NEW YORK—With prospects of elected office in the rearview mirror, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon didn’t simply reminisce when bidding farewell to U.S. Jewish leaders. Rather, he presented a wide-ranging economic and political analysis, advising his audience to “see reality as it is… in order to affect policy.”
Speaking to members of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations at a Jan. 10 meeting in New York City, Ayalon said goodbye—for now. He was booted last month from the Yisrael Beiteinu party’s Knesset ticket for not informing his boss, former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, of a meeting he held with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Ayalon warned of a universal “growing ungovernable tendency, even in your (American) system.” He discussed the importance of recognizing the magnitude of geopolitical change.
“We must consider what world will be left to the future generations,” Ayalon said.
By 2050, 10 billion people will seek food, affordable energy, water good medical care, and security, he said.
“The only thing that can close the gap is technology… and Israel is at the forefront of technology,” Ayalon said.
Israel’s relationships throughout the international community are also changing, said Ayalon. Practical demands have created a “new agenda” and Israeli experts are already in place.
“Israel is not isolated at the United Nations,” he said. “There is a sea of change between multi-lateral and bi-lateral diplomacy, [the latter] realistically based on how a country can benefit from a relationship… People like to do business with Israel—and it shows!”
Israel’s recently discovered energy resources—initially gas and lately, oil—will further alter relationships, suggested Ayalon, providing “the bridge between the economic world and the world of politics… Change in the price of oil will change the geopolitics of the world.” He characterized the “weight” of oil as “diminishing.”
A reliable water supply is an essential component of growth—especially in the Middle East. “Israel is the only country that desalinates,” Ayalon said. He anticipated that “Israel will supply water to the whole Middle East.”
Though he was not a candidate for office in Israel’s election this week, Ayalon recommended that the new government “think outside the box” when looking at the complex issues of Iran and the Palestinians.
“We must recalibrate our expectations,” Ayalon said.
“I do not see a final status agreement,” he said. “The minimum Palestinian demands do not meet the maximum Israel can give. We should find the good, if not the excellent… We should find the converging interests between Palestinians and Israelis. This is not a ‘zero sum game.’ We need a formula… Final borders are not necessary—perhaps a return to the road map and a long-term interim solution to give Israel security and the Palestinian Authority recognition.”
Ayalon stressed that the changes have more promises than challenges. Both sides need to think of management of the conflict and reduced tensions in order to develop an interim agreement with economic cooperation and less acrimony, he said.
“Since the 1948 war, the Arabs have said ‘time works for us;’ 65 years later, Israel is stable, technologically advanced, and able to defend itself,” Ayalon said. “At the same time, the Arab world is imploding! Time works only for those who use it well.”
But Israel needs to invest in more than technology, according to Ayalon.
“A different framework, with more universal burden sharing, including universal draft or national service,” is part of solving the “growing gap between the millionaire young entrepreneurs and the lower-paid workers,” he said. Ayalon added that Israel “must level the playing fields and strengthen its periphery.”
The $32,000-per-capita income attained by the top third of Israelis has been “achieved with one hand tied behind our back” because “25 percent [of Israelis] are not participating” in the workforce, according to Ayalon. He suggested that addition of the ultra-Orthodox could double Israel’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), advising that “it must be done with a consensus; some influential rabbis are already agreeing.”
Days after his “farewell” at the Conference of Presidents, JNS.org joined Ayalon during a breakfast at Congregation Edmond J. Safra in New York, where the diplomat was welcomed by the senior rabbi of the congregation, Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadi. In this setting, Ayalon spoke on topics of personal interest. He stressed instilling pride and knowledge of Judaism.
“We have to make Jewish education affordable for everyone,” he implored, calling for collective Jewish responsibility and cooperative action, including “federations, rabbis, and leaders… We have to understand how important it is to keep Jews united.”
“When push comes to shove, the common goal must be the survival of our people,” he said.
Ayalon as deputy foreign minister had significant input in Israel’s hasbara (public relations) campaign.
“Once the Arabs realized they could not beat Israel on the battle ground they took other means, taking the battle to the economy, to energy, to education, using the United Nations, and attempting to use BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions),” he said. “They have found they cannot beat us that way either!”
Israel’s “Achilles heel,” however, is its hasbara, Ayalon said. He explained that there is “a common ground between Fatah and Hamas—there is no difference” besides a division of labor.
“Hamas is on the ground; Fatah is in Geneva and in New York—they are just as dangerous,” he said, adding that it is therefore “important to fight back with the truth and the facts.”
Ayalon considers the descent of Israel in the public’s opinion to have started after the 1993 Oslo Accords. That year, hasbara was effectively suspended. The government’s attitude, said Ayalon, was basically if you have a good policy, you don’t need to explain it.
“A major mistake: 20 years after Oslo, the Palestinian narrative is recognized, Israel’s is not,” Ayalon said. He noted that despite the return of 100 percent of Gaza and 42 percent of the West Bank, the Palestinians “have reneged on all agreements,” including the promise to make no unilateral decisions.
Ayalon said he “decided to change the paradigm of Israeli hasbara”—moving away from the “reactive-apologetic” approach.
“For Israel, it’s back to the simple message,” he said. “This is our land. It has always been our land. Jews deserve justice. Jews have their rights.’”
“We have to go back to Oslo; to work more effectively with the channels of distribution,” he continued. “First, we have to get through the filters—reporters and publishers who may be under pressure from the Arab establishment’s financial power—starting with oil money and thus advertising.”
Asked to comment on the nomination of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, Ayalon said he knows Hagel personally. Acknowledging that they “did not see eye to eye,” he characterized Hagel as “a decent and fair interlocutor… I think he believes in the relationship between the U.S. and Israel as a natural partnership.”
“Once he sits behind the desk in the Department of Defense, he will be impressed with the volume of the relationship between Israel and America,” Ayalon said of Hagel. “Remember, support of Israel is in America’s best interests.”