Jason Langsner

The Freakonomics Peace Plan

The Freakonomics Peace Plan
The Freakonomics Peace Plan

Today I stood for Israel with nearly 500 of America’s leading supporters of The Jewish State.  Well, I was actually sitting with them.  The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations brought 50+ pro-Israel groups together for the National Leadership Assembly, which featured remarks by National Security Advisor Susan Rice, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA),  Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and countless others.

They were standing.  They were speaking.  They all were supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.  We sat and clapped.  And now I’m blogging about it.

“Israel is our friend and Israeli’s enemies are our enemies,” said the current Speaker of the House of Representatives.  John Boehner continued by saying that as long as he was Speaker that would hold true.  Data cited in the event shows that the majority of Americans, not just the Jewish leaders, agree.  Over 70% of Americans stand with Israel, but 100% of Congress stands for Israel.  Senator Ben Cardin stated it was more than a right.  “There is no morale equivalency between Israel and Hamas,” said the Senator and “Israel has the ‘obligation’, to protect its citizens.”  AGREED!

The Israeli Ambassador the United States, Ron Dermer, provided up-to-date statistics on Israel’s defensive measures to protect its citizens.  He shared with us a message from Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and updated us on the terror tunnels.  “Israel will destroy the tunnels we’ve found and will not stop until we’ve finished,” said Ambassador Dermer.  Please do not stop.  Your government has an ‘obligation’ to protect its citizens and all morale people have to stand behind Israel’s right to defend itself and her right to protect kindergartens from terrorist attacks.  I cannot believe I had to write that sentence.  The words “protect kindergarten from terrorist attacks” should never have to be said, written, or thought.  But sadly a terrorists goal is to instill fear and to disrupt so that sentence had to be written.  Ambassador Dermer said it better than I could ever do:  “they have violated ALL of the rules of law and human decency.”

One number caught my attention during the Ambassadors remarks:  500.  That is the approximate number of Hamas fired rockets that have fallen in Gaza.  I will repeat that as it is worth repeating:  the Hamas fired rockets, which were indiscriminately fired towards population centers in Israel to instill fear and disrupt, landed in Gaza – causing death, damage, and destruction to the individuals, homes, schools, hospitals, refugee camps, and businesses of the people that they are claiming to represent.

The number two Democrat in the House began his remarks by saying that this “is a serious time in which we meet.”  Whip Hoyer provided sympathetic remarks as an American and as a morale man.  He continued by sharing that the “survival and security of Israel is an integral priority of the United States.”  He spoke of ending Hamas’ reign of terror, not to temporarily suspend it.  He, like the 500 of us standing/sitting for Israel, doesn’t see Hamas as a threat to Israel – but a threat to the entire Middle East and to all western democracies fighting terror abroad and in our own homelands.  The Maryland Congressman said that, “innocent life lost is a tragedy, but Hamas and its sponsor – Iran – are to blame” and not Israel.   Hamas perceives the lose of life of Palestinians as a small victory.  As a marketing professional by trade, I can do the math about the value of all of their earned media on CNN, BBC, al-Jazeera, and every other network that is covering and misreporting this story.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) spoke of his visit to Israel during the Second Lebanon War and how reporters wouldn’t interview the Israelis being targeted by the rockets flying into their civilization centers because that would be “biased.”  I am not seeing those same people interviewed today…  When did reporting the facts become an ethical dilemma for the news?  Maybe it was right before the commercialization of the news became a higher priority or an equal priority to reporting the news.  No comment.  I can’t complain.  I was given a platform on The Times of Israel to be an independent blogger.  But at least this column is clearly marked as “opinion.”

I’ve never seen Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the incoming House Majority Leader, speak in-person.  I’ve seen him at Congressional hearings and watched him on TV, but I’ve never seen him give a speech.  He is pretty good at giving speeches.  But it wasn’t just the style that impressed me, it was his words.  This is a metaphor that he shared:  if there is a rocket pointed at Israel, there is a rocket pointed at America.  As a Jewish American, I may not live under the sirens; but I sympathize for all of my friends and loved ones who are living under the sirens.  I will be there next month for my next visit to Israel, but I pray that the sirens will be far over by then.

McCarthy also called “a terrorist a terrorist.”  The first metaphor is an image of the ever-lasting partnership between our two Democratic nations and the values that we share.  The second isn’t a metaphor.  It is common sense but something that I fear has gotten lost in parts of America’s xenophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic communities.  Now, I am an American.  And I am a proud American.  I cannot, in good faith say that all Americans are xenophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic – but we do have some poorly educated and ignorant individuals that are willing to throw gasoline on a fire of hatred rather than attempt to put it out through rationale thought.  But I digress…  A terrorist is a terrorist [period].  America is fighting a war on terror.  The west is fighting a war on terror.  All good hearted people are fighting a war on terror.  Hamas is a terrorist organization.  Period.  Americans cannot or should not be sympathizing with a terrorist organization.  Period.  We can sympathize with the innocent men, women, and children on either side of the border that are dying because of this conflict; but the blame falls at the feet of those who instigating and continue to instigate – Hamas.

Ambassador Rice spoke of our government’s support of the Iron Dome and how we are looking to double that investment.  She said our “commitment to protect Israel is absolute” and that “Israel has the same unequivocal right of self defense as any other nation.”  She added that “one thing that Israelis will never have to worry about is America’s support of Israel” and that “we don’t just fight for Israel’s security, but we fight for Israel’s legitimacy.”  Ambassador Rice correctly asserted that an anti-Jewish protest is not free expression and when the message is “death to the Jews” it is an outrage and it is dangerous.  The former-U.N. Ambassador shared a story of her first visit to Israel when she was 14 years old and the lasting impression it has given her.  A strong take-away from Rice’s remarks were her comment that “any process must result in the disarmament of terrorist groups.”  Agreed.  We cannot give the terrorists a win and the IDF cannot leave them with tunnels that have entrance and regress points on Israel’s soil underneath Israel’s kindergartens.  Sigh.

NOW, let me circle back to the title of this blog.  Why is this a “Freakonomics Peace Plan?”  I’ve done nothing but report and comment about an event that I attended today.  It is a “Freakonomics Peace Plan” because I believe in the power of incentives and after reading Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s books – plus hearing the speakers today – I think the lessons we can learn from both can be applied to the ceasefire, disarmament, and peace negotiations.

The last chapter in the latest book in the series, “Think Like a Freak” is titled “The Upside of Quitting.”  Please do not get me wrong, I am in no way-shape-or-form talking about quitting the defensive strategy of Israel; nor am I talking about quitting the ceasefire discussions or peace plan discussions.  I believe in a two state solution for two people.  But that solution cannot come until the people of Palestine accept peace.  We all know the Golda Meir quote.

Levitt and Dubner write, “quitting is hard because it is equated with failure, and nobody likes to fail, or at least be seen failing.  But is failure so terrible?  We don’t think so.”  They argue in purely an economical stand-point:  will putting an additional unit of energy (time, money, capital) into a project gain a return on investment of that additional unit of energy; and if the answer is no, perhaps it is time to think like a freak, quit that approach, and change the equation…

So, the Freakonomics Peace Plan is an incentive based model:  1) accept the Egyptian ceasefire plan immediately; 2) start a new round of negotiations that are mediated and include honest brokers of peace; 3) incentivize the people of Palestine to choose jobs over Jihad and democracy over Hamas inflicted death; 4) establish goals and benchmarks for peace in the mediated plan – perhaps after two years of sustained quiet without any rocket attacks or tunnel incursions into Israel, some of the demands of Fatah are delivered; and perhaps after five years additional demands are met; and then maybe after 10 years a sovereign nation can be created – for two peaceful neighbors – and the terrorist security wall can be turned into a new Bibi Border Crossing, Pope Francis Border Crossing, Freakonomics Border Crossing point, or whatever ridiculous thing that the U.N. decides to call it.

Peace deals have held in Jordan and Egypt.  They can work in Gaza and the West Bank, but they won’t until the Palestinians stop allowing Hamas to victimize them and to be indoctrinated by hate.  And the international community cannot be honest brokers for peace as other members (or some of them in backroom deals) fund, train, and sustain terror.

Conversely the Freakonomics Peace Plan should include disincentives.  If a single rocket falls or is intercepted by Iron Dome the clock starts over.  If a single rocket falls or is intercepted by Iron Dome the 10 years to a sovereign nation gets bumped up a year for every additional rocket that is fired into Israel.

I’m not an economist.  I studied business and politics at Oxford and Georgetown.  But perhaps the next round of negotiations aren’t held between politicians… Instead they are held between economists.

In the introduction of the first “Freakonomics” book, Levitt and Dubner say, “incentives are the cornerstone of modern life.  And understanding them – or, often, ferreting them out – is the key to solving just about any riddle.”  Well, riddle me this…

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH and National Security Advisor Susan Rice
Left to Right:  Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and National Security Advisor Susan Rice
About the Author
Jason Langsner is an active member of the American young Jewish professional community. He is a published author about Israel and American-Israeli affairs and regularly blogs and speaks at conferences about the intersection of communication, culture, politics, and technology. He formerly ran the digital strategy for B'nai B'rith International, the Global Voice of the Jewish Community, and currently serves as a lay leader with various pro-Israel organizations. Mr. Langsner received a Masters at Georgetown University and studied International Business Management at the University of Oxford.
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