Jan 24th 2019

The Betrayal Of Israel’s Historic Promise

by Alon Ben-Meier

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is an expert on Middle East politics and affairs, specializing in peace negotiations between Israel and the Arab states. For the past twenty five years, Dr. Ben-Meir has been directly involved in various negotiations and has operated as a liaison between top Arab and Israeli officials. Dr. Ben-Meir serves as senior fellow at New York University's School of Global Affairs where he has been teaching courses on the Middle East and negotiations for 18 years. He is also a Senior Fellow and the Middle Eastern Studies Project Director at the World Policy Institute. Dr. Ben-Meir hosts "Global Leaders: Conversations with Alon Ben-Meir," a series of debates and conversations with top policy-makers around the world. He also regularly holds briefings at the US State Department for international visitors. Dr. Ben-Meir writes frequently and has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines and websites including the Middle East Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Le Monde, American Chronicle, the Week, the Political Quarterly, Israel Policy Forum, Gulf Times, the Peninsula, The Jerusalem Post, and the Huffington Post. He also makes regular television and radio appearances, and has been featured on networks such as CNN, FOX, PBS, ABC, al Jazeera (English and Arabic), and NPR. He has authored six books related to Middle East policy and is currently working on a book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dr. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. He is fluent in English, Arabic, and Hebrew.

Over the past three decades I wrote more than two hundred articles about Israel, envisioning it to be a democratic state, independent and free, a champion of human rights, a force of unity for world Jewry, united in its citizenry, admired by its friends, envied by its detractors, and above all at peace with the Arab states and especially with the Palestinians. My vision about Israel was founded on my deep sense of the Jews’ turbulent and tragic history and their yearning for a home of their own in which to live in peace and security.

As the years went by, I became increasingly disillusioned with Israel’s endemic political disunity, its inability to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, the growing public complacency, the loss of the country’s unity of purpose, and the abandonment of its moral responsibility. Together, these factors pose an ominous danger to Israel as we know it, calling for new thinking and a recognition of what went astray and what can be done to rectify what has become the norm in order to save Israel from itself.

Israel was created to provide a new haven and refuge to any Jew who seeks to live in a free Jewish state without fear. This symbiotic relationship became increasingly stronger over the years, and Israel has been able to count on the unequivocal support of the American and European Jewish community. The nature of the relationship, however, began to change, especially during the past 10 years.

Given that the religious parties have joined nearly all coalition governments, they have accumulated political power far greater than their constituency warrants, giving them a monopoly on all religious affairs in Israel, and by extension on diaspora Jews. As a result, the gap between Israeli Jews (mostly the Orthodox community) and Western Conservative and Reform Jews living mainly in the US has become alarmingly wider.

The growing cleavage has further intensified because Netanyahu reneged, under the pressure of the Rabbinical institutions, on an agreement that would have allowed men and women to pray together at a designated section of the Western Wall.

Moreover, whereas American and European Jews are focused on liberalism, equality, and pursuing a more tolerant society, Israeli Jews remain occupied with the perceived threats to their security from Iran and Palestinian extremism. And while American Jews largely oppose the occupation and strongly bemoan the ill treatment of the Palestinians, the Israelis, especially from the right, view the Palestinians as a pestilential enemy and justify the occupation as necessary for national security.

These developments have dangerously exacerbated the religious and ideological differences between the two sides while eroding Israel’s role as a unifying force for world Jewry, forgetting that Jewish survival over the millennia is largely attributed to their affinity to each other, regardless of their religious denomination and social milieu. One of the more visible effects of this development is the diminishing number of Jews immigrating to Israel, as they no longer view the country as a safe haven and believe that it has failed to embrace the ideals for which they stood.

In Israel itself, the gap between secular and Orthodox Jews has also become increasingly unsettling. The rabbinical institutions have assumed the position of governing all aspects of religious life in Israel, including marriage, divorce, conversion, and prayer at the Wall. For example, Israelis who wish to have a non-Orthodox wedding must go outside the country to marry; otherwise, it is not recognized by the rabbinical authorities.

One other major controversial issue is the insistence of the Orthodox community not to induct their children to serve in the Israeli army and focus instead on the study of the Torah, when in fact military service is compulsory for all Israelis. Although legislation was passed to induct religious Jews into the army, it was subsequently rescinded under pressure from the religious political parties. This raises the ire of the security forces who are required to protect all Israelis, including Orthodox Jews who live in ideological settlements deep in the West Bank.

The opposition of the rabbinical authorities to the institutionalization of the Conservative or Reform movements created another conflicting issue that continued to sour the relationship between the two camps. That is, while a majority of Israelis are ‘secular’ Jews, they reject any restriction by the Orthodox establishment on how to practice their religion as they see fit.

Finally, although antisemitism has existed from time immemorial, as the Jews have been blamed for all the ills and troubles that the Muslim and Christian world have endured, it has fluctuated only in intensity depending on the time and socio-political environment that exists in any given country. Israeli policies toward the Palestinians have without a doubt contributed to the rise of antisemitism in recent years. Successive Israeli governments dismiss the notion that the rise of antisemitism relates in any way to the continuing occupation.

Antisemitism is on the rise everywhere, including the United States – as we can see from Charlottesville, where young men with tiki torches chanted “Jews will not replace us,” and the slaughter at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Congregation in October. Even as hatred of Jews is growing on both sides of the Atlantic, radical Zionists claim that a multi-culturist Israel cannot thrive – some form of apartheid is the only viable alternative. But in the process, they effectively repeat the argument that was used in earlier European history against the Jews themselves. As the philosopher Slavoj Zizek pointed out, “It is as if Israeli extremists on the right are ready to acknowledge Western European intolerance towards the influx of other cultures if their right not to tolerate Palestinians is respected.”

This position serves to overlook the reality of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the acuteness of their outcry, which resonates especially in democratic countries, who believe that the Palestinians have the right to a state of their own. They argue that Israel has neither the legal nor the moral ground to deny them their right, providing the rationale for the eager antisemites.

Additionally, the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are seen as the face of the occupation and of Israel’s determination to maintain it. This gave rise to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israeli goods produced or manufactured in the settlements. The problem with BDS is not the extent to which Israeli exports are adversely affected, but that it is used by others to incite antisemitism, making it increasingly more difficult to divorce it from mainstream antisemitism.

The fact that the Jews, who have been oppressed over the centuries, are now seen by its detractors as the oppressors draws particular attention because the world, regardless of merit, has come to expect a higher moral standard from Israel. The failure of the Israelis to live up to these expectations continues to feed into antisemitic sentiments, and the occupation serves as a constant reminder – and instigates – the less vociferous antisemites to become more vocal.

I do not believe that Israel faces an existential danger from any of its enemies, including Iran. The greatest threat to its future well-being and endurance emanates from within. Sadly, successive Israeli leaders lost their moral compass and failed to live up to the promise and the purpose of Israel’s creation.

The new generation of Israeli leaders have a solemn duty to seek the unification of world Jewry, end the conflict with Palestinians, and champion the causes of human rights and liberty. Unless Israel pursues these and other humanitarian causes, it will lose its very soul and forfeit its reason for being—a price that the Israelis cannot afford to pay.

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Oct 21st 2019
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Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
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Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
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Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
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Aug 28th 2019
EXTRACT: "Reminiscent of Don Quixote, Trump is tilting at windmills. His administration is flailing at antiquated perceptions of the Old China that only compound the problems it claims to be addressing. Financial markets are starting to get a sense that something is awry. So, too, is the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the global economy is fraying at the edges. The US has never been an oasis in such treacherous periods. I doubt if this time is any different. 
Aug 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "In fact, with firms in the US, Europe, China, and other parts of Asia having reined in capital expenditures, the global tech, manufacturing, and industrial sector is already in a recession. The only reason why that hasn’t yet translated into a global slump is that private consumption has remained strong. Should the price of imported goods rise further as a result of any of these negative supply shocks, real (inflation-adjusted) disposable household income growth would take a hit, as would consumer confidence, likely tipping the global economy into a recession."
Aug 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Climate change is real, and it is a problem. According to the IPCC, the overall impact of global warming by the 2070s will be equivalent to a 0.2-2% loss in average income. That’s not the end of the world, but the same as a single economic recession, in a world that is much better off than today.  The risk is that outsized fear will take us down the wrong path in tackling global warming. Concerned activists want the world to abandon fossil fuels as quickly as possible. But it will mean slowing the growth that has lifted billions out of poverty and transformed the planet. That has a very real cost. "
Aug 20th 2019
EXTRACTS: "It is no exaggeration to say that Johnson has lied his way to the top, first in journalism and then in politics. His ascent owes everything to the growing xenophobia and English nationalism that many Conservatives now espouse................Johnson has chosen a government of like-minded anti-European nationalists. His principal adviser, Dominic Cummings, was described by David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister from 2010 to 2016, as a “career psychopath.” Cummings is, alongside Johnson, the most powerful figure in the new government; he is an unelected wrecker who earlier this year was ruled to be in contempt of parliament. Fittingly, if depressingly, he now is masterminding our departure from the EU with or without parliamentary approval."
Aug 19th 2019
EXTRACTS: "Back in May, a jury found Patrick Syring, a former State Department official, guilty of 14 counts of making threats against my life and my staff at the Arab American Institute. This week, a federal judge sentenced Syring to five years in prison to be followed by three years of court-ordered probation.................It gives me no pleasure to see this man going to jail for a long period, but it does provide us all with a sense of enormous relief. I've been threatened before. My wife, my children, and I have received death threats for the past 50 years – owing to my advocacy for Palestinian rights and the rights of the Arab American community. My office was fire-bombed and an Arab American colleague, whom I hired, was murdered. Two individuals who, in the past, made death threats against me and my children were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. But this case was different."
Aug 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Gaslighting typically refers to intimate relationships. It’s a way of controlling someone by creating false narratives – for example, that they are irrational or crazy. If such lies are repeated constantly, victims may get confused and start believing there really is something wrong with them. Confusion, diversion, distraction and disinformation can similarly be used to gaslight an entire society. So how can you tell if you are being gaslighted, and how do you avoid it in the first place?"
Aug 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Trump has once again painted himself into a corner. Since the latest massacres, he’s been at pains to present himself as a reasonable fellow who can get behind gun reform (and perhaps mollify suburban women, his most dangerous foes on this issue). But he’s also noticeably (and typically) anxious to maintain the loyalty of the rural voters who form an important part of his base. Trump has also taken the gamble of using racial politics and white supremacy as instruments for winning in 2020. When faced with the dilemma of trying to assuage suburban voters or keeping the base close, time after time his instinct has been to shore up the base. (That didn’t work very well in 2018.)"
Aug 5th 2019
Extracts: "it is impossible to model many of the most important risks. Global warming will produce major changes in hydrological cycles, with both more extreme rainfall and longer more severe droughts. This will have severe adverse effects on agriculture and livelihoods in specific locations, but climate models cannot tell us in advance precisely where regional effects will be most severe. Adverse initial effects in turn could produce self-reinforcing political instability and large-scale attempted migration........Achieving a zero-carbon economy will require a massive increase in global electricity use, from today’s 23,000 TW hours to as much as 90,000 TW hours by mid-century. Delivering this in a zero-carbon fashion will require enormous investments, but as the Energy Transitions Commission has shown, it is technically, physically, and economically feasible......Added up across all economic sectors, however, it’s clear that the total cost of decarbonizing the global economy cannot possibly exceed 1-2% of world GDP. In fact, the actual costs will almost certainly be far lower, because most such estimates cautiously ignore the possibility of fundamental technological breakthroughs, and maintain conservative estimates of how long and how fast cost reductions in key technologies will occur. In 2010, the International Energy Agency projected a 70% fall in solar photovoltaic equipment costs by 2030. It happened by 2017."
Jul 31st 2019
Extract: "I admire the US for its culture, entrepreneurialism, and universities, and I have many American friends. Furthermore, I know how grateful the rest of the world has to be for US leadership after World War II. Never before had a victorious power behaved so generously toward others, including the defeated. We owe so much to US policy in the second half of the twentieth century. But although I am no declinist regarding American economic, intellectual, and military power, the country’s soft power has certainly decreased, and its positive influence around the world has declined. The reason for this is simple: US President Donald Trump is a bad man surrounded by a bad team of incompetent and dangerous ideologues."