Diaspora is inextricably tied with religion,” even if you are not ritually observant and Tikkun Olam (“repairing the world”) is your primary attachment to your Jewish identity.

So is the relationship between the two largest Jewish communities in the world vital for their survival? Jewish-Americans do not have to put their children in harm’s way, and far too many have a distorted historical understanding of the disputed territories, with a naively sanguine view of Palestinian leadership.

To most Israeli voters, issues relating to the Western Wall and religious pluralism, which might be vehemently discussed in the US, are issues secondary to economics and security.

Israeli leaders need to understand how important these issues are in the minds of many American Jews, who may think more about who gets to pray at the Western Wall and conversions and less about rockets from Gaza, Israeli army service, Iranian nuclear weapons, and shekels.

The issues are complex, but American Jews, who passionately care about Israel’s welfare, feel disrespected as Jews by the ultra-Orthodox. They are perplexed as they see the ultra-Orthodox (not to be confused with religious Zionists) as non-Zionists who do not serve in the army, don’t seem grateful for American financial support of Israeli institutions and extort money for religious schools that don’t teach secular skills for self-sufficiency in the modern world.

Likud-led governments are not the only ones that have capitulated to ultra-Orthodox demands in forming coalition governments. American liberal religious groups would be blind to ignore the very real possibility that Zionist Union (Labor) would accept the ultra-Orthodox into their coalition if that were needed to attain power. Perhaps only Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid might resist that temptation.

Israel would also be incredibly shortsighted if it sees its pivot toward relationships with India, China and other nations supplanting the American-Israeli relationship in the short term.

For the foreseeable future America is indispensable for Israel’s national security interests, and Israel is indispensable for American defense interests.

An important side benefit of a compromise on conversion would be for Israeli-Russian citizens. Non-coercive and easier conversions that would satisfy the more tolerant Orthodox streams within Israeli Jewry, especially those led by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Rabbi Benny Ish-Shalom, would show great compassion to the hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews who fight for their country, consider themselves Jews but technically need a conversion for their patrilineal descent.

The Reform movement’s acceptance of patrilineal descent yields at this time an unbridgeable divide within halachic movements, although Judaism has always come up with legal fictions through the ages to preserve the Jewish People, and more compassionate conversions would be a good first step.

Haredim need to be respected but would do well to remember the words and actions of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who loved all Jews and considered the performance of any mitzvot by a non-observant Jew as worthwhile.

American Jews need to be more sensitive to Israeli political realities and not overreact with calls to boycotts, giving succor to the BDS movement.

And Israeli politicians should remember not to take American Jewry’s support for granted, that disparaging American Jewry is not just a religious or moral issue, but is an Israeli national security interest too.

The author is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East and is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.

Who Is in Charge of American Foreign Policy, State or the President?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Regarding Qatar and Kurdistan, it is time for America to choose the right side.

Qatar, a small Sunni Gulf state with a long history of Islamist associations, has emerged as the epicenter of the Middle East conflict. On one side are Iran, Turkey, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood aligned with Qatar, and on the other side the Saudis, UAE, Kuwait and Egypt.

For American national security interests, management of this divide is crucial to stabilize the region. Despite Qatar’s anti-American, antisemitic and pro-Iranian views, it hosts an important but not indispensable American air base that targets Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Yet Qatar has been playing a deceitful double game for years, supporting the worst Islamists on the Sunni side while simultaneously acting as ally and banker for the theocratic Iranian regime.
Who said the Middle East is easy to decipher?

So as America tries to navigate the five-dimensional chessboards of conflicting interests in the Middle East, a serious divide in messaging and leadership has emerged between the president and his state and defense departments.

Washington Post headline read: “State Department distances itself from Trump, creating an alternate U.S. foreign policy.”

So who actually is in charge of American foreign policy?

According to Josh Rogin in the Washington Post, the new State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert “fell back on a prepared line, quoting [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson saying that the State Department would just not weigh in on what Trump is saying about U.S. foreign policy… the State Department’s plan is to push forward with its own policies and pretend they don’t contradict Trump.”

Regardless of your political affiliation, any American citizen should be profoundly troubled if our State Department has its own independent foreign policy, as it is an unelected institution unresponsive to the American electorate.

Isn’t the State Department supposed to follow the elected president’s Middle East foreign policy?

This is a recipe for a disastrous US Middle East foreign policy, undermining the interests and trust of American allies, in particular Israel.

This is especially true after the last American administration steered the US away from its traditional allies Israel, Egypt and the Sunni Gulf states toward closer relations with Iran, Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey, while creating vacuums filled by American enemies.

While the president accurately tweeted an accusation that Qatar funds terrorist groups with radical ideologies, Defense Department spokesman Jeff Davis said he was not qualified to answer a question about whether Qatar supported terrorism.

For context on Qatar’s nefarious funding, some of the groups that have benefited from Qatari support include: Islamic State; the Muslim Brotherhood; Hamas; the Khorasan Group; al Nusra Front; al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula; al-Shabaab; the Taliban; and Lashkar-e-Taiba, to name a few.

Qatari-controlled Al Jazeera influences tens of millions of Muslims in the Middle East and Europe with a profoundly anti-American message, undermining US interests at least since 9/11, and often gives voice to known Islamist terrorists.

A fuller picture of Qatar, which portrays itself as a pro-democracy forum supporting the Arab Spring, is Freedom House’s analysis of Qatar as a place where “Women face legal discrimination that pervades every aspect of life.” Sharia law is the source of the Qatari Constitution, with flogging and stoning advocated.

So much for democracy.

The executive branch’s contradictory and confused messaging extends to northern Iraq and the upcoming vote for Kurdish independence. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan have announced a referendum on Kurdish independence for September.

The State Department is still married to the discredited idea that Iraq needs to be reconstituted, as if it had existed from time immemorial and was not an artificial nation created by Western powers after World War I.

The Iraqi Kurds have been America’s true friend and ally in the region, while the Shi’ite Iraqi central government is controlled by Iran with an Iranian-controlled Shi’ite army of over 100,000 foot soldiers called the Popular Mobilization Front. Their mission is to create two Iranian corridors from Tehran to the Mediterranean, directly undermining American interests.

During the American presidential campaign President Trump’s Middle East adviser Walid Phares said that a Trump administration would not stand in the way of Kurdish independence.

But now State says the US has more urgent priorities in defeating ISIS, so while it acknowledged the “legitimate aspirations” of the Kurds, it supports a “unified, federal, stable and democratic Iraq.”

So the question to ask is, is this President Trump’s policy on Kurdish independence, or is it the State Department acting on its own?

Will America abandon the Kurdish people, who truly deserve and need a state of their own?

One would think that Secretary of State Tillerson would be more sympathetic to the Kurdish interest as he ignored the Iraqi Shi’ite government in the past, selling Kurdish oil without Iraq’s permission when he was the head of Exxon.

So where do he, the president and the State Department stand on Kurdish independence?

“Iran’s principal position is to support the territorial integrity of Iraq” according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi.

When America’s foreign policy aligns with Iran, on Iraq and Kurdistan, nine times out of 10 you are on the wrong side of history.

To advance American interests I suggest the Trump administration follow its most clear-headed diplomat, Ambassador Nicki Haley, to guide American foreign policy. Her words at Yad Vashem should be a guiding principle for American foreign policy in the Middle East and beyond: “Leadership is not about power. Leadership is the acknowledgment and value of human dignity. We must always choose a side.”

Regarding Qatar and Kurdistan, it is time for America to choose the right side.

The author is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.