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February 18, 2010: Messages That Matter

May 22, 2010

Yesterday was the final day of the Jerusalem Conference, and once more now I devote my posting to this event, providing basic themes and significant statements. 

But I must start with a correction (and this error, I suspect, dates me).  Last time I spoke about a video message from Senator Birch Bayh.  Thanks to Barbara W. who pointed out that Birch Bayh is deceased and I meant his son, Evan Bayh.  I stand corrected.  (The Senator, Evan, a good man, will not be running for re-election.) 

Yesterday there were additional video messages broadcast from members of Congress: From Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), a good friend to Israel (who also will not seek re-election).  And Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA28), who declared that “I am a proud Zionist and a proud Democrat. But I was a Zionist before I was a Democrat.” 

This was very much the tone, as both Israelis and Americans addressed the issue of the US-Israel relationship with a “feel good attitude” and very little content.  

Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY17) — who was present on the panel – made it clear that the US-Israel relationship is a bi-partisan issue on the Hill and very strong: It is an unbreakable bond, he declared, even with disagreements.  

Danny Ayalon (Yisrael Beitenu), Deputy Foreign Minister, echoed this when he said that Israel does not let disputes spill over into the entire strategic relationship with the US. 

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The content of importance within this session: 

Congressman Engel expressed concern that Israel should maintain a qualitative edge with regard to weapons.  

Ambassador (ret.) James Larocco, who now lectures on the ME, addressed the same issue, saying that this edge was “absolutely essential” and that US was committed to this.  The Ambassador alluded to a statement made by Chief of Staff Mullen, at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv just a few days ago:  “Iran cannot have nuclear weapons.”  Cannot?  The implications are clear, but this is not a definitive statement. There will be no definitive statement on this. 

Pastor Robert Stearns – who talks with great passion about Israel — spoke of the strong evangelic influence in the US for support for Israel.  Evangelical Christianity, he reported, is the fastest growing branch of Christianity. 

However, there is now the emergence of a ”new evangelical left” that is anti-Israel.  This branch of evangelical Christianity is the only one that has entrée into the White House. 

He recommends identifying new evangelical leaders and bringing them to Israel, and building “bridges of travel” for pastors to come with their congregations. 

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A highlight of the Conference, for me, was the interview by Dan Diker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs of Bernard Lewis, who, at 93, is the uncontested dean of Middle East/Oriental scholars, as well as a political analyst.  With it all, Dr. Lewis maintains his sense of humor. 

As to Iran within the past year, Dr. Lewis observed dryly that “To treat enemies as friends is counterproductive.”  He sees evidence that the opposition movement is very strong and wide-spread.  Actually, he says, there are two opposition movements – one within the government and one outside.  For the time being, he observed, even the former will do. 

There is a Western misunderstanding of Islam, he told us: We assume their processes and motivations are the same as ours. 

We think in terms of certain dichotomies:  religion/state; secular/religious.  But these are unknown to traditional Islam. Islam is different from Judaism and Christianity with regard to power:  Moses never got into the Promised Land.  Jesus was crucified. But Muhammad succeeded in his lifetime and is associated with the power of the state, i.e., religion and power are automatically associated. 

Muslims still believe that they must continue the prophet’s mission until all embrace Islam or submit to it. The state of war may be interrupted by truces, which represent accommodations and not ultimate peace. 

“Salam” to a traditional Muslim does not mean “Shalom,” simply peace.  “Salam Aleikem” means “Peace be upon those who follow divine guidance.”  This phrase, says Lewis, as uttered by Obama in his Cairo speech, implies an embrace of Islam. 

Because of the above understanding, it is meaningless to apply the idea of nationalism as we understand it to the Palestinian Arabs. 

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Dr. Lewis says the Shia/Sunni issue is important. In many Muslim places Shiite Islam is unknown, and the Sunnis have always had the power even in places like Syria and Iraq, where there is a mix.  But now the Shia influence is growing and Shiites are awakening to the possibility of controlling their countries.  This affects Syria, part of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, etc.  There is the possibility that Sunni nations, uneasy about Shia militancy and Iranian imperialism might begin to see a positive relationship with Israel as constructive. 

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Another thought-provoking talk was given by Ron Dermer, Director of Policy Planning for the prime minister. 

That there is an assault on Israel’s legitimacy is a given, says Dermer.  The question is how to build an effective policy against it. Too many people engage in wishful thinking.  

On the left, people imagine it’s a function of our policies – if we would abide by international expectations, the world would like us better.  Belief in the tooth fairy, he says, is more realistic than this. 

On the right, he says there is a call for giving voice to our rights, stopping use of the language our enemies, reclaiming our narrative.  While he has sympathy for this position, he suggests that the core of the problem lies elsewhere – that telling people our history will not necessarily solve the problem.  (I think, myself, that telling that history and speaking for our rights is essential and works some of the time.) 

Dermer believes that the core problem is an assault driven by values that are anti-Western. Israel is in direct conflict with cultural relativism, the belief that the weaker party is always just, pacifism, and the conviction that what is referred to as truth and falsehood is just a matter of competing values. 

The issue is a Zeitgeist directed against us and other nations, most notably the US. And we are an easy target. We defend ourselves when force is considered wrong. And we are a Jewish state in a time when nationalism and religion are under attack.

Within this situation, says Dermer, radical leftists and militant Islamists have joined forces.  Their anti-Israel message then spreads to progressives, liberals and young people.  This is a bigger problem in Europe than in the US, and in academic circles compared to the heartland. 

We cannot win with the hard-core. But we have to prevent their message from filtering down to the progressives and liberals, and the young people who see themselves as idealistic. 

Instead of defending ourselves, we must go on the offensive. The fact is that we are on the “right” side of many issues that progressives embrace, issues such as essential freedoms and – most significantly – women’s rights. 

We need to go on the offensive, taking our message to the territory of progressives.  The left must understand that Islamic fundamentalists pose the greatest challenge to their values.  People in Arab societies are always struggling for freedom and rights, and no one pays attention.  We must put the issues on the agenda, big time, and expose what is happening in these societies – focusing on the biggest human rights abusers. When this message is absorbed, there will be people who now attack us who will begin to see us on standing with them on the important issues. 

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Speaking of the left, I will end with a position espoused by Caroline Glick at the Conference.  The left has been weakened she says, but it still wields enough power to prevent the government from abandoning the “two-state solution.”  And so we maintain allegiance to a failed policy. 

Glick has a policy alternative, which she called the Stabilization Plan.  I will say here only that it involves applying Israeli civilian law now to all areas in Judea and Samaria where there are Jewish communities, and dismantling the  PA.  She sees this as a way to manage a situation that cannot be totally solved at present.   You can see details at: 

http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/the-stabilization-plan-15160 

In order to give people permission to speak out about political situations that are ridiculous, last year she started Latma, a series of satirical videos available on the Internet.  They are in Hebrew, but now will always have English subtitles added.  I find them extremely funny and you might enjoy them as well – and want to share them with others.  See here, and scroll down a bit for the video satire: 

http://www.carolineglick.com/e/2010/02/latma-researches-the-history-o.php 

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http://arlenefromisrael.squarespace.com/current-postings/2010/5/22/february-18-2010-messages-that-matter.html

 

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