Author Chat: Israel Among the Nations

— by Hannah Lee

It’s the best of times for Israel and the worst of times, says Jonathan Adelman, in a presentation exploring Israel’s new relationships with former enemies and their implications for Israeli foreign policy. Professor Adelman is affiliated with the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and the author or editor of 10 books on international affairs.  He has been sent by the U.S. State Department on 14 international speaking tours to a dozen countries, including England, Germany, Spain, Russia, China, India and Japan.  He spoke on behalf of Israel Bonds at Lower Merion Synagogue earlier in October.

More after the jump.
Israel’s challenges for defense, compared to the United States, is its lack of strategic depth — it has only three major cities: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa — and a population density in which 92% of Israelis live on 3400 square miles.  (The Negev in the south has 58% of the land mass, but only 8% of the population live there.)

It’s the best of times because Israel enjoys a robust economy, with the highest average living standards in the Middle East and a per capita income in 2000 that exceeded that of the United Kingdom. On a per capita basis, Israel has the largest number of biotech start-ups and it ranks  second in the world for venture capital funds after the United States.

It’s also the worst of times, with a destabilized Middle East and the greatest existential threat to the world in the last 100 years with the prospect of nuclear capability in Iran. (The estimates for their possession of an atomic bomb range from only 3 months to a year.) It is a nation of almost 6 million  Jews surrounded by 27 million Arabs. However, he’s no Biblical Jeremiah  preaching doom. He sees hope in Israel’s relationships with the former Soviet Union, India, and China.

As a Soviet scholar, Adelman ironically sees Russia as the preferred enemy to Iran, because the Russians are pragmatists, not ideologues, and he thinks that the KGB in effect protected the world from over 40,000 nuclear weapons.  

India is Israel’s new friend: it recognized the state of Israel in 1992 and in January of this year, it signed a free-trade agreement that’s worth $15 billion a year. There is military cooperation and an understanding of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism from its neighbor, Pakistan.

Russia is another surprising ally, where a recent American Jewish Committee poll found more Russians in favor of Israel than from anywhere else, even though two-thirds of these same people would not vote for a Jewish leader for their own country.  Why the new warmth?  Israel was founded on the mold of Russian socialism; 60% of its citizens are from the former Soviet Union*; and it has lost everything else in the Middle East, including Syria. They acknowledge that Mossad and Tzahal, the Israeli Defense Forces, are the best intelligence and military outfits in the world.

Learning from the Chinese who’d successfully harnessed the earning power of its overseas Chinese in its rapid transition from communism to capitalism, the Russians have invited Israelis to manage their own Silicon Valley, Skolkovo.

China is another wary new friend with Israeli consulates in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

Relations with Japan are okay, but Israel cannot rely on Japan, with its dependence on Persian Gulf oil, a weak military, and a surprising recent history of anti-Semitism (as documented in the number of anti-Zionist books landing on their bestselling lists).

I did not attend Professor Adelman’s second presentation on “The Middle East and the New World Order,” about why the Middle East (except for Israel and Turkey) seemed unaffected by global social transformation — and if the future may be different.

Note: Wikipedia reports that according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2008, of Israel’s 7.3 million people, 75.6 percent were Jews of any background.[1] Among them, 70.3 percent were Sabras (Israeli-born), mostly second- or third-generation Israelis, and the rest are olim (Jewish immigrants to Israel) – 20.5 percent from Europe and the Americas, and 9.2 percent from Asia and Africa, including the Arab countries.