The final day of the ‘Facing Tomorrow’ 2012 Presidential Conference in Jerusalem featured some of the most anticipated panels of the conference, including one on the relationship between Israel and World Jewry headlined by the controversial Peter Beinart and Abe Foxman of the ADL, and another on the future borders of Israel featuring journalist Caroline Glick, nationalist leader Naftali Bennett, and former IDF Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Ilan Paz.
The panel on Israel-diaspora Jewry relations was highlighted by a heated debate over the state of relations, and its ability to maintain its previous levels of closeness. Beinart, the former editor of The New Republic and current darling of the liberal media after the publication of his book The Crisis of Zionism, said: “We Are Witnessing the Slow Decline of the Zionist Consensus.” He pointed the finger of blame at leaders of the U.S. Jewish establishment, and their lack of willingness to deal openly and honestly with Israel. “What alienates young American Jews is the fact that they see Israelis criticizing Israeli policy, but they don’t hear the same candor from American Jews.”
Several panelists challenged Beinart’s perception of a crisis. Foxman said: “My love and support for Israel is unconditional, it does not depend on the Israeli acceptance of my ideas. My Zionism is not in crisis because my Zionism is not conditioned on an idealized view of what I’d like Israel to be.”
Alana Newhouse, Editor-in-Chief of Tablet Magazine, also disagreed with Beinart’s assessment, warning of the consequences of “crying wolf,” and worrying that the talk of an emergency could become “a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The panel also included moderator Shmuel Rosner, Chair of the Israel Diaspora Paradigm Committee Pierre Besnainou, and Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic.
All panelists agreed that the Diaspora community needed to focus more on Jewish education and introducing young Jews to the importance of Israel, with Wieseltier lamenting U.S. Jewry’s reliance on Israel for its Jewish identity.
“Israel was not created to relieve U.S. Jewry of the burden of creating its own identity,” said Wieseltier. “In so far as the weakening affiliation is real, a moment of truth is arriving for American Jews and we can finally see what kind of Judaism U.S. Jewry is capable of.”
In the panel on Israel’s borders, experts from both sides of the political spectrum offered competing visions and solutions. Panelists addressed both geographical and demographic concerns and commented on the feasibility of drawing borders that would be acceptable to the international community, to the Palestinians and at the same time maintain the sustainability and safety of Israel.
Former West Bank Territorial Brigades Commander Gen. (Ret.) Ilan Paz stated that, in his view, “the demographical threat should dictate Israel’s action over geographical concerns.” Citing a population of more than 4 million in the Palestinian Territories, and the current Israeli population of 49% Jewish, 47% Arab, he claimed that, “by 2015 Jews will be the minority in Israel. This is really the existential threat – and this is the gist of the conflict between the left and the right.”
Caroline Glick, Senior Contributing Editor of the Jerusalem Post disagreed with Paz, stating that these figures were highly skewed, and claimed that the demographic future belongs to the Jewish people. She argued that the Jews will still maintain a 2:1 ratio over the Arab population, citing the convergence of fertility rates and the potential mass Aliya (immigration) to Israel.
Additionally, Glick maintained that Israel had exhausted the options that have been called for by the international community: “We have seen that sole Palestinian sovereignty –in Gaza- has failed. We have also seen that shared sovereignty in Judea and Samaria does not work. We have fulfilled our international obligation to attempt to reach an agreed reconciliation with the Palestinians. They have made it clear that they are unwilling to make peace with Israel and have shown that they are not interested in a Palestinian State. Instead they have focused their efforts on destroying the Jewish State.”
In her opinion, Israeli withdrawal is the worst option and that “Israel belongs to the Jews by law and right and should stop hemming and hawing and just say it and rule it.”
Naftali Bennett, the up-and-coming religious Zionist leader and founder of the Yisraelim Party suggested that the Palestinians be granted autonomy, but not a State; thus precluding a Palestinian army and an influx of Palestinian refugees from the region.
Bennett also highlighted the importance of avoiding the forceful expulsion of any Israeli citizen from their homes, explaining that the implications of uprooting more than 120,000 additional people in Judea and Samaria are very worrisome. “I urge everyone to go out, walk the land, meet the people and see the life in Judea and Samaria,” he said. “If we had a Prime Minister like Begin who would apply sovereignty on Judea and Samaria, we would undoubtedly be condemned by the world for a few days but then life would move on. The world has bigger things on the agenda than Israel – including Greece and Syria. We need to do what’s right for the Jewish State.”
David Makovsky, distinguished fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that an agreement between the two sides is “very possible, as the differences are not as wide as people think.”
Makovsky suggested increasing the area of the proposed land swap to include more Jews on the Israel side and more Palestinians on the Palestinian side. “Instead of a 2.2 percent land swap, why not make it 4.4 percent, or even more? If we swap five percent of the land this would include places like Beit El and the North of Ariel and will leave just 60,000 Israelis on the wrong side of the border.” While conceding that 60,000 is still a large number, he points out that it is still half the number that the proposed plan would seek to uproot.
The Fourth Presidential Conference will conclude on Thursday night with a session featuring remarks by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Natan Sharansky, and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
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