At the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference

November 29, 2019 by Michael Kuttner
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Many foreign diplomats accredited to Israel together with media representatives gathered last week at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Jerusalem for the JP diplomatic conference…Michael Kuttner attended for J-Wire.

Photo: Jerusalem Post

Unsurprisingly given the current political turmoil, there was no scheduled appearance by the Prime Minister. However, there were several politicians scheduled to speak among who were Foreign Minister Israel Katz, aspiring leader of the Likud, Gideon Saar, Ayalet Shaked of the right-wing parties and the potential “kingmaker” Avigdor Liberman.

Several awards were made to individuals and organizations for meritorious achievements in various fields, sponsors of the conference were given generous publicity and of course, the Jerusalem Post touted its contributions to Palestine /Israel over eighty-seven tumultuous years. Noble Energy highlighted the impending contribution to Israel’s economy of the Leviathan gas field and KKL-JNF outlined its ambitious plans for the next few decades.

One never knows what last-minute surprise developments will occur and it was, therefore, a matter of speculation as to how the scheduled political and diplomatic speakers would tackle the burning issues confronting Israel and the Jewish People.

Highlights that stood out in my mind included the following:

A panel discussion by the German Ambassador, French Charge D’affairs, the US Chairman of the Commission for the preservation of America’s heritage abroad and a representative of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs. The subject was anti-Semitism and its rise today. Both the German and French representatives strove mightily to not only condemn this latest wave of Jew-hatred but also outlined their Governments’ activities to counter this scourge. The US speaker claimed that the Trump Administration was fully engaged in the fight and that there was “no daylight between Israel and the USA.”

When the moderator asked the German Ambassador how she reconciled EU labelling of Israel sourced products with the rise in hate she at first was lost for words. After a few moments of silence, she responded with some splendid diplomatic double-speak maintaining that international law and the EU’s interpretation of it had nothing to do with antisemitism. The French diplomat responded along similar lines. As no questions were allowed from the audience it was left to the Israeli speaker to point out that Jew-hate emanates from four sources. Classic hate which has been with us for the last two thousand years; Extreme right-wing sourced hate which all the other speakers were exclusively focused on; Extreme left-wing delegitimisation which is now evident in Europe, UK and the USA; The last source tellingly ignored by the other panellists was Islamic incitement. Ignoring this latter cause highlights a fatal flaw because unless and until it is acknowledged and tackled there is no chance of success.

Another interesting presentation was a short talk by Sylvan Adams a Canadian philanthropist now living in Israel. He was a welcome relief from the parade of politicians and his selfless and generous contributions towards making Israel a positive impact in the international news attracted warm applause. His sponsorship of the Giro D’Italia bike race assured millions worldwide being exposed to the real Israel and his announcement that for the first time Israel would be participating in the forthcoming Tour de France elicited much enthusiasm.

Other highlights included a short interview with Gideon Saar the nub of which is that he is ready, willing and able to take over the Likud leadership and form a coalition.

Ayelet Shaked maintained that she was doing everything to “knock some sense” into the main political players, albeit with no success as yet.

Foreign Minister, Israel Katz warned that Iranian threats must be taken seriously and dealt with. He also outlined his long-standing ambition to build a railway from Israel to the Gulf States.

Oded Revivi, the Mayor of Efrat and YESHA council foreign affairs spokesperson outlined his vision for peace driven by economic co-operation, something already taking place in Gush Etzion and other areas of Judea and Samaria. The bottom line is that peace can be better achieved on the ground rather than via internationally imposed resolutions devoid of reality.

Kiron Skinner, former Director of policy and planning at the US State Department gave an intriguing glimpse of “behind the scenes” thinking at that important Government Department. She maintained that there was a “Trump doctrine” in foreign policy but in the short time allocated to her interview it was hard to discern exactly what it was and what it had so far achieved. There was no doubt that the traditional anti-Israel bias had been somewhat neutered by dramatic decisions concerning Jerusalem, the Golan and settlements but whether these would survive a post-Trump Presidency remains to be seen.

The final speaker of the conference was Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteynu Party and the crucial politician in today’s chaotic coalition conundrum. If anyone was hoping to learn anything new they were disappointed. He repeated his past pronouncements that a national unity coalition between Blue & White and Likud, without messianic or nationalistic extremists, was the only way to go. He reiterated that he had no problem in being outside the coalition because his only ambition was to prevent another election. Only a broad-based liberal Government was his goal and that is what he was sticking to. With nary a smile and a poker face he wished Netanyahu all the best and hoped he would overcome his current challenges.

All in all an interesting conference with plenty of tantalizing subjects covered but no solution in sight for the two most critical matters facing us, namely the threats from our foes and the inability to form a Government.

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