Israel needs to assert its financial and strategic independence from the United States even as it asserts its rights with its Arab neighbors, according to Israeli radio personality Yishai Fleisher.
Speaking Feb. 27 at Congregation Etz Ahaim in Highland Park, Fleisher said Israel is being pressured into the “folly” of negotiations with the Palestinians by outside forces, including the United States, Europeans, and nongovernment organizations.
“Israel needs its independence,” said Fleisher, who describes himself as Israel’s only English-language radio talk-show host. “It needs to be its own state and not a puppet state of the U.S. Both countries will and should always be friends, allies, and trading partners. But it will be good for us to stand on our own two feet.”
Fleisher was also willing to question a sacred cow among pro-Israel activists, suggesting that Israel should wean itself off the more than $3 billion in foreign aid it receives annually from the United States, most of it for defense.
“In the end it serves Israel better not to have too much intervention by America,” said Fleisher. “America has many issues of its own it needs to focus on and have less focus on Israel. And I say this with great love for America: that it is not the time to force Israel’s hand on the Middle East.”
Fleisher also said that being assertive is part of the culture in much of the Middle East and may hold the key to a peace agreement.
“People ask, ‘Will Israel always have to live by the sword?’ If we have to, yes. But if Israel masters the language of respect — by which I mean we have respect for the Arabs, but also self-respect — then there is a chance for peace. But, that chance for peace has to be by asserting your rights. By relinquishing your rights you lose respect,” said Fleisher.
A former resident of Beit El, a West Bank settlement, Fleisher opposes talk of territorial compromise.
“Why would we want to give back Judea and Samaria?” he said. “Why did we just give the keys back to the Temple Mount?”
Much of the Israeli public, he said, has given up on the two-state solution in the aftermath of rocket attacks from Gaza and uncertainty in the Arab world. Fleisher was critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party for forming a coalition alliance with former Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni, who supports the peace process.
“Surprisingly, Bibi Netanyahu went against the grain by resurrecting the career of Tzipi Livni,” said Fleisher. “She’s from a smaller party and a political failure, but he gives her a high slot, the Justice Ministry, where she can negotiate with the Palestinians.”
Netanyahu’s failure “to read the political winds” will hurt him, added Fleisher. “I think he is not only hurting his future political career, but damaging his legacy.”
Born in Haifa to Russian immigrants, Fleisher lived in Wayne from the age of eight to 17 and in Manhattan from age 21 to 27. He is the founder and director of Kumah, a nonprofit organization in Israel and the United States working to educate the public about Israel. Fleisher’s radio program is simulcast in the New York-New Jersey area on the Nachum Segal Network.