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Judging by most conversations in the American Jewish community about Israel, the greatest threat facing Israel today is either Iran or the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). Not so, says the latest member of Israel’s security establishment.
Earlier this week, the former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo reiterated what has been well known for many years now: The one existential threat Israel faces is its occupation of the Palestinian people. There is nothing remarkable in what he said. Pardo’s view is shared by the overwhelming majority of Israel’s defense establishment. The only way for Israel to exist as a democratic and a Jewish homeland is for there to be a Palestinian homeland next to it.
Yet the old guard American Jewish communal organizations are unmoved. Pardo, speaking of the Israeli attitude about the occupation, may as well have been speaking about American Jews when he said “We chose to stick our head in the sand, creating a variety of external threats.”
What concerns the old guard is not the considered opinions of Israeli generals but BDS and an Iran already subject to unprecedented monitoring. We shouldn’t ignore these. While Iran’s nuclear program was defanged by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, they continue to engage in destabilizing activity in the region. BDS, too, continues to spread. But that’s no excuse to ignore the occupation.
In a 2015 strategic document prepared at the direction of the IDF’s Chief of Staff, Gadi Eizenkot, identifying the main threats Israel would face over the next five years, a nuclear Iran was not mentioned. And anyone who has visited Israel recently need only to have looked up at the cranes in the Tel Aviv sky to grasp how ineffective BDS has been.
This is the backdrop for this weekend’s AIPAC Policy Conference, which will see the largest gathering of American Jews since AIPAC convened last March. In formulating its legislative agenda for this year’s lobbying day, AIPAC omitted any item addressing the occupation or declaring support for a two-state solution.
So it was that this week Pardo called on Israel to act courageously: “Israel must deal with the demographic reality and [decide] which state we want to be. Life with alternative facts harbors a disaster for the Zionist vision. The key to saving the state requires brave leadership.”
The question that now falls on pro-Israel Americans is whether we are ready to offer Israelis the brave friendship they deserve.