New hawkish security think tank launched in Jerusalem

Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, which recruited heavily from the Begin-Sadat Center, wants to promote a ‘conservative strategic worldview’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

From left to right: David Weinberg, Greg Rosshandler, Efraim Inbar, Zeev Elkin, Yoram Halevy at the launching conference of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, November 6, 2017 (courtesy)
From left to right: David Weinberg, Greg Rosshandler, Efraim Inbar, Zeev Elkin, Yoram Halevy at the launching conference of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, November 6, 2017 (courtesy)

A new hawkish security think tank was launched Monday in Jerusalem that seeks to inject a dose of “realist” thinking into Israel’s public debate.

The Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies was founded by and consist mainly of scholars and former officials who until recently belonged to another right-leaning think tank — Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA). They include Efraim Inbar, David M. Weinberg, Yaakov Amidror, Eran Lerman, Hillel Frisch and others.

“Through policy-oriented research, educational conference activity, and outreach to government, military, academia, media and the public, the institute gives expression to a conservative strategic worldview,” according to a press release announcing the new institute’s founding.

“Among the principles underlying the institute’s activity are the Jewish People’s historic connection to the land of Israel as a central component of strategic worldview; the salience of security in diplomatic agreements; rejection of unilateral Israeli moves that strengthen adversaries; the importance of strategic cooperation with like-minded allies; the imperative of Israel being able to defend itself by itself in all eventualities; and, critically, the importance of united Jerusalem to Israel’s security and destiny.”

JISS wants to advance “a defense and diplomatic discourse that is realist,” the press release stated.

As opposed to Dore Gold’s Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, JISS wants to focus less on international audiences but seeks to influence Israel’s domestic discourse.

“Until now, Israeli center-right and conservative sectors have not created a serious intellectual infrastructure that might reinforce and lead the mainstream in security thinking. The Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies seeks to redress this situation,” said Prof. Efraim Inbar, the new think tank’s president.

Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies president Efraim Inbar in Jerusalem on February 3, 2014. (Flash90)

“In point of fact, the institute will reinforce the instincts of the Israeli public, which according to our new public opinion survey, holds healthy conservative leanings.”

In its inaugural year, JISS seeks to have a budget of about  $1.5 million, which is slightly more than BESA but much less than Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), according to David Weinberg, the new institute’s vice president.

“The institute is actively fundraising, and will grow accordingly,” he told The Times of Israel. Currently, JISS is funded by the Tikvah Fund and “a select group of Jerusalem businessmen,” he added. Greg Rosshandler of Melbourne is “a major founding donor,” who sponsored the new think tank’s opening conference Monday in Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center.

Devoted to “Challenges of United Jerusalem,” the conference was off to an awkward start, as an angry man yelling questions heckled the first speaker, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin. Before Elkin could start his speech, the man loudly yelled slogans protesting Israel’s alleged arms sales to South Sudan and Myanmar, accusing the government of not having learned anything from the Holocaust.

It took the security guards several long minutes to carry the man out of the auditorium, during which he unabatedly continued to shout at Elkin.

“I have to tell you that I am happy to be a minister in a country where any man can protest a minister, so let’s accept his initiative,” Elkin said to applause from the audience.

Other speakers included Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Chief of Jerusalem Police District Yoram Halevy and several scholars on the new institute’s staff, such as Amidror, a former national security advisor, and Lerman, and Hillel Frisch, who all left BESA to join JISS.

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