Israeli security expert delivers hard message to Ottawa Jewish community

yossi alfer

Yossi Alpher, former Mossad agent, and now independent Israeli security expert, spoke to a crowd of concerned Jews in Ottawa on May 2nd. He was talking about the future of Israel, and they were clearly disturbed by what he had to say. Learn more

Around 200 concerned members of Ottawa’s Jewish community gathered at the Temple Israel synagogue on May 3rd, to hear a well known Israeli strategic analyst talk about his very pessimistic assessment of the options facing Israel and the course it is taking.

Alpher’s credentials include: service in the Israeli Defence Forces as an intelligence analyst; 12 years in the Mossad (the Israeli security service); the directorship of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies (JCSS) at Tel Aviv University; and the directorship of the American Jewish Committee’s Israel/Middle East Office in Jerusalem.

It was these credentials that perhaps made his pessimistic analysis of Israel’s current situation and trajectory so disconcerting for his Canadian Jewish audience.

As Alpher sees it, there is no peace process on the horizon. The occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem has gone on for almost 50 years. A new stage in the violence is underway. Israel and Palestine are sliding down a slippery slope towards a nasty quasi-apartheid reality.

 

“A slippery slope”

Israel is on a very slippery slope, as it takes over more and more land in the West Bank“, he argued. Israel is rapidly moving toward a “one state reality”, in which Israel is going to be either Jewish or democratic he told the somber audience.

In Alpher’s view, the liberal Zionist ideal of Israel as a “Jewish and Democratic state” is rapidly disappearing from the public discourse. Faced with a choice, Israel is choosing to become “Jewish” rather than “democratic”.

“You [Jews in the diaspora]” he said, “now have a problem reconciling your Jewish and Zionist ideals with the present State of Israel.  We Israelis have created a major problem for you”.

Alpher recognized that he was bringing a “hard” message of realism to his Canadian Jewish audience. “Stop dreaming of a 2 state solution”, he warned. “This is for consumption by the international community. Everybody in Israel is laughing up their sleeves at the peace process,” he continued.

Reaction from the liberal Jews in the audience was worried. One questioner asked what he could tell his children who are being raised with “Jewish values” but who are increasingly uncomfortable with what they see of Israel. Another asked about a possible apartheid scenario in which there would be different laws for Jews and non-Jews. (Alpher responded by indicating that Jews and non Jews already live under different laws in the West Bank, and pointed out that Israel regularly treats “terrorists” very differently depending on whether they are Arab or Jewish.)

Another person asked hopefully whether there was any chance Netanyahu might be replaced by a more “liberal” politician. Alpher’s response was that Netanyahu is not an aberration. He is well positioned because he actually reflects the thinking of a broad majority of Israelis.

Alpher did not offer a “solution” to Israel’s dilemma, other than to try to slow the slide down the “slippery slope”.

Alpher’s speaking tour was sponsored by Canadian Friends of Peace Now, a liberal Zionist organization. He also spoke in Montreal and Toronto.

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Questions? Comments? Comments from Canadian Jews are especially welcome. Do you share Alpher’s dark assessment? Or do you think he is wrong? (Or do you think I am misrepresenting his argument?) All comments, respectfully presented, are welcome.

23 comments

  1. Thanks for posting this Peter. Did Mr Alpher also cite the demographic realities that by 2020 there will be more Arab Palestinians than Israeli Jews from the river to the sea? I heard Sen George Mitchell here last week at the Harvard Program on Negotiation and he claims this is the most significant factor. This plus what I still foresee as the disintegration of the Palestinian Authority will force Israel citizens to deal with huge financial, moral and legal responsibilities.

    1. At the rate ISRAEL is clearing the land and demolishing villages there won’t be any Palestinians left, ISRAEL kills on average 3 children a day, today was not unusual in that they killed 3. You can talk all the hasbara you like, throw out all the usual phrases about protecting yourselves, but the fact remains that the whole world now knows that the ” missiles ” you speak of are crude lengths of garden pipe filled with fertiliser, almost none reach ISRAEL, Israel has one of the largest army’s on the planet, Palestinians have no army, no navy, and are kept enclosed by your walls, fed a well calculated maintenance diet, deprived of water, electricity, in fact deprived of all human dignity. According to the WHO ISRAEL misappropriates 75% of all aid to Palestine. You won’t even let them fish in peace without using them for target practice with your gunboats. Considering the abuses perpetrated against these people I’m surprised every last man, woman and child hasn’t topped themselves. The entire world sees your behaviour. It’s indefenceable.

      1. Hey maria,
        While I agree with most of your concerns, there is one that I do not share. While it is true that israel is killing Palestinians at a rapid rate, it is far from true that “there won’t be any Palestinians left”. On the contrary, there are MORE Palestinians living in historic Palestine than at any time in history. There are actually more Palestinians living INSIDE ISRAEL than were living in historic Palestine in 1948. Despite the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza and WB, they are a very long way from eliminating them. This is the Israeli nightmare.

  2. Interesting post, Peter. It’s too bad I missed this event. Glad to see some reality being presented to larger segments of Jewish-Canadians.

  3. When someone like Alpher state that Israel is “on a slippery slope” and a 2-State solution is not a reality, the liberal Jewish Zionist better wake up!

  4. +Alpher sees “no peace process on the horizon” – Does that come as a surprise to anyone who has a responsible understanding of events in the conflict zone? Hasn’t Israel often used peace talks as a delaying tactic, during which settlements in the West Bank were expanded?

    +“Occupation has gone on for almost 50 years” – 68 years if you start counting from the Nakba in 1947-48 with the expulsion of the Palestinians

    +“Sliding down a slippery slope towards a nasty quasi-apartheid reality” – what is ‘quasi’ about turning the West Bank into a Bantustan, and Gaza into a veritable prison?

    +“Israeli is rapidly moving toward a ‘one state reality’ – on describing this as “moving rapidly” — remind me again — for how many years has this movement towards one state been going on?

    +Bringing “a hard message of realism to his Canadian Jewish audience” prompts one to ask, why has it taken Canadian Jews so long to discover the truth? Which speaks volumes about the pro-Israel coverage in North America’s mainstream media.

    +“Canadians Jews are worried” but not apparently about the cruel injustice that has been visited upon Palestinians over the past 68 years

    +“Alpher did not offer a ‘solution’ to Israel’s dilemma” – Didn’t Israel put their ‘final solution’ in place 68 years ago?

    +One gathers that there was no discussion of Canada’s unjust pro-Israeli policy. Trudeau boldly announced his willingness to criticize Israel, an empty gesture because any criticism will be delivered with an air of impunity.

    +Likewise, two thumbs way down on Premier Wynne’s upcoming trade mission to Israel — She will effectively legitimize seven decades of Israel’s crime against Palestinians, thereby making Ontario taxpayers involuntarily complicit in her reprehensible mission.

  5. Garth Mundle

    Much regret at having missed this event. Thanks for the report Peter. After 30 years of contact, multiple trips and a brief residency it saddens me to realize my perceptions match Alpher’s. There have been so many opportunities for both sides to have chosen a different path. I fear the consequences of the one they are following, as history would suggest the consequences will be disastrous.

  6. It’s important for Canadian Jews to hear a message like this from another Jew. He has more credibility than hose of us who are not Jews and who have been saying similar things for years. Not counting the members of IJV, of course. I hope this talk will result in more interest in IJV from mainstream Canadian Jews.

  7. The one-state reality is already there. The Palestinian Authority (ruling over local matters within disconnected enclaves in the West Bank) and Hamas (ruling over local streets and alleyways in Gaza) are both under total Israeli control; either directly or indirectly.
    The moral question confronting Jewish-Israelis is whether they would allow the peaceful transformation of the state of Israel from its current status – whether it is called apartheid, occupation, or otherwise – to a truly democratic state for all Israelis and all Palestinians alike. It is not easy, but it is not impossible. To put it more clearly, it is difficult, but it is inevitable. It is the only path that would be in harmony with upholding human values.
    When Jewish-Israeli leaders choose to take that road, and start calling for that peaceful transformation, they will find the majority of Palestinians as their partners in that endeavour.

    1. Thank you, Alcananite. that is consistent with what I have been told by dozens of random Palestinians in the West Bank, in Gaza, inside Israel and in refugee camps. I believe that solving this is a lot easier than many people think.,

    2. — to a truly democratic state for all Israelis and all Palestinians alike. To put it more clearly, it is difficult, but it is inevitable. It is the only path that would be in harmony with upholding human values.

      Sorry but I don’t agree. Certainly I don’t agree that Jewish Israelis agreeing to live in a Muslim state is inevitable. I think the history of the Yishuv and later Israel pretty clearly shows that the Hebrews value their self determination more than they would value things like formal borders. They will choose many many other options ranging from: a formal democracy, ethnic cleansing, genocide, multiple wars long before they will agree to their national destruction.

      Nor do I think it is in harmony with upholding human values. Democracy is a system for people to collectively work together to achieve common goods. For that type of system to have value the people in a country need to have enough common interests that they share common goods. Palestinians and Israelis at present don’t have those common interests. There cannot be a state that advances the goals of both peoples at present. Forcing people to live in a state that doesn’t represent their interests even if it has democratic processes is like drawing and then eating pictures of food.

  8. For an in-depth look at how Israel is unmooring itself from democracy, have a look at the book “Goliath” by Max Blumenthal, A reporter, Mr Blumenthal is an American Jew. He recently spent three years inside Israel and presents an unsettling picture of the society.

  9. Thanks Peter. As a Palestinian also see the two state as a joke and if it wasn’t for US paying millions of dollars to the corrupt PA all Palestinians will come to the same conclosion

  10. Meanwhile:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alon-benmeir/a-plea-for-reason-an-open_b_9299400.html

    “Dear Netanyahu: Radical Zionists Like You Cannot Survive”

    Huffington Post, Feb. 24/16, by Alon Ben-Meir, Senior Fellow, Center for Global Affairs, NYU

    “A Plea For Reason: An Open Letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu”

    EXCERPT:
    “Demographically, the country is facing a grave danger. The number of Israelis emigrating from Israel is roughly equal to the number of those who immigrate to Israel. Nearly one million Israelis, representing 13 percent of the population, emigrated from Israel in the past 20 years. Several polls consistently show that given the opportunity, 30 percent of Israelis would consider leaving the country, mainly for economic reasons and the lack of a prospect of ending the debilitating conflict with the Palestinians.

    “In particular, the immigration of young American and European Jews to Israel is consistently trending downward.”

  11. I received a VERY critical comment from one of the organizers of the event. Unfortunately, she preferred to send me a private email rather than responding in the “reply” section. I respect her wish for anonymity, but here is her email to me. My response follows.

    Dear Peter,

    Your summary of Alpher’s talk is a misrepresentation.

    1) You choose to mention his comments on Israel’s responsibility for the impasse and the descent towards the “slippery slope” but not the Palestinian. As you well know, he made very clear that Palestinian intransigence (on the right of return and on Jerusalem) is as much to blame for the failure of peace efforts and the current state of affairs as Israeli land grabs.

    2) “…Israel is choosing to become Jewish rather than democratic” is also misleading because it suggests there is a inherent contradiction (which is your bias not his). Yossi talked about his belief in and the importance of preserving a Jewish democratic state.

    3) Most egregious is your quote that begins: “Stop dreaming of a 2-state solution…” because I am almost sure he did not say this or that you have taken the quote so out of context as to distort it maliciously. Also the quote “everybody in Israel is laughing up their sleeve…” which makes it sound as if all Israelis are gleefully thumbing their noses at the world. I have taped the talk, and so will check what his exact words were. I believe you did a clever “cut and paste” job that suits your agenda.

    My response to her is as follows:

    1. Thanks for writing. I don’t think I “misrepresented” Mr. Alpher’s comments. In fact, I think he made a similar presentation in Toronto because the Toronto Star article on his presentation was very similar to mine. See here: https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2016/05/06/israeli-analyst-says-country-needs-a-new-agenda.html. The Star quotes him as arguing that the time for the 2 state solution is over.

    2. If on review of the tape, you find that I misquoted Mr. Alpher, please let me know and I will be glad to revise. I do not want to “put words into his mouth”. However, having checked with 3 others who were at the Ottawa presentation (including a Jewish person) I feel confident that, overall, I have represented him correctly.

    3. Finally, I accept that we have different perspectives. But I do not attribute an “agenda” to you, and don’t understand why you assume that I have an “agenda”. I do have a point of view, but I am neither Jewish nor Arabic, and don’t have a dog in this fight. I am trying to promote a conversation about how to move toward justice for all.

    1. The event organizer says: “he made very clear that Palestinian intransigence (on the right of return and on Jerusalem) is as much to blame for the failure of peace efforts and the current state of affairs as Israeli land grabs.” – I would like to argue that Israel is the only side to blame for lost peace opportunities. The Arab League proposed a comprehensive peace package in 2002 including full normalizing of relations with Israel:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Peace_Initiative

      What was the Israeli response? “NO!”. The reality is “Israel has become addicted to occupation” as the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy put it. This addiction is disastrous for Israelis and Palestinians because it fuels more violence. Real friends of Israel in Canada and the world need to help their friend to recover from addiction, violence and denial. When Israel recovers, then real peace will have a chance.

      1. @New Canadian —

        Your version of events regarding the proposal is simply untrue. The original Saudi proposal was similar to the Arab league proposal except for two changes:

        a) There was no right of return. The Arab states would handle RoR.
        b) There was full normalization not just normalization of diplomatic relations.

        Sharon was excited by the offer and asked for immediate negotiations on it with the Saudis. The Saudis declined. It then went to the Arab league and I believe Syria weakened the offer to make the changes in (a) and (b) back to RoR based on negotiations and normal diplomatic relations. The Arab league proposal was a milestone but it no longer had much in it for Israel. The Israelis were naturally much less interested.

    2. I was at Yossi Alpher’s talk (I am not one of the 3 people Peter mentioned he checked with). Peter’s summary does not misrepresent the points that Yossi made.

  12. Comment from Gabriella Goliger, organizer of the Yossi Alpher talk, and co-chair of Canadian Friends of Peace Now

    Dear Peter,

    Having gone through the recording of the talk I stand by my assertion that you misrepresented Yossi Alpher’s lecture.

    This is mainly because you failed to mention that he emphasized that the Palestinian insistence on right of return is a key reason for the failure of the Oslo peace process. And, in his opinion, it is a key reason why any peace talks that aim to resolve final status issues would again fail in the foreseeable future. Palestinians do not accept Jewish historical claims to the land (he meant any part of the land, including pre-67 Israel). Their insistence on the right of return, except for a token number, of pre-48 refugees and their descendants is a complete deal breaker for Israel.
    Alpher allowed for the possibility that some unforeseen event might break the impasse in the future. He said that in the meantime we must manage “the slippery slope”, i.e. try to slow down the arrival at a one-state reality and its very negative consequences.

    The direct quote attributed to Alpher in your blog is indeed a cut and paste job. He did use the phrase “laughing up their sleeves” but to refer to Israeli cynicism about peace talks (not the 2-state solution) in light of what they have perceived as negative Palestinian responses and actions. He also said the following: “We have to keep alive the notion of a Jewish Zionist democratic state and we have to fight settlement expansion, because nothing in the Middle East is written in stone.” (He was referring again to “unforeseen events” might ease the conflict in the future.)

    His outlook is certainly bleak and he does not offer concrete proposals to solve the problems. That part you got right. Nevertheless, you distorted his presentation.

    You may post the comments above to your blog if you wish, and you may use my name as the co-chair of Canadian Friends of Peace Now.

    Thanks,

    Gabriella Goliger

    RESPONSE FROM PETER LARSON: Thank you. I have now edited the quote from Yossi Alpher to say Israelis are “laughing up their sleeves at the peace process.”

  13. I find it fascinating that two people with different perspectives heard the same talk from their different perspectives. Having met with Mr. Alpher countless times in Tel Aviv, I am not surprised by Peter’s account of what he said.

    Regardless of what he said, I am disturbed by the ugly notion that Palestinians must give up their rights under international law — RoR and ending the occupation of East Jerusalem — to keep Zionists even at the table. It is ugly because it presumes something about Jewish entitlement or exceptionalism that many Jews would have difficulty with, and many more should.

    The violence used to suppress these the rights, moreover the out-of-the-closet denunciation of them these days, will inevitably breed a violent reaction. It is the attitudes of Ms. Goliger that leave me persuaded that Israel will not easily let go of ‘might is right’ colonialism. Until the world, or perhaps the Jewish diaspora, understands what the Palestinians really live, they will not deal with only choice available: peace with justice, or an ever-deepening apartheid imposed by the barrel of a gun. As Alpher pointed out on the Bibi question, Israelis have already made their choice.

    1. You’ve echoed my thoughts exactly. It’s one of many painful ironies here that insistence on the ‘right of return’ which forms the basis of Israel’s claim to the land, should be cited by a peace group as evidence of Palestinian intransigence. Same for the status of Jerusalem: surely the sticking point is Israel’s refusal to accept the historical and spiritual importance of the city to other religions?

  14. Peter Is there a video of this conference/statement? Paul From: Canada Talks Israel-Palestine <comment-reply@wordpress.com> Reply-To: Canada Talks Israel-Palestine <comment+cg8iunroewzeya9-wxrewek@comment.wordpress.com> Date: Thursday, May 5, 2016 at 9:00 AM To: Paul Heinbecker <paul@heinbecker.ca> Subject: [New post] Israeli security expert delivers hard message to Ottawa Jewish community

    Peter Larson posted: ” Yossi Alpher, former Mossad agent, and now independent Israeli security expert, spoke to a crowd of concerned Jews in Ottawa on May 2nd. He was talking about the future of Israel, and they were clearly disturbed by what he had to say. Learn more Around”

    1. Paul,
      I don’t believe there is a video, but Gabriella Goliger says the has an audio tape of the event. If you are interested, you might ask her to share it with you. She is reachable through Canadian Friends of Peace Now, of which she is co-chair.

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