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Analysis

Strategies for Israel, and those who love her

Strong-arming the sides isn’t going to solve the Palestinian conflict or wider hostilities, ToI editor says at UJIA dinner in London; gradually changing the tone, deepening understanding, tackling extremism at its roots, just might

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

David Horovitz speaks to the UJIA Annual Dinner in London on September 21, 2015 (Blake Ezra Photography / UJIA)
David Horovitz speaks to the UJIA Annual Dinner in London on September 21, 2015 (Blake Ezra Photography / UJIA)

Full text of an address by The Times of Israel’s editor to the United Jewish Israel Appeal‘s Annual Dinner in London, September 21, 2015:

Thank you for bringing me back from my home in Israel, to home territory in London. I want to use this talk for three prime purposes. To sum up the challenges facing Israel right now, to share some thoughts on the revival of anti-Semitism, and to suggest a series of ways you as individuals, and as the wonderful community that you are, can further boost Israel.

Let me first briefly tell you a little about myself, and why it is I left London for Jerusalem 30 years ago. Mine is a rabbinical family. My great-grandfather founded one of the two Orthodox synagogues in Frankfurt in the late 1800s. My grandfather was badly wounded fighting for Germany in World War I. They were that quite common mix of very Orthodox and very German Jews, and it took them a long time to realize that their beloved Germany was not going to rid itself of the Nazis. They finally fled to England in 1937. My great-grandfather’s synagogue was burned down on Kristallnacht a year later.

My father was young enough when they arrived in England not to be interned as an enemy alien, and old enough towards the end of the war to volunteer for the RAF. So in the space of a generation, we went from my grandfather fighting for Germany in World War I to my father fighting against Nazi Germany in World War II. With that background, and being born at a moment when, for the first time in 2,000 years, the Jewish nation got its country back, it was very compelling for me to want to be part of an effort, by the Jews, to determine their own future, as much as a tiny, embattled state can.

UJIA chief executive Michael Wegier, David Horovitz, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, UJIA Chairman Bill Benjamin, and Israel's deputy head of mission Eitan Na'eh at the UJIA Annual Dinner, London, September 21, 2015 (Blake Ezra Photography/ UJIA)
UJIA chief executive Michael Wegier, David Horovitz, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, UJIA Chairman Bill Benjamin, and Israel’s deputy head of mission Eitan Na’eh at the UJIA Annual Dinner, London, September 21, 2015 (Blake Ezra Photography/ UJIA)

I also met my wife, Lisa, in Jerusalem — she’s the Dallas-born fourth of four daughters of a Holocaust survivor from Lodz, who sent all his girls to Israel to study. Two live in New York; two stayed in Israel — Lisa and Rita. Rita’s husband is an Israeli diplomat; actually he’s Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican — which I happen to think is the best job in Israeli diplomacy: You get to live in Rome. And there’s such a lovely Pope right now.

We have three kids — two boys and a girl — my eldest fought in Gaza last summer; my second son is in the army somewhere in the West Bank right now; my feisty red-haired daughter went into the army last month.

***

Which brings me from the personal to the national: I flew in yesterday morning, from a country that is ever more atypical in the Middle East. Drive a few hours from Israel in almost every direction, and you’re in territory where people want to cut your head off.

Egypt is unpredictable. Jordan is flooded with refugees, worried by Islamic State.

Gaza is run by Hamas, committed to destroying Israel, digging tunnels under the border, firing rockets — 3 in the last 3 days, actually. The West Bank is seething, unpredictable, with daily low-level violence and talk of a third intifada. Lebanon is a mass of internal-hatred. Syria is anarchic, bloody. 250,000 dead in four years of civil war. Hell on earth.

And then you have Israel. Nine miles wide at its narrowest point. Determined to ensure both its Jewish majority and its democracy — and therefore needing an accord with the Palestinians. But fearful that if it leaves the West Bank, Hamas and other extremists will fill the vacuum, oust Mahmoud Abbas and then target us in the way that Hamas targets us from Gaza. Except that Hamas in the West Bank would paralyze Israel to a degree that 50 days of war last summer did not. Hamas in the West Bank would shut the airport, close down the country, because we’d all be in range of the most rudimentary rocket and mortar fire. Hamas running the West Bank would bring a suicide-bombing upsurge; we saw 15 years ago how devastating that would be.

Amid all the craziness, Israel is a cocoon. A country that strives not merely to survive, but to survive while acting morally, against enemies who exploit that to an often gullible international community.

We’re a country whose 22% Arab minority have equal voting rights, freedom of press, freedom of religion — have all the things those Arab Spring demonstrators were demanding before their uprisings were subverted.

We’re a country that set up a field hospital on the border with Syria, which officially hates us, to save the lives of its war wounded. Syrian doctors now send patients to our border with notes on their clothing, “to our friends in Israel; maybe you can save this patient’s life.”

David Horovitz speaks to the UJIA Annual Dinner in London on September 21, 2015 (Blake Ezra Photography / UJIA)
David Horovitz speaks to the UJIA Annual Dinner in London on September 21, 2015 (Blake Ezra Photography / UJIA)

We’re a country with an army unit that has bags packed ready to fly to any disaster in the world. Setting up a field hospital in Nepal after this spring’s earthquake. Saving lives in Haiti, a 16-hour flight away, after the earthquake there 5 years ago.

Really, we’re quite the Middle East aberration. We revived a land that was partly uninhabitable 150 years ago; we revived a language; we’ve beaten the drought; we’ve transitioned from the land of Jaffa oranges to the land of high-tech; we’re worth caring about, worth getting involved in.

***

So let’s look a little at two of the key challenges we face — regarding Iran and, first, the Palestinians.

Broadly, I’d say we’re now facing the 3rd phase of efforts to destroy us.

We defeated our enemies in conventional warfare — in 1948, ’56, ’67, ’73 — otherwise we would not be here tonight. Phase one.

We defeated the suicide bombers of the 2nd intifada in the early 2000s — terrorism as a strategic weapon — when pretty much everywhere on the planet was a safer place to bring up our children. It wasn’t that we had Churchillian leadership, rallying the nation; we took a subconscious decision that we would not be driven from our country. Phase two.

And now we’re in the midst of phase 3 — the combination of rocket attacks launched from residential areas and demonization — in which our enemies crow and gloat when they kill and maim us, and cry foul to the international community, when we, trying to stop the rockets, fire back and inadvertently harm the people they have cynically placed in harm’s way.

These are difficult conflicts to fight on the battlefield, and harder still on the battlefield of public and diplomatic opinion, since most people don’t care enough to look carefully at who is to blame. You might want to remind the lazy critics of this fact: If Israel stopped defending itself and put down its weapons, our country would be wiped out immediately. If our enemies put down their weapons, there’d be peace.

Most of us are desperate for any reasonably credible guarantee of medium-term tranquility. Israelis are not stupid. We didn’t need persuading to seize the day when Egypt’s Sadat and Jordan’s King Hussein made their overtures. It’s very easy to tell us to get out of all or part of the West Bank, the Biblical Jewish heartland, with or without an agreement. Except, what happens when Hamas ousts Abbas and takes over? As it did when we left Gaza. Or as Hezbollah moved in when we left south Lebanon. Not so simple.

I’ll be very personal for a moment. As I said, my eldest son fought in Gaza last summer, in the combat engineers. One of his very best friends was killed. I do not want to be melodramatic. I do want to say that no parent should have to go through what Israeli parents routinely endure at times like that.

If Israelis can see a path to avoiding that, we’ll be clamoring to sign the deal.

We don’t want to rule the Palestinians; it’s not good for them; it’s certainly not good for us.

I personally think there’s more we could do to help encourage Palestinian moderation, including by halting settlement building in areas we don’t envisage retaining under a permanent accord. There needs to be more sensitivity regarding the incendiary Temple Mount, where we currently face another flare-up and where we know all too well how quickly violence can spiral out of hand. And we had better be sure to overcome our own Jewish extremists — people allegedly capable of setting fire to a Palestinian home, and burning to death the family sleeping inside, as happened just weeks ago. I actually think this is a barometer moment for Israel. As the prime minister rightly said, the test of a society is how the mainstream deals with its extremists.

But there’s no point trying to strong-arm Israel into agreements with a Palestinian leadership that does not acknowledge to its own people that we Jews have history and sovereign legitimacy in the holy land; Yasser Arafat told his people there was no Jewish temple in Jerusalem and by extension no Jewish history there. Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t reversed that falsification.

What we all need, I believe, is to deepen a climate of knowledge and conciliation on both sides, a climate in which, vitally, the Palestinians acknowledge that, Oh well, what can you do, the Jews do have history and legitimacy here as well, and so we’re going to have compromise. That’s not going to happen by UN imposition, or on a nine-month time line dictated by an American secretary of state. It requires fundamental changes in education, in media — in mindset. Not easy or immediate, but it’s the only path that does offer gradual hope of improvement. So long as we have to live by the sword, so be it. But let’s at least work toward the possibility of something better.

***

As for Iran, most of us in Israel are in a mood I’d define as baffled anguish. We do not understand why the world powers gave up on the original plan of dismantling Iran’s rogue nuclear weapons program, and instead opted to freeze and inspect that program, and didn’t secure the necessary agreements even to do that.

We do not understand why the West refuses to internalize that Iran is not led by a government seeking to live and let live, but by a regime with a perverted sense of religious imperative — religious imperative — a regime that is rapacious ideologically and territorially.

A regime that is bringing Europe into the range of its rockets and seeking to bring North America into range as well. A regime that demands Death to Israel and Death to America, and means it.

We don’t understand why, when Iran was on the ropes economically, it was the West that capitulated. It cut a deal that entrenches this benighted regime in power — to continue to oppress its own people. It cut a deal that gives Iran the money to escalate its terrorism and regional evil; that turns Iran into a regional power; that potentially sparks a Middle East nuclear arms race. The West cut a deal that allows Iran to get close to the bomb legally and then to break out to a nuclear arsenal at a time of its choosing.

So, no, we don’t get it, in Israel. And we resent the false claim that no deal would have satisfied us. Quite the contrary. We wanted a deal that could have ensured no military intervention was necessary. But the US-led world powers failed us, failed the free world, and then misrepresented what had happened. I think it’s a shameful moment in history, and I fear it will come back to haunt us all. I hope I’m wrong.

***

But now let me put aside my anger and frustration, and get constructive. I want to encourage all of you, first of all, to get to know Israel as well as you can, really understand its complexity, including by visiting as often as you can — as I know many of you already do. Read the Times of Israel, of course. Preferably several times a day! The more you understand Israel, the more you empathize with it.

The UJIA does incredibly important work in developing the Galilee, fostering centers of excellence in Israel’s north, and in backing Birthright and other such programs in Israel — programs that energize young British Jews, and give them the first-hand knowledge to fight the intellectual battles for Israel on campus back here.

Also, do what you can to help ensure Israel remains or becomes the country you think it should be.

By all means move to Israel. It’s up to us to make sure our latest experiment in sovereignty flourishes for longer than Jewish sovereignty did two and three millennia ago. Plus, we build wonderful children in the Jewish state.

But there’s also so much you can do from here. Invest, and I’m not only talking financially, in the Zionist causes that motivate you. Invest your intellect and your time in a constructive dialogue with Israel.

There’s no shortage of areas where we could use some fresh thinking — not only on the Palestinian conflict. Religious pluralism comes to mind; education; economic and social inequalities; and that uniquely Israeli ultra-Orthodox aberration that sees a large proportion of young males studying full time rather than working.

***

I also want to urge you as a community, who can and do make a difference, to help tackle the blight of Islamic extremism.

We need a global strategy, and sketching it out may be the most important part of what I say this evening.

We all know that when armies rise to kill us or, more commonly in this era, when terrorists rise to murder us, we must stop them before they stop us. We’ve not done enough on this battlefield: It is my firm conviction that the west’s moral failure in Syria, its readiness to let Bashar Assad slaughter his people, the British parliament and the US administration’s decision not to step in when Assad actually gassed his own people — that moral failure is one of the causes of the refugee crisis now challenging Europe. I don’t have quick fixes for Syria. But the Middle East is the dinner guest who will not leave; and you can’t just ignore it.

People are fleeing Syria for Europe en masse because they have no lives there; they are being massacred; and the international community, which has known, for years, precisely what is going on, has barely lifted a finger.

Beyond even this, though, the free world, the world that wants to live, has barely lifted a finger to prevent the next generations of recruits to the death cult of Islamic extremism — be it Islamic State, Hezbollah, Hamas. Right now, in mosques, schools and most especially via laptops and mobile phones in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Iraq, across the Middle East and far closer to home as well, new generations of impressionable youths are being persuaded that the finest thing they can do for their god is to kill and be killed, that this foul brand of Islam is the true path, and that they must wage brutal war in its cause.

What we need is a coordinated effort by the free world to use every iota of diplomatic, economic and any other leverage to marginalize the schools, the preachers, the media channels and the online avenues by which extremists are made, and to encourage moderate educational hierarchies and spiritual leaders and online messaging.

This is no easy task. But it is barely being attempted. And it must be. And Anglo-Jewry can help convey and champion that imperative.

Tackle Islamic extremism at its grass roots, and you calm the Middle East. Allied with smart, transparent economic assistance, you provide the chance to rehabilitate failing countries. You help protect Israel. You help reduce the strain on Europe of tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, and potentially, millions of people fleeing the dysfunctional Middle East.

Already, you in Europe face an anguishing dilemma — you want to be decent, to be a refuge for the persecuted. But you worry about who you might be taking in. And how they might threaten the societies, the freedoms, that we in the West so rightly cherish. How to respond? Well, those in power should act morally against the Middle East’s ruthless tyrants, and they should work to thwart Islamic extremism at its recruiting base.

***

I want to offer some thoughts on anti-Semitism, viewed from an ex-Brit’s Israeli perspective.

Like most of you, I grew up in a generation that wanted to believe that anti-Semitism had been, if not destroyed, then shamed into near-extinction by the horrors of World War II. But here it is again, flaring.

Some may want to comfort themselves by asserting that it’s “only” Israel that they hate. That it’s the Israelis, not the Jews. Let me tell you, we are not perfect, and we are emphatically not above criticism, and we insist on holding ourselves to the highest moral standards. But on an Earth where almost every nation is involved in some degree of conflict, if we are the only country held up for censure, the only country being boycotted and embargoed and prosecuted, then that’s anti-Semitism.

We used to rightly mourn that Israel was revived too late to save the Jews of Europe from the Holocaust. But we also used to rejoice in the fact that Europe was now so secure for Jews that Israel, for European Jewry, was a homeland of choice — a country that rescued persecuted Jews from elsewhere, but that we could opt to live in or not. And yet right now, in 2015, there are European Jews who look to Israel with relief, as a safe haven from anti-Semitism. In fact, they don’t merely look to Israel, they move to Israel. Thousands of Jews today believe they must leave France. Not surprising after January’s Paris grocery store massacre and a list of far too many other incidents. 10,000 French Jews are moving to Israel this year alone.

I met on Thursday with Sammy Ghozlan, a retired senior French police officer who was then a kind of liaison between the police and the Jewish community, and who has just moved to Netanya: It’s not that there’s no future for Jews in France, Sammy told me. It’s that there’s no future in France that the Jews want — as a minority under relentless fear of attack, living under permanent protection.

I have to warn you, the climate here will not get easier, partly because Israel will be dragged into more wars. Hamas is rearming. Digging terror tunnels. Testing better rockets. Hezbollah has tens times as many missiles as Hamas ever had, and they’re all pointing at Israel. When Iran deems the moment right, we will again be dragged into a conflict we do not want. And while we battle to survive, there’ll be more of the vicious anti-Israel demonstrations worldwide that you saw last summer, including right here.

There’ll be those huge headlines, again, when an Israeli-fired rocket goes astray. There’ll be that shameful global media failure, again, to properly and fully show Hamas’s rocket fire and aggression.

I imagine that Britain’s new opposition leader will be at the forefront of the protests. And you can also be sure that every anti-Semite, from extreme-right and extreme-left, will crawl out of the woodwork to exploit the tensions and frictions. And there’ll be a temptation among some British Jews to blame Israel for the discomfiting deluge of nastiness, a deluge that will again complicate life for Jews in the UK.

What to do? Well, individually and as a community, make sure you know as much as you possibly can. Be fully informed. And then fight back — through academia, or journalism, or political action, or whichever is your area of expertise. Help others understand what Israel faces.

You won’t persuade the haters. But you can help prevent fair-minded people being manipulated and misled by the haters. And the benefits of meeting this challenge are enormous: you’ll be protecting Israel, and you’ll be working toward a smart, more knowledgeable climate for Jews in the UK and Europe. We are inextricably linked — the Jews of Israel and the Jews of the UK and the rest of the Diaspora. Our well-being is linked. We had better stand together.

***

I want to wind-up with a short personal story — to close the circle I opened at the beginning of this speech.

I mentioned my three kids. Well, my second son Adam, currently in the army, is a black belt in Karate. Martial arts get a bad rap. People think it’s all about smashing planks, when actually Karate is about mutual respect and harmony as well as self-defense. Adam’s been doing karate since he was five. And when he was 11 he got roped into a lovely project called Budo for Peace — martial arts for peace — which involves Israeli Jews, Christians and Muslims doing karate together, and when it was possible, Israeli and Palestinian kids doing karate together.

I’ll never forget the first time the Israelis and the Palestinians met. They got together at a dojo — a gym — that’s on the roof of the Dizengoff shopping center in Tel Aviv. The Israeli and the Palestinian coaches gave the command to do the first kata — that’s like a series of dance steps — and these kids, these Israelis and Palestinians, start the kata and realize they’re doing exactly the same moves! And they’re looking across at each other, and these smiles broaden across their faces. It was really a gorgeous moment.

Anyhow, the Japanese government hears about Budo for Peace and is delighted — Japanese martial arts being used for conflict resolution. So they invite the Israeli and Palestinian kids to Tokyo to perform together at the World Karate Championships. This is where it gets interesting for the Horovitz family.

It turns out that the world karate championships in Japan are right before Adam Horovitz’s bar mitzvah. Now of course it’s unthinkable to have your son on the other side of the world three days before he’s supposed to be reading his bar mitzvah parsha in shul. Out of the question, right? Except we live in Israel, and you sometimes just have to go for it. So we did send Adam off to Tokyo. With a CD of his parsha so he could practice while he was away.

Now, his grandparents had flown in from Dallas for the barmitzvah, and not unsurprisingly, they kept asking us, you know, Where’s Adam? And, as my beloved grandmother used to say, they were not that young anymore. So we thought, better not actually tell them that Adam is in Tokyo. We just said, he’s out of Jerusalem for a few days. And changed the subject.

Well, to cut to the chase, the Tokyo event was okay. The Israeli and Palestinian kids did their karate together, although some of the Palestinians backed out at the last moment, because they were worried that their families might get into trouble back home simply because they were performing together with Israelis.

Adam got home safely — well, a little bit late — for his barmitzvah, and that went fine too. The grandparents asked, Adam, where were you? And he said, Tokyo, as though that was entirely natural. All good.

But the bottom line, the reason I told this story, is that I’d like to believe that the kids on that program — the Israelis and the Palestinians — simply because they’ve spent time together, well, it’ll be a lot harder to manipulate them into hating each other. That may not sound like much of an achievement, but actually I think it’s really something. I think it shows what banal interaction can do. I think if you can replicate programs like that, contact like that, many times over, you can start to create that climate in which hatreds get quashed and the positive is possible.

And it’s that image — of sweet, innocent Adam Horovitz doing karate in Tokyo with his Israeli and Palestinian friends just before his barmitzvah — it’s that image that I’d like you to have in your minds when you leave here tonight. And when you think about what else you can do for Israel, and for Anglo-Jewry, and for marginalizing hatred, and for encouraging the positive.

Thank you.

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