Taking issue with Hirsh Goodman (Part 2)

by Maskil on 28 May 2009

In Part 1 of this blog post I took issue with some of the viewpoints expressed by Hirsh Goodman in his talk at the Beyachad JCC on 30 April 2009.

In this part, I will look at his views on the key issue of Iran, and also take a brief look at areas where I had no argument with Hirsh’s views.

Iran. He suggested that Israel’s risk in the event of a nuclear war was much lower than that of Iran, inter alia because Israel presents a smaller target. That may well be, but the phrase “all it takes is one” springs to mind. Exactly because of its size and concentrated population centres, Israel would probably not survive even a single nuclear strike, while Iran could probably absorb dozens and still function (after a fashion).

Sanctions. Hirsh believes that targeted sanctions by the West are the best way to bring Iran to its senses. I’m sorry, but what sanctions? By all accounts, the West’s (and especially Europe’s) trade and other dealings with Iran are growing by leaps and bounds. So long as Iran can keep the West talking, sanctions will remain little but a vague threat on the horizon.

Whose problem? Hirsh also suggested that we should see Iran as the West’s problem, rather than Israel’s. For once we should not place ourselves in the path of the juggernaut. I’d like to be able to agree with this, but sadly I can’t. Hitler’s Germany should have been the world’s problem rather than a Jewish problem. By the time the world finally tackled the problem, however, it was too late for the Jews of Europe. Those who said that the best way to save Europe’s Jews was to defeat Hitler were deceived and in turn deceived . In the same way that Hitler’s Germany was and remained a Jewish problem long after it became a world problem, Iran is and will remain an Israeli problem long after it becomes the West’s problem.  Iran is not threatening the West with genocide.

Ahmadenijad. Hirsh stated that if Ahmadenijad didn’t exist, Israel would have to invent him; in the sense that he highlights the irrationality, even insanity, of the Iranian regime. Perhaps so. What is of grave concern, however, is the welcome Ahmadenijad receives in the corridors of power. Instead of being given the treatment appropriate to a homicidal, axe-wielding maniac, he is instead treated like a slightly eccentric relative who occasionally makes rude gestures at the neighbours (the ones nobody really likes anyway).

Goodman spoke for close to two hours, and there was much in his sweeping survey of Israel’s situation and prospects that was new to me, or that I was comfortable with. As often happens, however, what stuck in my mind were the issues I disagreed with, rather than those that did not snag. Here’s a few of the things I did agree with him on:

Kibbutzim.  The Kibbutzim have (ironically) become the biggest property developers in Israel. My take, however, is that if they’re not using the land for its original purpose, it should be handed back to the ILA or the JNF.

Railways. The expansion of Israel’s railway network has been phenomenal. Kol Hakavod! Israel does not have space for both people and the voracious appetite for land and resources that private cars have. Let’s get the emphasis back on public transport.

Democrats. Democratic presidencies tend to be better for Israel in the long run. Agreed, but BHO is not your father’s Democrat.

Geography. In one of the ironies of history, the geography of Israel and (Arab) Palestine have been reversed; territorially and historically each is where the other should be, e.g. through most of its early history Israel’s heartland was in Judea and Samaria. Agreed.

The Two-State Solution. This is dead in the water. Agreed. The Arabs have been rejecting their half of the two-state solution (then called “Partition”) since at least the late 30s. What’s not clear, however, is what workable formula can take the place of the Two-State Solution.

Israel’s Case. Israel needs to be present, to show up and state her case wherever possible, even if the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Agreed.

1st Hamas War. It was interesting to hear Hirsh say that not embedding journalists with the IDF was a major blunder during the Gaza operations, as was opening the floodgates to journalists afterwards, without a comprehensive briefing. Both of these approaches were of great concern to me while I was busy with my Twitter “coverage” of the operation.

I understand that Hirsh Goodman has cut down considerably on his speaking engagements, so if you do have the opportunity to hear him speak, it will be time well spent.

Here is Hirsh’s biography as per the invitation to the event:

Hirsh Goodman is the author of “Let Me Create a Paradise, A Journey of conscience from Johannesburg to Jerusalem” published to critical acclaim by PublicAffairs and HarperCollins. Sir Martin Gilbert wrote of the book: “I was much moved by many episodes in it. It really is a superb book… “And that “it is history with a human face.”

Hirsh is currently a Senior Research Associate at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University where he directs the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Program on Information Strategy, designed to make policy makers factor media into their planning process rather than correcting bad policies after the fact.

In the mid-1980s, after covering all of Israel’s major wars, the peace process with Egypt and other events, he became the Strategic Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where, among others, he wrote together with W. Seth Carus “The Future Conflict and the Arab Israeli Conflict”.

In 1990 Goodman founded The Jerusalem Report, the highly regarded international bi-weekly magazine on international Jewish affairs published out of Jerusalem. In 1998 he was named Vice-Chairman of the Jerusalem Post, a position he held for three years.

Related posts:

Taking issue with Hirsh Goodman (Part 1)

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