On Monday, a major American Jewish leader published a call to arms against Israel in the New York Times.
In an op-ed under the headline, “Israel’s self-inflicted wounds,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder warned that Israel is driving itself to the brink of disaster.
The implicit message of Lauder’s article is that President Donald Trump is too good to Israel. He needs to adopt a far cooler policy towards the immoral, undeserving Jewish state.
Lauder is no run-of-the-mill American Jewish leader. He has been in the spotlight for 30 years.
Lauder was an intimate friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for twenty years. The two men had a very public falling out a decade ago after an Israeli television station partially owned by Lauder broadcast a venomously hostile string of stories against Netanyahu.
Today, Lauder has an even more powerful friend: Donald Trump.
As a New York socialite and heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics empire, over the years Lauder developed a close relationship with real estate magnate Trump. That friendship extended into the presidential race. And for the past 14 months, Lauder has had closer ties to the President than any other American Jewish leader.
When a man of Lauder’s stature writes Israel is “endangering the future of the country,” most people take his warning seriously.
So is he right? Is it time to man the barricades?
The good news is: no. Lauder’s warnings are no more than a collection of anti-Israel slanders.
Lauder attacks Israel on two points. First, he accuses Israel of taking actions that block the so-called “two-state solution.” Second, Lauder accuses Israel of becoming a theocracy.
Let’s start with the theocracy allegation.
Lauder says that Israel is transforming itself from “a modern, liberal nation into a semi-theocratic one.”
He bases this allegation on fact that Israel’s government doesn’t ignore ultra-Orthodox voters completely. Ultra-Orthodox parties control about ten percent of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.
Lauder asserts, wrongly, “Most Jews outside of Israel are not accepted in the eyes of the Israeli ultra-Orthodox.”
This is incoherent.
Israel provides automatic citizenship to every Jew who wishes to immigrate. The ultra-Orthodox have no power to accept or not accept Jews.
Lauder claims that there is “a ban on egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.” This too, is highly misleading.
There is an egalitarian prayer area at the Western wall. Anyone who wants to worship in an egalitarian prayer quorum is free to do so.
True, the main prayer plaza at the holy site is set up in accordance with traditional Jewish practice, with separate prayer areas for men and women. But this state of affairs reflects the desires of the vast majority of the worshippers.
If Lauder is saying the Western Wall is unacceptable because it doesn’t look like a Reform or Conservative synagogue, he should be clear that is what he wants. And if this is what he is saying, then his essential argument is that Israel will only be able to prove to his satisfaction that it is not a theocracy by becoming an anti-religious tyranny.
This brings us to Lauder’s second major beef with Israel. He accuses Israel of scuttling the so-called “two state solution,” shorthand for the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria – in addition to the Palestinian state in Gaza run by the Hamas terror group.
Lauder says that Israel needs a Palestinian state to survive. He stakes his claim on Palestinian population data compiled by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1997. Based on these Palestinian demographic data, Laude asserts, falsely, “13 million people live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranian Sea. And almost half of them are Palestinian.
“If current trends continue, Israel will face a stark choice: Grant Palestinians full rights and cease being a Jewish state or rescind their rights and cease being a democracy.”
But these are not the current trends. And his data are incorrect. Over the past decade, repeated audits of the Palestinian data by independent researchers have demonstratedtime after time that the numbers are fraudulent. The Palestinians have exaggerated their population count by more than a million people, or fifty percent. The Palestinians have not reached near parity with the Jewish population of Israel.
Were Israel to apply its laws to Judea and Samaria and provide citizenship to the Palestinians in the areas, it would retain a Jewish majority of 65 percent. Moreover, Israeli Jewish birthrates exceeded Palestinian birthrates in 2013 and reached parity with Israeli Arab birthrates in 2016. So the trends are moving in Israel’s favor.
Based as it is on data that were exposed as fraudulent 14 years ago, it isn’t surprising that Lauder’s specific arguments are likewise based on an irrational rejection of facts.
Lauder argues that Israel and the Palestinians would have achieved his sought-after two state solution but for two things.
First, there is “settlement expansion.”
Lauder writes, “Over the last few years, settlements in the West Bank on land that in any deal is likely to become part of the Palestinians state, have continued to grow and expand.”
Notice the absence of any people in his sentence.
“Settlements” aren’t animate objects. They don’t “expand.”
People – Israeli Jewish people – build them. Israeli Jews build homes, and schools in these communities. They build businesses and medical clinics in these communities.
These “settlements” are Israeli towns.
The Israelis who live in these towns don’t build their homes and schools, their businesses and clinics wherever someone gets the gumption to squat, regardless of who owns the land.
Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria are built either on state land or private land to which the Israeli Jews who live and work in them have property rights. By insisting that Israel not permit “settlements” to “expand,” Lauder is insisting that Israel reject the right of people to build on land over which they have property rights, simply because they are Jewish. Lauder is arguing that Israeli Jews must be denied their property rights simply because they are Jews.
If that wasn’t bad enough, he has a second argument. In Lauder’s opinion, Israel is killing the “two-state solution” by discussing Jewish rights to Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem. As Lauder puts it, “Palestinian incitement and intransigence are destructive. But so, too, are annexation plans, pushed by those on the right…”.
So, for Lauder, Israel is on the brink of collapse because it allows its citizens to discuss ideas and policy alternatives in a free and unfettered way. Israel is doomed, in other words, because it is a liberal democracy.
It is hard to know how to swallow the notion that a major American Jewish leader is calling for censorship of debate in Israel over one of the defining issues in Israeli public life.
Lauder’s anti-democratic contentions are based on two underlying assumptions, both of which are false. First, he argues that there would have been a “two-state solution” but for Israel’s refusal to trample Jewish civil rights and block a free and open policy discourse.
The so-called “two-state solution” asserts that the only way for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians is to transfer control over Judea, Samaria, eastern, northern and southern Jerusalem to the PLO, in addition to the Gaza Strip which Israel vacated in 2005.
Israel tried for more than twenty years to convince the Palestinians to accept peace and a state. It made two detailed peace and statehood offers to the PLO, both of which involved transfer of almost all of the land of Judea and Samaria and large swathes of Jerusalem to the PLO in addition to all of the Gaza Strip. So too, successive U.S. administrations made similarly detailed offers to the PLO leadership. The Palestinians rejected all of Israel’s offers and all of the American offers.
And tellingly, the Palestinians refused to ever make a counter-offer.
The Palestinians have refused to negotiate with Israel for ten years. And the last round of negotiations, which ended in 2008, dissolved after Palestinian Authority Chairman and PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas rejected then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s extensive offer and refused to make a counter-offer.
In other words, the only side that ever made any effort whatsoever to make Lauder’s “two-state solution” fantasy a reality is Israel. And yet he blames Israel for the failure of that “solution.”
As for the Palestinians, it was nice of Lauder to mention that “Palestinian incitement and intransigence are destructive.”
But he apparently doesn’t understand what he is saying.
Three Israelis were have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists since Friday. A fourth is still fighting for his life. Several more have been wounded. These casualties were entirely the result of “Palestinian incitement and intransigence.”
If the PLO and Hamas weren’t calling for Israel’s physical destruction all day every day and incentivizing terrorism, then those Israelis – and the other 1,500 Israelis who have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists since 1993 — would be alive today.
If the Palestinians were remotely interested in statehood and peace with Israel, then Lauder’s sought-after “two state solution” would have been implemented twenty years ago.
Blaming Israel for Palestinians’ intransigence and incitement — not to mention their sponsorship and finance of terrorism – because Israel respects the property rights of Jews and permits its citizens to openly debate their rights in Judea and Samaria smacks not merely of callousness but of a deep-seated hostility towards Israel and Israeli Jews on Lauder’s part.
And this brings us to the most shocking thing about Lauder’s op-ed. It is colossally disingenuous.
With his thirty years of experience in the Jewish world, in Israel and in the U.S., Lauder cannot be unaware that in writing this article he was libeling Israel. He cannot have been unaware that he effectively embraced the anti-Israel positions of the anti-Israel, Democratic lobby J Street.
Like J Street, Lauder simply cobbled together a bunch of falsehoods about Israel to bash it.
And this brings us to Lauder’s friend in the White House.
President Trump would do well to ignore Lauder’s advice. Not only would following it be devastating for Israel. It would be devastating for the U.S.
Under President Trump, for the first time in a quarter century, the White House is finally taking action that advances American interests rather than subordinating those interests in the Middle East to PLO positions.
Lauder wants Trump to follow in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama and blame Israel for the absence of peace in the Middle East. This despite the fact that this position not only failed to bring peace, but it also weakened America’s only loyal ally in the Middle East while empowering terrorists. It suggested that the U.S. preferred fantasy to discernable reality and was consequently an untrustworthy ally and a weak enemy.
It is impossible to know why Lauder just abandoned Israel. But he did. He didn’t administer tough love. He turned his guns on the Jewish state while insisting that he loves it.