Monday, November 16, 2015

Israel Public Diplomacy Forum brings experts on Israel, Middle East to Denver

American Jews, including those in Colorado, seeking to help Israel can play a crucial part by helping restore support for the Jewish state within the Democratic Party.
“I think one of the victims, or one of the tragedies, of the last few years has been the break-up of the bipartisan support of Israel,” Israeli academic Eytan Gilboa told a gathering earlier this month at Temple Emanuel in Denver.
Eytan Gilboa, chair and academic director of the Israel Public Diplomacy Forum, discusses the situation in the Middle East on Nov. 5 at Temple Emanuel in Denver.
Photo by Kevin J. Beaty/Special to the Colorado Statesman archives
“If there’s any role for American Jews to do, since most American Jews are Democrats — I don’t know if that’s the case here — but 70, 80 percent I think voted for [President] Obama,” Gilboa said. “So I think perhaps the most important role today is to serve as a bridge between Israel and the Democratic Party so that the bipartisan nature of support for Israel in the American Congress can be restored.”
Gilboa led a delegation of Middle East experts as part of an all-day, multi-venue event sponsored by the Israel Public Diplomacy Forum, which seeks to “advance international understanding of Israel and the Middle East.”
Colorado was the organization’s final destination in a three-state tour that began late last month in Albuquerque and included stops in Santa Fe, Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona.
Why the West? Unlike residents of, say, Chicago or New York, those living in the Southwest and Rocky Mountain West have fewer institutions devoted to Middle East issues, and therefore fewer opportunities for interaction, said Sharon Evans, the IPDF's vice chair and director of international development.
“We chose states that we felt included people who didn’t have a chance to speak on a regular basis with experts and academics on the Middle East,” said Evans.
As part of this year’s forum, “We wanted to reach out as much as we could to as many different areas as possible — business, foreign affairs, social media,” she said.
Sharon Evans, vice chair and director of international development for the Israel Public Diplomacy Forum, presents Middle East experts Ely Karmon and Eytan Gilboa at Temple Emanuel in Denver.
Photo by Kevin J. Beaty/Special to the Colorado Statesman archives
Events included panels on “Twiplomacy,” or Twitter diplomacy, as well as terrorism, clean technology, global business innovation, and the Iran nuclear deal. The forum’s Colorado partners include the University of Denver, the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, and JEWISHColorado.
Much has been made of President Obama’s tense relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Gilboa said the loss of support for Israel within the Democratic Party “didn’t start with Obama. It started much earlier.”
“I’ve done some investigations, and it turns out the Republicans have supported Israel much more than the Democrats, by a huge difference, before Obama,” said Gilboa, the IPDF’s chair and academic director. “And this was a problem.”
Not all the blame lies on the U.S. side, he said. “I don’t think Israel has done enough to reduce this gap, and maybe even contributed to widening it.”
He called the tension over the last few years between the two democracies “the most serious crisis in American-Israeli relations ever.
“There are many reasons for this, and the situation is not like one is the bad guy and the other one is the good guy,” Gilboa said. “In order to establish good relations you need two sides, and in order to make them bad or worsen them, you also need two sides.”
The Iran nuclear deal represents the latest rift between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations. With the agreement now formally adopted by President Obama, Israel needs to move beyond objecting to the deal and play a vigorous role in monitoring Iran’s compliance, said Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel.
“Now we have to do our best in order to [ensure] Iraq indeed doesn’t cheat and doesn’t go nuclear,” Karmon said.
Experts with the Israel Public Diplomacy Forum speak on Nov. 5 at Temple Emanuel in Denver.
Photo by Kevin J. Beaty/Special to the Colorado Statesman archives
Israel also needs to secure additional military hardware and intelligence from the United States, as well as to develop contingency plans and figure out “how to monitor more effectively what the Iranians are doing.”
Gilboa said two direct consequences of the Iranian deal are the migration crisis in Europe and the Russian intervention in the Middle East, which he called a “game-changer.”
“Russia decided to intervene for all kinds of reasons, but one of them is to stick it to the United States,” Gilboa said. “To show who is dominating the Middle East, who is calling the shots here, who is the more reliable and the most important power in the region.”
Karmon called the strategic implications of Russian’s involvement “very significant.”
“It will impact every country in the region who will now begin to have relationships with Russia,” Karmon said. “Egypt is buying weapons from Russia. The Saudis are buying weapons from China and will now begin cooperation with Russia as opposed to the longstanding relationship they had with the United States. Our role in the Middle East is about to be diminished significantly and not just the United States, all of the West, including the Israeli influence.”
The involvement of Russia may compel Obama and Netanyahu to work together more closely to counter the so-called “axis of resistance” comprised of Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah.
“So I think this is going to be a serious issue on the agenda of Obama and Netanyahu, what the United States is going to do with Russia, what Israel is going to do about Russian intervention, how the two sides can closely cooperate,” Gilboa said.
Whether Russia can maintain its influence in the volatile region is another question.
“I don’t know if this is going to continue for a long time,” Gilboa said. “This is not because of Israel or Israeli negotiations with Russia. This is because the Russian partners are Iran, Syria, Iraq and Hezbollah. Think about those allies. They have their own agenda, own preferences, and I’m pretty sure that in the future, there’s going to be some collision between the Russian interests and the Iranian axis’ interests.”
Based on his polling, Gilboa said, “I think Netanyahu has no credibility [in the Middle East], but I have to tell you, Obama has no credibility in the Middle East, either.”
“People have always liked Obama as a person and have admiration for the United States and think you can rely on the United States in general,” he said. “But when it comes to Obama, then you have all kinds of questions. People have reservations about him. He has a very negative image in Israel.”
Despite the taut relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, “the cooperation between the U.S. and Israel in national defense, security, intelligence has not been [badly] affected,” Gilboa said.
“It has been a little bit affected here and there,” he said. “But the basic fundamental relationship is still being protected, and I would consider that to be a plus for Obama’s relationship.”
Even with the recent meeting between Obama and Netanyahu at the White House, “I think the personal relationship between the two is lost," he said.
“There’s no chance whatsoever I think to achieve any level of trust between the two leaders,” Gilboa said. “But I think they could agree on measures to improve American-Israeli relations and deal more effectively with the challenges.”

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