Without saying it directly, speaker Eric R. Mandel implied that the 1967 Six-Day War, which gave Israel substantial territorial gains, including control of the entire city of Jerusalem, has never ended.
“To this point in time, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not about territory but is primarily about Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” he told an audience of about 70 June 11 at Congregation Sons of Israel in Manalapan.
Mandel, the founder and director of MEPIN: the Middle East Political and Information Network, which issues research analysis, said the United States cannot end the crisis in the Middle East, but its absence in the process would create a vacuum where “the worst terrorist actors, which endanger our American national security interests,” would flourish.
“The essence of the Israeli conflict is not about territory, or this conflict would have ended 50 or 70 years ago,” said Mandel, 60, who also serves as Northeast cochair of StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy and education organization.
“This is still primarily an existential conflict that will end [only] when the Arab world is willing to sign an end-of-conflict resolution ending all claims with Israel, while accepting a Jewish state in its midst as described in UN Security Council Resolution 181,” he said.
The speaker, an ophthalmologist with an office in Manhattan, said he grew up in Brooklyn with parents who encouraged his interests, including the history and politics of the Middle East. In 1982, he worked on a presidential campaign, providing advice about Israel, the Middle East, and the American-Jewish community. “I was doing my medical internship at the time,” he said.
Today, Mandel is a frequent visitor to Washington. As director of MEPIN, a research analysis organization, he regularly briefs members of Congress about the situation in the Middle East. Just a few days following his Sons of Israel appearance, he was scheduled to address Congress about “the Iran nuclear agreement, the stability of Egypt and Jordan, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the threats from the north, Hezbollah, Iran, and ISIS in Syria.” A columnist for the Jerusalem Post, Mandel also meets regularly with Israeli leaders and thinkers.
Noting that Israel is surrounded by “failed states controlled in large part by terrorist organizations, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran and ISIS in Syria, and Hamas in Gaza,” he added, “Even its treaties with Jordan and Egypt are a ‘cold’ peace with fragile governments. There is little or no people-to-people contact between Israelis and Jordanians or Egyptians because of the policies of these Arab nations.”
In virtually all Arab societies, incitement against Israel’s existence and blatant anti-Semitism are ubiquitous in the media, in schools, in politics, and in messages from the mosques, said Mandel. “The Arab world has used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an excuse against normalizing relations with Israel, despite Israeli offers for two states for two peoples in 1948, 1967, 2001, and 2008,” he said.
Moreover, he added, “the conflict has nothing to do with the war between the Sunnis and Shiites, what is happening in Syria, or Libya, or Yemen, or Iraq, or Iran, or Lebanon, or Egypt, Turkey, Kurdistan, and so forth. If the conflict ended tomorrow, all of these situations would still be as hot and unstable as today.”
In fact, he said, the Sunni Arab world is currently working closely behind the scenes with Israel on intelligence and security against the common enemy of Iran. “But,” Mandel stressed, “only American leadership can bring this relationship out into the open and begin the process of normalization with Israel as a permanent fixture of the Middle East. If the Sunni states can do this, the conflict will have a better chance for a resolution.”
Turning to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, a prime target of StandWithUs, Mandel said it, too, is not about opposing the Israeli presence in the disputed territory of the West Bank, but about delegitimizing and eradicating Israel as a nation-state.
Mandel also asserted that most anti-Zionists, many of whom claim they are not anti-Semites, are indeed anti-Semitic, as that term is defined by the U.S. State Department. Denial of Israel’s right to exist, or subjecting it to a double standard when comparing it with other nations, fits the department’s definition of anti-Semitism, he said.
Mandel spoke briefly about the need to prepare Jewish college students so that they will be able to defend Israel’s right to be in the Middle East, a major focus of StandWithUs “There is an extraordinary attempt to intimidate and censure students’ free speech on today’s college campuses,” he said.
The speaker’s appearance at Sons of Israel was sponsored by synagogue members Ellen and Sheldon Gasior, in honor of their 51st wedding anniversary, and by their fellow congregant Anita Raboi.
The presentation was part of a series of programs marking the traditional synagogue’s 100th anniversary. Others have included film presentations, an evening of Jerusalem-centric music, and topical discussion events.