TAU NEWS – Middle East Affairs
Curriculum based on direct contact, mutual respect and empathy exercises is "hate-preventative," say researchers
Racial prejudice is a major issue in this November's presidential election. A new Tel Aviv University study published in the August 2016 issue of the Journal of School Psychology reports on a new system that creates sustainable tolerance while combatting racism and prejudice.
The Extended Class Exchange Program (ECEP) is geared to third- and fourth-grade Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian students. The program's bimonthly meetings and classes are based on direct and structured contact, a curriculum that promotes mutual respect and acceptance of the "other," and skill training focusing on empathy and perspective-taking — that is, understanding other people's thoughts, feelings, desires, motivations and intentions.
The program, led by Dr. Rony Berger of the Stress, Crisis and Trauma Program at TAU's Bob Shapell School of Social Work and Dr. Hisham Abu-Raiya, also of the Shapell School, was launched with the Arab-Jewish Community Center (AJCC) in Jaffa and the Tel Aviv Municipality to respond to growing tensions resulting from the continued escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
An emphasis on compassion and empathy
"We've taught Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian children to be compassionate and empathetic — not only toward their friends in the program, but also toward people outside the classroom," said Dr. Berger. "It's very hard to bring people together technically, logistically and emotionally. People don't want to interact with people they feel uncomfortable around. In this research, we targeted various skills such as perspective-taking, empathy and compassion that can be taught to promote sustainable tolerance."
"Contact alone is not enough," said Dr. Abu-Raiya. "You need a system that includes a variety of different approaches. We demonstrated that giving the children direct contact with each other, providing unbiased knowledge about the children and their communities and building perspective-taking and empathy-nurturing skills have long-term positive effects.
"The effects were all maintained 15 months after the program ended, when the region was engulfed by violence. This highlights the 'hate-preventative' potential of the program to prevent stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination than often lead to hostilities between ethnic groups."
The program featured bimonthly "schooldays" of third- and fourth-grade Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian students led by six facilitators. The program included art activities, classes promoting respect and acceptance of the "other," and empathy and perspective-taking training directed by the students' homeroom teachers and the ECEP facilitators.
"We have no doubt that the ECEP helped reduce prejudice and discrimination and enhanced positive contact between different ethnic groups and could be translated to any region characterized by ethnic tension and violent conflict," said Dr. Berger.
Fighting stereotypes and discrimination
The team conducted two studies. The first, conducted on 262 fourth-grade students from Tel Aviv and Jaffa, found a dramatically higher inclination to interact with students from other ethnic groups, more positive thoughts about "the other," and less emotional prejudice. The second, conducted on 322 third- and four-grade Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian students, included new sessions on empathy and perspective-taking training and assessed the extended impact of the program.
"All of our results showed that the ECEP decreased stereotyping and discriminatory tendencies toward the other and increased positive feelings and readiness for social contact with the other upon termination of the program," said Dr. Berger.
"Empirical support for the ECEP is particularly important in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, given the evidence that negative views and stereotypes held by both Arab and Jews fuel the animosity between these ethnic groups," said Dr. Abu-Raiya.
The researchers will next research the particular ingredients that prevent the development of negative intergroup attitudes in order to build a new preventive program promote pro-social behaviors.
Statement by American Friends of TAU President & CEO on Continued Commitment to Academic Freedom, Women's Rights and Gender Equality in Response to NWSA Vote to Join BDS Movement
In response to the National Women's Studies Association (NWSA)'s vote to join the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, American Friends of Tel Aviv University president and CEO Gail Reiss issued the following statement today:
"Tel Aviv University and its American Friends believe in opening the doors of opportunity to all — and we are committed to academic freedom, women's rights and gender equality. Boycotting Israeli academic institutions not only violates these rights, it stifles the global dialogue and collaboration that Israeli universities actively engage in. We stand up for freedom of thought and are standing up against NWSA's vote, which boycotts a better life for women and all humanity."
On Wednesday, December 2, the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) also criticized the NWSA for its pro-BDS vote.
Annual Kantor Center report finds 2014 was worst year for anti-Jewish violence since 2009
An annual report from Tel Aviv University researchers reveals that anti-Semitic incidents rose dramatically worldwide in 2014, with violent attacks on Jews ranging from armed assaults to vandalism against synagogues, schools, and cemeteries.
The report, released on April 15 by TAU's Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, recorded 766 incidents, mostly in Western Europe, compared to 554 in 2013 — a surge of nearly 40 percent. The report called 2014 the worst year for anti-Semitic attacks since 2009. The authors of the report characterized such attacks as "perpetrated with or without weapons and by arson, vandalism or direct threats against Jewish persons or institutions such as synagogues, community centers, schools, cemeteries and monuments as well as private property."
"There is a worsening in expressions of anti-Semitism. Jews today worry about their future," the report stated, linking the conflict last summer in Gaza between Hamas and Israel and a "general climate of hatred and violence" accompanying the sudden rise of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.
A continuing increase in violent attacks
The researchers stressed, however, that the attacks had been on the rise also before the summer and said the controversy over Israel's operation was used as a pretext to attack Jews. "Synagogues were targeted, not Israeli embassies," said Prof. Dina Porat, Head of the Kantor Center and Chief Historian of Yad Vashem.
The Kantor Center also pointed out the return of "classic" anti-Semitism and the gap between world leaders who are willing to display solidarity with the Jewish nation and the general public, which seems indifferent to the matter.
The reported incidents do not include the killing of four shoppers at a kosher supermarket in Paris following the deadly shooting at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, since those events occurred this year.
Highest increases in European nations
Nonetheless, the highest number of violent cases recorded in 2014 was in France, which saw 164 incidences, up from 141 in 2013. In recent years, the country has consistently seen the most reported cases of anti-Semitic violence worldwide, the report said. There was also a sharp rise in the number of incidents in the United Kingdom (141 in 2014, compared to 95 in 2013), Australia (30 vs. 11), Germany (76 vs. 36), Austria (9 vs. 4), Italy (23 vs. 12), and Sweden (17 vs. 3).
"The overall feeling among many Jewish people is one of living in an intensifying anti-Jewish environment that has become not only insulting and threatening, but outright dangerous, and that they are facing an explosion of hatred towards them as individuals, their communities, and Israel, as a Jewish state," the authors wrote.
Download the full report here: "Antisemitism Worldwide 2014"
TAU study finds Druze share a genetic similarity that distinguishes them from other groups in the Middle East
The first genetic study of the Druze community has confirmed long-held beliefs about its history: The group was established around the 11th century, and its members have only ever married within extended families. The research, published recently in the European Journal of Human Genetics — Nature, was conducted by an international team including Prof. Eitan Friedman of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine.
Since the 11th century, according to the study, other ethnic groups have not had any genetic impact on the community. These findings correlate with the Druze people's beliefs regarding their unique origin, which holds that their community was founded 1,000 years ago as a new religious movement under Egypt’s sixth caliph of the Fatimid Dynasty.
The study was conducted on 120 members of 40 Druze families from Beit Jann in the Upper Galilee and Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights. The mother, father, and son of each family were genetically tested.
For more, read the story in the Jerusalem Post: "International genetic study reveals history of the Druse community".
TAU's Kantor Center releases annual report on state of anti-Semitism
Despite a 20% decline in the number of violent incidents against Jews, last year saw a sharp rise in abusive language and behavior, threats, and harassment of Jewish people on an individual basis around the world, according to the annual report presented on April 27, 2014, by Tel Aviv University's Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry and the Moshe Kantor Database for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism, in cooperation with the European Jewish Congress.
At a press conference accompanying the release of the report, Prof. Dina Porat, head of the Kantor Center, and Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, highlighted the "severe escalation in anti-Jewish atmosphere," borne out by daily attacks on individuals who reported feeling that their personal safety and communal well-being were jeopardized. "2013 was a difficult year not because of violent events — there was a decline of about 20% from 2012, which was a particularly murderous year because of [the terrorist attack on a Jewish day school in] Toulous," said Prof. Porat. "What made the year difficult was the escalation of harassment, insults, and visual caricatures of Jewish people, penetrating the center from the extreme left and right fringes of society."
77% of harassment and discrimination events go unreported to authorities
Prof. Porat cited the findings of the European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), which conducted a survey of 6,000 Jews in eight European countries. The survey found that in 77 percent of cases, Jewish victims of harassment or discrimination did not report the fact to authorities, 90% had experienced anti-Semitic abusive language and behavior, and a third considered leaving Europe because of anti-Semitism. 40 percent of those surveyed did not wear identifying Jewish symbols outside the home and a quarter did not attend Jewish events for fear of being attacked.
"This year, there was no one event that could be pointed at to blame for the sentiment in the world," said Dr. Porat. "We cannot pinpoint a reason or a few reasons, no military event in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. We are seeing a return to classic anti-Semitism. This is our conclusion."
Dr. Porat stressed that the report did not rely only on "Jewish perception or feeling," but also offered an analysis of 14,000 emails bearing anti-Semitic content sent over the last year to the Israeli embassy in Berlin.
Treatment of Jews seen as "barometer of societal health"
Dr. Kantor said that a society's treatment of Jews can be seen as a barometer of societal health. "Everything bad starts with anti-Semitism but does not end with it," said Dr. Kantor. "The Jewish people are an indicator, a barometer, of a society's wellbeing. What's bad for the Jews is eventually bad for society. Our idea is to protect Jews by protecting all people, because most of the world's Jews do not live in Israel, but in the Diaspora."
In the report, researchers registered and analyzed 554 violent anti-Semitic acts perpetrated with or without weapons, by arson, vandalism, or direct threats against Jewish individuals or institutions, including synagogues, community centers, schools, cemeteries, monuments, and homes. The highest number of violent cases took place in France. A decline in violent cases was noted in Italy, Poland, the United States, and Australia, with a rise registered in the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and Ukraine. According to the report, the decade 2004-2014 witnessed a rise in violent incidents over the preceding decade.
Dr. Kantor said that the Internet facilitated the flow of neo-Nazi ideology around the world. "The global informational flood through the Internet and other means of delivery make confronting the conventional challenges even more difficult," Dr. Kantor said. Modern neo-Nazism can trigger confrontations between countries and major parts of the population.
"Anti-Semitism in 2013 became very politicized," Dr. Kantor continued. "People are fingerpointing — 'he's an anti-Semite, she's an anti-Semite.' This is a very bad sign, because anti-Semitism is the subject of security, not politics, which is precisely why our research is so important. We provide the numbers, the exact quality of anti-Semitism in the world. We fight against capabilities, not events."
To learn more, read the 2013 Kantor report:
Hamas introduces its own textbooks after a study of official literature in Israeli and Palestinian schools
For the first time since taking control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, the Hamas movement is deviating from the approved Palestinian Authority schools curriculum, using new textbooks introduced this fall as part of a broader push to infuse the next generation with its own ideology. The new textbooks, used by 55,000 children in the eighth, ninth, and 10th grades as part of a required "national education" course of study in government schools, do not recognize modern Israel or mention the Oslo Peace Accords the country signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1990s.
"Textbooks are always and everywhere a very important means of representing a national ethos," Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal of The Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education at Tel Aviv University told the New York Times in a story about the change. "When a leader says something, not everyone is listening. But when we talk about textbooks, all the children, all of a particular peer group, will be exposed to a particular material. This is the strongest card." Prof. Bar-Tal helped lead a comprehensive study of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks published in February.
Textbooks have long been a point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which dueling historical narratives and cultural clashes underpin a territorial fight. And they are central examples of what Israeli leaders call Palestinian "incitement" against Jews, held up as an obstacle to peace talks newly resumed under American pressure.
For more, see the New York Times story at:
Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, former TAU President, appears on Philadelphia radio program
On April 29, Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, former Tel Aviv University president and Israeli Ambassador to the US, appeared on WPHT's The Dick Morris Show to discuss Israel’s perspective on the crisis in Syria.
"Israel doesn't want to muddle in the Syrian conflict," Rabinovich told listeners. He said that last weekend's bombing run to destroy a chemical weapons plant near Damascus, which has remained unacknowledged by Israel, was an attempt to prevent passage of chemical weapons into the hands of terrorists, adding that, "It's very dangerous for weapons of mass destruction to be in the hands of unruly, dictatorial regimes."
In the segment, Rabinovich also discussed US President Barack Obama's "red line" comments, the evolving state of the Arab Spring rebellions, and the US reluctance to enter a third war in the Middle East.
TAU links 30 percent rise in violent anti-Semitic events to popularity of far-right political parties and radical Islam
Last year marked the return of political Nazism to Europe, declared Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, at a press conference to announce the results of the 2012 Anti-Semitism Worldwide Report published by Tel Aviv University's Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry. Headed by Prof. Dina Porat, the Center releases the report annually on the eve of Israel's Holocaust Memorial Day.
Pointing to the examples of the political organizations Jobbik in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece, and Svoboda in Ukraine, Dr. Kantor said that in 2012 far-right parties gained momentum that has been unprecedented since the 1930's. These parties "have crossed red lines that we had hoped never would be crossed again," he said, citing the attempts of Jobbik to screen Hungarian Jewish citizens as a potential security risk.
Also significant was a 30 percent jump in anti-Semitic violence and vandalism last year, after a two-year decline. The annual report recorded 686 attacks in 34 countries, including physical violence and vandalism to synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and Holocaust memorials, compared to 526 attacks in 2011. Countries topping the list for anti-Semitic incidents include France, the US, the UK, and Canada.
Dr. Roni Stauber, editor-in-chief of the report, called the findings interrelated. In 2012, a rise in neo-Nazi parties was observed "as a result of the economic crisis," he said. "We also observed a correlation between these parties and violence and rhetoric against Jews." For example, in Poland, researchers found that acts of vandalism against Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust memorials became more numerous as anti-Semitic political parties have gained power.
Fighting hate in European parliaments
Researchers found that the economic crisis spreading across Europe is fuelling the rise of extremist parties. In countries undergoing particularly difficult economic crises, such as Greece, Spain, Hungary, and Italy, there is a spreading belief in a "Jewish conspiracy" and the idea that Jews are in control of the economy and therefore responsible for current financial woes, Dr. Stauber said.
One of the leaders of this movement, Jobbik in Hungary, gained 19 percent of the vote in the country's last elections, compared to 12 percent the elections before. It is the most popular party among university students, pointed out Dr. Kantor, warning that "Neo-Nazis are legalized again in Europe."
Calling the fight against hatred and intolerance a "pan-European issue," Dr. Kantor advocated that the European Union and other governing bodies adopt a "zero tolerance" policy against anti-Semitic and racist political groups. "We cannot allow hate to march along our streets, run for public office, or sit in our parliaments. We have to act now," he said. "While our economies may be able to be repaired, our moral centers may not."
Deeply rooted anti-Semitism
With neo-Nazi parties gaining a stronger foothold in government, there has been a surge in anti-Semitic incidents, reports the Kantor Center. While events in the Middle East are often blamed for the attacks, this year's report indicates that domestic political crises are a much more powerful motivation for anti-Semitic sentiment.
Researchers found little correlation between Operation Pillar of Defense in late 2011 and the sharp increase in violence, vandalism, and threats throughout 2012. Instead, the report found that violence and other anti-Semitic acts occurred in waves. In particular, the March 2012 shooting in the French town of Toulouse, where an extremist Muslim gunned down four people in a Jewish school, began a series of "copycat" attacks perpetrated by radical Muslims in France and other countries,. In Hungary, the number of people who espouse anti-Semitic stereotypes rose from 47 to 63 percent in the last year, and 50 percent of the Polish people still blame Jews for the death of Jesus.
Dr. Kantor said that as a Jewish leader in Europe, he feels concerned for the safety of the Jewish community. Interfaith dialogue, the protection of all minorities, and more determined pressure on European authorities to act against violence are of the utmost importance, he added.
CNN and TAU host joint panel on national elections and US-Israel relations
Just days before Barack Obama won a second term in office, Tel Aviv University and CNN explored the implications with an expert panel on the university campus. Noted journalists, politicians and academics came together to discuss how the outcomes of the US election and the Israeli election slated for January could affect relations between the two countries. They factored in the problem of Iran's nuclear program as well.
The expert panel was moderated by veteran CNN journalist Jonathan Mann and included Prof. Yossi Shain, head of TAU's Abba Eban Program of Diplomacy, Dov Weissglass, Bureau Chief to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, former Minister Yossi Beilin, and journalist Dana Weiss of Israel's Channel 2 News.
In pre-election polls, Israelis showed an overwhelming preference for Mitt Romney, reflecting the belief that he would be a better friend to Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not been shy about his own preference, noted Prof. Shain: "The reason behind the acrimony between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu [...] is because the two did not agree," he said. "Netanyahu's claim, at least in the hearts of Israelis and Republicans and many American Jews, is that there was no commitment with passion" in regards to Obama's attempt to prevent Iran from crossing the atomic threshold.
Now, with Obama set to begin his second term in office, Weissglass wondered whether the decision to support Romney was wise. "[Israel's] dependence on the US is now almost total," he said, adding his belief that if full American pressure is exerted on Iran through sanctions, the Islamic Republic's economy would likely collapse.
Former Minister Beilin had a more positive outlook on the future relationship between the two countries, noting that both parties mentioned Israel numerous times throughout the campaign process, a testament to the importance of the Jewish community in Israel. He also expressed the belief that Israel is aware that Obama will try to push the peace process along, while Romney would have done the opposite, and that Obama's re-election will have greater implications for Israel than the Knesset elections in January.
Intensive TAU project offers scholars a sophisticated view of the ever changing Middle East
In July, Tel Aviv University's Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies hosted 18 academics from all over the globe for the Center's eighth annual Workshop on Israel and the Middle East. The intensive 12-day program drew participants from a host of academic disciplines including history, international relations, political science, and law to gain a unique, balanced, and on-the-ground perspective about the history of Middle Eastern conflicts and the region's contemporary challenges from one of the world's top think tanks.
Over the past eight years, the Workshop has welcomed more than 140 participants from around the globe, hailing from prestigious institutions including Princeton University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Cornell University in the US, as well as France's Sorbonne, the London School of Economics, and the Shanghai International Studies University.
Prof. Uzi Rabi, the head of the Moshe Dayan Center, said that the unique project "serves as an academic platform for scholars from around the world to exchange views and pursue joint academic activities, such as conferences, student exchanges, journal publications, and more."
Education beyond books
The workshop aims to bring academic learning to life, helping scholars to gain novel insights and a first-hand deeper understanding of the conflict.
Drawing on the expertise of both Israeli and Palestinian scholars, the workshop provides the opportunity to visit key sites at which significant events in modern history have taken place, including Jewish and Muslim holy places such as the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, the security wall, and the Lebanese-Israeli border. The program inspires scholars to advance their own research and create a more sophisticated learning experience for their students at their home universities.
Prof. Michael Reynolds of Princeton University's Department of Near Eastern Studies praised the program's dedication to presenting a variety of viewpoints and multiple narratives. "The workshop did an excellent job of conveying the complexities of Israeli society," he said.
"The combination of the site visits and the intellectual substance of the panels made it a unique opportunity for those of us who teach the subject," said Prof. Nathan Citino, a historian at Colorado State University. "Seeing the contested geography first-hand (and from a helicopter) enables me to read maps with new eyes."
Forging international partnerships
One of the benefits of the workshop is the establishment of a network of scholars around the globe, says Prof. Rabi. Participants forge both personal and professional relationships with the Moshe Dayan Center during their time in Israel. This has given rise to fruitful collaborations, including joint conferences and scholarly works, student exchange programs, and visiting scholars. Several past participants have contributed to Bustan: The Middle East Book Review, TAU's own publication on Middle Eastern affairs.
The program has been the incubator for cooperative agreements between TAU and the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, South Korea, and spurred visits of student groups from Sweden's Lund University, North Carolina State University, and South Dakota University, among others. A former participant of the program is currently organizing an exchange program between TAU and Akhawayn University in Morocco.
TAU's Kantor Center warns non-violent abuse is escalating world-wide
Though 2011 saw a significant decline in major acts of violence against the Jewish population world-wide, anti-Semitic harassment and incitement, including verbal threats, insults, and abusive behavior, have escalated, according to this year's Antisemitism Worldwide General Analysis, a publication of Tel Aviv University's Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry. The yearly report is based on the Center's Moshe Kantor Database for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism.
Incidences of major violence, including the use of weapons, vandalism, and direct threats, fell by 27 percent compared to the previous year. Most of the decline was noted in the UK, France, and Canada, where there are large Jewish communities. But Prof. Dina Porat, Head of the Kantor Center, warns that daily harassment, especially against those who can be visibly identified as Jews, is growing. Some of the most notable cases in 2011 and 2012 involved public figures such as former London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Dior fashion designer John Galliano.
"Children, students, and people who are walking in the streets are being insulted and attacked," she says. "Taboos that existed after the Second World War don't exist anymore — we live in a society and culture where more such things are admissible. Insults and threats are expressed in the media and all cultural channels." And it's not just incitement against the Jews, notes Prof. Porat, citing other minority groups such as Roma as victims of discrimination.
The report is available in .pdf form here.
Connecting Judaism and Israel
According to Prof. Porat, the decline in violent acts can be attributed to a wide variety of factors, including an increase in monitoring and security in Jewish communities. World events can also be influential, and in 2011, there was an absence of a major confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians, which typically leads to violence world-wide. Operation Cast Lead in 2009 and the 2010 Marmara flotilla are believed to have sparked action against the Jews in those years. In addition, much of the far-right violence activity in 2011 was directed against immigrant minorities such as Muslims, Roma, East Africans, and others.
But non-violent harassment is becoming more commonplace than ever before. Using the Internet as a tool, websites, blogs, and social networks are increasingly used to distribute anti-Semitic messages around the world. Other possibilities for the increase in harrassment could include radicalization among immigrant Muslim youth and escalating animosity due to the economic crisis, the report says.
The researchers of the Kantor Center find that anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment are directly linked. Boycott campaigns and depictions of Israel as an "evil entity" are intertwined with levels of anti-Semitic harassment. Israelis and Jews alike are being accused of crimes such as holding global power, controlling the world economy, and conspiring to advance Israel's interests.
"In many anti-Semitic circles, Jews and Israel are one identity. Jews are depicted as supporters of Israel, and so when Israel is negatively regarded, than the Jews are as well. One depends on the other, and the intensity of anti-Israel expression has worryingly increased," says Prof. Porat.
A balanced analysis
The Kantor Center, inaugurated two years ago, is the only academic research center that collects data on anti-Semitic incidents world-wide. Its aim is to provide a balanced and realistic portrait of the challenges facing modern Jewry through information collected from Jewish communities and other organizations around the globe. Examining incidents and determining whether or not they can be classified as "anti-Semitic" in nature is a "matter that demands a lot of caution and proportion," Prof. Porat says.
The Center's areas of expertise include demography of European Jewry, questions of European Jewish identity, and legislation against discrimination on a racial basis. The Center recently launched a massive project, supported by UNESCO, to collect all such legislation and articles from constitutions in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Australia, and Asia.
Dr. Bruce Maddy-Weitzman weighs in on Egypt's revolutionary roller coaster
At the heart of the Arab world, Egypt has endured a tumultuous ride at the epicenter of the "Arab Spring." Now, on the eve of its first parliamentary election since last year's overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, tensions are running high. A troubled economy, continued rioting, and acts of violence seem to foreshadow an uncertain political future. Noted historian and analyst Dr. Bruce Maddy-Weitzman of Tel Aviv University's Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies looks at what's in store for this emerging democracy and its place in a changing Middle East.
Q: What's the outlook for Egypt's parliamentary elections set to begin later this month?
A: There's currently a lot of anger, suspicion, and frustration towards the Supreme Military Council — the interim authority in the post-Mubarak period — which has taken steps to deepen its control over society instead of aiding the transition to civilian rule. Protesters who led the revolution in Tahrir Square are now saying that they overthrew the head, but they didn't overthrow the ruling elite.
Plans for a more permanent regime were put together hastily. First, they're going to elect a new parliament, president and shura council (between late November and mid-January), and only then will a new constitution be written. Out of this will come an uneasy set of understandings between the military leadership, civilian politicians, and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is poised to secure impressive gains in the elections. It seems doubtful that genuinely independent and secular political forces will achieve any kind of critical mass.
One thing is apparently clear: Islamist movements have benefitted enormously from the Arab Spring upheavals. They are now going to be challenged to demonstrate their commitment to the democratic game. I'm skeptical about the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's commitment to genuine pluralist politics and their willingness to make the compromises necessary to a democracy. How much are they willing to reconcile Shari'a (Islamic) Law with democratic rights – protection of minorities, equality between the sexes, etc.? We'll have to wait and see.
Q: Is there any solution to the economic problems that largely spurred the revolution?
A: The economic difficulties in Egypt are deeply rooted, and there's no easy fix. Cutting the defense budget in order to create new social programs would cut the budget of the privileged caste, i.e. the military and its civilian allies, so we’re unlikely to see that. The Egyptians must find a way to make the economy more productive. Without political stability, that isn't going to happen. Egypt depends heavily on its Suez Canal revenues and tourism. Tourism, especially, has taken a huge hit this year.
Q: How will current political events in Egypt impact the 10 million-strong Coptic Christian minority?
A: For some time, religious tensions have been close to the surface, and there's even more tension now. In recent months, Egypt has witnessed some serious violence against the Coptic Christian minority. We've seen attacks on churches, we've seen the Copt community assert that the police are doing nothing to protect them, we've seen the recent death of 25 Copts at the hands of the security forces, and we've even seen the Copts becoming more militant and taking security matters into their own hands.
Middle-class Copts are starting to think about emigrating from Egypt, as many other Christian minorities have done in the region (e.g. Iraq), which is a cause for concern. Their loss would be a loss for Egypt.
Q: How has the fragile Israel-Egypt relationship been affected by the revolution?
A: The regime that Israel made peace with in 1979 no longer exists. The peace itself was always a cold peace — and now it's getting colder. Among the Egyptian populace, there's a long history of anger towards Israel. A variety of political forces in Egypt have used this as a cheap kind of political mobilization. But it's in the overriding interest of both sides to maintain peace. There's a common need to avoid war, which has a prohibitive cost. I don't think either side is considering a return to armed hostilities.
Geopolitically, Egypt remains in the conservative Arab Sunni camp, concerned about Iran's projection of power into the region. Also, Egypt is still an ally of the United States, and benefits from that relationship. Getting into a relationship of confrontation with Israel would adversely affect Egypt's relationship with the Western world.
Q: How will the new Egypt interact with Israeli-Palestinian politics?
A: Egypt cares deeply about the Israeli-Palestinian sphere and Hamas. The new Egypt is already more friendly with Hamas, the "daughter" of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. Much depends on the ultimate outcome of the Egyptian political process — the Muslim Brotherhood will be pushing for strong support for Hamas, though other parts of the governing elite may be pushing for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
It's encouraging that Egypt played the role it did in the Gilad Shalit exchange, and then again with the Ilan Grappel exchange. Its role in mediating the Shalit deal was in fact its first foreign policy achievement since the overthrow of Mubarak. Egypt played an important role as a broker and go-between between Israel and the Hamas, with both sides giving Egypt credit for their involvement. This shows that cooler, more rational heads can prevail.
Analysis shows different points of view lead to widespread action, says a TAU researcher
As the "Arab Spring" turns to fall and New York's "Occupy Wall Street" protest continues to draw international headlines, a new model of social and political protest has emerged. Based on informal leadership and a multitude of voices, contemporary protests have the potential to become more widespread than ever before.
In her lab, Dr. Tali Hatuka of Tel Aviv University's Department of Geography and the Human Environment analyzes not only the environmental features that impact protests, but the methodology behind the protests themselves. In the last decade, she says, there has been a major shift in the way citizens take to the streets. "Contemporary protests do not look for a unified group. Instead, protestors reflect a variety of outlooks and positions. It's a mass compound of different groups coming together under a general slogan," she explains. "Protests nowadays are based on four principles: difference, decentralization, multiplicity, and informal order."
Her research, which has appeared in the journal Metropolitics and will be the topic of a forthcoming book, attributes the viral-like growth of contemporary protests to the acceptance of different voices under the same ideological umbrella.
All protesters welcome
According to Dr. Hatuka, February 15, 2003, was a crucial, watershed moment. On that day, a worldwide protest was organized against the American invasion of Iraq. The protest spanned more than 800 cities, and participants were encouraged to contribute their own voices and opinions. This was a distinct break from the protests of the 1990's, which were localized and focused on national issues.
Demonstrations in the twentieth century, such as those challenging large and imposing regimes throughout communist Europe, followed a more traditional organization, she says. Protesters were fairly passive, and the message and direction of the protest were shaped by a centralized group of organizers.
Now, the ability of a protest to spread relies on its capacity to bring together a multitude of media, leaders, and points-of-view in a complex way. Though different groups now come together for a common cause, Dr. Hatuka explains, they often maintain their identity through the action. The organizational structure of protests is like a web instead of a strict hierarchy, which contributes to the widespread dissemination of different protests in different places. In Israel, the 2011 summer protests that called for "social justice" included rallies and tent communities that arose in cities all across the nation. These multiple actions and their geographical spread ultimately allowed for a protest much larger in scale.
The word on the street
With a new era of mass protest emerging, politicians must be aware of what is happening on the ground, says Dr. Hatuka. There are no guarantees that political leaders can meet a crowd's demands, but they should certainly be more attentive to the expressed needs. Recent uprisings, such as those in Egypt and Libya, have successfully toppled governments that long turned a deaf ear to their citizens.
This could force governments, which have an inherently pyramid-like structure of power, to become attentive to an increasingly influential web of citizens — a positive change, Dr. Hatuka says. Contemporary protests are a reflection of citizens' desire to fight perceived injustice. Today, thanks to education and new forms of media, they are much more knowledgeable about their rights, power, and ability to make a change — and they are demanding to change public discourse and affect policy decisions, she concludes.
TAU Mideast policy analyst calls for "creative diplomacy" in the wake of "a carefully calculated risk"
Prof. Uzi Rabi, director of Tel Aviv University's renowned Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, deconstructed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' recent bid for political recognition for a national audience of TAU's American Friends on October 3, 2011. During the teleconference, he called Abbas' UN General Assembly speech last month a "calculated risk," but one that may lead to a new foundation for bi-lateral talks. The Dayan Center is consistently recognized as one of the region's top think-tanks.
Prof. Rabi called the bid part of a delicate balancing act. On one hand the Palestinian Authority is now operating from a stronger position after some success in state-building. At the same time, there is concern among neighboring Middle Eastern leaders that the move for recognition could hamper this continuing success by jeopardizing U.S. aid for the Palestinian population.
"The gap remains deep" between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, he said, but the problems they face are not insoluble. In fact, Abbas' proposal may provide "a better point of departure for future Israeli-Palestinian talks."
Borders and security still major issues
Prof. Rabi noted that most Israelis will not accept a two-state solution without defensible borders, but could accept one that maintained the Israeli borders established in 1967. If the Palestinians propose borders based upon the 1948 war, he said, a two-state solution would be much less likely, and his proposal would remain unsuccessful.
Whether or not Abbas could deliver a unified Palestinian state is also an open question, Prof. Rabi said. The Palestinian Authority still needs to contend with more radical interests — Hamas and various Islamic elements — and will need to provide verifiable guarantees of security before any statehood proposal could be seriously considered by Israel.
In the wake of Abbas' UN speech, Prof. Rabi underlined two issues that relate directly to Israeli internal interests. First, Israel still needs to maintain strong military security along its borders. But along with this, Israel's politicians need to "maintain diplomatic creativity," even if this creativity leads to a "settlement without peace." That would surely be better than no settlement at all, he said.
Underlying reasons for the PA's UN bid
Prof. Rabi said that the Palestinian Authority's purpose in requesting that the UN recognize a Palestinian state is twofold. The primary aim is to exert international pressure on Israel to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank; legal recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank would delegitimize Jewish settlements in that area. Israel objects to this on the grounds that it bypasses bilateral discourse. According to Prof. Rabi, Israel remains unsure of how to handle this issue.
The PA's secondary aim is to tilt the scales in its favor in future bilateral negotiations. Prof. Rabi said that the closer the Palestinians are to gaining international recognition, the less the Israelis will have to bargain with in negotiations on a permanent settlement.
The Quartet has called on both sides to return to the negotiating table. While Israel says it will negotiate without preconditions, the PA will only negotiate if Israel freezes settlement construction. Both the Israelis and Palestinians say they are in favor of renewed negotiations, and each side claims the other is impeding negotiations. At the same time, said Prof. Rabi, neither side has an interest in disrupting their cooperation in security and economic matters in the West Bank.
A Palestinian Spring?
The Palestinian territories have thus far not seen popular unrest on the scale of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings. According to Prof. Rabi, one reason for this is that the PA has been able to direct public unrest toward the occupation — particularly now that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has filed his UN bid. Prof. Rabi said that the PA will appropriate the spirit of the Arab Spring to a limited extent and allow for the organization of small-scale rallies to take place on predetermined dates in Palestinian city centers, away from areas bordering on Israeli checkpoints. This, the PA hopes, will help rally public support for Fatah and the UN bid. Prof. Rabi said that it is in the interest of neither the PA nor Israel for this popular protest to spiral out of control.
If the UN bid fails utterly and the current political stalemate continues for several months, Palestinian public dissatisfaction will come to a head and could lead to a mass uprising. Furthermore, this continuing stalemate would chip away at the legitimacy of Fatah and PA President Abbas. The failure of Fatah's diplomatic approach could drive the Palestinian public to support Hamas instead. Prof. Rabi also noted that in such a case, Mahmoud Abbas might resign from the presidency.
More regional unknowns
In response to questions from participants, Prof. Rabi touched upon the roles that Turkey and Syria might play in the future. The European Union's rejection of Turkey's bid for membership may lead the country to a more conservative position, more closely aligning it with the Arab world. That could create the potential for Turkey to serve as a go-between between Israel and the Palestinians, but "Israel is not ready for that now," he said. Assessing the possible effects should Bashar al-Assad be removed from the presidency of Syria, he cautioned that could destabilize the region, leading not to democracy but to a more radical government less disposed to be a behind-the-scenes influence in peace negotiations.
Finally, Prof. Rabi said another key element will be eliminating "vitriolic speech" from the education system of both parties. International aid must continue to be directed toward moderating militancy in the Palestinian education system, and Israel must be careful about what is taught in its schools, as well. "Intimacy between Palestinians and Israelis is not yet possible," he said, but a revision of curricula and textbooks minimizing incendiary rhetoric can help achieve a safer, more peaceful co-existence.
A lively crowd enjoyed an animated discussion about the Arab Spring, desperate youth, social media and how they affect Israel at an American Friends of Tel Aviv University community forum presented with The Jewish Week in Manhattan on Thursday, June 2, 2011.
Experts explore the Arab Spring at lively AFTAU symposium
The highly engaged audience heard three distinctive expert voices on the changing face of the Middle East — Prof. Uzi Rabi, Director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University; David Makovsky, author, commentator and director of The Washington Institute's Project on The Middle East Peace Process; and Judith Kipper, the director of the Institute of World Affairs' Middle East Programs. The program and the following Q&A were moderated by Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The Jewish Week.
Hopes and expectations for the Middle East
After welcoming remarks from AFTAU Chairman Jon Gurkoff and Co-Chairman of The Jewish Week Stuart Himmelfarb, Rosenblatt set the stage for the discussion by citing comedian Mel Brooks' song lyric, "Hope for the best, expect the worst" — a lighthearted introduction to a perspective that was more seriously echoed, to a greater or lesser degree, by each of the panelists.
David Makovsky said that the full implications and impact of the Arab Spring will not be known for decades — "We're only in the first inning, and we don't know if this is a double-header," he commented. He warned against Israel becoming "ensnarled" in the internal politics of neighbor states, and said that the Arab youth who led the protests had yet to demonstrate whether they would be able to organize along the lines of existing political parties, noting that Israel should be "hopeful, but watchful."
Prof. Uzi Rabi asserted that economics were at the root of the Arab uprisings, and that the young desired "a more liberal, civil society." He said that the central question would be whether the 2011 Arab revolutions would more resemble those of Central and Eastern Europe of 1989, which led to perestroika and freedom, or those of Iran in 1979, which instituted a clerical dictatorship. A central difference between the past and the present, Rabi said, was that electronic media like Twitter and Facebook have become "lethal weaponry" when challenging rulers, and that the military would need to be more creative in responding to 21st-century innovations in communication.
Judith Kipper noted that the uprisings that constitute the Arab Spring "were not about Israel, the United States, or religion — they were a question of human dignity." She expressed her belief that the majority of Egyptians were non-violent, and that the Muslim Brotherhood did not represent a significant threat to the new democratic process in the Middle East. The best that the U.S. and Europe could do, she said, would be to promote civil society and economic development in the region.
At a private cocktail reception before the program, AFTAU and Jewish Week board members had the opportunity to meet and converse with the panelists in an intimate setting, and as guests left they were heard to comment on David Makovsky's remarks about Tel Aviv University's Dayan Center — "I tell my students to go to Tel Aviv University and the Dayan Center if you want to study the Middle East," he said.
Broad and deep expertise
The panel's views reflect an extensive familiarity with the Middle East.
Internationally recognized expert Judith Kipper is the Director of the Institute of World Affairs' Middle East Programs and a partner in International Strategic Insights, LLC. A frequent speaker and media commentator, for more than two decades she was a consultant on international affairs for ABC News.
Noted author and award-winning analyst David Makovsky appears frequently in the media, including PBS's Newshour, to comment on Arab-Israeli affairs. He is the director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Project on the Middle East Peace Process and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Prof. Uzi Rabi is the Director of the Moshe Dayan Center and Chair of the Department of Middle Eastern and African History, Tel Aviv University's internationally acclaimed think tank. His most recent publication is the edited volume International Intervention in Local Conflicts (I. B. Tauris, 2010).
Editor and publisher of New York's The Jewish Week, the largest Jewish newspaper in the United States, Gary Rosenblatt has won numerous awards for his investigative writing and incisive commentary and analyses. He serves as chairman of the Fund for Jewish Investigative Journalism.
Prof. Asher Susser says new situation requires Israeli "disengagement" in Middle East negotiations
Speaking to a private, invitation-only audience of American Friends of Tel Aviv University on February 4, Prof. Asher Susser, Senior Research Fellow at Tel Aviv University's Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, called the recent upheaval in Egypt indicative of a potentially greater Islamist influence in the region, which could negatively affect Israeli negotiations with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"The events in Egypt are no less than an earthquake with huge ramifications for the United States, Israel, and the world at large," Prof. Susser said during the teleconference. Though he called the uprising "an expression of popular empowerment never before seen in the Middle East," he added that the question of the military's loyalty to Hosni Mubarak will still determine the outcome of the crisis in Egypt.
With clear-eyed pragmatism, Prof. Susser also counselled a policy of Israeli "disengagement" from internal Arab controversies and said that Israel should redouble its efforts to disenagage from the West Bank too with or without a peace agreement with the Palestinians and strengthen Israel's own internal security.
An opportunity for Israel for stronger Western alliances
An internationally renowned historian and foreign policy analyst, Professor Susser is a former director of the Dayan Center, one of the world's most important Middle East think tanks. During the teleconference, he focused on the significance of the Egyptian uprising for the future of Israeli security in the region, noting that the rise of Islamist power will encourage the more radical sectors of the Palestinian population and make negotiations "less friendly." Whatever the outcome, he said, Israel will have to reconstruct its defence policy in response to a more volatile landscape in which secularism is in retreat.
On the positive side, Prof. Susser noted that it should now be clear to the U.S. and to Europe that Israel may be its sole truly reliable strategic ally in the region, a status that Israel may utilize to its advantage.
Israel not an important issue in recent upheavals
Prof. Susser placed the current situation in Egypt in a broader context of the recent history of the Middle East, comparing it to political changes in Turkey, Jordan and other Middle East nations. Importantly, he said, it was "as clear as daylight" that the recent problems of Egypt and other countries in the region are not the result of Israeli-Palestinian or Israel-Arab questions, but arose out of economic and cultural pressures. He cited the sense of hopelessness among young Egyptians in a depressed economy, and said that no matter what the outcome, the future Egyptian government will still have to contend with a continuing social and economic malaise.
Calling the Obama administration's reaction to the Egyptian crisis "troubling," Prof. Susser warned that pressure on the Mubarak regime to dissolve may lead to a less benign conclusion than the U.S. may expect. He suggested that a less interventionist response would have allowed the Egyptian people to resolve the situation on their own, and that the administration should have been less driven by U.S. internal domestic pressures and more by security and strategic considerations in its reaction.
Prof. Susser also commented on the role of the media in the crisis, noting that traditional media outlets like CNN and the BBC had far more influence on events in the region than digital media, the effect of which he called "greatly overestimated." A far more important factor was "the sorry state of the Egyptian economy and society," he concluded.
TAU's Iranian authority Prof. David Menashri says tougher sanctions from the U.S. and E.U. are needed now
Less than a year ago, protestors took to Iran's streets and signalled a possible popular uprising that would bring policy change and even slow the country's rush toward a nuclear weapon.
But now, with the old guards at the helm, and the increasingly strident declarations of its nuclear intentions, the Iranian threat looms ever larger. What will it take to change that? Is there any time left? And who can influence the future of the Iranian people and a more stable Middle East?
Prof. David Menashri, director of Tel Aviv University's Center for Iranian Studies, explored these pressing questions and others in a recent conversation. An Israeli who has lived in Iran, Prof. Menashri is an internationally recognized authority on Iranian history and politics and the recipient of numerous grants and awards. His latest publication is the edited volume Iran: Anatomy of Revolution (Hebrew, 2009).
Q: Why haven't we seen the change of guards many expected after Iran's last presidential election and the civil uprising last summer?
A: Don't be misled: Iran has seen a sea change in its domestic situation. The regime which claimed to be based on religion, ideology and morality is now clearly based on the arms of the Revolutionary Guards; Khamenei as Supreme Leader has since downgraded himself to a mere political player in a regime where factions are butting heads with each other. Clearly, the regime lost its legitimacy in the eyes of many of its youth — the children of the revolution. Although it hasn't produced more dramatic results yet, there is significant and growing resentment among the populace.
What brought protestors to the streets? Not only the fraudulent elections. They were driven by motivators much deeper than that, going back to the unfulfilled expectations of the 1979 Islamic revolution. These were focused in two main areas — bread and civil liberties. The vast majority has come to realise that thirty-one years later, nothing has really changed, either in reducing disparity of wealth or increasing personal freedom.
Another factor that pushed the people to the streets was Obama's "Yes We Can" campaign and the pledge for dialogue. The more educated reformists believed that going to the streets would put pressure on their government to give more freedom. It didn't really happen that way.
Q: If there's so much resentment, why have we seen conservative Islamic celebrationsin the streets recently? Are many Iranians happy with the current regime?
A: It is not new that the government has the power to bring together many people to rally support for it, or to suppress its own people protesting in the streets, but there is no doubt that the vast majority in Iran are not happy with the outcome of the revolution. The revolution wasn't supposed to be about returning to Islam, but about improving social services and expanding freedom — and by any criteria, that hasn't happened. At this point, the Green Movement chanting "Death to Dictator" does not seem to have only President Ahmadinejad in mind. Many of them want a more comprehensive change. As some of them have said, they want to change the horse, not the saddle. The reformists may have shaken the foundations, but working against the powerful tools of the regime, they don't yet have critical mass.
Remember, the conservative element in the government today has significant elements of strength. The regime says it speaks in the name of God and that carries a lot of weight in a country like Iran. Equally important, they have the armed forces at their disposal. With a supposed blessing from Heaven and arms too, the regime has a certain security. They also have the will to use force to maintain their power.
Q: What's holding back change?
A: While there is clearly a rift between conservatives and reformists, some of the critical factors that shape a mass movement are missing. The reformists are asking "Where is my vote?" and stressing the issues of human and civil rights. But it's hard to recruit millions of people to the cause of democracy — that alone is insufficient to motivate a mass movement.
What will resonate more broadly and supplement this query is adding another pressing question: "Where is my oil money?" And that's a great question. Where is the country's enormous oil revenue? Iran is a rich country full of poor people. One of the shortcomings of the reformist movement in Iran is that they're not focusing on social and economic change.
Q: So what should Israel do in the meantime? Could Iran really bomb Israel?
A: When you have an Iranian president like Ahmadinejad who says Israel should be wiped off the map, and an Israeli prime minister like Netanyahu countering by calling Ahmadinejad "Hitler" and referring to Iran as an existential threat, things can get out of control.
But a nuclear Iran is not only an Israeli problem: it's a problem for the Middle East — and beyond. It's a problem for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey. Why does every problem here need to have a solution with an Israeli trademark? Why does Israel pretend to have the solution and appear as willing to take the steps to stop Iran? An Israeli attack on Iran would be difficult, with devastating results. Nuclear Iran is the problem of the world, and it is the international community that should solve the problem.
I don't really think a military intervention to stop Iran is the solution. I do believe in dialogue, as President Obama suggested in his campaign, and that the U.S. could come up with the right approach. We need to engage Iran, not because engaging them will solve the problem, but before any other, tough measures are taken, we need to speak directly to the Iranian people. A direct Iran-U.S. dialogue, may signal to Iranian youth as well as the American people that Washington has done all that is possible to solve the issue peacefully. But dialogue should have been direct, with clear agenda and deadline — not like what has been experienced in the last year.
The world needs to step in. Other countries are not doing what needs to be done right now, and that includes America and the E.U. countries. As a first step, moral pressure should be put on Iran. Where are the international groups fighting to solve human rights problems in Iran? Europeans are outspoken but they don't stress Iran's human rights problems, which are infinitely severe.
Q: Then why isn't the EU taking a tougher approach?
A: It seems that the EU countries are putting their own narrow economic interests first — oil and trade with Iran. Only once did the EU countries have a unanimous diplomatic step against Islamic Iran: in 1997, when the German courts found Iranian officials guilty of acts of terror in Berlin. And for their part, the Russians also seem to prefer their business interests with Iran.
That's why a few months ago the Iranian Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi suggested that the EU countries downgrade their diplomatic presentation in Iran. She knows what hurts the leaders of her country.
Sanctions can work. Iran is not as giant a power as they may think, and the U.S. is not a paper tiger. Moral pressure on issues of human rights, targeted economic sanctions and pressure on the Iranian banking system can convince Iran to rethink its nuclear policy. The recent decision by the big powers on sanctions is an important step forward, provided all parties abide to the decision and it will be implemented. This remains to be seen.
Q: If Iran isn't Israel's problem alone, is there anything it can do to bring about change?
A: Israel and the moderate Arab countries, facing a common Iranian threat, can weaken Iran considerably by resolving their differences, such as those concerning the Palestinian question or the Israeli Syrian conflict. A Saudi Arabian embassy in Tel Aviv would send a clear message to Iran. Unfortunately, that seems like a dream at this stage.
In the meantime, Israel is an easy target — easier than the US, the "Great Satan" in Iranian revolutionary jargon. Tehran can blame Israel for its woes and use hostility against Israel to divert public opinion from domestic difficulties to a distant enemy and strive for hegemony in the Persian Gulf and leadership in the Muslim Middle East.
TAU Syrian authority Eyal Zisser is skeptical of proposed Golan Heights "Peace Park"
Rounds of indirect talks between Syria and Israel ended without resolution in 2008. To re-open a channel, Tel Aviv University hosted a conference last month to explore the possibility of a Syrian-Israeli Peace Park.
The proposed park would turn one-third of the disputed Golan Heights into a nature reserve to be managed by Syria and enjoyed by both Syrians and Israelis. The remaining two-thirds, now under Israeli sovereignty, would be returned to Syria. Sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Israel, the conference sessions attracted a full house of academics, politicians, NGO leaders and diplomats from countries across a diverse spectrum of opinion and expertise.
Prof. Eyal Zisser, head of Tel Aviv University's influential think tank The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, appeared at the conference. He approves the positive thinking of proponents of the Peace Park, but finds it hard to see the project becoming a reality. An internationally renowned analyst of Syrian-Israeli relations, Prof. Zisser explained why in a recent conversation:
Q: What makes you so skeptical about the prospects for a Peace Park?
A: While it's a positive and creative idea, remember that the two countries have had no diplomatic relations since Israel was established in 1948. The Syrians and Israelis have vastly different mentalities. For the Syrians, national pride is important and complete sovereignty over land is crucial.
In Israel, there are politicians, academics and NGOs who are seeking a way to convince the public to return the Golan Heights to Syria, but that kind of one-sided negotiation is destined to fail in the current political climate.
Q: What would it take to make the concept a reality?
A: The whole idea behind a Peace Park would work after you've established peace, to help normalize relations. It would help develop warm bonds between the two peoples. But that's not the sequence that's being explored — and escalating security concerns between Israel and Syria mean that it could take years before the conditions are ripe for a peaceful resolution.
In Israel, the public well remembers a decade of brutal attacks with Syrians firing at civilians without provocation, a prelude to the Syrian assault in 1967. For us, giving back the land of the Golan Heights comes with a huge security risk that most Israelis would hesitate to take.
Q: So after 10 years of discussion, why is there is a renewed interest in a Peace Park now?
A: Researchers, non-governmental organizations, and those involved in the peace talks — including some Americans — think that a peace park would be a confidence-building measure among the Israeli public, a simple way make peace with Syria by giving back some acreage.
I think that's naive. If there were the possibility of real public diplomacy between Israel and Syria, we wouldn't need this park to cement our relationship.
Syria's position is simple — they want the Golan Heights back. Period. They are not showing any signs they are willing to make real, warm peace for this kind of exchange, or even to pursue real public diplomacy, and for their part, Israelis are not interested in compromising with Syria for an empty photo op.
Another aspect of the proposed park is that two countries have exhibited very different levels of environmental protection and awareness. Syria is a third world country with a growing population that has very low environmental awareness.
Q: So why the U.S. interest in establishing a peace park?
A: The American government funded the recent conference as a friendly gesture — but there is no real U.S. interest. Some years ago, well before there was any diplomatic activity, a geographer who is currently a member of the Mitchell team suggested a peace park as an option.
The conference attendance and recent support from the U.S. government was really just a gesture. And the whole idea has progressed with no involvement at all from the Syrian side.
Q: If not a park, what might move the parties forward?
A: In order for there to be peace with Syria, the Israelis would need to see a radical about-face from the leader of Syria. They'd need a leader like Sadat to make a dramatic, historical move. That's not who Bashar is, and it's not going to happen. The only other conceivable game-changer would be Israel electing a prime minister who is willing to give up the Golan Heights — but without a change in Syria's behavior, that's unlikely.
Q: So is it fair to call the Golan Heights "occupied land"?
A: For all intents and purposes in the eyes of the international community, that's true — but the occupation by Israel is very similar to the way the U.S. occupied Japan. That wasn't a greedy colonial take-over to occupy more territory, nor is that the case for Israel in the Golan.
The "occupation" is situational and pragmatic: there was Syrian aggression towards Israel, and the 1967 War was the result. Israel defended itself, captured the Golan Heights, and remains there today because there is no peace with Syria.
It would be nice if a Peace Park were the mechanism to change that — but I'm quite certain it isn't.
U.S. and Israeli statesmen stress commitment to U.N. ideals and a road to peace
Diplomats, dignitaries and more than 150 American Friends of Tel Aviv University turned out for a private, off-the-record analysis of "Strategic Choices for the U.S. and Israel," this year's Institute for National Security Studies conference held at New York's Harmonie Club on January 12.
An overflow crowd came to hear keynote speakers Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and MK Tzachi Hanegbi, Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, to discuss and debate current challenges facing the Middle East.
During a panel discussion following the keynote addresses, former Ambassadors Itamar Rabinovich, Martin Indyk, Dan Gillerman and Oded Eran turned their attention to a review of the peace process in the light of diplomatic efforts by the Obama administration and the continuing threat of nuclear proliferation in the region.
"We must rise to history's call," U.S. ambassador tells audience
Ambassador Rice offered a series of what she described as "reflections on the type of world the Obama administration seeks," including a new emphasis on the possibilities for reform of the United Nations and a principled and pragmatic U.S. foreign policy. "No one should be left behind to drown in conflict or despair," she said, then offered a broad outline of the Obama administration's commitment to peace and security in the Middle East as the administration sought "a just and lasting peace between Israel, Palestinians and the Arab World." She cautioned that all of the region's stakeholders needed to recognize the role of compromise in establishing a long-term peace, warning that a lack of compromise would lead to unending conflict in the region. "We can and must," she concluded, "rise to history's call."
Minister Tzachi Hanegbi reviewed the experiences of both Israel and the U.S. as prime targets of Islamic terrorism in the years following 2001, describing it as "a history of a society in terror." In his view, however, U.S. and Israeli efforts to stem the tide of fundamentalist terrorism are succeeding, and civic life in both societies and that of the Palestinians have been improving. Applauding Obama's idea of a "just war" in Afghanistan, Hanegbi also noted that the 31-year-success so far of the Egypt/Israel peace treaty provides hope for a lasting peace in the Middle East, but warned of the profound threat that a nuclear Iran would pose to the region as a whole.
An insider's perspective on global events
Ambassador Rabinovich (former Ambassador of Israel to the U.S.), Ambassador Indyk (former Ambassador of the U.S. to Israel), Ambassador Gillerman (former Permanent Representative of Israel to the U.N.) and Ambassador Eran (former Ambassador of Israel to the European Union and to Jordan) brought their collective decades of real-world expertise and diplomacy in the region to a panel discussion that considered the issues raised by the keynote speakers. In the broad, incisive exchanges that drew upon their years of behind-the-scenes experience, they addressed institution-building in the Palestinian community, the issues of borders and refugees, the Obama administration's work on Palestinian issues, and the elements necessary for a settlement that would lead to a lasting peace in the region. A brief question-and-answer session followed.
The event took place at New York's elegant Harmonie Club in midtown Manhattan. Prior to the program, guests had the opportunity to meet and talk with the speakers at a cocktail reception.
Publication is a barometer of Israeli hopes and fears, says leading U.S. magazine
By asking roughly the same two questions every month — "Do you support negotiations with the Palestinians?" And "Do you believe talks will bring about peace between the two sides in the near term?" — the War and Peace Index, conducted at the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research and the Evens Program in Mediation and Conflict Resolution of Tel Aviv University, has been measuring the political pulse of the nation, and the Israeli peoples' hope for peace with Palestinians.
Their findings were spotlighted in the January 11, 2010, issue of Newsweek.
Since the beginning of the Index's publication in June 1994, the sentiments of the Israeli people have waxed and waned as to whether they think there is a chance for peace with their Palestinian neighbors. Never has the poll looked so grim, Newsweek reports. According to results analyzed by TAU's Prof. Ephraim Yaar and Prof. Tamar Hermann, who started the report, the numbers of those who think peace is possible have been unwaveringly low in recent years.
To read how TAU's War and Peace Index measures the political pulse of the nation, see the Newsweek article at http://www.newsweek.com/id/228840.
Visit this link to read the most recent issues of the publication.