by Laine M. Rutherford
The Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and community partners present the first speaker in the 2014-2015 Israel Today Forum: the Honorable Einat Wilf at the Sandler Family Campus next week.
Wilf will speak specifically about the topic, Danger Zone: What Regional Turmoil Means for Israel. In this free presentation, which is open to the community, Wilf will also share her views and insights on a variety of other timely issues relevant to life in Israel today.
Wilf holds the distinction of being the first female speaker featured in the four-year-old, increasingly popular speaker series. She has a diverse voice that is reflective of a changing Israeli society.
Born and raised in Israel, Wilf served as an Intelligence Officer in the Israel Defense Forces, was the Foreign Policy Advisor to Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres and, most recently, was a member of the Knesset.
A Harvard University graduate, Wilf also earned an MBA from INSEAD in France, and a PhD in Political Science from the University of Cambridge.
Currently, Wilf is a Senior Fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute, and an Adjunct Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Married, Wilf is the mother of three children under the age of four.
Mentioned as a possible future Israeli Prime Minister, Wilf is a passionate and articulate representative on issues she deems important to Israel’s future: economics, education, foreign policy, Jewish peoplehood and society.
Last week, Jewish News spoke by phone with Wilf in Israel. She proved to be an eloquent, emotive and thoughtful conversationalist. She’s looking forward to her visit to Virginia Beach, and is excited to share more of her insights and perspectives with the community on October 30.
The following dialogue contains excerpts from our discussion:
Jewish News: What would you say are the main areas of concern in the region, and how do they affect Israel?
I wouldn’t say that there is a single concern, because basically what we’re seeing engulfing the entire Middle East is one of those once in a century, or once in several centuries, events that really shape a region. There’s a battle between an old order and a new order that is in the process of emerging. We’re seeing fighting between forces of progress and reactionary forces, between the post-World War I order and between tribal, sectarian, ethnic and religious loyalties. We’re seeing the rise of the whole variety of extremist ideologies. Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran: all of these are concerns that are part of this bigger picture of a region where a lot of forces have been kept at bay for a very long time. And now they’re all exploding on the scene. Literally.
I would say that the greatest challenge and concern for Israel is how to maintain itself, as isolated as possible, from all of that turmoil. Essentially, what we have is a massive storm blowing outside and we need to be able to sustain ourselves for a very long time during that storm and, as much as possible, not let that storm affect our lives.
JN: You’ve said that Israel should be a neutral bunker. Can you explain what you mean by that and how it relates to what’s happening in the Middle East now?
Not completely joking, I used the comparison of Switzerland when describing this idea. Right now, we think of Switzerland as a lovely, quiet place, but for centuries, Europe was a very bloody and brutal continent. The Swiss had to basically sustain themselves as a bunker, and as a neutral bunker, in the middle of these brutal sectarian wars—wars of religion, wars of ideology. What many don’t realize, is that the Swiss army was very well trained and a formidable force that for many centuries protected Switzerland against the dangers of Europe.
I think that’s what the Israeli Defense Forces will have to be. We will have to be the forces that truly defend our country from all the bloodshed and brutality outside. We need to understand that we will need to be this “bunker” for a very long time. I think that this fighting is going to go on for at least several decades, if not a century, if not more. I wouldn’t build on prospects that are much rosier than that. However, it does not mean that life in the bunker cannot be good.
JN: After the recent war with Gaza, what would you say the mood is like in Israel?
It’s definitely been an exhausting summer. I think people are eager, you can see it in people’s behavior, to get back to normal as much as possible. But what you get is a sense, hovering in the air, of truly a bigger question: “What’s next?”
I think in a much broader sense, people have a feeling—whether it’s on the left, or on the right—that a two-state solution as envisioned in the 90s is kind of looking less and less likely. If you read the Israeli op-eds, if you’re in discussions these days, a lot of them ask, “Is Israel becoming a binational state?” and “Is there a one state solution?”
The thing is, that even the word “solution” itself has become in a way tainted. People no longer believe in “solution,” in the idea that you can sign an agreement and you can tie up things nicely in a bow, and then it’s over, and you can begin to deal with domestic issues unhindered by external issues.
I think more and more people are coming to the realization that Israel will have to be at war or on the defensive, in terms of physical defensive, for a very long time. This kind of realization that is dawning on people is causing a lot of reflection, a lot of discussion. “What does it mean? Are we ready for that? If we are going to be a fighting society—for however many more years—shouldn’t we be a more socially cohesive society? Shouldn’t these things work together to be an egalitarian state? Can we afford high inequality?”
So, it is a total mood of questioning, in terms of what’s next. A dawning of harsh realities. And no one, I think, has any more certainty, no more than they have an answer, about what the solution is is. Which is why people on the outside, who seem to offer solutions, annoy us—not by the fact that they’re for us or against us—but because the whole notion of having a solution doesn’t resonate any more.
JNews: You’re considered a very dynamic young leader in Israel. It’s even been said that you could be a potential future Prime Minister of the state of Israel. Would you consider doing that?
When that appeared in the French papers, it was the biggest surprise I ever had! It was never my ambition. My ambition was always in the big issues of domestic policy or foreign policy. I’ve always wanted to be an Israeli voice unto the nations. I definitely want to go back to politics and I definitely want to have a life in public service. I can’t see myself doing anything else.
JNews: Why is it important for us to learn about events in Israel and the Middle East?
On a broad scale I’d say that there is no such thing as being separate from the world these days. Specifically, on Israel and the Jewish community, I will encourage people to think about Israel as the most exciting, and difficult, project that the Jewish people have undertaken in centuries, if not longer. Establishing the state was the least of it. Being truly sovereign, accepting responsibility for shaping our own fate, wielding power— which is something we are sometimes queasy about, but is in essence a part of being sovereign and being a state—are things that we are figuring out.
Israel can’t do it alone. We are much better when we have this discussion with, and in the context of, the entire Jewish community.
I would say that only by engaging with Israel can you have a full Jewish identity. It doesn’t mean you have to buy real estate here. But the idea of being a sovereign Jew, of accepting responsibility for every part of life, from waging war to putting together a budget, to deciding what it means to be the Jewish state, I think is tremendously exciting. And difficult. And messy. And we should understand that as soon as we do anything interesting in life it’s going to be messy and difficult.