The Israeli Perspective on Egypt, Libya, Palestinian Statehood and more

We were fortunate to have Noam Katz, the Minister for Public Diplomacy at the Embassy of Israel in the Center on Thursday morning for a pre-work briefing on “The Current Situation in the Middle East.”  In it, Mr. Katz echoed President Obama in observing that since January, we have been witnesses to history unfolding in places like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. However, he reminded us, that from a historical viewpoint these are early days still, and much more remains to seen in how the democratic uprisings in the Arab world unfold. He illustrated his point with this short anecdote:

I would like to quote an Israeli Prime Minister speaking on situation in Egypt, “The State of Israel wishes to see a free, independent and progressive Egypt. The stormy developments there may contain positive trends for recovery and progress, and we view them with favor.”  This is not Benjamin Netenyahu. This is David  Ben Gurion in 1962 speaking on the sitaution in Egypt after the revolution or the coup of Nasser, overthrowing King Farouk. 

You can listen to the full program, along with the question and answer session, which focused quite a bit on the prospect of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood and its possible endorsement in the United Nations.

Talking About the Gaza Flotilla – part two, with podcast

This morning’s briefing on the Gaza Flotilla crisis with Noam Katz, Minister of Public Diplomacy at the Embassy of Israel was really quite exciting. We had around 60 people attending and a very robust Q&A session following his introductory remarks. Those remarks are available here as an MP3 — the Q&A session was technically “off-the-record” so I can’t post any recording of that. However, it was a very broad cross-section of opinions from those who feel that Israel was completely justified in its actions and needs to do more to get out its story, to those who believe that the blockade of Gaza is both immoral and illegal, to those who feel that Israel’s strategic interests are no longer being well-served by the blockade, to those who want more public acknowledgement of the aid that is regularly transported to Gaza from around the world. Minister Katz handled all the questions respectfully and while his answers may not have satisfied everyone, it was generally agreed that the opportunity for the conversation was much appreciated.

It is our hope to have more discussions like this one with other speakers with differing perspectives.  In the mean time, here are Noam Katz’s opening remarks.


In Case You Missed It: What Makes An Army Jewish? A Dialogue.

IDF and Jewish Ethics 2Stephen Stern, the 16th Street J’s Director of Dialogues and Public Affairs sends an account of this past week’s riveting dialogue.

Thursday night, February 14, a ruach of intense dialogue pervaded the Center’s Ina and Jack Kay Community Hall, as nearly fifty participants remained riveted for a two hour plus exploration, “What Makes a Jewish Army? Ethics and Tradition: The IDF in an Age of Checkpoints, Village Sweeps and Targeted Killings”. Two passionate IDF veterans recounted their experiences and their starkly different conclusions, listened deeply and challenged each other, responded to fifteen varied and vibrant interrogations from the audience, and spoke to modern dilemmas in light of traditional Jewish questioning framed by our sublime colleague, Jewish educator Avi West of the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning.

This is my brief introductory account and an invitation to continue this dialogue. I seek responses to this blog from our panelists, that night’s audience, and those out there who want more of this.

Yehuda Shaul, a young orthodox Israeli, is founder of Breaking the Silence, a group of veterans who give visual, oral, and written witness on the meaning of their service in the West Bank and Gaza during the second intifada. Yehuda illustrated, speaking in front of a panoramic projection of a large Palestinian neighborhood in Hebron, his group’s call for the Israeli civil society “owner of the IDF” to look deeply at and weigh the costs of military control over large civilian populations. Continue reading

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