Guests who ventured out to the JCC on the Palisades on the night of January 17 were treated to an avalanche of information that touched upon almost every relevant hot-button topic of the Middle East.
The evening started with a talk about a pro-Israel networking app, Act.IL, that’s racking up victories against the BDS movement and other anti-Israel propagandists. Developed barely six months ago, it’s an easy, exciting way for Jews to participate daily in defending Israel on multiple fronts. But that’s a story for another time.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Eric Mandel. He is founder/director of the Middle East Political and Information Network (MEPIN). He’s also the northeast co-chair of StandWithUs. He writes for the Jerusalem Post, briefs members of Congress on issues related to Israel and is a frequent lecturer, particularly on college campuses. Oh, and as a laser vision surgeon, he’s been named to the America’s Top Doctors list for 16 consecutive years.
Given his phenomenal breadth of activities, it’s no wonder Dr. Mandel had the energy to cover so much ground during his talk. Using a slide presentation with a Q&A follow-up, his topics included, but were not limited to, the Balfour Declaration, Israel’s political geography, 1948 and 1967 repercussions, Palestinian refugees, Western vs. Middle Eastern values, Israel’s topography, key UN resolutions, the two-state vs. one-state solution, Iran and North Korea, the Israel-Sunni alliance and the Jerusalem Embassy announcement. All these and more were explored in barely over an hour.
Among Dr. Mandel’s takeaways was that the West keeps making the same mistakes over and over. It simply doesn’t understand the Middle East. He spoke of a regional situation that is constantly shifting, as the needs of the individual players keep changing. “We are playing checkers in a region that requires five-dimensional chess.” He warned against projecting western values in this part of the world. For instance, he maintains that the real issue is and always has been the Arab world’s unwillingness to accept a Jewish state in its midst. Once that changes, setting specific boundaries will be the easy part. Until then, Dr. Mandel was clear, “You can’t placate enemies in this part of the world.”
In response to an audience member question about a two-state vs. one-state solution, Dr. Mandel maintained that the latter would destroy Israel. He went on to say that “the worst thing is trying to do something with good intentions without knowing the facts.” He spoke of conversations he’s had with Jews in the West Bank, who said if there could be a guaranteed peace, they would have no problem moving. When asked the same question, Palestinians in Ramallah responded that they’ve been there for generations and would never accept a Jewish presence. Dr. Mandel concluded that the status quo is as good as it gets.
He made it clear that Israel has made its share of mistakes. He cited two situations where Israel has missed an opportunity to increase goodwill or decrease tensions. The first is not doing more to solidify relationships with its Arab-Israeli friends. The second, which Dr. Mandel noted is a huge mistake, has been its inability to reach compromises with liberal US Jews.
Dr. Mandel began his address with a discussion about the beginnings of modern Israel. His take on the impetus behind the Balfour Declaration was not conventional. England was not doing well in World War I, and it hoped that by introducing this document, it would get America’s attention and draw our country into the conflict. He also noted that Balfour was not a British-only initiative, as many assumed. It was approved by a number of nations and served to legally recognize Jewish rights on paper.
Dr. Mandel noted that the initial proposal for a Jewish homeland included all of Jordan, but angry Arab protests led to a 77 percent reduction of lands granted. He displayed two sets of sequential maps, one supporting the conventional wisdom that Israel’s territories keep growing, the other making a case that it has actually decreased. Immediately following the Six Day War, Israel was in possession of a huge swath of the Sinai, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Given that two of those three areas have been relinquished over time, it’s not hard to understand the latter observation. On a related issue, he emphasized that when land swaps are discussed, no one takes topography into account. Obviously, higher elevated areas, such as much of the West Bank, offer a strategic military advantage.
After reminding the audience that the United States was not in Israel’s corner in 1967, with Lyndon Johnson flatly stating the US would abandon her if she made the first move against her neighbors, Dr. Mandel went on to explain the fallacy of the 1967 post-war borders argument. Although not new, it bears repeating. First, the borders were never firmly established prior to the Six Day War. Second, the infamous UN Resolution 242, using very careful wording, stated that Israel must withdraw from “territories” captured during the war, not all of them. That’s why he maintained that the December, 2016 UN Resolution 2234 was so hurtful. President Obama’s decision to abstain meant he was okay with a resolution that stated that Israel’s settlement activity was a flagrant violation of international law and had no legal validity.
Dr. Mandel spent some time on the Palestinian refugee issue, noting that there are three standing UN bodies created solely for advancing the Palestinian cause. He said that under UNWRA, all descendants of Palestinians from 1948 are considered refugees in perpetuity. No children of any other refugees across the globe are labeled as such. In fact, Dr. Mandel noted, the UN spends well over $200 per person on descendants of Palestinian refugees, versus just $58 for actual refugees everywhere else. He contrasted the situation to the ethnic battles between India and Pakistan, which also occurred in the late 1940s. None of the many million refugees of that conflict are refugees today.
Regarding Iran, the IAEA says they are fully compliant with the nuclear accord, which Dr. Mandel maintains is a joke, given that the watchdog organization is not allowed to inspect Iranian military sites. Most frightening of all is the deal’s sunset clause. In eight years they will be an industrial-sized nuclear power with international approval. Dr. Mandel shares the belief that when sanctions were in place, the Iranian economy was in a free fall. “We gave them a $100 billion lifeline with the nuclear accord.” He also noted the British Foreign office’s assertion that Iran has been helping North Korea. He believes the two nations have been working together for 20 years.
As for Israel’s growing alliance with the Sunni Gulf States, Dr. Mandel was pragmatic. Until it goes public, he considers it fleeting. He reminded the audience that these are the same people responsible for 9/11. “Today’s friends could easily become tomorrow’s enemies,” he warned.
By Robert Isler
Robert Isler is a marketing researcher and senior content writer who lives in Fair Lawn. He can be reached at [email protected].