End of year thoughts are so arbitrary in both time and space — issues facing Israel and the Jewish people do not get some type of “reset” January 1st. Rather, we constantly bounce along from crisis to crisis, feel-good story to feel-good story either wondering when we are really going to get it in the behind or how can those “crazy leftists” even say the things they do. New Years has no impact on this course of events. (In fact, since New Years is not celebrated here in Israel as a national holiday this makes the feeling of continuity from last year to this even more pronounced.)
Rather than predicting the “big issues” of 2015 or better understand 2014 in hindsight, I would rather return to core principles that we need to address or face – and if you have been reading my blogs in the past you will definitely see some key themes re-emerging. They will be with us regardless of the date of my blog.
- The Arab Muslim Middle East has a unique culture to which Westerners, in general, are clueless. And the “experts” who like to tell us what the “Arabs are thinking” are the worst purveyors of drek (Yiddish for garbage) in the world. Arab Islamic culture is an academic discipline and it is not simple. That is why I listen to people with the academic and deep experience (and deep knowledge of Arabic and Farsi in its many variations): Daniel Pipes, Harold Rhode, Bernard Lewis, and many of the academics with papers gracing Gatestone Institute’s website. Most people writing on the Middle East or the policy makers who focus on this subject area are essentially quacks — like doctors practicing without the requisite knowledge or experience. I definitely include the many false experts and prophets who wander the halls of the Executive Branch.
- Europe is deeply conflicted and compromised. Aside from their historical issues with murderous antisemitism and the population shift to Muslims in Europe, the left/socialist agenda — “anti-colonial”, “anti-nationalism” and deeply impacted by the guilt of their own sins in the Middle East combined with a healthy dose Edward Said’s “you Westerners did this to us” — has made Israel the annoying problem Europeans just wish would go way. And, as they address their deep problems with citizens embracing Radical Islam inside their borders, they have extrapolated from the above toxic stew to irrationally believing that a Israeli-Palestinian resolution will impact their fight with IS and Islamic radicals. It’s tragic like watching a car accident in slow-motion and there is nothing you can do about it. (That being said, the EU can have a significant financial impact on Israel if they ever decide to use economic measures to get Israel to do what they want.)
- Ideology is the constant, even as means and methods change. It is quite amazing to hear people engage in all types of contortions to explain why Hamas and IS are different. Or Hezbollah. It’s like trying to explain that the Nazis are wholly different from the Italian Fascists because they wear different uniforms and sport different flags. Their ideology is similar enough to treat them the same. This is the case with all the Islamic groups on both sides of the Sunni-Shiite divide. (Just to drive this point home, I could not resist including below the “how to” video just posted to the web by Hamas — that’s Ideology at work — watch the video and then explain to me how the use of the knife this way against non-combatants is different from IS — you get the point.)
- A special note on Iran related to Ideology. There is no doubt that the current regime wants to destroy Israel and will attempt this in a way that Iran believes will sustain their greatest freedom of movement. This is best done through proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, with support from a nuclear Iran. It’s what Iran says explicitly — we don’t have to read the tealeaves. When you read of Obama’s latest love-fest with Iran — as “rational” and “reasonable” actors we can do business with — I shudder with fear for both our countries.
- We need a clear message to the PA of where are the red-lines. It has gotten very cloudy. On incitement, on use of children for violence, on Jerusalem, on recognition of Israel, Hamas, etc. This has become very mushy in the last few years as we are constantly trying to resist U.S. and E.U. pressure and we continue to slide sideways on accommodations that were previously red-lines.
- Speaking of clear messages, there is a major need to focus on how we present ourselves in terms of public advocacy and diplomacy. Martin Sherman in the Jerusalem Post has been very clear that Israel is not investing anywhere near the amount it must to deal with our positioning, branding and “competition”. This ultimately impacts how we handle the Boycott issues (BDS), the Press and the impact of “lawfare” in venues such as the U.N. and ICC. This is not the place to present potential solutions — they do exist — but cannot be designed, delivered and reinforced with our current organizational configuration and budget.
- Deterrence against non-state actors may be an untenable position for Israel. We may need to expend more blood and treasure to directly defeat these enemies. I am not versed in the military side of this issue but from a policy standpoint, we need to seriously revisit whether, what we are experiencing now, is real deterrence or just periods of quiet due to our enemy’s unique self-interest which may end at any moment. A major reason why I believe this may be the case is due to the Ideology issue in point #3.
- On Israel’s side, we should focus on what we do best: focus on the future, invent, develop and create a socially responsible culture where the rule of law continues to be respected. I see the religious and economic divide facing our country to be growing pains of a relatively new country. I am concerned, of course, but not hysterical. In speaking to some of my friends, especially on the Left, you feel as if Israel is almost at death’s door — no longer a democracy, most of the country cannot afford to eat, you name it. If I remember correctly, around this same period of time, the U.S. had a costly 5 year civil war killing millions and which took near 40 years to settle after the conflict. And look at the USSR around this age and how it was dismembered. The biggest contribution to Israel’s betterment is its people’s desire to grow and be successful. And the willingness to change to do this — while taking risks. The unique strength of our people-hood as has been covered in the past. Growing pains. There is no benefit in feeling that we are on our last leg — it’s just a downer without any resolution. The main prescription for this is three-fold: tolerance for our co-citizens, patience for process and respect for the complexity of our situation.
I did not list here a direct reference to our relationship with the U.S. because we all know this is critical and, yet, goes through periods where the relationship gets stressed. In the global scheme of things, it will work out due to our mutual needs. The challenge is balancing this with Israel’s other strategic interests in China, India and Russia.
My New Years wish is that my friends on the Left participate in some more evidence-based medicine and adjust their rhetoric accordingly and that my friends to the Right keep an open heart for all our brothers and sisters. There are many paths to God and His (and Her) Truth.
And to all my family and friends — a healthy and successful 2015.