From the vantage point of his office in Jerusalem, the Israel correspondent for NJ Jewish News is taking an optimistic view of the future of his adopted land.
Gil Hoffman, a Chicago native who also serves as chief political correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post, told NJJN, “There is newfound hope that a solution can be found to prevent a nuclear Iran without getting to a military approach.”
Hoffman spoke by phone Oct. 16, just hours after the European Union passed tough new sanctions that freeze assets in more than 30 Iranian oil, gas, and banking firms.
“The sanctions passed were very important,” said Hoffman. “The Netanyahu administration has been pushing for these steps to be taken for years, and now they have been. That can go a long way to putting enough pressure on the Iranian regime to surrender.”
Iran, the Middle East, and the upcoming elections in both Israel and the United States will be on his agenda when Hoffman visits New Jersey this month for speaking engagements at area synagogues. He will discuss “Red States, Blue States, and the Jewish State.”
Hoffman’s appearances are being sponsored by the Jewish National Fund.
In a preview of his talks, the correspondent explained the reasons for Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s dissension from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tough stand for a military option against Iran.
“Netanyahu believed he could push the Obama administration to set red lines he thought were extremely important in the effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran,” said Hoffman. “Netanyahu failed in getting Obama to do it. Barak believed Israel needs to come more in line with what America wanted to do.”
Asked whether relations between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama may have become less strained than previously thought in recent weeks, Hoffman noted that “in his Sept. 27 United Nations speech, Netanyahu went out of his way to praise Obama. Even when a conversation was organized between him and Mitt Romney, Netanyahu made sure it was OK with the White House.” Hoffman said he thinks Netanyahu realized he “went a bit too far” in hinting he would prefer Romney as America’s next president.
But the correspondent insisted that Netanyahu “wasn’t trying to interfere in the American elections. He was trying to do what he could to make the world safe and prevent war.”
The Israeli leader “sees the world differently than Obama,” said Hoffman. “It is possible he was trying to get a commitment for red lines from Obama now, when there is an election coming up and he thought he might have leverage over Obama.
“A not-so-nice word for that is blackmail — but not a bad blackmail. It’s a good blackmail, trying to get the world to stay safe.”
Should Romney defeat Obama, “there would be changes for good and for bad” when it comes to America’s dealing with Israel, Hoffman predicted.
“When you have a new leader there is a learning curve. If there were to be a military approach, presidents tend to be more hesitant at the beginning of their terms. That is the negative. The positive is that Romney says he ‘will ask his friend Bibi what to do’ when it comes to a big decision about the Middle East. It is certainly not what Obama has done.”
Asked how the two American candidates might differ in handling Israel’s dispute with the Palestinians, Hoffman said that “since September 2011, Obama has not been putting pressure on Israel. So, are we going to get the Obama of the first couple of years in office or the Obama of the last couple of years in office? We don’t know that yet.”
But if Romney were to become president, said Hoffman, “he says the Palestinian administration does not want peace and isn’t willing to concede anything. Well, that’s the current Palestinian administration. Maybe there will be an Palestinian election, and it will be entirely different. Right now they have no election set, but Israel will do everything possible to persuade the Palestinian people they have an interest in choosing moderate leadership that Israel can make a deal with.
“I personally think Netanyahu would be willing to go a long way toward peace with the Palestinians.”
Hoffman said he has “no doubt” that Netanyahu will win reelection as prime minister and will have a parliamentary coalition “more moderate” than his current right-wing government.
“The religious parties will be part of the next coalition, but Shas will be led by Arye Deri, who is willing to make a lot more compromises on matters of religion and state than his predecessor [Eli Yishai] was.”
Under the next Israeli government, said Hoffman, “There will be real dialogue on issue of religious pluralism, issues of serving in the army, issues of getting more ultra-Orthodox into the workforce….”
But, Hoffman told NJJN, he plans to be “be walking on eggshells” when he discusses some of his more controversial topics in New Jersey.
In addition to covering the elections themselves, “I will be speaking a little bit about explaining the unpopularity of Obama without being negative about him. I realize there are people who have very strong points of view, and I am not going to offend any of them.”