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Knesset members speak on Iran, Arab spring

Published: April 8, 2011
Section: Front Page


PHOTO BY Max Shay/Brandeis University

Israeli Knesset members called for increased pressure from the United States and the world to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran during a town hall meeting at Brandeis University on Monday evening.

“It’s not a game,” Minister of Internal Security Avi Dichter said during the town hall meeting in Levin Ballroom. “It’s [a nuclear bomb], not something to play with. It’s something that has to be stopped before it’s going to be finished.”

Kadima member Ronit Tirosh criticized America’s response to Iran and explained that a nuclear-armed Iran poses a threat to the entire international community, not just Israel. Iran must become a priority and not something that can wait until Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations succeed.

“Iran is not the problem of Israel. Iran is the problem of the whole world,” Tirosh said. “[President] Barack Obama thinks we must settle [the] Palestinian-Israeli peace before bringing Arabs to coalition against Iran,” Tirosh said.

Likud member Tzipi Hotovely doubted that economic sanctions would have any significant impact. “With all the respect to the sanctions, the world is responding way too little and way too late,” Hotovely said.

Carmel Shama, through translated remarks, said that a need for oil is a key factor that influences America’s policies in the Middle East.

“The way we will solve many of our problems is to find a substitute for oil,” Shama said. “Much of the negative problems that arise in the Middle East are funded by petroleum, especially Iran. One way in which the U.S. can lead the world toward a better future is by finding substitutes for oil,” Shama said.

When Dichter stood up to speak behind a podium, about a dozen Brandeis students, including many from the organization Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine (BSJP), began to protest, shouting that Dichter was guilty of war crimes and should be arrested for violations of international law.

The students passed out fliers to the audience, shouted in Hebrew, “Don’t worry Avi Dicther, we’ll meet you in the Hague,” and then exited the ballroom.

Earlier in the forum, Danny Ben Simon had said that debate about Israel was necessary.

“It’s better to care than to be indifferent. Indifference is death,” he said. “Anyone with an agenda is better than anyone without an agenda.”

The six Knesset members visited Brandeis as Ruderman fellows in a program sponsored by the Ruderman Family Foundation created by Jay Ruderman ’88. The fellows included politicians from three different parties: Shama and Hotovely of Likud, Dichter and Tirosh of Kadima and Eitan Cabel and Daniel Ben Simon of Labor.

The fellows disagreed about the effect that recent revolutions the Middle East, in nations such as Egypt and Libya, would have on Israel.

Dichter said he was skeptical that democracy could succeed in the region.

“Democratizing the Middle East is a dream, not a vision,” Dichter said. “The difference between a dream and a vision is a vision might happen someday. A dream, you open your eyes and nothing happens.”

Tirosh agreed that the revolutions may not end with democratic states.

“The Arabs from their history, they are not prepared for democracy,” Tirosh said, reminding the audience that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.

Ben Simon said that the revolutions may have a positive impact on Israeli’s foreign policy, suggesting that “we should let them have revolutions because the outcome might be better for Israel.”

Discussing the future of peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, Ben Simon said that about 80 percent of Israelis support a two state solution and agree that it will be necessary to concede some land to the Palestinians. The debate, he said, is over the costs of peace.

“Israel has turned the page of the ideas should we make concessions to the Palestinians or not,” Ben Simon said. “We are not talking about having a wedding with the Palestinians. It’s a divorce.”

Hotovely said that the world often neglects the facts when evaluating Israeli politics in an attempt to group any one act into a larger trend.

“We’re playing in a playground where the facts are not playing a major role,” Hotovely said. “The world is indifferent because there is a paradigm the world is thinking through.”

Following the terrorist attack last month when assailants stabbed five members of the Fogel family to death while they were sleeping, including a three month old baby, Hotovely said that it forced attitudes to shift among Israelis.

“All Israeli’s were sharing the same feeling that our enemies are not made from the same humanitarian DNA.”

The world also often loses sight of the larger conflict that is taking place between Western and radical Islamic values and not just in Israel, Hotovely said.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the story,” she said. “The fact that the Islamic world is becoming more radical [is].”

In his remarks, Dicther spoke about the need for trust between Israelis and Palestinians but also a realization about what is practical for Israel.

“Everybody knows that it’s impossible to go back to the lines of ’67 of Israel,” Dichter said.

“If there is a real trust between both sides we can go forward,” he said. “We need two hands to clap hands. One is not enough.”