What President Biden Will Mean for Israel

As I write this, preparations are underway for the swearing-in ceremony of a new President of the US. Nobody truly knows what this will mean for us in Israel. Caroline Glick, who can be depended on to see the dark side – often, unfortunately, correctly – finds Biden’s appointments of numerous former Obama officials, some of whom are demonstrably anti-Israel, to be evidence that the new administration will return to the almost maliciously anti-Israel policies of the Obama Administration.

On the other hand, as Bret Stephens notes (in a masterful piece that I hope will be required reading for Biden and his people), the situation has drastically changed since Obama pursued his diplomatic assault on Israel. Everything is different (except perhaps the Palestinians). Israel, Iran, the Arab nations, and the situation in the USA have all undergone significant changes. The damage to American interests from continuing Obama’s policy today would be even greater than in 2008-2016.

But not all politics is rational, as history amply demonstrates. Bad regimes sometimes follow policies dictated primarily by the misapprehensions, prejudices or even obsessions of their leadership rather than the interests of their nations. The Obama Administration was one of those.

Indeed, its interpretations of the intentions of the Palestinians and the Iranian regime – which could be determined simply by paying attention to their words – were so far from reality that I often found myself asking, “stupid or evil?” Did American officials really think that the Palestinians would be satisfied with a peaceful state alongside Israel if only the right concessions were forced out of us? Did they really believe that the agreement with the Iranians would prevent them from getting nuclear weapons, or even significantly slow them down?

There was also an ideological element, a clear affinity of Obama himself to the Muslim opponents of Israel that was demonstrated by the speech he delivered in Cairo shortly after his inauguration. There was his comparison of the Palestinians to black Americans, one of the worst possible analogies. And there was his antipathy for our Prime Minister, which he famously shared in an off-mike chat with the French president. Taking all this into account, one can be excused for thinking that one of the deliberate objectives of Obama’s policies was to weaken and hurt Israel.

While these personal characteristics of Barack Obama do not apply to Joe Biden, he does seem to believe in the traditional (and wrong) principles of American Middle East policy, such as the primacy of creating a sovereign Palestinian state in bringing normal relations to the region. He agrees with Obama that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are “illegitimate and an obstacle to peace,” a position that the State Department reversed under Trump.

American policy toward the Palestinians, going back to the Clinton Administration, has always been to provide ample financial aid to them and get Israel to make concessions up front, both territorial and practical (like freeing jailed terrorists). And Obama’s Iran policy was heavily front-loaded with financial benefits to Iran. One would think that professional diplomats would understand why this strategy failed over and over. Both the Palestinians and the Iranians have objectives that they cannot be paid to give up. Giving them presents only made them ask for more, and in both cases they used the money to pay for terrorism.

The non-professionals of the Trump Administration did understand this. They reversed course and applied economic pressure to both the Palestinians and the Iranian regime, in order to create leverage for negotiations. Unfortunately, the policy hasn’t been in place long enough to tell if it will work, but the desire to be “not-Trump” may cause the new Administration to end sanctions on Iran and re-fund the PA and UNRWA – making failure a certainty. Biden has already promised to restore Trump-suspended payments to UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency, thus continuing the decades-long growth of a hostile population of heavily indoctrinated, stateless welfare clients.

We can also expect a resumption of objections from the US against Jewish construction in Judea/Samaria and Eastern Jerusalem, joining the chorus from Europe. It wouldn’t surprise me if another unannounced but near-total freeze on construction will soon go into effect.

In more encouraging news, recent comments by Anthony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, indicate that he doesn’t intend to reactivate the Iran deal immediately. Nevertheless, we should watch for any loosening of the Trump-applied sanctions on Iran as an indication of the likely direction the administration will take.

Israel has been engaged in a “war between the wars,” against Iranian installations in Syria. The Trump Administration did not interfere. I expect that attacks against these targets will be less frequent under the new administration. A warning sign will be if they stop entirely.

I had hoped that Israel would utilize the last weeks of Trump’s term to destroy the Iranian nuclear installations, perhaps even with American help; but apparently our PM and the IDF believe that their lower-level activities are effective enough that such an ambitious project wasn’t needed. We might regret this later; I will be very surprised if it happens under Biden.

All of the above is based on the assumption that the “moderates” in Biden’s administration, including Biden himself, will be in control. And here is where the real scary stuff begins.

Biden is 78 years old, older than any other American president at the time of his inauguration (Trump was 70 and Ronald Reagan was not quite 78 at the end of his second term). He certainly does not appear to me, admittedly a non-professional, to be at the top of his game … or worse. Even if he remains as president for a full term, it’s hard to imagine that he will be calling the shots. His vice president, Kamala Harris, is an unknown quantity in the area of foreign affairs. And there are strong forces that will be trying to exert their influence on the administration – unfriendly ones.

One is the left wing of the Democratic party, which supported Bernie Sanders for the presidency, and which is strongly anti-Israel. The other is the Obama organization.

When Barack Obama left the White House, he did not retire from politics and retreat to his home state, like so many other ex-presidents. Rather, he bought a home in walking distance to the White House, and transformed his highly effective campaign fund-raising organization into a social action group, with both domestic and foreign policy goals. It’s hard to believe that he will not try to exert influence over the new administration.

I believe that Israel will be able to work with an administration that is somewhat less friendly than that of Trump, as long as it is honestly interested in regional peace. Israel will present the evidence – which is overwhelming – that Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons; indeed, is developing them now. Together with its new allies in the Arab world, it will argue that continued maximum economic and diplomatic pressure is the most effective way to stop Iran, short of war.

I believe also that Israel will be able to convince such an administration that the real reason for the lack of progress with the Palestinians is their refusal to accept the existence of a Jewish state with any borders. We will explain that the development of Israel’s relations with other Arab states means that Palestinian sovereignty can be delayed indefinitely, until the Palestinians are prepared to accept the legitimacy of the nation state of the Jewish people.

But if the American administration undergoes a sharp turn toward the left, either as a result of a takeover by the left wing of the Democratic Party or from the influence of the Obama organization, we could see a return of Obama-era pressure for concessions, restrictions on our actions, and appeasement of Iran.

We’ve made a great deal of progress in the past four years. It would be a shame if it were reversed.

We’ll find out in the next few months.

Posted in 'Peace' Process, Iran, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, US-Israel Relations | 3 Comments

The Machine

During most of the 20th century, news was delivered primarily by professional reporters, via newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV. Although various media had biases, these biases were generally known and could be taken into account. There was a sharp distinction between what would be put on the news and opinion pages. Major media had correspondents in various places who would usually report events that they had physically covered. Although there were abuses and cover-ups (for example, FDR’s wheelchair), most news reports were relatively trustworthy. Americans laughed at the slanted stories found in the Soviet newspapers Pravda and Izvestia (Russians did, too).

The advent of the internet, and particularly social media, threw a massive monkey wrench into the system. First, it sliced out the financial heart of local media, and seriously hurt the national outlets as well, by taking over the functions of the classified sections. No longer do people search for apartments, jobs, or second-hand items in the newspaper, where a listing might take a couple of days to appear. Websites like Craigslist provide instant advertising, mostly for free. Print advertising in general took a massive hit.

The financial blow put local media out of business, and forced most of the regional and national media to divest from their correspondents in numerous locations. It was necessary for them to depend on wire services, which meant that many outlets had precisely the same stories. Investigative reporting, which requires long (expensive) hours of legwork, has also almost disappeared.

At the same time the politicization of the universities that began in the late 1960s, the creation of ethnic and gender studies departments and the weakening of traditional academic standards, brought forth a new generation of journalists and editors, many of whom were activists. The sharp distinction between the news and opinion pages blurred.

The major media, which drew its staff from universities, mostly leaned left. To counter this, the Right turned to independent news sources like talk radio as well as “new media” like blogs, podcasts, email newsletters, and so on. These outlets developed their own clientele, which was limited to a narrow ideological segment of the public. Soon media – both traditional and new media – separated itself into bubbles. A person could hear just one side of the story and consider himself well-informed. People living in different bubbles could barely communicate, because they didn’t even have the basic facts in common.

As if this weren’t enough, social media ballooned into a massive enterprise. In the second quarter of 2020, Facebook had 1.7 billion monthly active users. No single media outlet has ever approached even a fraction of that number. And it is controlled – or rather, guided, because it primarily controls itself – by a small group of managers and engineers whose goals are to maximize interaction, collect information, and target advertising. The algorithms used by these systems encouraged the partitioning of users into bubbles even more than before. All the major social media platforms are interconnected, even those that are competitors, sharing information about every aspect of the lives of those billions of humans that are its targets.

These platforms have become part of almost everyone’s life, in part because of their carefully and deliberately designed addictive nature. Many people spend far more time on them than in interaction with flesh-and-blood  humans, and get most or all of their news about the outside world from them. And they have become essential to political life as well. Every candidate for any office must have a presence on multiple platforms. Newspaper reports about candidates and officeholders are often made up of quoted tweets or Facebook posts. Probably the primary contact between a politician and his electorate today is mediated by social media in one way or another.

Because social media are mostly unfiltered they contain a great deal of misinformation (false statements) and disinformation (deliberately false statements), put there by people inside and outside of a country for political (or psychological warfare) purposes. And this fact gave rise to a demand to police them. Somehow, it’s argued, there must be a process to purge the bad stuff and remove the bad actors.

This is the point at which the danger to free expression and democratic politics becomes manifest. After addicting the whole society – indeed, much of the world – to a device, a machine, that is almost the only source of communication and information for an enormous number of people, after destroying the traditional media, the engineers of the social media platforms are being asked to become arbiters of truth.

The idea of centralized control of the content of what have become the main arteries of human communication is beyond frightening. But that is what is being asked for. And that is what is being done. The fact that several left-leaning tech companies (Google, Apple, and Amazon) could get together and throttle a right-leaning one (Parler) – and I am making no judgment about the politics here, just the exercise of power – is shocking. The fact that tech companies could de-platform the President of the United States – is even more so, regardless of what one thinks about this president.

This happened quickly, within less than 20 years, the span of one generation. Because public speech today is so dependent on these social media platforms, their owners and engineers have the power to shut down people and ideas that they don’t like. Suppression of speech by governments is bad enough, but this is worse: there is some accountability for democratic governments, but there is absolutely none for these machines.

The power in their hands is almost absolute. Who in government or traditional media would dare to go against them? If current trends continue, they will have more power than governments. They may already have, whether they know it or not.

I suspect that they do know and have already started to exercise it.

Posted in American politics, American society, Media | 3 Comments

But What About the Palestinians?

This morning I received a robo-call from the Rehovot city government to tell me that, as a senior citizen, if I had trouble getting an appointment for my Coronavirus vaccination, they would help me, and here is how to contact them. I remembered that some months ago I got a call from a human social worker employed by the city, who wanted to know how I was, how we were getting our food (this was during our first full lockdown), did we have local family to help us out, and so on.

I’ve had my differences with the city from time to time, but I am really impressed by this. They are using our tax money (Israelis pay local taxes based on the size of their homes and other factors) to provide services to the citizens! I realized how little I’ve come to expect from government, so this seemed like a big deal to me. But it’s still remarkable that they have programs in place to help those of us who are no longer “productive citizens” in an economic sense.

And then there is the vaccination program itself. The State of Israel paid a premium price for vaccines, and set up a system to distribute them. The logistics are complicated because the Pfizer vaccine, the first to arrive here, must be kept at -70 degrees C (-94 F) and then used within several hours of being warmed. As of Tuesday, 1,700,000 Israelis had received their first vaccination, including my wife and me.

We went to the designated location, where the four HMOs that all Israelis belong to had set up stations to give vaccinations; waited only a few minutes in an open area, and received our shots (for those who speak British, “jabs”). Information was immediately entered into the nationwide computer networks of the HMOs, and our appointments for the second dose set. This was much more efficient than anything I have ever experienced in any bureaucratic setting either here or in the US, even in the IDF.

Of course Bibi is taking credit for the whole thing, as our next expensive, unnecessary election approaches. But in truth he does deserve credit for making the deals with the pharmaceutical corporations that got us large quantities of vaccine early, even while the HMOs put together the system which is expected to vaccinate the entire population by the end of March.

So this morning I have a feeling that this country cares about me, and about the rest of its citizens. The institutions like the national and local governments and the HMOs are doing their jobs, at least in this connection. The government has not done so well in managing the lockdowns, especially the last, partial one, which seems to have hurt small businesses badly while doing little to slow the spread of the virus. There are plenty of other things to criticize, but still, I am proud of my country.

But the response of the world media to Israel’s relative success in fighting the epidemic has been more hostile than anything I recall since the last time Israel was forced to defend herself against deadly rocket attacks from Gaza. “What about the Palestinians,” they screamed. Why aren’t we vaccinating them, too? “It’s because Israel is an apartheid state!”

The accusation is everywhere, in mainstream and social media, from the human rights organizations, and even from Jewish groups like J Street.

And it’s nonsense. First, Arab and Jewish Israelis, as well as Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are treated precisely the same. Second, the PA and Hamas are responsible under international law for vaccinating their citizens. The PA has said they have ordered vaccines from several manufacturers and are awaiting their arrival. Israel has promised to give surplus vaccine to the PA after our campaign is over. Israel’s public broadcaster KAN reports that Israel already gave the Palestinian Authority some 100 doses of the vaccine for “hardship cases” (probably the big shots in the PA). And the blogger Elder of Ziyon has debunked some of the accusations against Israel made by “human rights” NGOs here and here.

One of Israel’s greatest national concerns is the question of how it can become a better state, one that better performs the basic function of a state, to protect its citizens against man-made and natural dangers, and to provide economic and cultural opportunities for them. This is the purpose of our health care system, the IDF, and our Knesset, judicial system, central bank, and so forth. Although there is a certain amount of corruption it is incidental to the functioning of the overall state.

The vaccination project has been a positive force in our lives, illustrating that we need not always be passive and accept the blows that fall on us. And it shows that our big institutions (the HMOs are independent organizations, but closely controlled by the Health Ministry) can work smoothly when they have to.

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas are entirely different. Although they have government ministries, a health-care system, and many other services, they do not exist to protect their people and enable them to fulfill their economic and cultural potential. They have two functions alone: to enrich those Palestinians who are “connected,” and to fight the war against Israel with which they are obsessed. Corruption is essential, not incidental. Funds that don’t go into the pockets of the rulers go to prepare for war or to pay the soldiers. Palestinians know this and hate their rulers, but there is little they can do because the dictatorships under which they live don’t hesitate to use force against them. And in many cases, they are also slaves to their obsessive hatred of Israel.

Palestinian governments continue to encourage, pay for, and perpetrate terrorism against Israel, while “ordinary Palestinians” throw rocks at cars containing Jews, a pastime that has caused several deaths and countless serious injuries. A few weeks ago, an “ordinary Palestinian” viciously beat an innocent woman to death. Right now the concern in Ramallah is not how to vaccinate millions of Palestinians, but rather how to ensure that terrorists will continue to get paid despite Israeli restrictions on Palestinian banks.

Israel struggles to be better. Palestinians struggle to be worse. And yet, which side do the media, the Jewish Left, and the human rights industry take?

***

Sheldon Adelson died on Tuesday. He was one of Israel’s greatest supporters. He loved this country, and contributed massive amounts of his own money to make it better and to help improve its relationship with the diaspora, including hundreds of millions of dollars to Birthright, which has probably done more to counteract the hate campaign against Israel in the universities than all other PR initiatives put together. He also gave large sums to AIPAC, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, Yad Vashem, and the Israeli-American Council. He and his Israeli-born wife, Miri, were the major donors to a new medical school at Ariel University. He donated several Magen David Adom ambulances and mobile ICU vehicles, including some that were armored to protect them against terrorist attacks. He started the free newspaper Israel Hayom (Israel Today), which is today the paper with the largest circulation in the country, shattering the almost total monopoly on news media in Israel held by the Left. His influence on Donald Trump was partly responsible for Trump’s pro-Israel policies.

Miri Adelson will certainly continue his philanthropy, but the Jewish people and the State of Israel have lost a friend who won’t easily be replaced. BDE.

Posted in Information war, Israeli Society, Media | 1 Comment

Donald Trump and Me

Before I begin to write about the events of this past week, I feel the need to say a few words about myself and my own political consciousness.

I’m a former American who has lived in Israel a total of 15 years, first on a kibbutz in the 1980s and now in a small city, Rehovot. I first made aliyah with my wife and three children in 1979. In 1988, I dragged them back to the USA because I wanted to follow my father’s example and start a business, something I didn’t think I would succeed at in Israel’s tough environment. We stayed until 2014, and finally sold our business and returned to Israel.

It wasn’t until I arrived here that I realized that I had been in galut, physical and spiritual, for 26 years. Zionism and Israel had been important to me since I was in high school, but I didn’t realize how much of my identity was bound to this country and these people.

I am telling you all this because I want you to understand that my point of view is that of an Israeli, not an American. I haven’t set foot in the USA for more than six years. On the one hand, this allows me to be a somewhat more objective observer of events there. On the other, well, I’m here and you’re there.

Donald Trump was hands down the most pro-Israel president of the US since Truman, in both words and deeds. The Obama years, which I experienced both from the US and from Israel, were a nightmare, as I watched the leader of the country of my birth and the most powerful man in the world, deliberately act on behalf of our enemies, advocating policies that if carried out would result in the end of Israel. I watched him try to humiliate our Prime Minister, and even deploy antisemitic themes in his campaign to make a deal with our greatest enemy – and a bitter enemy of his own country as well – Iran.

The deal he succeeded to force through over the objections of the US Congress provided funds that the Iranian regime used to finance Hezbollah in Lebanon and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and Syria, which have perhaps 130,000 short- and long-range missiles aimed at Israel at this very moment. The deal neutralized the UN’s enforcement, such as it was, of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and guaranteed that with the passage of time Iran could legally develop and deploy nuclear weapons. And this despite countless promises by Iranian leaders that they would bring about the destruction of our Jewish state!

I watched with horror as the US, for the first time since the Carter Administration, allowed – indeed, arguably spearheaded – a resolution in the UN Security Council that denied Jewish rights to our holiest places.

And then President Trump came along, ended the pernicious deal with Iran and re-imposed sanctions. He reaffirmed Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem and the Golan, which other presidents, even the relatively friendly Clinton and Bush, had failed to do. He rejected the idea that Israel had to bear the full burden of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and stopped coddling them while they paid terrorists to murder Israelis. His administration helped bring about the normalization of relations with several Arab countries, something which was both a breakthrough toward the integration of the Jewish state with its neighbors as well as a deterrent alliance against Iranian expansionism. He turned the anti-Israeli policy of Obama around by 180 degrees.

So of course I appreciate Donald Trump. And I saw how badly he and his supporters were treated by the majority of the US media, which had given up maintaining even a pretense of objectivity when he was elected. I saw how they falsely called Trump a white supremacist and an antisemite. I saw how they lied about and twisted his words, presented everything he did in the worst possible light, accused him of treason, made fun of him, called him incompetent and even crazy. I saw how they incited hatred against him.

I also saw how the various manifestations of left-wing extremism, including the BLM organization and the campus cultural warriors, tried to push racial divisiveness, cancel culture, gender-craziness, wokespeak, and even Islamization onto Americans, many of whom find the whole package beyond abhorrent. I saw the violence and destructiveness of the riots and looting associated with BLM demonstrations, and the coercive behavior of BLM supporters. I saw how the Left denigrated the traditional American ideals of meritocracy, equality of opportunity, and free expression, in favor of identity politics. And I very definitely saw that the Left took anti-Israel positions even more extreme than those of Obama’s administration.

Trump opposed all this.

I wasn’t blind to Trump’s narcissism, his dishonesty, or his vindictiveness. But the Democratic Party today is more and more influenced by those who stand for the program of the extreme Left, and I saw – and still see – those ideas as far more dangerous for America and for Israel than Trump’s personal deficiencies.

On Wednesday, 6 January, pro-Trump demonstrators broke into the Capitol, in an attempt to stop the Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden. I don’t need to describe the events, except to say that the emotional impact on Americans and others – I can testify to that here in Israel – was enormous. Although the incident was objectively no more violent than some of this summer’s BLM activities, the symbolic significance of it can’t be minimized. It represented a violent attempt to interfere with the orderly transfer of power after a presidential election. As far as I know, this had never happened before in US history.

In the weeks between the election and 6 January, and in the rally before the break-in and his video tweet several hours later, Trump emphasized his belief that the election had been stolen. The implication was clear: they broke the law, he was the true heir apparent, and if it takes extra-constitutional actions to reverse this injustice, they are fully justified. And on 6 January, some of his supporters acted, though it should have been clear to them that they had no chance of success. Indeed their actions destroyed any credibility remaining to Trump and his movement.

There is a theory that the whole thing was a setup and the ones who invaded the Capitol were Antifa provocateurs. Why, it’s asked, would Trump incite actions that would be so damaging to himself? There may indeed have been a few provocateurs among those that entered the building, and I certainly didn’t hear Trump order anyone to attack the Capitol. But there is no doubt that his words were highly inflammatory. And he may not have considered carefully enough the consequences of inflaming a mob.

Trump’s actions and utterances since the election have come from that part of his personality that is the least attractive, and in a national leader, the most dangerous. Despite his positive accomplishments – and there are more of them than just his Middle East policies – I must condemn him for his behavior after the election. What was done to Trump by the Democratic media was unfair, even vicious. But his response was to throw a bomb at the US Constitution.

This breaks my heart, because – from a purely ideological standpoint – Trump represents American values far more than his opponents on the left. Ironically, he stands for the values of Martin Luther King Jr. far more than does BLM, which only wants to change the color of the oppressors.

Was the election fair? I have no idea, and in my opinion the truth in this matter has been so obscured by disinformation from both sides and from psychological warfare waged against the US by her enemies, that it is impossible to say. But there is a point at which Trump ought to have realized that whether he lost fairly or unfairly, he lost. And for the sake of the Constitution, his reputation, and those of his party and his country, he should have stepped aside, perhaps to fight again another day.

The consequences of this incident will be serious and long-lasting. The events of 6 January have discredited the Republican party and removed it as an obstacle in the way of the Left. Freedom of expression has also suffered, as the tech industry has begun to intervene more deeply into social media content. If the extreme Left gets control of the Biden Administration, it will be a horror show, and there will be no one to put the brakes on it.

This episode is over for now. They are cleaning up the Capitol. Next, someone needs to clean up the wreckage of the Republican party and create one that will proudly represent the traditional values that once did “make America great.” I’ll be cheering from here.

Posted in American politics, American society | 11 Comments

Iran Strategy and “Newer Jews”

I just watched an interview of the new Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely. She was interviewed by Colin Shindler, a historian and professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Shindler, despite his qualifications as a specialist in the history of Israel, displayed the typical bias against that country of most British academics, but Hotovely did an excellent job, demonstrating that a former firebrand politician can become a diplomat.

I found one question in particular interesting. Do you think, Shindler asked, that Israel’s recent normalization of relations with several Arab states will make war with Iran more or less likely? Hotovely’s response was that this was a positive development, and that it showed that Israel wasn’t the only country in the Middle East that was worried about Iran. But she didn’t answer specifically whether it made war more or less likely.

I suspect Hotovely thought, as I did, that it was unnecessary to add that of course it reduced the chance of violent conflict. After all, Iran’s attempt to expand her sphere of influence in the region, especially by trying to encircle Israel with armed proxies, is the typical behavior of an aggressor that will lead to war unless the aggressor can be deterred. And certainly an alliance between the potential victims of aggression has a deterrent force. So what on earth was Shindler thinking?

Here is another example: a recent CNN “analysis” included this: “Even if Biden is willing to return to the terms of the Iran nuclear deal, the case for diplomacy has been weakened by the Trump-ordered US strike that killed [Iranian General Qassem] Soleimani.”

Weakened? By killing Soleimani, Trump took an action that reduced Iran’s ability to take extra-diplomatic actions (read: terrorism or war). That strengthened the American negotiating position, making it more likely that the Iranians would make concessions. But the writer seems to believe the opposite. It should be obvious that achieving agreement in negotiations is much more likely when one side sees no alternative but to agree. If Biden wants to negotiate over Iran’s nuclear program, Trump did him a big favor by killing Soleimani and by applying tough sanctions.

I suspect it is a particular kind of illogic that seems to be common among those with a certain kind of historical ignorance, and in the case of Jews like Shindler, a certain psychological syndrome.

What motivates regimes? For good regimes, it is primarily the national interests of their countries; for bad regimes, it is the personal and political interests of the leaders. Motivations almost never include moral considerations or ideas of fair play or justice. Regimes are sometimes slightly influenced by fellow-feeling for their linguistic and religious fellows, as in the “special relationship” between the US and the UK, the Russian connection to other Slavic peoples, or the support for the Palestinians by fellow Muslims. But interests still predominate, and presidents, dictators, and kings get up in the morning and think about how they can promote them, and what might stand in their way. When an enemy backs down or shows weakness, they push forward. It would be irrational to follow suit in backing down, and usually they don’t.

A national leader has to play both offense and defense, in American football terms. They need to move their interests forward, while frustrating the designs of their enemies. Direct conflict is expensive and risky, so their offensive actions are usually incremental, and in proportion to what they can get away with. Defensive actions take two forms: direct defense, like antimissile systems; and deterrence, which is calculated to make the enemy’s possible offensive actions so expensive that they will not be justified in terms of interests. Both kinds of defense are necessary.

The Trump Administration’s strategy against Iran is classically rational. The high-level goal is to prevent Iran from taking control of the Middle East and its natural resources, and in particular to prevent the regime from getting nuclear weapons which would facilitate that takeover. This is accomplished by wielding the massive economic power of the US. The powerful American military functions as a deterrent against Iran’s using its favored weapon, proxy terrorism, in response. I have little doubt that if the Trump policy were continued, Iran could be forced to back down without open conflict.

The Obama Administration acted differently, either because it did not understand Iranian goals, or because its own objectives were not to frustrate Iranian expansionism, or because it was incompetent (or perhaps a bit of all three). Despite America’s enormous economic and military advantages over Iran, it negotiated as if from a position of weakness.

Israel today does not act with complete rationality for various reasons. For one thing, there is widespread disagreement about national goals. For example, as a “right-winger” I believe that it should be a national goal to achieve Jewish sovereignty over all the land of Israel, and that Israel should be the nation-state of the Jewish people. There are also Israelis that believe that Judea and Samaria should be under Arab sovereignty, and that Israel should be a “state of all its citizens” like the US; and there are Israelis who would take intermediate positions.

As a result, the (very democratic) Israeli regime has difficulty in implementing policy consistently, because it is pulled back and forth by various constituencies. From a military point of view, it relies too much on direct defense, like Iron dome and sophisticated barriers, and not enough on deterrence, which must be exercised from time to time in order to maintain credibility. But for various reasons, in part the fear of interference from outside powers, it is loath to do so.

There is also another issue, more of a spiritual problem: because Israeli Jews have lived so long in an antisemitic world, they are unsure of the legitimacy of their very existence. As Kenneth Levin explained in his book, The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege, Jews have come to accept the antisemitic judgment that their persecution is their own fault, and believe that they can influence their enemies by becoming “better” people. The effect is to prevent them from taking strong action when needed. Oslo Syndrome sufferers often echo the complaints of antisemitic Europeans and the “human rights industry.”

Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky hoped for a “new Jew” to replace the ones that cowered in the ghettos of Europe. Although they created a generation of Jews that were capable of fighting for their lives and to establish a state, it has been hard to repair all of the damage from the millennia of diaspora existence. Ben Gurion’s New Jews believed that they didn’t need religion, which they saw as part of the weakness of the old Jews. But the danger was that without it, once they succeeded in establishing a state and securing the Jewish people against persecution, they would forget why the Jewish people needed a Jewish state. And this has to a certain extent happened.

But there is also a new generation that represents a synthesis, Jews that are both strong enough to fight and spiritual enough to know why they need to. Call them “Newer Jews.” And the interview that prompted this post, which pits a member of this new generation of Jewish leaders, Tzipi Hotovely, against a Jew fatally stricken with Oslo Syndrome, Colin Shindler, is a good way to see the difference.

Posted in Iran, The Jewish people, War | 2 Comments