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Conversation with Israeli Ambassador Yoram Ettinger

“An effective Israel bolsters pro-American Arab entities in the Middle East.”

By Cindy Mindell

Ambassador Yoram Ettinger

Ambassador Yoram Ettinger

Ambassador Yoram Ettinger is an insider on U.S.-Israel relations, Mid-East politics, and overseas investments in Israel’s high-tech arena.

A consultant to members of Israel’s Cabinet and Knesset, he regularly briefs U.S. legislators and their staff on Israel’s contribution to vital U.S. interests, on the root causes of international terrorism, and on other issues of bilateral concern. His op-ed pieces have been published in the U.S. and Israel and he has been interviewed on TV and radio in both countries.

A graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and UCLA, Ettinger served as minister for Congressional Affairs at Israel’s Embassy in Washington (with the rank of ambassador), as Israel’s consul general in Houston, and as director of Israel’s Government Press Office. He is editor of Straight from the Jerusalem Cloakroom and Boardroom, newsletters on issues of national security and overseas investments in Israel’s high-tech sector.

Ettinger will speak at Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford on Sunday, Sept. 21. He briefed the Ledger on how Israel is faring in the wake of Operation Protective Edge, and how Israel Bonds is helping the country today.


Q: With the recent disclosure that Hamas is already rebuilding tunnels from Gaza to Israel, what is public opinion like about the recent military conflict?

A: I think there is common-sense response here: the tunnels, destroyed by Israel, reflected the vision of Hamas – not peaceful coexistence, but an attempt to eradicate the Jewish state. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Israel, once there is information about the reconstruction of the tunnels, to preempt rather than retaliate. There’s no doubt that the war in Gaza taught us many lessons. One of them was the advantage of preemption over retaliation. Retaliation is much more costly to civilian infrastructure and life and certainly to the military. When you preempt, by definition you also pay a lower price.

I compare the tunnels to cancer; I compare launching missiles to cancer. Just like in medicine, where the doctor is not going to wait for the dormant cell to attack the body but instead will uproot that cell, so it should be with national security: you don’t allow Hamas to amass firepower or build tunnels; you demolish any such attempt. What Israel will hopefully do is demolish the infrastructure that can lead to this happening again.


Q: Anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activities are on the rise in much of the world, with extremist Muslim groups vowing to attack Israelis wherever they are. What’s your take on this development?

A: I think that to assess this phenomenon properly, one must take a larger view. Israel is not being attacked by Muslim and Palestinian terrorists due to any territorial control issues, but because we’re not supposed to be there, according to Islam. The land is supposedly divinely ordained to be under Islamic sovereignty. They attack Israel because Israel is perceived as the “Little Satan,” the outpost of the “Big Satan,” the U.S. When you observe the goals of Islamic terrorism, there is only one major power in the world that stands in the way of them: Israel. The U.S. has no effective ally in the world other than Israel. There is NATO, but Europe has dwindling capabilities and has lost the power to flex its muscle. So, that leaves Israel as the only ally, which not only shares the basic ideals and world view of democracy, civil liberties, etc., but also has a very impressive muscle that it is willing to flex.

Unlike any other ally, Israel is the only unconditional ally of the U.S. and therefore the Arabs understand that a very effective way of combating the U.S., which stands in the way of achieving their goal, is to weaken the chief ally of the U.S. So, Israel is fighting America’s war.

The way the Palestinians fare, so will fare the pro-American Arab regimes in the Middle East. A robust Hamas, a robust ISIS, a Hizbullah and al-Qaeda doom these regimes. Israel’s war against terrorism is providing a tailwind to those Arab regimes that consider Israel as their most effective life insurance policy. They trust Israel more than the U.S. in the face of the Islamic threat. People have noticed very subtle support by those regimes in Israel’s war against Hamas — the first war against an Arab party in which most of the Arab League would not support the Arab side. Egypt, who is fighting against Islamist insurgents in the Sinai, would have liked to see Israel go all the way and eliminate Hamas.

The U.S. and Arab regimes understand that Israel’s war is their own war: it impacts the price and flow of oil; it has an impact on the American economy. An effective Israel bolsters pro-American Arab entities in the Middle East. A robust Israel advances American interests and a weaker Israel undermines those interests.


Q: What is the most effective response to the Boycotts Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, especially on college campuses?

A: Obviously, the Jewish community should play a role here and in order to be effective, first and foremost what is called for is self-education. When we hear accusations that Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria is illegal, are we able to refute the lie or not? When we hear that Israel is an occupier, are we on solid ground refuting that baseless accusation? When we are told that the Jews are newcomers to Israel but the Palestinians have been there for millennia, are we sufficiently educated on the reality of Arab presence on the land of Israel and the migration waves by Arabs into the land in the 19th and 20th centuries? When we hear that Israel is a burden on the U.S. economy and that the U.S. should stop supporting Israel, are we aware that U.S.-Israel relations constitute a two-way street? U.S.-Israel relations constitute a classic case of a two-way-street, with Israel increasingly contributing to vital U.S. economic and defense interests, expanding U.S. employment, research and development, and  export  base; serving as the most battle-tested laboratory of U.S. defense industries; enhancing U.S. counter-terrorism and intelligence-gathering capabilities; and upgrading U.S. battle tactics and homeland security. I suspect that many American Jews are not aware of these issues. In order to be effective on campus, off campus, in Washington, outside of Washington, one must go through a self-education process, and it can be hard.

An effective way of confronting the BDS movement is by generating more trade with Israel and exporting Israeli goods. The BDS movement has not been very successful: Israeli exports fare better than those of other developed countries because we have developed niches. Even people who don’t wish Israel the best future realize that, when it comes to the military, communications, technology, etc., the lines of production developed by Israel are unique.

The BDS movement has been more effective in terms of the media and mood, but in the bottom line – dollars – it has had a constrained effect, and we have seen a huge surge of Israel’s trade with some of the most emerging surging economies of the world like India, China, and South Korea. American Jews could undertake to encourage a higher level of trade balance between the U.S. and Israel, highlighting Israeli systems which have their own unique added value in the areas of health and medical, agricultural, sewage recycling, desalinization, etc.


Q: Why is it important to speak for Israel Bonds?

A: Israel Bonds was the first significant organization to provide the Jewish state with resources required to develop essential infrastructures in the newly-born state after the 1948-1949 war. At that stage, there was no Israeli economy, no confidence in the Israel economy by potential investors. Israel Bonds was able to generate resources, not only from Jews, but even during those days, from labor unions in the U.S. and other non-Jewish individuals and organizations.

The importance of Israel Bonds persists until this very day, even though the Israeli economy is definitely one of the most viable economies in the world. However, threats to Israel are growing by the day, due to the nature of our neighborhood and we once again must upgrade our infrastructure. Israel Bonds is doing that and will play a cardinal role in the absorption of the new wave of 500,000 Jewish immigrants that I expect will reach Israel in the next five years. This will require a dramatically expanded transportation, educational, and medical infrastructure – all of which has been the arena of Israel Bonds. In my view, Israel Bonds is much more important than the other important contribution mechanisms generating funds to Israel.

I think that Israel has outgrown the role of recipient. Israel Bonds recruits investors, not contributors, and this is a worthy matchup for Israel. The challenges and threats require an increasing demand for improved and expanded infrastructures and to a large extent, like in the old days, Israel Bonds is playing a major role in sustaining the very impressive level of Israeli technology and science, which leads to high-tech – the major access to Israel’s economy for the U.S.

My involvement is in educating members of Congress and the Knesset, public-policy shapers, and the public at large in the U.S. and Israel on the growing role of Israel’s high-tech and especially to educate the key multipliers in the U.S. and Israel about the growing flow of non-Israeli investors in the Israeli economy, especially the American high-tech giants as well as European, Japanese, South Korean, Singaporean, and even Russian and Chinese investors.


Q: Why do you predict such a large number of immigrants?

A: We’re talking today about immigration from major Jewish concentrations, in addition to the U.S. – Russia; Ukraine; Germany; France; the UK; Argentina; Australia; and Canada. Since the global meltdown, the Israeli economy has demonstrated a unique resilience. Most developed economies received a lowered credit rating, but Israel’s very high credit rating was sustained.The bottom line is that better economies draw people from less fortunate economies. This is the first time that Israel’s economy, stable employment market, and controlled inflation are attracting individuals from other countries.

In addition, there is the growing anti-Semitism in Europe as well as in Russia, Ukraine, and Argentina. The unprecedented expansion and entrenchment of Islamic anti-Semitism fueled anti-Semitism and made it much more violent than any time before – especially in France and Britain, as well as in Belgium, Holland, Scandinavia, and Germany. Obviously, the more entrenched Islamism is in those countries, the more enticed Jews are to make aliyah. Certainly, the less hope there is for democracy in the Ukraine and Russia, the more enticement there is to come on aliyah.

Last but not least is the reality of Jewish and Zionist education, which has reached an all-time high level in Russia, Ukraine, Europe, the U.S., Argentina, and Australia. Certainly, the more viable Jewish and Zionist education becomes, the higher the chance that the graduates will choose aliyah as their future participation in the building of the Jewish people.

Overall, the prospect of 500,000 olim is a pretty conservative number. Hopefully, the Israeli government, as I expect, will finally reassert the tradition of every prime minister from Ben-Gurion through Shamir: realizing that aliyah is the number-one national goal, the heart and soul of the Jewish state and, in addition, the most effective engine of all growth and national security. If, as a result, Israel will resurrect a proactive aliyah policy rather than waiting and absorbing olim, a pro-aliyah policy could generate even more. For example, Jews are making aliyah from France, which has 700,000 Jews realizing that that country is no longer their home. They are “shopping around” in English-speaking countries and French-speaking Montreal to decide where to move.

Proactive aliyah works on both sides of the sea, not only generating aliyah but also aggressively and speedily preparing the groundwork in Israel – for instance, by doing away with unnecessary regulatory and bureaucratic obstacles that present difficulties for professionals being absorbed in Israel and have to face a tortuous certification process.

Some people may be skeptical about 500,000 new immigrants, but so were the mavens when Ben Gurion predicted that close to one million Jews would come – and 700,000 came. Shamir was chastised about his prediction that one million would come from the Soviet Union – but they came. I’m not the only one mentioning 500,000; people who can read the writing on the wall would reach that same assessment.

The arrival of those olim would not only satisfy the vision of the Jewish state and respond to its heart and soul – the ingathering of the Jewish people – but will also be a statement of deterrence that the Jewish state is here to stay. A wave of aliyah will boost dramatically the postural deterrence of the Jewish state and serve as the most effective engine of its growth.


Q: How can American Jews best support Israel today?

A: I don’t speak for all Israelis, but as far as I’m concerned, aliya is the number-one way to enhance the fortunes of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. For those Jews who decide to remain in the U.S., in my opinion, a most effective involvement is with members of the House and Senate. This is an extremely cost-effective time spent by anyone concerned about any issue in America and certainly about any issue affecting Israel. The vast majority of Congressional members are pro-Israel: three-quarters of each chamber is fundamentally pro-Israel and sometimes we get a higher percentage on critical votes. The vast majority of pro-Israel legislators don’t have the information in the palm of their hand and that’s where the Jewish community could play a major role, by educating the Congressional staff. They are the most important element on Capitol Hill because they are not standing for election. Legislators come and go but many staffers accumulate many years of experience. They are in charge of advising legislators on foreign policy, homeland security, all areas of viable cooperation between the U.S. and Israel.

Ambassador Yoram Ettinger will speak on Sunday, Sept. 21, 9 a.m., at Congregation Agudath Sholom, 301 Strawberry Hill Ave., Stamford. For reservations and/or information, contact Cynthia Blustein, cynthia.blustein@israelbonds.com.

Comments? email cindym@jewishledger.com.

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