On Listening to Barak, an Essential Voice
Far too many of us have had a firsthand experience of Islamist terror, either in Israel or elsewhere around the globe. An even greater number of people know of someone slaughtered, or critically wounded, in these attacks on innocents.
Terrorists deliberately rattle our peaceful daily lives, making survival of these horrific events a matter of luck.
On August 9, 2001, I was some 100 yards from the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem when a suicide bomber struck, annihilating 15 civilians and wounding more than 130. About a month later, I was in my physician’s office in New York, undergoing treatment for the resulting post-traumatic stress; the morning appointment was interrupted by news of one plane, then another, smashing into the Twin Towers. As I walked onto Park Avenue and looked south, a plume of smoke obscured the bright blue sky.
My experiences are hardly unique.
But because of them, I found myself particularly incensed by Ruthie Blum’s column “Ehud Barak’s ‘Slippery Slope,’” published in June by The Algemeiner. In her piece, she directly blames former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for the launch in 2000 of the Second Intifada, directly linking it to his role in the failed peace negotiations at Camp David with the Palestinian leadership. In addition, she further vilifies Barak, calling him “criminally negligent” for stating that Israel may be on a “slippery slope toward apartheid.”
Her column was a response to Deustche Welle journalist Tim Sebastian’s recent one-on-one interview with Barak, in which he also sought to belittle the Israeli leader. Much like Blum, Sebastian had predetermined conclusions about Barak and the policies of Jewish state. In other words, Blum and Sebastian are two sides of the same coin; neither is truly listening to Barak, in this instance or any other.
To be sure, one can intelligently challenge Barak’s views and actions. He is human, after all, and not above reproach. For instance, one could cogently argue against his plan — created with current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — to conduct a military operation against Iran’s nuclear program.
Yet rather than considering any analysis made by one of Israel’s most decorated soldiers, who has risked his own life many times over in defense of the Jewish state, Blum revealed her pre-existing, deep animus toward one of Israel’s iconic and complex figures. She also showed her hostility toward any prior or future attempts to forge a path to peace with the Palestinians.
Given Barak’s intimate, lifelong relationship with the State of Israel, his expert views must be weighed, not summarily dismissed. Born in 1942 during the British Mandate of Palestine, Barak served not only as prime minister, but in other top cabinet and military posts. His courage in commanding Sayeret Matkal, the Israeli special forces unit, is the stuff of legends.
In her piece, Blum specifically wrote that Barak’s “desperate attempt to appease PLO [leader] Yasser Arafat by offering him ‘land for peace’ led to the launch in 2000 of a brutal suicide-bombing war against innocent Jews … ”
Following her logic, I should hold Barak responsible for the attack that fateful day in August 2001. To do so would be morally reprehensible; the blame lays in a broad sense with the then-Palestinian leadership and with individuals and groups who continue to pervert the true nature of Islam to justify their worldview.
For me, the takeaway is that Barak non-violently (and laudably) pursued peace with the Palestinians. I hope that a viable opportunity again presents itself.
As for Barak’s use of the term “apartheid” in describing Israel’s possible future, I, too, find it objectionable. Israel’s enemies currently and deliberately conflate the term with “Apartheid” with a capital “A,” as in what occurred in South Africa. That’s where any agreement with Blum ends; I am still grappling with another term to use in its place.
We should instead focus on Barak’s warning that should Israel stay its current course — expanding certain settlements while not trying to disengage peacefully with the Palestinians — the nation will experience demographic shifts. In a recent Ynet interview, Barak said, “The current government’s agenda is inevitably leading to one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. If democracy is preserved, there will be a state here with an Arab majority and a civil war; if democracy breaks, it will be an apartheid state at risk of collapsing. This is the existential threat.”
Jews in Israel and the Diaspora need to ready themselves for these inevitable changes, especially as recent events continue to divide our communities internally and deeply. In the coming months and years, we will also need the input of diverse and experienced voices, including that of Ehud Barak.
Alissa Kaplan Michaels is a former hard-news journalist who has worked for ABC News, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Omaha World-Herald, The Des Moines Register and The New York Times, among other outlets. She is the founder of a strategic communications consultancy.