Australia/Israel Review

AIJAC Zooms On

Apr 27, 2021 | Jamie Hyams

AIJAC webinar guests (left to right, top to bottom): Yaakov Amidror, Olga Deutsch, Elliott Abrams, Robert Satloff, Mark Dubowitz, Shmuel Rosner, Haviv Rettig Gur, Einat Wilf, Mike Kelly
AIJAC webinar guests (left to right, top to bottom): Yaakov Amidror, Olga Deutsch, Elliott Abrams, Robert Satloff, Mark Dubowitz, Shmuel Rosner, Haviv Rettig Gur, Einat Wilf, Mike Kelly

Since our last webinar wrap in the November 2020 AIR, AIJAC has hosted 14 more webinars, giving viewers fascinating insights on a range of topical subjects. They are briefly summarised below.

Greg Sheridan – Oct. 22

Sheridan, the Australian newspaper’s Foreign Editor, discussed “The 2020 US Election: What is at Stake for the World?” He predicted a Biden win, and said that, while he disliked Donald Trump’s manner and behaviour, Trump had done some good things, including in the Middle East. He thought that while Biden could be a “good, centrist, alliance-oriented Democrat” who would move beyond Obama-style Middle Eastern policies, it was more likely that we would get an administration that would reflect the end years of the Obama period, be “tremendously ineffectual”, and insist the Palestinians are the key to Middle East peace.

Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror – Oct. 27

Amidror, a former National Security Advisor to Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu, covered “Israel’s Changing Security Environment.” He noted that the benefits to Israel of the Abraham Accords are manifold, in the diplomatic, economic, and security spheres, including in relation to Iran, while Turkey is a “new negative factor”. The eastern Mediterranean has become more important due to gas discoveries and energy partnerships, which will lead to security cooperation, he predicted. He added that the lessening of US involvement in the region would have an impact, while the threat posed by Iran and its proxies would remain.

Dr Robert Satloff – Nov. 5

Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Satloff spoke on “The Aftermath of the US Elections: The Implications for the Middle East and More.” He expected Biden to seek to re-enter the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, but only if Iran first returned to compliance, and to then try to strengthen and broaden it. He predicted that a Biden Administration would want to firm up and broaden the Abraham Accords between Israel and Arab states, but only to initially try to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives at a lower level. Satloff noted that Biden differs from Barack Obama on Israel, proudly calling himself a Zionist.

Ehud Yaari – Nov. 12

Yaari, Israel’s leading television journalist and public affairs commentator, addressed “The US elections: Views from the Middle East”. He stated that Biden and those likely to form his administration were all good friends who Israel knows well, but the question would be who Biden would choose to carry out his Middle East policy. Yaari said he expected those who favoured building on the momentum of the Abraham Accords, which had forced the Palestinians to alter their tactics, to prevail over those who favoured returning to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Iran, he predicted, would not make it easy for the US to re-enter the JCPOA on its terms.

Mark Dubowitz – Nov. 24

Foundation for Defense of Democracies Chief Executive Dubowitz is an Iran expert who talked about “The Biden Administration and the Challenge of a Rogue Iran.” He explained that the “Islamic Republic of Iran… is obviously a strategic threat to the United States, an existential threat to the state of Israel, and a global threat to countries around the world.” He described the JCPOA as fatally flawed, because instead of cutting off all pathways for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, it has paved the way for eventual nuclear weapons capabilities thanks to its sunset provisions. He also said he would have liked Trump’s sanctions to have been given more time to work.

Olga Deutsch – Dec. 2

Deutsch, Vice President of “NGO Monitor”, spoke on the topic of “Following the Money Trail: An Insight into the Funding of Terrorism and Antisemitism”. She explained how many NGOs active in the Israel-Palestinian area, even the reputable ones, promote BDS and antisemitism, have ties to terror groups or incite violence against Israel, including some whose staff include terrorists. Yet Western governments give them massive funding and the legitimacy to influence policy. She called for governments to better vet the groups they fund. 

Haviv Rettig Gur – Dec. 8

The topic for Rettig Gur, a senior analyst at the Times of Israel, was “Israel’s Looming Elections: Implications at Home and Abroad”. He was very critical of Netanyahu’s refusal to allow the unity government to survive long enough for Benny Gantz to become PM as agreed, and doubted that Netanyahu would be able to form a coalition following Israel’s then upcoming fourth election, because others would find it hard to trust him. He argued that regardless of the result, the US would stay supportive of Israel, as it needs a stable Middle Eastern ally.

Holly Huffnagle – Dec. 16

Huffnagle is the American Jewish Committee’s US Director for Combating Antisemitism and her topic was “Why Antisemitism is Rising in America”. She cited seven factors: economic uncertainty; a lack of confidence in democracy; increased emphasis in society on race and national identity; the fading legacy of the Holocaust; a deepening polarisation between the right and the left over the Israeli/Palestinian conflict; the rise in the use of the internet and social media; and the growing complexity and number of sources of antisemitism. She emphasised the importance of speaking out against all forms of antisemitism, regardless of the source or their overall ideology.

Dr Einat Wilf – Feb. 9

Author and former Labor Knesset member Wilf discussed “The View from Israel: COVID, Elections and the Biden Administration.” She was concerned that the Biden Administration might be on the cusp of repeating the mistakes of previous US administrations by rewarding and enabling Palestinian rejection of Israel. Unconditionally restoring funding to UNRWA, she said, “would be making a conscious, active statement, which is terrible.” She urged instead that, if the US is to again fund UNRWA, it should do so as an interim step, while making clear those it serves aren’t refugees. 

Danielle Pletka – Feb. 17

A Senior Fellow in foreign and defence policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, Pletka spoke on “Biden, the Middle East and Beyond – Knowns and Unknowns”. She was concerned about the new Administration’s position on Iran, because many of those instrumental in the Obama Administration’s negotiations for the JCPOA nuclear deal now hold senior positions in the Biden State Department. She saw the Administration’s early softness towards Iran, and reluctance to phone Netanyahu, as negatives, while the fact that it had not moved to lift Trump’s sanctions on Iran and its support for the Abraham Accords and for leaving the US embassy in Jerusalem were described as positives.

Elliott Abrams – March 2

Former senior Bush Administration White House advisor Abrams covered “Trump to Biden: The Middle East and US Policy”. He said Biden had so far responded to Middle East challenges in a middle of the road way. Biden’s Iran policy, he said, is to re-enter the JCPOA nuclear agreement, removing the sanctions once Iran returns to compliance with the deal, and then strengthen it to cover Iran’s support for terror and other misdeeds. However, Abrams argued that this is based on a fallacy, because once the sanctions pressure is off, Iran will have no incentive to change its behaviour.

Ehud Yaari – March 17

Yaari returned to discuss Israel’s then upcoming election. He could see no path emerging for a stable governing coalition, and said this reality would open Israel’s large political blocs up to extortion by smaller parties. The election, he predicted, would be “all about Bibi”, and he felt that Netanyahu was going into election day with momentum. He highlighted as ground-breaking a recent poll which showed 87% of Israeli Arabs wanted their representatives to participate in a coalition rather than “occupy the backbench and scream about the Palestinian cause.”

Shmuel Rosner – March 30

Israeli author, columnist and editor Rosner attempted to answer the question “Israel has voted: What now?”. He felt the most likely outcome of the March 23 vote was a fifth election, following the failure to form any governing coalition. The other alternatives he noted were a Netanyahu-led government, made possible either by defectors from parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc or propped up by the Arab Islamist Ra’am party, or a broad and complicated coalition, whose main message would be “anybody but Bibi.” The latter would likely consist of Yesh Atid, New Hope, Blue and White and Labor, with Shas and United Torah Judaism, he said.

Dr Mike Kelly – April 12

Kelly, a former ALP Federal Government minister and 20-year army veteran, addressed the topic “Assessing the strategic relationship between Australia & Israel: An insider’s view”. He noted Israel and Australia’s common threats from terrorism and from countries such as Iran, China and North Korea. The relationship has benefitted Australia, he said, as Israel has contributed to Australia’s defence technically, tactically and strategically – providing important defence systems and material, as well as information and advice on terror threats. He also said Israel has so much to teach a country like Australia in building a new, technology-based economy, and how it became a start-up nation. He further suggested that obsessively negative attitudes toward Israel often stem from antisemitism.

Recordings of and excerpts from these webinars are available on AIJAC’s website, YouTube channel and Facebook page. The series is continuing, so keep an eye out for future instalments. 


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