The Jerusalem Post held its annual diplomatic conference in Herzliya last week attended by representatives of countries accredited to Israel and also the international and local media. Perusing the list of attendees I noted that Australia seemed to be conspicuously absent and New Zealand whose diplomats are based in Turkey also did not put in an appearance…but J-Wire was there.
Held at the luxury Daniel Hotel on a balmy autumn day with a fantastic view of the blue Mediterranean, the line up of speakers promised much but in my opinion generally failed to deliver either any startling revelations or new ideas. What we heard from the politicians consisted of regurgitated pontifications which they have been promoting for some time. Other speakers also trod well worn narratives which failed to excite most of those present. With no opportunities for asking questions and the guest speakers quickly escaping into their chauffeur driven limousines straight after their address, I was left to ponder exactly what could have been asked if the opportunity had been given.
The advertised “star” of the day was Shimon Peres being “interviewed” by the editor of the Jerusalem Post. There is no denying that the President is amazing for his age and is still able to put on a stellar performance especially when as in this case the interviewer asks soft questions, does not challenge doubtful claims and flatters rather than challenges. Thus we were treated to the usual Peres recipe for a new Middle East, one in which economic prosperity will vanquish Arab hatred of Israel and Jews, where Israeli concessions will purchase everlasting peace and terrorism will be vanquished. The President did acknowledge that terrorists currently posed a threat to civilised society but with his usual optimism was confident that they would be defeated by the forces of good. Given the present international response to those plotting death and mayhem one is left wondering exactly how long it will take and how many casualties will litter the landscape along the way to this mirage like vision. Stating that having known Abbas for 30 years he was confident that Israel had a peace partner some crucial questions should have been asked.
For example how can one describe the Palestinian Arab leader (whose term of office has long ago lapsed) as a credible peace partner when this same individual was Arafat’s deputy at the time of the Munich Olympic massacre of Israeli athletes and therefore complicit in the decision to carry out this murderous plan? Abbas wrote his thesis at a Moscow University which trivialised and cast doubts on the Holocaust. He promotes incitement, delegitimisation and boycotts of Israel and Israelis, allows textbooks to carry the most outrageous accusations, states in Arab media the exact opposite of what he tells the western media and is silent when his ministers claim that the Jews were never in Jerusalem and that the Temple was never there. Some peace partner.
Next up was Yair Lapid, the Minister of Finance. Instead of a detailed plan as to how he intended to tackle Israel’s economic challenges, he spoke instead on his vision of the peace process and how Israel is perceived in the world. He stated that he did not trust the Palestinian Arabs and then proceeded to advocate the expulsion of tens of thousands of Jews in order to create yet another terror state in our midst. Although Jerusalem must remain united as our Capital he failed to explain how terror could be averted after gifting them control of the Judean and Samarian hills, Israel’s water aquifers and allowing them within spitting distance of Ben Gurion airport.
Tzipi Livni, the Minister of Justice and Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinian Authority spoke next. She outlined her concern to ensure that Israel remained a Jewish and democratic State. As she was not in a position to shed any light on the ongoing talks nothing new was gleaned from her address other than her concern for security arrangements and her fear that if Israel did not concede vital territory we would be in deep trouble with the rest of the world. I would have liked to ask her if in view of the fact that Jews have been in deep trouble with the rest of the world for over 3,000 years regardless of whether we had a State or not and that even when we made every concession imaginable, only to have the Arab world spit in our face, the rest of the world was still not satisfied, how does she think that anything will change when we commit collective suicide this time around?
Caroline Glick, a JP columnist spoke about the rising tide of Israel delegitimisation now enveloping Europe and how in her opinion we were wasting our time trying to appease a continent whose endemic Judeophobia never wanes.
Mathew Gould, the Jewish UK Ambassador followed. In a forceful speech he strived valiantly to assure the assembled guests that Israel was not alone in its quest to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His admonition to Israel not to “go it alone” sounded to me and others sitting nearby as a veiled threat rather than any expression of comfort. Gould attempted to reassure us that despite the House of Commons scuttling the UK Government’s plan to punish Assad for using chemical and gas weapons against its own citizens, when push came to shove over Iran it would be a different story. I doubt anybody except the most gullible believed this promise which somehow has reminders of the UK’s promise to support Czechoslovakia from German designs in the late 1930’s.
Roger Cukierman, the leader of French Jewry spoke about the rise of anti Jewish hatred in Europe in general and France in particular. The ongoing campaigns to ban Shechita and Brit Milah (Kosher slaughtering and circumcision) were symptoms of a malaise infecting European countries. He spoke about the serious problems of violence against French Jews and vandalisation of Jewish property. Despite this depressing scenario however he maintained that only a tiny percentage of French Jews would leave and make aliyah to Israel. Even with the possibility of the extreme right National Front being part of a future coalition and French Jews being warned not to wear Jewish identifying clothing in public, Cukierman extolled the virtues of living in France. Relationships with the two main political parties are excellent but he did not explain how the community would cope in the event that Judeophobia spirals out of control. Having survived Dreyfus, Vichy and bombings of Jewish Synagogues and schools the leader of the French Jewish Community exuded a touching confidence that all would be well. To my mind this bore an eerie resemblance to the blind assurances issued by the leaders of German Jewry in the 1930’s who only woke up to reality at the very last moment and by then it was too late.
The last speaker was Major General Noam Tibon, Commander of the IDF Northern Division, who gave a comprehensive security review. He surveyed developments amongst our neighbours as well as Iran and emphasized that Israel’s capabilities are stronger today than ever before. In the absence of exact details of course we can only hope that his assessment is more accurate than those provided by military experts prior to the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.
It was an interesting conference which could have been more beneficial if the presenters had been challenged and exposed to searching questions.
Listening to some of the speakers I could not help thinking of something I had read only days earlier. Our Prophets have told us that one day the lion will lie down with the lamb and that there will be no more war. We have prayed for this happy event for a long time. History has taught us however that wishful thinking alone will not bring this about and that indeed we ourselves must strive towards this goal. Too many times we have been seduced by false visions and paid the penalty.
During the time of the Stalinist dictatorship in Russia, a visiting politician from one of the democracies was proudly told by his hosts that in the Moscow zoo a lion and lamb lived in peace. He was most impressed with this startling piece of messianic news until an old Jew took him aside and explained that every day the Russians put a new lamb into the lion’s cage.
That’s the difference between wishful thinking and reality. Some people still have to learn the lesson.
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel where he is J-Wire’s correspondent.