Iran is destabilizing the Mideast, from Gaza to the Persian Gulf, declared former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold this week to a local audience. "Iran," he added, "is a threat to both Israel and the United States."
About 120 people gathered in the auditorium at the Gershman Y at Broad and Pine streets in Center City on the evening of June 2, as Gold, who was Israel's representative to the United Nations from 1997-1999, took to the stage to engage in a lively, two-hour debate with Leonard Fein, founder ofMoment magazine.
The experts offered two very different perspectives on the variety of challenges that Israel faces -- including Iran, Syria, Egypt, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinians, among others -- during a conversation called "Israel at 60: Peace at What Cost?"
The program was one in a series of lectures sponsored by Gratz College, in partnership with Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. It was also presented with the support of the Harry Stern Family Institute for Israel Studies.
The fast-paced debate was moderated by Edward T. Turzanski, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a national security analyst at La Salle University, who has himself served with the U.S. government throughout the Middle East.
Coincidentally, the program was held on Yom Yerushalayim, the Hebrew anniversary of Jerusalem's reunification during the 1967 Six-Day War.
Is a Window Closing?
Fein, who is also the founder of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, as well as the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy, and the author of several books and hundreds of articles and essays, argued that there is no viable two-state option for the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
Israel's two options with the Palestinians, he said, amount to either apartheid or ethnic cleansing, and he fears the window toward achieving peace is closing.
"I believe in a Jewish state with all its complexities," said the self-proclaimed lifelong Zionist.
But a binational state, he proposed, "signals the end of 'the Great Project.' "
Fein added that he worries that holding on to the Jewish state "won't be easy by any means," as it runs counter to "the temper of the times."
Gold, who also served as an adviser to former prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, and is now president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, has written several books on the Middle East. He explained that Israel is a country with three main areas of concern regarding its national security: the right and need to secure her borders, vital for its defense; the future of Jerusalem as a democratic city where people of all faiths can come and visit; and the rising threat of Iran, which he sees as "the greatest security challenge," emphasizing how rare it is that a world leader raises threats to destroy another country "while developing the means to do so" -- and the world just lets it happen.
He added that Hamas "has persistently proven an incredible commitment to its hard-line ideological position that Israel must be eliminated -- and that an Islamic state must rise in its stead."
Gold, who spoke the following morning at a breakfast sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition, also stressed that the security issues facing Israel affect the United States as well.
He suggested that American Jewry can help their brethren overseas by calling attention to the acts of instigators like Iran, which is fast acquiring missiles that can strike not just Israel but Western Europe, and as it develops space-launched missile vehicles, could hit U.S. territory in the future.
What About 'Hatikvah'?
As the discussion came to a close, things got a bit heated as Gold suggested that Israeli Arabs should perform some sort of national service -- the way observant Jews do -- instead of time in the Israel Defense Force, as a way to become more integrated into the Israeli mainstream.
"What about 'Hatikvah?' " posed Fein to Gold, referring to Israel's national anthem, whose lyrics mention "the Jewish spirit" and "the land of Zion."
"Israel was established as the Jewish state," the diplomat responded.
He compared the Arabs living in Israel to the residents of Quebec, whose French-speaking city is part of Canada, and yet they can still show their love for France.
Finally, he said that if the Israeli Arabs continue to live in Israel, they need to learn how to live in the nation that is "the only Jewish state in the world."