Where Do We Go From Here? A Post-War Assessment

The events covering this past month have left the Israel/Jewish political roadmap in a fundamentally different place.

By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.

Operation Protective Edge signals a new stage for Israel in the world. This one month campaign has unleashed a host of geo-political changes within the region, triggered a new internal debate over the character and substance of the Jewish State, created a second front targeting Jews within Europe and beyond, and raised new challenges for the pro-Israel community on America’s college campuses, among other transformative political outcomes.

Politics within the Middle East:

New alliances within the Middle East region are being constructed as a result of this conflict, as the traditional leadership within the Region, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt align with Israel, while the radical Islamists, including Qatar, Hezbollah and Iran, joined by Turkey embrace the cause of Hamas. A new constellation of shared interests and connections has evolved as a result of this round of warfare.

As in the past, international public opinion will remain a problem for the State of Israel in defending its military objectives, furthering its diplomatic intentions, and in garnering the support of political elites and world media. The public relations campaign will remain a primary challenge for the Netanyahu government moving forward. Once again, Israel must address the various negative political labels that will be assigned to it, whether these include the charge of genocide or the accusation of war crimes. No doubt, there will also be increased pressure on Jerusalem to re-open negotiations with the Palestinians, including Hamas.

The Evolving Conversation:

We are likely to see various assessments emerge over the weeks ahead centered on the impact of this war. Did the IDF weaken Israel’s primary “border” enemy, Hamas, so that its operatives will be unable to continue to wage a campaign of terror against Israel? In turn, can an alternative political outcome be achieved in managing the Palestinian-Israeli conversation?

Looking beyond Hamas, with Syria in a state of chaos and Egypt being led by a regime more inclined at this moment to work with Jerusalem, none of Israel’s neighbors, it would appear, are in a position to engage the Jewish State militarily. This leaves Hezbollah, absent its past support from Damascus and likewise depleted by the strains of the Syrian civil war, in a less advantageous position to pursue military action against the State of Israel. Yet, one of the unknown elements in this equation will continue to involve Iran and its declared objective to seek the elimination of the Jewish State. Certainly, a second challenging concern remains with the Palestinians and more directly, the possible push by some radical factions on the West Bank to institute a war of terror directed against Israeli citizens and institutions over time and across the nation, employing tactics used in the Intifada.

Beyond the Middle East, this war has produced a “second front campaign” with the emergence of organized anti-Israel demonstrations and anti-Semitic actions that have unfolded across Europe and elsewhere. The scope of these attacks has represented the largest number of violent acts directed against Jews and the State of Israel since the founding of the Jewish State. The focus of these assaults on Israel and Jews not only involved incidents on the ground directed against Jews and their institutions but also has seen the introduction of an array of alarming anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements made over the past several weeks by government officials from Venezuela, Belgium, Turkey, and Iran among other international players. The longer-term issues will include the status of those Jews who reside in these countries as well as the broader concern over the future of Jewish life inside Europe.

Narrowing and Broadening of the Political Discourse:

In determining the political outcome of this war, two competing scenarios have likely emerged within the Israeli public: “This war proves that Israel can not negotiate with its neighbors” and conversely that this conflict affirms, “Israel must now risk for peace.” The first frames a litmus test that Israel cannot rely on its neighbors in order to produce a permanent peace; the second reintroduces the notion that the status quo is no longer acceptable and that some type of a negotiated resolution must be constructed involving the Palestinians.

As this debate unfolds, the former will argue that there are no diplomatic options, while the later will contend that diplomacy is the only path to ultimately resolve this 60-year-old controversy. The policy “divide” inside Israel but also outside of that country is likely to grow. The left-right split over how Israel moves forward will be the defining scenario in a conversation that will also likely bring the country back to the larger questions associated with the essence of the Zionist experiment, namely so what will it mean to be a part of a “Jewish, Democratic State” in the 21st Century? Will we see a deepening battle between the various political factions, whose debate will have serious implications for Israel’s human rights posture and the place of civil liberties and democratic values within the country?

As this conversation unfolds simultaneously within the United States, it will likely be extremely divisive, as the “left” itself will splinter between the center-leftist voices (J Street, Peace Now, and the New Israel Fund) on the one hand and the far-left that will include Jewish supporters of BDS and other outward expressions of the peace movement who will seek to impose positions that are designed to punish Israel as a way to garner political momentum. One of the key battleground arenas will involve the role that young American Jews will play in this conversation.

In this connection, one must wonder how many younger Jews, possibly uncomfortable over what they may perceive as Israel’s excessive use of force, may simply walk away from the Zionist enterprise altogether or as the war would also demonstrate the significant numbers of young Diaspora Jews who opted to serve in the Israel military or to provide other forms of assistance to the Jewish State.

Politics and Party:

In advance of the 2016 Presidential campaign, one already can note the determination by political activists to label who are Israel’s friends. The staking out of political credit and criticism has already begun. We may likely see a possible political divide within this nation, as centrist and left Democrats may move further away from their unilateral support of Israel, creating a new political configuration, whereby Republicans will claim the mantle of being Israel’s friend in Washington and where Democrats, or at least some, will be defined as “problematic” to Israel’s security and well-being.

Universities: This Fall’s Battleground Arena:

America’s universities will likely be the centerpiece of anti-Israel sentiment and activities in the months following. As in the past, this will have particular implications for Jewish students. Drawing upon this summer’s events, the enemies and opponents of the Jewish State will invoke a series of charges against Israel involving war crimes and human atrocities. Using their base of organizing on college campuses, such groups will seek to align political support in order to condemn Israel while further seeking to isolate Jewish students. This could well be the most difficult campus season for the pro-Israel community in some period of time.

Securing the Community:

In connection with this conflict, the security of Jewish institutions may come into question. In the past these security considerations were seen as important but not necessarily alarming; at this time, there needs to be a heightened sense of concern that extremists may very well seek to demonstrate their capacity to strike at American Jewry as a way of “sending a message” that permits them to carry on this war both on the streets of Paris and through attacks on Jewish institutions within the United States and elsewhere.

Moving Forward:

The events covering this past month have left the Israel/Jewish political roadmap in a fundamentally different place. As we move past unity rallies and joint resolutions in support of Israel in its effort to rid Hamas’ capacity to deliver rockets and to build tunnels, we are reminded that such conflicts can no longer be seen as controlled by geography or place. This is a war that in part being directed against the collective Jewish people as the Hamas Charter so intended. As such, the battle and its debate may well continue to play out in the Middle East, on our campuses, in our streets, and within our boardrooms, and beyond.

Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Los Angeles. See: www.thewindreport.com which is a repository for many of Dr. Windmueller’s writings.