Ehud Barak, the former Israeli prime minister, says Donald Trump has a 30 percent chance of becoming president but he offered him advice on how to get there: name Condoleezza Rice or Robert Gates as his vice presidential nominee to make Americans think that he is a more stable candidate. A “few responsible nominations” would change everyone’s image of Trump. “If he just take for example, a vice president like Condoleezza Rice or Robert Gates, immediately you may start to look in a different way,” Barak said to a New York Jewish audience last night.
Hillary Clinton would be “great for Israel,” Barak said, speaking to more than 500 people in the Central Synagogue in New York. He had gotten to know Clinton during her husband’s administration. “She was extremely intelligent, probably not as communicative as her husband but not a drop less intelligent, probably more. She has a powerful mind.”
Clinton is “stable,” and “what she will do is highly predictable,” he said, adding: “With Trump no one can tell.” Barak described Trump as someone of “high volatility,” but said Trump might surprise people. The late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had had a low estimation of Bill Clinton at first, and ended up being extremely close to him, so Trump may also surprise.
Barak was far more critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said that Netanyahu had been taken “hostage” by the extreme right wing and was suffering “Stockholm syndrome,” going along with the rightwing settlement program across the West Bank. And Netanyahu had produced a crisis for Israel through his lack of vision.
“Somehow our government, all of them drifted into a state of mind, of pessimism, passivity, anxiety and self victimization,” Barak said, when the essence of Zionism is action, and taking control over Jewish destiny.
The Netanyahu government was deceiving the world. “When you listen to the Israeli government, they tell you we are for the two state solution, but when you look at their behavior, our best friends in the capitals of all serious countries in the world do not believe it,” he said. They think the true objective of the Israeli government is to control all the land between the river and the sea with some limited autonomy for Palestinians and make the world “get used to” this new reality.
The inevitable outcome of this policy–“and that is the key word, inevitably”– is either apartheid control by Israel, or (after 50 years) giving the vote to Palestinians, who would become a majority in the single state; and the result would be instability and civil war.
Barak likened the Israeli government to apartheid South Africa. He was “very well acquainted with Afrikaners” in South Africa. They are “extremely intelligent people, top quality,” he said. “Great people.” You could talk to them about Kant and Schopenhauer and listen to Brahms.
“But they didn’t know what happened around them. They lived in a kind of bubble of their own self righteousness.”
Netanyahu is guilty of this same self-righteousness. “There was a hostile takeover of our government by extremists, but now even the ministers, including the prime minister– the Stockholm syndrome maybe start to work on Bibi from those who took him hostage, the extreme right wing agenda.”
That rightwing agenda went against the essence of the Israeli law and international law. Israel needed to “wake up” and “come back to the basics,” of Herzl, Jabotinsky and Ben-Gurion. Those basic principles were: “safe haven for every Jew, security first, we should be a strong democratic liberal Israel and should produce an exemplary society, a model society.”
That was all in jeopardy because of Israeli hubris. The country is now on a “slippery slope.”
The remedy is for the Israeli government to act like Zionists and take strong measures that convince the world it is serious about allowing a Palestinian state, by ending settlement construction to the east of the security wall (which already gobbles up large portions of the occupied West Bank). But the Netanyahu government is instead “paralyzed,” Barak said.
“You have heard of the Bar Ilan speech?” Barak said, of the 2009 speech that Netanyahu gave at Bar Ilan University, declaring support for a Palestinian state. “He never brought it to the Knesset. It remains hot air.”
The world is urging Israel to take action, but “the government is deaf. They are deafened by extreme ideology.” And though Israel has become the strongest power between Benghazi and Teheran over the last 35 years with the support of the United States, the leadership is “fearful and anxious.”
So Barak urged American Jews to come out against Israeli policy instead of backing in blindly.
“I should tell you honestly I think that it’s time to debate… We are people who were never deterred by the need to debate,” he said. “I think that its time for Americans not just to– of course we appreciate the support, whenever there’s a crucial moment you stand behind us together.” But today is not a crucial moment.
“I think it’s time to end the unison, or the expectation from Jerusalem that you will talk the same voice.”
He also offered criticisms of Israeli policy in the region. Right now Israel could form an alliance with many Arab states against extremist ideology, terrorism, and Iran, but the Arab states can’t make such an alliance without Israel doing something for Palestinian human rights. “It will not fly,” he said. “I talk to the Arabs.. nothing will fly, believe me I talk to the people– nothing will fly not because they are great lovers of Palestinians–” but because they have to demonstrate to their people that Israel is willing to take “reasonable movement forward” on the Palestinian question.
Finally, Barak slammed Netanyahu for his stance versus the Iran deal.
“I think it was a bad mistake to sign the deal,” Barak said, to great applause from the Jewish audience.
But he said that the deal was irreversible, and that after five years, there is only “hope” that Iran won’t develop a nuclear weapons. The history of secondary powers developing nuclear weapons is mixed. Of course he fudged on the issue of whether Israel has nukes (it does), but Barak said that two had dropped their programs (Libya and South Africa), two had been stopped by military means from doing so (Iraq and Syria– Israeli attack) and two had gotten nukes (Pakistan and North Korea).
By “insisting on keep fighting the Congress and the American body politic, we missed a moment of grace,” Barak said. Netanyahu should have accepted the inevitability of the deal a year ago and done his utmost to get concessions from the Obama administration. For instance, Israel could have gotten a large role in monitoring Iran and demanded from the U.S. the military “means to execute an independent surgical operation” against Iran if it violated the terms of the deal. Such a strike would only take place if both American and Israeli governments agreed that Iran was in violation.
The world made a “grave mistake by signing this deal,” Barak said. “But we made a grave mistake by not accepting the reality and trying to extract the most.”