Bahbah: Can Israel Implode on its Own?
By: Bishara A. Bahbah/Arab America Featured Columnist
One of the most prominent American Jews, Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress and chairman emeritus of the Estee Lauder cosmetic empire, wrote an op-ed in Monday’s New York Times lamenting the two major threats endangering Israel’s very existence. The first threat is the possible demise of the two-state solution, and the second two-pronged threat is Israel’s capitulation to religious extremists and the growing disaffection of the Jewish diaspora.
I came to know Ronald in the 1990s when he recruited me to head a newly created company, Television Development Partners (TDP). At the time, I was the associate director of Harvard’s Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East. TDP had quite a unique concept. The goal was to set up a family-oriented terrestrial-based television station (connected via satellite to air the common programming) that would link many countries in the Arab world. The idea was to create the “CBS” of the Middle East.
Naturally, I wondered why such a prominent and wealthy American Jew would want to have the potential huge influence that a regional Arab television station would have on the Arab people. Many outsiders were skeptical thinking that I was naïve and being used to spread pro-Israel propaganda. I, on the other hand, believed that Ronald was a fair-minded individual who strongly believed in peace between Israel, the Palestinians, and other Arab countries.
Before accepting to work with Ronald, we had numerous private chats – and this is the first time I reveal the content of any of them publicly. During those chats, Ronald assured me, despite his close association with Netanyahu at the time, that he believed that no one people should occupy another. He believed in a two-state solution and the right of Palestinians to live in a state of their own. He also told me that Jerusalem should be the capital of two states – Israel and Palestine.
I recall one time when we flew to Tel Aviv together, Israeli security agents at the airport stopped me and started harassing me. Unlike some other people in the group that flew with us, including a prominent Jewish-American congressman, Ronald quickly confronted the security agents to rebuke them for the way I was being treated, to vouch for me, and to ask them to let go of me. Ironically, Ronald, in turn, was rebuked by the Jewish-American congressman who told him to let the Israeli security do their job because Palestinians were “terrorists.”
Ronald’s warning to Israel in his op-ed is a strong rebuke of Israel’s right-wing government. Ronald is not one to air his opinions freely. And, if he did not feel very strongly about the need for Israel to support the two-state solution as the final outcome of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, he would not have spoken up.
Ronald’s other warning to Israel about how the current Israeli government is capitulating for political reasons (essentially to ensure that Netanyahu stays as prime minister) to religious extremists – Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community – is equally grave. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox religious establishment is able to control Jewish ritual life and Jewish holy places, and even dictate the existential question of “who is a Jew.” “By submitting to the pressures exerted by a minority in Israel, the Jewish state is alienating a large segment of the Jewish people,” Ronald wrote.
Ronald’s warnings to Israel are to the point in terms of what it will take to have peace between Israel and the Palestinians. His warning about the growing schism between Israel and the Jewish diaspora, without whom Israel would have never prospered, is another ominous sign of today’s Israel. In Ronald’s opinion, Israel’s actions today are leading to “a severe erosion of the global Jewish community’s affinity for the Jewish homeland.”
Today’s Israel, no matter how militarily powerful, is on a path of self-destruction and is heading over a fatal cliff. These are the conclusions of one of Israel’s most loyal and generous friends. If Israel does not heed the advice of people like Ronald, then it is a matter of time before Israel implodes without any help from the Palestinians. All the Palestinians have to do in this scenario is survive under Israel’s harsh military rule, stay on their land, and multiply in numbers.
Prof. Bishara Bahbah was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Peace Talks on Arms Control and Regional Security. He taught at Harvard and was the associate director of its Kennedy School’s Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.