Israel Today Series begins with speaker and community solidarity event

by | Dec 7, 2012 | Uncategorized

Amos Guiora speaks to a standing room only audience.

Amos Guiora speaks to a standing room only audience.

In front of a standing room audience at the Sandler Family Campus on Tuesday, Nov. 27, Amos Guiora repeated a question often posed in discussions among military leaders: “Can we teach 19-year-old alpha males this thing called ‘morality in armed conflict?’”

The Israeli-American had asked himself the same question often in his 19 years serving in the Israel Defense Forces. During his tenure in the IDF’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps (Lt. Col. Ret.), Guiora held a number of positions, including Commander of the IDF School of Military Law, Judge Advocate for the Navy and Home Front Command, and, from 1994-99, was the legal advisor to the Gaza Strip, charged with implementing the Oslo Peace Process.

“The answer I came up with then, and that I firmly believe now is, ‘Yes. We can,’” Guiora said.

The realization, and his subsequent development of an IDF program teaching morality in warfare, came as Guiora listened to ongoing complaints and condemnations filed against the conduct of Israeli soldiers in his role as legal advisor.

The community gathered en masse to show their support for Israel. The diverse crowd included Jews and non-Jews, clergy, seniors and young adults. Prayers and song were included in the show of solidarity.

The community gathered en masse to show their support for Israel. The diverse crowd included Jews and non-Jews, clergy, seniors and young adults. Prayers and song were included in the show of solidarity.

“We came to the conclusion that we were having difficulties in the context of teaching soldiers how to act, and how to—most importantly of all—respect with dignity the innocent Palestinians who are caught in the middle between terrorists and the state’s right to defend itself,” Guiora said.

“If we as Israelis are going to conduct ourselves differently than how others conduct themselves, we have to walk the walk, it is not enough to just talk the talk,” he added, “I want to emphasize over and over again that the whole point of teaching morality is, yes, we must conduct aggressive counterterrorism against those who conduct terror, but we also must make every possible effort to minimize loss of innocent life on the other side.”

Guiora was in Tidewater as the first speaker in the ongoing Israel Today series, presented by the Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, in partnership with all area synagogues, agencies, and many community organizations and members.

In recognition of the recent barrage of missiles fired on Israelis by Hamas terrorists in Gaza and the conflict that arose from those actions, Guiora’s scheduled Israel Today appearance grew into a larger event. The evening became an opportunity for the community to gather and show their solidarity and support for Israel.

Local religious leaders, including Cantors Gordon Piltch and Wally Shachet-Briskin, and Rabbis Israel Zoberman and Sender Haber, led the crowd of about 300 in songs and prayers for Israel and for peace.

Sam Schwartz, from Senator Mark Warner’s office, read a proclamation and Senate resolution submitted by the Senator in support of Israel, and Steve Leon, CRC Israel committee vice-chair read a leader of support from Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms before welcoming Professor Guiora to the stage. Other legislators sent proclamations of support. (see page 11)

UJFT president Alvin Wall and CRC chair Miriam Seeherman also extended gratitude for the widespread support shown by the community, local military personnel and their families, and the government.

“The support of the United States, and that of Americans, and friends of Israel— Jews and Christians alike— is essential to her survival,” Seeherman said. “We have the power, as individuals and as a community, to help Israelis in small and large ways, but always in essential ways. By touching hearts, by changing minds, by raising funds and raising hope, by lending our names and faces and voices to our far away family who are all too often portrayed in the media as a nameless, faceless and ruthless people.”

In his presentation, Guiora imparted anecdotes, opinions and insight, and enlarged his original topic of morality to include an assessment of the current situation in the Middle East.

“As to the recent conflict in Gaza, here’s what you need to know,” he said. “Hamas is comprised of seriously smart, seriously savvy and seriously dedicated, motivated individuals… Are they in this for the long run? Absolutely. Do they feel that they won last week? Absolutely. But I have no idea what winning and losing is in this situation. There are no winners and there are no losers here. This is the new 100 year war.”

Before answering audience questions, Guiora shared some final thoughts.

“Will it be possible to extract ourselves from this?” he asked. “Yes, but its going to require flexible, creative leadership. Right now, we are stuck.

“The fact that were stuck in this paradigm, defined as mission impossible—under no circumstances, no matter how complex the dilemma and no matter how complex the questions—allows us to for a second lose our morality and for a second to lose our moral compass. If there’s one thing, what ultimately separates us from them, it is indeed a powerful sense of morality, a powerful sense of values and the understanding that human life is indeed sacred.”

A law professor at the University of Utah, Guiora teaches, writes and speaks extensively on national and security issues. He is a widely cited expert in areas such as counterterrorism, religious extremism, international law, drones and targeted killing.

With Guiora’s credentials and reputation in mind, and fulfilling the CRC’s mission to educate, motivate and advocate, Robin Mancoll, CRC director contacted groups and organizations she thought might like to hear him speak.

Subsequently, during his four-day stay, Guiora was left with very little free time. He spoke to the UJFT’s Business & Legal Society at the Vandeventer Black law firm in Norfolk, to students at Tallwood High School’s Global Studies Program in Virginia Beach, the Graduate Program for International Studies and the Institute for Jewish Studies at Old Dominion University, to the ODU Hillel, to the editorial board of The Virginian-Pilot and was interviewed on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Newswatch program, among others.

One full day of Guiora’s visit was devoted to a symposium hosted by the Virginia Beach Police Department. Among the 100 attendees at the VBPD Law Enforcement Training Academy were federal, state and local law enforcement professionals, and other first responders and public safety personnel.

Guiora shared his expertise and experiences of interactions with terrorists, as well as data and perceptions on topics such as national security versus religious freedoms. He prompted discussion by questioning whether America was taking the growing threat of terrorism seriously enough, and suggested that additional strategies for counterterrorism should be adopted proactively, rather than reactively.

“We understand the model, the threat environment that Israel faces…and in the context of that environment they operate in, the approach they have to threats is different than what we do here,” said Willie Session, the FBI’s Assistant Special Agent in charge in Norfolk.

“I think our policies and laws have dealt well with the threats we’ve faced, but we continue to evolve. We are always mindful that there could be more threats in this country, and, as part of the integration of law enforcement agencies into counterterrorism task forces, we look for different techniques that help us identify, address and mitigate any threats as they relate to terrorism.”

The Israel Today Series continues on Wednesday, Feb. 13 with Neil Lazarus, who will speak on the topic of Diplomacy. For more information on the series and other CRC events or resources, visit, or call 757-965-6100.

by Laine M. Rutherford