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Sunday, August 20, 2017

(l-r) Lincoln Richman, JCC program manager; Moshe Levi; Diane Mael, director of adult services at the JCC of Middlesex.

The JCC of Middlesex County hosted “Israel’s Friends and Foes: The 2017 Middle East Realignment” on Thursday evening, July 13. Nearly 50 people attended the enlightening presentation given by Moshe Levi, the Jewish Agency’s shaliach to the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest. Levi was invited back to continue the discussion about current events as they relate to Israel following his highly rated presentation in May of this year.

Lincoln Richman, JCC program manager, noted in his introduction that the JCC was lucky to have gotten the presentation squeezed into Levi’s calendar as he will be moving back to Israel in August.

Levi began with a brief history lesson of Israel’s shifts in alliances with its Middle East neighbors, beginning with the creation of the State of Israel, to better understand Israel’s current relationship with Saudi Arabia in the face of Iranian aggression. He said that the geopolitical and economic changes in the Middle East have changed the relationships and power players in the region. Regime shifts resulting from the Arab Spring and the economics based on the price of oil create new alliances and shifting stabilities. Water and the presence of natural gas influence how Israel postures itself in the new economic reality of the region.

In displaying a map of the region from 1948, Levi noted the origin of the term “Green Line” to denote the original borders of Israel. The term came from the use of a pencil with green lead to draw on the official map of the region and delineate the ceasefire line of the War of Independence; it was not intended to be used as the actual borders of the country.

Levi discussed that the Arab League’s 1951 establishment of a boycott against companies doing business with Israel did not work, noting that one of the reasons Israelis love Subaru cars is because they were among the first companies to defy the boycott and market their products in Israel.

Levi discussed the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967, when the Arab League met in Khartoum, Sudan, to decide whether to accept that Israel won the war and try to make peace or to continue their boycott and further aggression. They chose to continue aggression and stated a platform that included no peace or recognition of Israel and no direct negotiations. Egypt and Jordan used the “loophole” of allowing indirect negotiations when they forged their treaties with Israel. As recently as last year, a former high-ranking military officer from Saudi Arabia visited Israel along with some Saudi executives. Levi noted that this visit clearly had the blessings from governing bodies in Riyadh or it would never have taken place.

According to Levi, the unrest in much of the Arab Middle East has leaders in moderate countries looking for something to stabilize the region, and they view Israel as a key component due to Israel’s economy, military intelligence and relationships with superpowers in the West.

Levi noted that you can’t ignore the presence of Iran and its impact on the Middle East. Iran could be called an “octopus” because of its tentacles and involvement on Hamas, the Iran nuclear deal, Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Iran is a serious threat in the region, according to Levi, but the positive aspect of this is that it may unite the rest of the region against it.

Touching on ISIS and its impact on the region, Levi stated that conflict in the region would continue even if ISIS were to disappear because of the inherent conflicts between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam. Iran wishes to control the entire region and promote the Shia—in direct conflict with those countries in the region who are Sunni. These conflicts in the Arab world go back for centuries, long before the establishment of Israel.

The presentation was a fast-paced two hours, with time for questions and answers from the audience. Beth Zwirin of Iselin has a married daughter who lives in Israel. She came to get a sense of current events, and left with a wealth of new information.

Marilyn Schmied of Metuchen came to the presentation with her husband and said they felt they should come to get information about Israel that was accurate and not just what is presented on TV.

Levi, who served in the IDF and holds an MA in Comparative Religion from Hebrew University, got involved in doing these presentations as a “way of sharing his love of Israel and all that is great about the country.”

Racquel Wilsey of Edison attends many of the JCC of Middlesex programs and trips throughout the year, and said she came to this presentation because she had heard Levi was a particularly good speaker. Georgette Chinitz, also of Edison, came not only to support the activities of the JCC, but because whatever concerns Israel also concerns her.

For more information about the JCC of Middlesex County’s programs, visit www.jccmc.org.

By Deborah Melman