Explosive Dust-Up Over Iran Policy

Conference Exposes Wide Rifts Among Israelis and Diaspora

Wrong Approach: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have come under attack by members of Israel’s security elite for their saber-rattling policy on Iran.
getty images
Wrong Approach: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have come under attack by members of Israel’s security elite for their saber-rattling policy on Iran.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published May 02, 2012, issue of May 11, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in late April, Israel put its raucous, divided political culture on full exhibition in New York for a day — and New York did not like what it saw.

The occasion was the first-ever Jerusalem Post Conference, an all-day public seminar on Israeli policy, held on April 29 at Manhattan’s Marriott Times Square Hotel. The star-studded event brought together some two dozen Israelis from the worlds of government, defense, philanthropy and journalism, along with a handful of American Jewish activists, and put them on a stage before a paying audience of 1,200 for a day of speeches and panel discussions.

Though billed in advance as a “hugely important” exploration of “the major issues facing the Jewish people,” the conference generated headlines in Israel and around the world mostly for its showcasing of Israeli politics as usual: a parade of political attacks, grandstanding, name-calling and shouting matches, punctuated by repeated catcalling from the audience and occasional bursts of reasoned analysis.

Among its notable points were a former Israeli prime minister attacking the incumbent prime minister, a Jerusalem Post editor attacking the president of the United States to loud cheers from many in the audience and an Israeli cabinet minister and a former Mossad intelligence director accusing each other of lying and sabotage.

An emotional climax came in the late morning, when famed Harvard University legal scholar Alan Dershowitz came to the stage and begged the assembled to tone down their rhetoric. “The first rule” in gatherings like this, he said, is “do not ever, ever boo a president of the United States” when “speaking on behalf of the state of Israel.” The audience of mostly American Jews greeted his plea with a mixture of polite applause and derisive boos.

Dershowitz went on to offer what he called “rule number two: Please, Israelis, do not bring your domestic political battles to any forum here.” Rather, he urged, “speak in a united fashion” and “present the consensus case.” This point won spirited audience applause and was echoed later in the day by another leading Diaspora commentator, Australian-Israeli businessman Isi Leibler.

But as one Israeli after another rose to speak, it became clear that the plea was futile, for the simple reason that there is no Israeli consensus to present.

The main division among conference speakers pitted Israeli government officials, led by Environmental Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, against three former generals: former Mossad director (and reserve major general) Meir Dagan, former army chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and former air force commander Elyezer Shkedy. The government officials were backed by a conservative journalist, Jerusalem Post Deputy Managing Editor Caroline Glick, while the generals were joined by the conservative-turned-liberal former prime minister Ehud Olmert. It was Glick’s attack on President Obama, to catcalls and standing ovations from the audience, that prompted Dershowitz’s plea for moderation.

The most heated disagreements between the two sides concerned Israeli policy toward Iran and the Palestinians — in one case, whether Israel should consider a solo military strike against Iran’s nuclear program, as the government officials believed and the generals did not; in the other case, whether peace is achievable in the near term with the current Palestinian leadership, which Olmert and Dagan believed and the government officials furiously rejected.

The debate echoes a steadily worsening public rift in Israel between Netanyahu and a growing list of former defense and intelligence chiefs over those two issues. The latest to turn against the prime minister is former Shin Bet domestic security director Yuval Diskin, who caused a furor on April 27 with a speech denouncing Netanyahu’s policies and questioning his fitness to lead.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.