GA: On the Cusp of an Historic Mistake

Monday afternoon. I had one more panel to attend before the Times of Israel Quick and Dirty Blogger Meet Up and then my bus home. Like most of my colleagues, I had a hankering to watch the duel between the Women of and for the Wall. But the contrarian in me told me to choose something else. Something less sparkly and fun that wouldn’t be the thing that EVERYONE was doing.

So I decided to attend the panel called Iran, the US and Israel—What Next? I needed something less fluffy after all that fluff about sacred singing, gays being robbed of their life cycles, and young people choosing what animals they would be if they were the Federation. This panel, I felt, was just what the doctor ordered.

It would be serious stuff. Renowned scholar/advocate and MP Irwin Cotler and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon: two people with brains, integrity, and a good grasp of the internal workings of the Middle East. It would be a privilege to hear them speak and maybe I’d get some insight on whether Israel really IS ready to take on Iran, should that become necessary.

The panel was in the same hall as for the marriage panel, and once again an early arrival, I sat in the same seat I’d sat in earlier that day, smack in the middle of the front row. I suppose everyone else was on JST (Jewish Standard Time, A/K/A LATE). (I, on the other hand, am nutty about punctuality and my husband always has to force me to be fashionably late for parties.)

Judy Katz (photo credit: Varda Epstein)
Judy Katz (photo credit: Varda Epstein)

I got out my small yellow legal pad and pen then sat and waited for the show to begin. Next thing I know, a beautiful white-haired woman approached. I moved my bag so she could sit next to me when I realized: it’s the woman from the dancing the night before. The one who got stuck in the center of the stage all bashful after all the other dancers filed off the stage! Holy cannoli!

The Batsheva Dance Company performs at the Opening Plenary. (photo credit: AG for JFNA)
The Batsheva Dance Company performs at the Opening Plenary. (photo credit: AG for JFNA)

I asked her and she smiled. Yup. It was she. Her name was Judy Katz and she looked much younger than she had from the peanut gallery where I’d sat during that dance.

We got to talking and found we shared similar outlooks. She sat next to me because, like me, she wanted to be in the middle of the front row for this very serious panel. And what did she do then? She took out a yellow legal pad identical to my own. We both scribbled furiously during the entire panel presentation.

I liked this woman!

Judy is secretary for the Jewish Federation of Northwest Indiana, hailing from Crown Point, Indiana to be exact. Her mission consists of just 23 members and 3 of them came to the GA, a significant number, considering. I gave her my business card and I hope she’ll be in touch. She seemed to be the only one who understood just how precarious the relationship is between the American Jewish community and Israel, today. She understood what I was talking about when I spoke of the change in that relationship, how once upon a time there was this knee-jerk love of Israel deep in the hearts of all American Jews, a real connection, and how that was no longer the case.

Judy Katz still loves Israel with that knee-jerk love, no matter what. And for that alone, I was grateful to meet her in a sea of people who just didn’t seem to be my people. Not anymore. Meeting her gave me hope.

She also understood the threat that Iran poses not just to Israel, but to the free world at large. I wanted to hug her. She was SANE.

MP Irwin Cotler (photo credit: Varda Epstein)
MP Irwin Cotler (photo credit: Varda Epstein)

Irwin Cotler spoke first. He talked about Rouhani’s charm offensive, outlining how the new president had been unmasked by his actions, for instance, executing 100 people during the first month of his presidency—indeed during the UN Assembly where he’d laid on the charm so thick. In fact, since October 26, said Cotler, over 50 people have been executed.

Cotler also spoke about the treatment of Iranian prisoners, describing the hallmarks of human rights abuses of prisoners and how Iran had broached every single one of them. For instance torture: 100% of prisoners are beaten while 60% of the female prisoners are raped or sexually abused. Meantime, Rouhani puts on a show, releasing 100 prisoners on the eve of the UN assembly.

Cotler outlined Khomeini’s world perspective, illustrating this in part with a statement Khomeini made about the Bahai community, “The Bahais are a deviant minority that must be shamed.”

Since Khomeini rose to power, 100% of the Bahai leadership has been imprisoned.

Culture Of Impunity

Cotler spoke of the culture of impunity that pervades the Iranian leadership. The man Rouhani appointed as his Minister of Justice, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, was responsible for the mass murder of 500 dissidents during the Iran Revolution in 1979.

Cotler explained that in Khomeini’s Iran there was a toxic convergence of nuclear arms, incitement, terror threats, and massive domestic repression.  He said we, the international community, have an obligation to insist on and not merely have a policy preference for taking Iran to task for the crime of incitement to genocide. Cotler quoted Sakharov, “Who will not respect the rights of others will not respect the rights of his nation.”

The problem, said Cotler, is that the world community isn’t getting it. He quoted Sakharov again, “If your analysis is wrong, the prognosis is wrong.”

“Iran,” he said, “is a case study. The international community is getting it wrong on Iran. We are on the cusp of a historic mistake.”

Denial, Deception, Delay

Cotler described Iran as engaging in 3D strategy: denial, deception, and delay. Negotiations with the international community about sanctions are used by Iran for delay. He said that we are a generation of Now. Peace Now. But that isn’t how it works. Peace is not immediate and it is hard won.

Now it was time for Ya’alon to speak. He began with a joke, saying he sleeps like a baby: he wakes up every two hours and cries. He spoke about democracy in which he said education comes first and elections, last. And he spoke of a political discourse dominated by misconceptions.

Ya’alon laid out the entire Mideast for the audience country by country. He explained the religious and political makeup of each entity along with its geographic relationship to Israel and to the other countries in the region. As he outlined each country for us, he explained how Israel had created a deterrence to war with every one of them. His recitation was clear and succinct. After listening to Ya’alon, I had a better grasp on certain actions Israel had taken in the recent past that I had formerly condemned.

Israel Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Israel Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

One excellent point made by Ya’alon was this: For years, the buzz has had it that Israel has the bomb, yet none of the surrounding countries felt a need to develop nuclear weapons capability in response. Now that Iran is on the cusp of going nuclear, we see a sudden nuclear scramble/arms race taking place.

Ya’alon closed by stating that the West should be offering moral support to the Iranian people with whom Israel has no quarrel. He also pleaded with the West not to ease the sanctions. He said even the negotiations about lifting the sanctions had harmed the impact of the sanctions. The Iranian rial to dollar rate had improved as a result of those negotiations and that the Iranian stock market had risen. Ya’alon, like Cotler spoke of the easing of sanctions as an historic mistake.

I was enthralled the entire time both men spoke. I think I could have sat and listened to them all day. Though the topic was as serious as can be, it was a pleasure to listen to two intelligent and knowledgeable people speak so brilliantly about the Middle East.

TOI Blogger Meet Up (photo credit: Prescott Watson)
TOI Blogger Meet Up (photo credit: Prescott Watson)

I wrapped up my time at the GA at the Times of Israel get together with my blogger colleagues and the TOI staff. We poured wine, talked craft, and had our photos snapped. It was a nice release after the seriousness of that final panel.

All too soon it was time for me to grab my ride home. On balance, I’d say it was great to have a break in my humdrum routine as writer for Kars4Kids, almost like a vacation, if a short one on Mars. I’d do it again in an instant, given half a chance.




About the Author
Varda Epstein is a blogger and Communications Writer for