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!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • 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.