Israel: Stand United, Stand Strong
The Jerusalem Post, Israel's right-of-center news outlet, held its first conference on Sunday, April 29, in New York City. As for the panelists, the animosity between the members of Israel's former left-of-center government and the present members of Netanyahu's right-of-center government was intense.
The day-long conference brought together a long list of impressive Israeli government and diplomatic officials and military officials and featured some of the newspaper's best editors and journalists, along with Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz. JPost's intentional mix of politically polarized opinions was obviously intended to balance the points of view in speeches and panel discussions and to make for energetic debates.
Instead, the audience of about 1,200 guests, who also represented polarized sides of American Jewish politics, were subject to opening remarks by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that set an early tone for the whole conference...the airing of some of Israel's internal political laundry before an American audience.
This was a huge distraction from the purpose of the conference: to have honest discussions on Israel-U.S. relations, the socio-economic issue of a new Jewish Diaspora, and the delegitimization of Israel by many in the global media.
"Securing Israel's place in the new Middle East: What can be done?" was the first panel topic, but it was overshadowed by Olmert's allegations that some ministers went about sabotaging his negotiations with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
The hostility continued as this panel was questioned about Iran and what Israel should do to stop Iran's nuclear ability to strike Israel. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Gilad Erdan, today's environmental protection minister, got into a war of words that was highlighted by Dagan calling Erdan "a liar." Erdan, for his part, stated that "I prefer that heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet will not do damage to our efforts...and go out and say you should be doing this or that" -- apparently as a response to both Dagan's and former Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin's recent public critiques of their administrations' handling of the Iranian threat.
But it was JPost's senior contributing editor, Caroline Glick, a Chicagoan who made aliyah in 1991, who addressed the topic of U.S.-Israeli relations head-on. After sitting appearing totally uninterested in the political barbs being traded on stage, she spoke boldly when called upon. She talked about the huge disconnect that she hears on the streets of Israel between the Israeli Jewish citizens and the American Jewish community as it relates to President Obama's support for Israel. The majority of Jews in both countries are polarized in their trust in the Obama administration's words and deeds, but from opposite opinions: American Jews overwhelmingly seem to believe in this administration, while Israeli Jews do not.
Ms. Glick stated that it seems that this credibility gap began in Cairo with the president's speech to Arabs, followed by his demand for settlement freezes in the West Bank and his recently allowing Turkey to stop Israel from becoming part of NATO. This was then countered by Olmert, who pointed his finger at Glick the other "right-right-of-center" panelist, stating that "it is not in Israel's best interest to criticize any American president."
But one thing Glick and Olmert seemed to agree on is the fact that the world needs to be convinced that Iran's nuclear program is not just a threat to Israel, but truly a threat to the global community. And it was noted that the Palestinian statehood issue is not really the heart of the problem in the Middle East, although the Arabs would like the world to believe that. It is a myth to think that all it would take for peace in the ME is for the Israeli/Palestinian problem to be resolved.
With this in mind, Israel must be the master of its own destiny and maintain a strong Israeli approach that keeps the military option on the table. However, the majority also agreed that an American-led international coalition would be a more persuasive line of attack that might convince Iran of standing down.
During the Q&A that followed the morning's discussion, one question seemed to stand out and take the panel off-guard. A gentleman from the audience asked for a yes-or-no answer to the following question: "If Israel were to give the Palestinian Arabs all that they desire, including all of Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, historical and religious sites, removal of the settlements under dispute -- hand Arabs the natural resources of the land; supply them with medical, technological, military, and nuclear capabilities; and the 'right of return' -- would the Jewish people be able to live there in peace?"
Well, this moment reminded me of Caroline Glick's recent commentary, titled "Elephant in the Room: Jewish Hatred." The panel actually refused to answer the question and quickly dismissed the man in favor of the next person on line. Surely this question, as unrealistic as it may be, truly hits at the heart of the Israeli/Palestinian/Arab dispute --that the hatred of the Jewish People is so strong, so generational, so passionate, that there may never be enough that Jews of Israel can do to bring security and a right to live and prosper in the place they call their homeland.
The other two discussions that took place in the afternoon were also quite passionate; panelists spoke about the international Jewish community that is presently facing a new Diaspora as Jews try to escape growing global anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism. Also mentioned was the battle to counter the media's public relations war to delegitimize Israel. But the tenor created by Olmert had been set, and it remained as a shadow over the conference.
It must be said that as a first-of-its-kind conference, the Jerusalem Post's event was successful in that it brought together so many illustrious leaders and other great voices in support of Israel who expressed their views on the most important issues facing Israel today. However, there was one important lesson to be learned from this conference -- one not to be repeated if this is to become an annual event.
When it comes to the international stage, like a conference in NYC, it is wise to keep internal politics away from the podium so as to present a strong, united Israel to the world. This admonition was best summed up by Professor Dershowitz in his morning presentation, "Come united," and reiterated by Isi Leibler, former leader of the Australian Jewry and presently a JP columnist, when he chastised Olmert during his panel talk. "A former prime minister of Israel took everything in the book to criticize the present government."
Leibler's advice that "There's a lot we have to learn about a certain amount of restraint and dignity" is advice we here in America should also be taking as our internal politics has taken such an ugly turn between our "left" and "right," staining the dignity of our country. We Americans are in grave need of civil discourse in our political arena. The verbal darts sent across the stage at the JPost's conference served as a reminder of the damage a divisive nation does to itself.