Israel faced elections on the 22 January, and as encouraging this is as a reminder of the State’s unique democratic tradition in a region plagued by tyrants and autocracies, there is unfortunately also the need to despair. The current political discourse indicates that although Israel does not lack for leaders, there is an acute lack of uniting and sensible leadership to guide the State through its current challenges. On the right, Likud has no shortage of scapegoats to explain the lack of progress in the negotiations with the Palestinians or in creating hard-hitting social reforms to support the weaker segments as well as to prevent a further brain drain of Israel’s young and brightest. The feasibility of Prime Minister Netanyahu implementing his Bar Ilan vision for a two-state solution is eroding with the same pace that centre-right Likud politicians are being replaced with hawkish hardliners on the party’s Knesset list. Religious sectorial interests determined to secure funding to bolster their own political position of power, notwithstanding potential detrimental effects on State finances and security. Finally, on the rapidly rising far right, the winning argument is that the State should be free to act as it wants no matter how the world evaluates its actions. The standard seems to be that anyone that criticises Israel’s policies from the outside can be ignored as he, she or it probably hates Israel anyway.
As Europe sets its eyes on the upcoming U.S. Presidential Election, will the continent find its geopolitical clout unable to influence the calculus of Washington’s foreign policy for the region and beyond?
As a point of demarcation, it is essential to remember how the world looked when President Barak Obama took office three and a half years ago. Recalling the basic thinking the United States had about Europe at the very start of the Obama Presidency sheds light on how transatlantic ties have evolved over the course of his first term.
Recent events in Syria include repeated human right offenses such as systematic torture, grave limitations of personal freedoms and religious prosecution, as well as over 15,000 civilian casualties from massacres in Homs, Hula and al-Qubair, with some attacks explicitly targeting women and children. These offenses are all results of an oppressive and ruthless leader using brute force to silence any opposition striving for human rights and democracy. The Syrian military is carrying out these outrageous actions, and Bashar al Assad has undeniably proven those commentators who thought his UK education and background would usher in a different era of leadership as naïve wishful thinkers.
Iran might be starting a new war. This time a war that could be unpredictable and damaging. As never before. A nuclear war. What would this mean and how would we react?
In the United Kingdom the news from Iran has been relatively present in our media but the importance has been muted by the growing tensions taking place regarding The Falklands. Once again Argentina seems to be in a mood for war. The Brits, harkening back to the victories of Margaret Thatcher in the previous war would definitely push the current Prime Minister, David Cameron, to act decidedly if the situation worsened.
But what about Iran? Is the UK ready to oppose illegal nuclear proliferation and appease to a potential threat?
(This article was originally posted in the Jewish Week and can be found here: http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial_opinion/opinion/we_need_more_dirty_laundry_conversations_about_israel)
When I invite guests for dinner, I clean up my apartment, and put the dirty laundry in the closet. But it’s usually in full sight when I’m home with family.
Jews have traditionally acted similarly regarding Israel. In public discourse, support for Israel is forceful on issues related to war and peace. Within the family, though, there often is lively discussion of fears and hopes, with recognition that choices are very difficult and outcomes uncertain.
Conversations reveal the deep loyalty that many Jews have toward Israel and the palpable sense of their stake and role in Israel’s future.
(This article was originally published on Ynet on 12.11.11 and can be found here. The article below is a translation of the original article.)
Anyone who knows me knows that Jewish and Israeli pride is an important part of my life. I've always been involved in the Jewish community in Israel and abroad, and I believe that each of us must take part in activities to promote the Jewish community in general and Israel in particular.
One of the first organizations I became familiar with in New York is the AJC ACCESS program. This group, which is catered to young professionals, brings together its members to liaise with opinion-makers from different political, religious and ethnic backgrounds all for the sake of promoting Jewish global interests and universal rights.
>> Over the Green Line
Day Five began with a visit to the home of Hebrew University mathematics professor and former Member of Knesset Alex Lubotzky in Efrat, about 7 miles south of Jerusalem on the other side of the Green Line.
Efrat, home to nearly 10,000 people, was in the news earlier this month when Israel approved the construction of housing units there – a move that drove the international community mad, but that Israel explained as necessary to accommodate the natural expansion of the local population.
Alex described the history of Efrat and talked about its future. He explained that in a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians, this settlement and others in the area are likely to be traded (swapped) for other land.
Some of the mayors and senior staffers were surprised that this settlement looks like – as one mayor put it – a suburban housing development.
Today felt like several days rolled into one. For many in our group, it was a day of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Find a comfortable spot for reading; this is going to be a long post.
>> Jerusalem: Planning and Architecture
Day Four began with a walking tour of Jerusalem with Ofer Manor, Chief Architect of Jerusalem. The US mayors are all keenly interested in – and involved in – planning issues in their cities. They were so impressed with the various projects Manor had spearheaded.
One project that had particular resonance was the transformation of Jaffa Street into a light rail path and pedestrian street running six and a half miles through the center of Jerusalem.
>> Clean Water
Today began with a trip to the Palmachim Desalination Plant. Actually, let’s back up. Today began with Israeli cottage cheese topped with chopped tomatoes and cucumber, which is a great way to begin the day in Tel Aviv.
After that strong start, we drove south of Tel Aviv to the Water Desalination Plant in Palmachim. The mayors and senior staffers took great interest in this tour, as water management is a topic of concern in a number of US communities, just as it is in Israel.
The Palmachim plant is a major local provider of a large portion of the water consumed by Israeli households and used in Israeli industry and agriculture – in the next two years Israel expects to be able to supply 80 percent of its water needs through reclaimed sea water.
Palmachim is a fine example of the Israeli drive to innovate and be self-sufficient.
Project Interchange, an educational institute of AJC, brings opinion leaders and policy makers to Israel for a week of intensive travel and learning. Participants experience Israeli society, connect with their Israeli counterparts and learn about Israel’s extensive contributions in their fields.
Elizabeth Planet, AJC’s Director of Regional Offices and the Assistant Executive Director of AJC, is currently staffing the Mayor’s Seminar. She is writing a daily blog of her and her group’s experiences and sharing them on the Project Interchange website.