Australia/Israel Review

World of Webinars

Nov 3, 2020 | Jamie Hyams

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Since the last wrap of AIJAC’s webinars, in the July edition of the AIR, there have been 16 more AIJAC Live Online sessions, each of them informative and fascinating. 


Joan Ryan and David Hirsh – June 20 

Former British Labour MP Ryan, who grew up with no Jewish links, and academic Hirsh, a former party member, both left due to the party’s antisemitism and spoke on “Antisemitism in the British Left”. Ryan explained, “I doubt that the Labour Party will ever be able to be united and get over this problem until it tackles this obsessional obsessive hatred that seems to be part of the Labour Party – hatred for Israel.” She added that “You can’t fight antisemitism unless you also fight anti-Zionism.” Hirsh expressed his concern about the mainstreaming in the left of antisemitism and undemocratic values in general.


Jonathan Spyer – July 7

Middle East analyst Spyer’s topic was “The Middle East: Meltdowns and Mayhem.” He said there is a war currently being fought over the ruins of a chaotic Middle East between four forces – Iran and its allies, Turkey and its allies, the Salafists/Jihadists such as ISIS, and a loose grouping of status quo states including Israel and moderate Sunni states. Potential flashpoints include Libya, where Egypt and its allies are concerned at Turkey’s interference, and Syria. The Iranian bloc is the most cohesive, but is constrained by its economic weakness, he explained, including in Syria and Lebanon, while Turkey’s “very very aggressive and ambitious…foreign policy” requires more attention and concern than it receives.


Danielle Pletka – July 14

Senior Fellow in Foreign and Defence Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute Danielle Pletka discussed “Trump vs Biden: The Future of US Foreign Policy.” She noted that the Trump Administration had strongly supported Israel and had also managed, against expectations, to not only tear up the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), but to reinstitute a sanctions regime “that has bitten on the Iranians like nothing they’ve ever seen in their 40 plus year reign.” She warned that Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s policies might take a worrying direction, given the hostility to Israel and extreme foreign policy views in part of his party. 


Simon Henderson – July 21

Washington Institute Gulf and energy policy expert Henderson, whose topic was “Power Struggles: Energy Wars in the Middle East”, explained there are two areas of potential conflict over energy: the Persian Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean. There is the potential for a vicious succession battle in Saudi Arabia when King Salman dies, he warned. The trouble in the eastern Mediterranean is caused by Turkey, which is disputing the offshore gas and oil exploration zones of other countries, and has claimed Cyprus’ zone for itself.


Professor Gerald Steinberg – July 27

Professor Steinberg is the founder and President of NGO Monitor. In his webinar, “The Campaign to Delegitimise Israel within International Institutions,” he explained there was no hope that the institutionally anti-Israel United Nations Human Rights Council would reform. Two thirds of its members are always totalitarian states and the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation has a majority in three of the five regions which elect members. High Commissioner Michele Bachelet and the secretariat are very sympathetic to its views, and Michael Lynk, its Special Rapporteur for the West Bank and Gaza, has a long history of anti-Zionism, and has said many things that would contravene the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. Steinberg also revealed that many NGOs are closely connected to Palestinian terror groups, while others use anti-Israel activists to compile their supposedly objective reports on Israel and the Palestinians.


Michael Doran – August 6

Doran, a former senior director in the US National Security Council and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence in the George W. Bush Administration, spoke on “China and the Middle East: Ongoing challenges for the next US Administration.” He argued that China is in a tacit alliance with Russia and Iran in the Middle East, and is trying to supplant the US with a Sino-centric international order. It won’t yet challenge the US directly, so it uses Russia and Iran as stalking horses, supporting them economically, militarily and diplomatically, and swoops in when terror activities make a US presence difficult.


Yuval Rotem – August 16

Rotem is the recently retired Director-General of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a former Ambassador to Australia. Speaking on “Israel’s Foreign Policy – An Insider’s Perspective”, he explained that the main dangers in the region are now seen as Iran and Turkey, and some Arab states have been relaxing their previous hostility towards Israel, mostly under the table. He described the agreement with the UAE as the natural evolution of this process, but said we must remember it’s a historic event. It removed the Palestinian veto on Israeli/Arab relations and disproved claims that moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem would undermine Israel’s position in the Middle East.


Dr Matthew Levitt – August 19

In his webinar “Mapping Hezbollah’s Worldwide Activities”, Dr Levitt, a former US government senior intelligence and counterterrorism official, and now Director of the Washington Institute’s program on counterterrorism and intelligence, was adamant the whole of Hezbollah must be banned. He described trying to fight Hezbollah when only part of the group is designated a terror organisation as “trying to play cricket without a bat.” He set out the startling breadth of Hezbollah’s criminal and terror activities worldwide, which can be examined with the user-friendly map and database he has compiled over a few years, available on the Washington Institute website.


Khaled Abu Toameh – August 24

In his webinar, Jerusalem Post Palestinian Affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh addressed the question, “The Israel-UAE Peace: What do the Palestinians Want?” He answered that “The impression among Palestinians is that both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza are actually interested in maintaining the status quo. The Palestinian Authority’s main goal is to remain in power… and Hamas also wants to remain in power in Gaza. That’s actually the only strategy they have.” He noted that they were caught by surprise and felt betrayed, and worried “about the indifference in the Arab world towards the agreement.”


Clifford May – August 28

May, the veteran journalist who founded Washington-based think tank, the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies (FDD), spoke on “US Presidential Elections and the Middle East”. He said the Israel policies of a Biden administration would depend on whom he appointed to important posts, and may or may not reflect the left of the party, but Biden’s support for Obama’s policies is known. He listed Trump Administration pro-Israel policies, including moving the embassy to Jerusalem, recognising Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, the proposed peace plan with the Palestinians, facilitating normalisation with Arab states and withdrawing from the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran and imposing subsequent sanctions.


Rabbi David Rosen – September 8

Rabbi Rosen is the American Jewish Committee’s Director of International Interreligious Affairs, and addressed “Jewish-Muslim Relations and Arab-Israeli Peace”. He noted that horror over the September 11 attacks and the threat from Al-Qaeda had motivated a new era of interfaith engagement in the Arab world. While the softening of attitudes to Israel which led to the normalisation deal was initially due to shared strategic threats, most notably from Iran, “Interfaith relations provides… the soft avenue in which you can engage without necessarily having to pay any price.” He described how the UAE was particularly active in interfaith activity.


Behnam Ben Taleblu – September 15

FDD Iran expert Taleblu urged stronger action against Iran both to attempt to have Australian-British academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert freed from Iranian jail and in response to the regime’s execution of champion wrestler Navid Afkari. On his topic, “The Iranian Nuclear Crisis and the US Election”, he recommended that the US continues the Trump maximum pressure campaign against Iran, to pressure it to return to negotiations about its nuclear weapons and rogue state activities. He argued that “the clawing back of this [JCPOA] accord” would not help international security, just the Iranian regime.


Michal Cotler-Wunsh – September 24

Israeli Knesset member Cotler-Wunsh heads the Knesset’s Committee on Israeli-Diaspora relations. Speaking on “Israel, World Jewry and the Fight Against Antisemitism” she urged the use of an algorithm based upon accepted standards – the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition – to combat antisemitism in social media posts. She stressed that efforts to remove references to Israel from the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism would render it inadequate “because the new antisemitism that we see on and offline actually uses that ability to… redub the Jew as the ‘Zionist’.”


Herb Keinon – September 29

Speaking about “20 years on from the Second Intifada,” Jerusalem Post senior contributing editor and analyst Herb Keinon described the Intifada as a watershed event in Israeli history that shaped a generation, and will shape the next generation. He explained, “To understand Israel today, to understand so much of what the country does, to understand its political turn to the right, why it has voted time and time and time again for Benjamin Netanyahu, why it has no confidence right now in the Palestinians…is to understand the strain and the pressure that everyone in this country encountered or laboured under during that period of the Intifada…”


His Excellency Abdulla Al Subousi – October 7

In an historic event, His Excellency Abdulla Al Subousi, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United Arab Emirates to Australia, spoke on “Bridging the Gulf”. He stated, “There is no doubt that the peace deal [between the UAE and Israel] will fundamentally change both the UAE and Israel relations, as well as the entire Middle East for the better, I’m sure. It brings a new day where old and outdated antagonisms are swept aside in favour of peace and friendship. The deal will lead to a new era of educational, cultural and personal ties, such as these ones, that will deeply enrich our peoples and lives.” He explained that the UAE was built on religious tolerance, and expressed concern about the activities of Turkey and Iran in the region.


Mark Regev – October 13

Australian-born Regev, the Israeli PM’s international media spokesperson, spoke on the topic, “A New Era for Israeli Foreign Policy”. Noting that until now, Israel’s main international relationships were with Western countries, while its own region has been hostile, he said, “for Israel now to be expanding our relations so energetically with Arab countries, with Muslim countries, is very, very exciting. It’s the dawn of a new era.” He noted that, with the “economic clout” of the Gulf States, “this is a sort of peace agreement that everyone in Israel can feel because it can enhance national prosperity.” He added that the difficult position Palestinians are now in could make peace more likely, as it may lead them to re-examine their positions. 

To find out what else each of our speakers said, see the recordings, video excerpts and reports of the webinars on this website, YouTube channel and Facebook page. The webinar program is ongoing, so look out for upcoming events.


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