Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
"I hadn’t fully understood how much the country had so profoundly changed." BUT FIRST, a Thanksgiving quiz: is that cousin of yours a "Brit" or a "German"?
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"I hadn’t fully understood how much the country had so profoundly changed." BUT FIRST, a Thanksgiving quiz: is that cousin of yours a "Brit" or a "German"?

Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, with some unexpected takeaways from his time on the ground in Israel
Transcript

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Mark Dubowitz (Photo: Foundation for Defense of Democracies)

First your Thanksgiving family “Israel view test”:

Does that pesky family member you’re having Thanksgiving with (or not having Thanksgiving with, intentionaly) this weekend sound more like the Brit in the first video, or the German in the second? (HINT: you should definitely hope for the German.)

In the first one, watch his eyebrows as she asks her question:

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And now, our podcast with Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies

Mark Dubowitz (Photo: Foundation for Defense of Democracies) 

On November 15th, I came across what I thought was a fascinating tweet from my friend, Mark Dubowitz, of CEO of the FDD. I reached out to him to see if we could get together to discuss what he’s discovered here, and he graciously agreed.


Israelis are facing an unfolding crisis, but also an important opportunity to rebuild. If you would like to share our conversation about what they are feeling and what is happening that the English press can’t cover, please subscribe today.


By the time we managed to coordinate our schedules, though, Marh had already post this additional tweet, perhaps even edgier.


We got together in my office at Shalem College on a rainy day earlier this week, to discuss what Mark—a longtime seasoned observer of Israel—had learned on the ground while here. I found this comments fascinating.

Mark Dubowitz is the chief executive of FDD, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan policy institute. He is an expert on Iran’s nuclear program and global threat network, and is widely recognized as one of the key influencers in shaping policies to counter the threats from the regime in Iran. He also contributes to FDD’s China Program drawing on his academic background in China studies and his private sector work in the Indo-Pacific.

Mark was featured as one of the key “financial warriors” in the book “The Iran Wars.” Politico magazine featured Mark as one of Washington’s leading policy experts challenging Iran’s illicit behavior, observing that he is “…constantly thinking up—and promoting—new ways to squeeze the regime…”

Mark has advised the Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden administrations and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and testified more than twenty times before the U.S. Congress and foreign legislatures. He is the author or co-author of dozens of studies on economic sanctions and Iran’s nuclear program and is widely published and cited in U.S. and international media. A former venture capitalist and technology executive, Mark has a master’s degree in international public policy from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies where he focused on China, and JD and MBA degrees from the University of Toronto. Raised in Toronto, he is a proud American citizen, and has lived in Washington, D.C. since 2003.

The link at the top of this posting will take you to the full recording of our conversation; below is a transcript for those who prefer to read, available specially for paid subscribers to Israel from the Inside.

About a week ago, I was just flipping through X, formerly known as Twitter, when I saw a tweet by a person for whom I've long had an enormous amount of admiration, Mark Dubowitz. Mark is the CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, South African born. He's a Canadian American attorney, a former venture capitalist. He's done a lot of things, a very impressive person. And normally, because this is Israel from the Inside, we tend not to interview people who are from the outside. We're trying to talk to people who are on the inside and have them explain to the outside. But Mark was here, and he wrote a Tweet that I thought just captured so perfectly, something that so many people say, ‘I didn't get it till I was here’. Mark and I'm telling you, like, my son, who is in his 30s, lives in LA. Was not called up, but just couldn't bear not to be here. A couple of weeks ago, got on a plane, flew to Tel Aviv, obviously grew up here. He's fluent in Hebrew. He's all over the Israeli news. He's talking to all his buddies, those in the army, those out of the army. He comes, and 24 hours later he said to me, ‘Abba, I didn't get it’. Like there's something you can only get when you're here. And Mark, what you wrote really captured it, which is why I reached out to you even on your whirlwind trip to Israel. And I really appreciate your making time for it in the midst of what I know is an insanely busy schedule. So, I want to hear about the Tweet, but before we do that, let's first of all hear about you. And then I think a lot of our readers or listeners may not be fully familiar with what FDD, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies does. Let's tell them a little bit about that, then we'll talk about your first Tweet. We're going to talk about two Tweets, but we'll get to the first one first.

So, Daniel, first of all, thank you for having me, and it's really wonderful to see you after all this time, and I really do appreciate everything you're doing. I appreciate your voice, and it's a voice that we American Jews need to hear. And I've been following that voice over the years and reading your books, and I thought I understood Israel, Danny.

You were here 14 months not long ago, right?

Yeah. I'd just gotten back five weeks before October 7. I'd been living here for 14 months, and I'd hired a team in Israel doing a lot of work with your government, with your military, with your civil society. And again, I thought I had an appreciation for it. My Hebrew is not bad. I've been here many times. I studied here when I was a young person. But it struck me when I got here in those first 24 hours, going around and meeting lots of people from lots of places that, wow, I didn't understand Israel the way I thought I understood Israel.

Now, before we get to Israel, let's talk about FDD. Tell us what it is, what it does, who it serves, how it impacts.

FDD is a think tank. We also like to think of ourselves as an action tank. Our unofficial motto is we do damage to the enemies of America, Israel, and other free nations. We tell our investors that the end of the year we're going to give you a damage report about how much damage we've done, and if you're not happy with the damage we've caused, we're going to give you your money back. So, we take it very seriously. We have about 65- 70 people, a lot of work on the Middle East, a lot of work…

Based in DC, right?

Based in DC. I do a lot of work on Iran. I've been doing that for 20 years. But we have a China program, a Russia program. We've got centers on military and economic and technology power.

How does Iran feel about you, by the way?

Well, I'm not Iran's favorite. They actually sanctioned me in 2019.

Wow. They give you a little document or something?

They actually did. They actually sent out a letter, basically as part of the designation, and called me an economic terrorist and said that I am responsible as both the designing and executing arm of the US government on Iran policy, which is a statement that's great for fundraising. I'm not sure how true it is, but certainly they zeroed in on me and FDD. And by the way, four of my colleagues who've also been sanctioned by Iran because we have focused for two decades on this malign regime and trying to figure out ways to use American power and various instruments of power to do damage to the Islamic Republic. I also got sanctioned last year by Russia and blacklisted by Erdogan's, Turkey, and so making friends wherever I go, Danny.

Good for you. By the way, in fairness to Iran, even The New York Times backs them up, right? I mean, I was reading from The New York Times here, they write, “no one outside the Trump administration was a more persistent or effective critic of the Iran nuclear agreement than Mark Dubowitz”. So, Iran apparently has some reason to be annoyed with you. I mean, I personally forgive you, but so you've been very involved in a whole array of issues. Iran, Russia, Turkey, fighting the battle for democracy, whether it's Israel, whether it's America, whether it's other countries that care about democracy in the west. Which brings us now to Israel. Let's just go back, I mean, we could say that 2023 was, even before October 7, the worst year in Israel's history by far, because we came, a lot of people think, very close to a civil war, and it was really about issues of democracy. And we're going to come back to that maybe in the second half of our conversation to talk about how American Jews, especially American Jews and Jewish organizations and foundations, center and right of center, looked at what was going on here. And I want to get a sense of your sense of if things have changed because of that, but if this was the worst year in Israel's history until October 6, I mean, it became Israel's most catastrophic, horrible year in its history, starting on October 7. You got here, what date you get here? About a week ago, so I guess about November 12th, 11th, something like that. And you wrote this Tweet. Why don't you just read the Tweet for everybody?

So, the tweet starts off with “some observation from 24 hours on the ground in Israel. I hadn't fully understood how much the country had so profoundly changed. The horrors of October 7 were much worse than I'd imagined and had been reported. The resolve of the Israeli people in willingness to do what is necessary to defeat this unimaginable evil is much greater than I expected. They are deeply appreciative of American support but committed to do what they have to do regardless of that support. And they are prepared to pay a much higher price than ever before. Nothing will be the same again. Israel will emerge stronger under a new leadership and a new generation. And you really can't appreciate any of this until you're here and you look in their eyes. It's like nothing I've ever seen. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei and Hamas and Hezbollah have awakened something that they will live to regret, and many of these monsters won't live to even experience that regret.”

That's the end of the tweet. What led you to come to understand what you didn't understand before?

So, I think what really profoundly impacted me was looking into the eyes of, first of all, of Israel's young people. I think in America, our young people, and we've seen them on campuses, on the streets, and they say about 50% of young Americans between the ages of 18 and 26 support Hamas, 50% support Israel. And so, the young people in America, this TikTok generation that is being brainwashed with the poisons of social media and the poisons in American college campuses, is a generation that I profoundly worry about. I wonder whether we're running out of Americans, and what I mean is running out of patriotic Americans. But you come to Israel, and you meet the young people here, and they're serving in the military, and they are in these civil society organizations that rush to the south in order to take care of the Israelis who had left the kibbutzim, whose families had been butchered, whose communities had been destroyed, and they are there finding them homes and giving them food. And the young people of Israel are remarkable.

These are the young people, by the way, who are called the anarchists and the anti-patriots. And all of the people who are supposedly not caring about the country, called that by the Bibi Netanyahu government, called that by Bibi's ministers, called that by many people in the American right. I mean, a lot of well-known American journalists, both those I respect and those I don't, were very clear. This is about the young people on the left having a temper tantrum. And those people that supposedly had a temper tantrum, which of course it was not, are the ones who literally, on October 7, not the 8th, not the 9th, but on the afternoon of October 7, had already opened up the Jerusalem hamal, the Jerusalem War Room, giving out food, clothing, toys, toiletries, whatever. I mean, it's unbelievable. It's an aside, but to me, a very important aside because of the way in which these people were maligned and just dismissed as non-patriots, when precisely the opposite was the case. By the way, all those pilots who refused to fly, two and a half hours after the attack at 6:30 in the morning, they were in their cockpits. So, you saw all of this. What do you think has been awakened here?

Well, it's interesting Danny because I sent out a second Tweet to it, I'm sure we're going to talk about it. And I said something very similar. Where those reservists who had been shamefully maligned as traitors, they returned to their units to defend the country without reservation. And more Israeli reservists showed up for service than were called.

Right. In some units, it was 150%, in other words they called up 1000 people. 1500 showed up.

Right. And I think in numbers that are maybe in some cases the highest in Israeli history. So, these are patriots.

The population of Israel grew 3% in October because of the hundreds of thousands of people who came back, 200,000 came back because they were called by the military. And apparently another 100,000 came back just because they needed to be here. So, yeah, so much for the non-patriotism of young Israelis. But tell us more about what do you see in them? You said something got awakened. What do you think got awakened here? I mean, you're a very nuanced observer of societies in general, of democracies in general, but of Israel in particular. What got awakened here and why are we going to emerge stronger?

So again, and it's not just the reservists and the young people serving in the military, but what I think happened and what I've seen is that these really people, civil society in particular, responded with just breathtaking compassion and competence and heroism and determination. And I think in some respects, it's like a family who finds themselves orphaned because they discovered that the parents, in this case the government, had disappeared. And now they look to their left and they see their sister and they look to their right and they see their brother, and they realize they got to step up and take care of the family and the broader family, the Israeli nation. And I think there is a love for the country now that's driven by deep fear and concern, but also deep patriotism. And I think these brothers and sisters of this younger generation who are doing the fighting and dying are the ones who have tremendous love for the country and are going to demand fundamental change. And we'll talk about that, I think, later in the podcast about where I see some of that change going. But I think it was just a love for country and a deep sense of patriotism. Which, by the way, when you saw the protests on Kaplan Street what struck me when I was living here was that hundreds of thousands of Israelis were showing up to Kaplan Street for the protests and they were wrapping themselves in the Israeli flag.

Right. Which was not what happened in Portland and Seattle. They were not coming out to protest in Portland and Seattle with the American flag.

They were, in some cases, burning the American flag.

Correct.

So, I mean, I think that patriotism was on display before October 7. As you pointed out, I think there was a deep concern we were heading to civil war. And all of a sudden, the shock and the horrors of October 7, what Hamas had done, what Iran had done to the Israeli people, combined with this idea that they looked up vertically and they saw an empty space. And they looked horizontally, left and right and they saw their brothers, literally their brothers in arms and their sisters in arms. And the civil society and the Israeli people mobilized in a way that was truly awe inspiring.

Now, about a week after you got here, you've been posting more. I mean, I don't know when you've been sleeping, but you've been Tweeting a lot. Just going to read to you a tiny bit from the beginning of the tweet that I think came out maybe even earlier today. “Some more observations from my trip to Israel. The current government has been a total failure. Many ministries haven't delivered what the Israeli people need. Many ministers, not all, are incapable of competently delivering services. This is an egregious lack of leadership. This was obvious before October 7. It became a disaster after October 7”.

Now, I want to ask you something, first of all, before we get to October 7. You say it was obvious before October 7. It wasn't obvious to everybody, right. And I will speak personally and tell you it's not only the left that cancels, the right and the center in America cancel also. There's a lot of people who, because I took a position that I did on judicial reform, which was just for those who don't know that judicial reform was very necessary, but not that judicial reform pushed down the throats of Israel that way by this leadership. And therefore, I was in favor of stopping the process. I've been written off by lots of people, by philanthropists, by friends, by supporters. Not everybody, thank God, and whatever you know? You got to stand for what you stand for. But you say it was a disaster before October 7. You're very connected to a lot of those people that I'm alluding to. Why did they take the stance that they took? Did they really not get it? Were they trying to fit into some larger worldview? Did they really think that Israelis protesting at Kaplan were not… what was going on there?

Well, first I want to say, Danny, thank you for your courage in speaking out. And shame on me. Shame on me that I didn't speak out, because I saw it. And when I was here those 14 months, and I was talking to many, many people in the system, outside the system, and I saw it. And my view of the government and its leadership went through a fundamental transformation in the time that I spent here. I mean, it predated it maybe by six months or so. But when I was on the ground and I really began to understand what was going on, and I saw that the people on the streets were not left-wing anarchists. They were Israeli patriots. And the people that I most admired in this country were on the streets from across the political spectrum. And they were on the streets because they understood something fundamental. And it was not about judicial reform, but it was about the preservation of Israel's democracy, and that this government was Exhibit A for everything that they feared where Israel was heading and that the Supreme Court was a check and a balance against that kind of majoritarianism that would take Israel down a very dark path.

And I didn't speak out, Danny. And shame on me for not and we can talk about why I didn't. But let me tell you now, I am speaking out because after October 7, everybody should be speaking out, because I think the most severe threat to the state of Israel today does not come from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or from Hezbollah and Hamas, but it comes from this dysfunctional government that needs to go home…

So, once again, the most important threat to Israel today, you think, is not Iran or Hezbollah or Hamas. It's the Netanyahu government.

It is this government. It's a government that ultimately, when it goes, it will allow a new generation of leadership. And it'll allow these young people, by the way, and these are the young people who are I mean, they're the ones who are fighting and dying, and woe to the political leaders who stand in their way. I mean, millions will be on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv and the protests…

Right, the protests that we had last year are going to look like a small little gathering of a Cub Scout group relative to what's going to happen on the streets here if the government doesn't resign. I think. I don't know, but I think, but I don't want to go down the shame on me thing because I want to talk about the larger…

No, but Danny, I got to say something. I think it's very important that people admit that. I think it's very important for people to be honest after October 7 and say, you know what? Either shame on me for not speaking out because I knew, or shame on me for not speaking out or at least finding out what I didn't know because I think what happened, and you asked me what are the reasons for that? I think part of the reasons is, listen, for some good reasons people admired Netanyahu for some of the good things he had done for this country, and I think it's indisputable.

No question. As a finance minister, he was phenomenal. He privatized huge parts of the economy. We have the powerful economy, which is going to go through a very difficult time at the end of this war. The war is costing about what do they say? I think 10 billion shekels a day, which is several billion dollars a day for country. We're now on day 45 of the war. I mean the economy is going to be a huge issue. But you're right. Bibi did a lot of amazing things and there's no question that for a very long period of his career he was about the state of Israel. It was not about him. It was about the state of Israel. And whether something shifted or what happened, that's another conversation. But I want to get back to that question. I accept what you're saying about people having to own up. Fine. Why do you think so many people on the American center to right and I'm talking about well-regarded newspapers, well-regarded journalists, well regarded philanthropists, well regarded public intellectuals. They're all smart and they all know that an independent judiciary is critical to a democracy. It's just obvious. I mean it's kind of like Political Science 101. So, how'd they all get it wrong? Why did they all take the stance that they took without getting in particular about anybody you know specific, why did this party, the American Jewish community come out so vociferously and angrily and dismissively against anybody who didn't agree with Bibi?

Look, I think on the judicial reform issue and I'm not an expert on judicial reform, but what I think is too many Americans saw the issue of Israeli judicial reform through the prism of American politics and their understanding of the American system.

So, the American left is anti-patriotic so, the Israeli left must be anti-patriotic?

Well, I think that is a big, big insight, because I think the American right doesn't understand the Israeli left.

I think that's absolutely right, by the way. I think that is the critical issue. Remember those old days in school, maybe you're too young, but I remember we used to have those little things… they were like these plastic sheets, and they would get beamed up to the projector. I forget what they were called, but you could put one on top of the other, so you could take the outside of the United States, and then you could put the shape of the states on it. Then you put another layer on, and you'd let cities and then you could put another layer on to get highways or whatever. I forget what they were called, but… overhead projectors, that's what they were called. But they kind of took that sheet about the American political system, the right being whatever the right is, but the center left and far left being not terribly committed to the greatness that is America and that should be America. They just kind of plopped that on the map of Israel and said, oh, so the Kaplan people must be whatever. Okay. And you think that's the basic you think that's the basic piece of it? You think they really in their hearts, believed that the 100- 200,000 people in Kaplan every Saturday night really didn't care about the country?

I just don't think they fully appreciated that the people on the streets were not just Israeli patriots, but they're the people who also have built the country, who have fought for the country, who have bleeded for the country, who have built the high-tech economy, who have sent their kids into the military. And I think they didn't appreciate that it wasn't just the right that were patriotic in Israel, but the left were patriotic. And it's understandable that if you're an American and you don't understand this country and you see right and you see left and you see the American left, for which there are huge questions about whether the American left is deeply patriotic and loves Israel…

I think you're being generous when you say there's huge questions. But okay…

Huge questions. Right. I mean, when we see the demonstrations since October 7, and we see these pro- Hamas demonstrations and you know what offends me, Danny, as an American, more than the fact that they're pro-Hamas, is that they're anti- American and they're taking down American flags, and they're burning American flags.

And they're taking down, by the way, posters of kidnapped children. In what political world is it not okay to say that a kidnapped child should not be a kidnapped child?

Danny, we're running out of patriotic and sensible young Americans. The so when I think the American right looks at the American left, they rightly see that, and they're deeply concerned about it. And then they transpose that onto the Israeli political system and Israeli demography and that overhead projector, and they see, ah, American left and they think about like the radical Israeli left and they think they're not patriots, but they don't appreciate they were patriots on the streets then. And those same patriots today are in Gaza. But by the way, they're also right-wing patriots who are in Gaza today. I mean, in these units, these are mixed units and they're fighting and they're dying in defend of Israel. And I think, again, that's one of my takeaways from my eight days here and also gives me some hope for this country, is this country is coming together in ways that I haven't seen in the 35 years that I've been coming to Israel.

Well, that's an amazing statement. All right, so this country is more unified than it has been. You as a professional observer, really, not just a guy reading the newspaper, but a professional observer. You haven't seen us this unified in 35 years. I've lived here for 25 years. We have definitely not been this unified. The last time that I remember a kind of a sort of sense of shared sentiment was after the assassination of Rabin in ‘95. But that wasn't a policy thing. It was a sense of shock and horror that one guy could kill one guy. And very quickly it devolved once again into the right versus the left and to Oslo versus non-Oslo.

Well, that's my fear again, I hope it's not transitory, I hope it's permanent. And I hope that you know the sort of national slogan of Israel today, which is “together we will win”. I hope that national slogan transforms into something that together we will overcome, together we will rebuild. But I fear that the civil war, the risk of civil war before October 7 could become even more severe after October 7 if there are cynical and selfish leaders who are willing to exploit the sacrifice to try and divide the people once again.

Does that mean if Bibi doesn't resign? Is that what that means?

Yes.

Okay.

And this government, I mean, again…

Right, it's not only Bibi, obviously…

We tend to because we personalize it about leaders. But it's not just Bibi, it's this government. It's a number of ministers who serve in this government who are radical and incompetent and are radically incompetent.

Exactly. Now, when the CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies comes to Israel, pretty much he can get to see and speak to anybody he wants to get to see and speak to. And that's appropriate. So, you have spoken to more people than one can shake a fist at in the last eight days. You've spoken to government, you've spoken to army, you've spoken to civil service, you've spoken to religion, you've spoken to everybody. What's your takeaway from this whole amalgam of people about how people think things should play out the morning after in terms of when the war is over, which might take a year, but whatever that morning after is, the way things should play out the morning after and the way they think that things will play out. What's your take? We get back on the plane tomorrow, and you kind of close your eyes, and the whole fatigue of this marathon that you've been running begins to get you right before you kind of doze off. What's your takeaway about what's going to happen the days that the canons stop and the politics start, where do people want us to be and where do people think we're going to be?

Yeah, I mean, first of all, I'm not sure the cannons are going to stop anytime soon.

Correct. And we still have Hezbollah north that needs to get addressed.

Correct.

And what are you hearing from the army about that?

Well, I think that the army wants to hit Hezbollah. I mean, they understand that until they hit Hezbollah, there is no north of Israel. There are 80,000 Israelis who are no longer living in the north. And so, a country that has no northern border that it can defend and no southern border that it can defend is not a country. It's not a sovereign country.

And that's the sense in which, by the way, when people say this is an existential war, that's what they mean. They don't mean that they have tanks and planes that can come and defeat us. They don't. But if we cannot destroy Hamas in the south and destroy Hezbollah in the north, people are not going to take their children and move back to those cities anymore. They've been willing to live under rocket fire for decades now, and that's over. I think at least some of it appears that's over. So, you're saying that the army brass that you're talking to, they want to clean up with Hamas first, and then they want to go to north, and then they want to get rid of Hezbollah.

Yeah. And I mean, you know, not the topic of this podcast, because there's a lot more to be said about this. But fundamentally, the need to take care of Hezbollah, and what does that mean? Does that mean launching a massive preemptive attack and taking out 150,000 of Hezbollah's missiles and killing thousands of frontline fighters and basically decimating Lebanon? Perhaps. Does it mean a low intensity conflict where you hammer Hezbollah, and you basically draw a security perimeter of a few kilometers. And any of the Radwan Hezbollah frontline terrorists who enter into that, that's a kill zone. And you kill mean. And that's sort of happening on the border right now, but you extend that a few kilometers. I mean, the big wild card is my country, is the United States of America. I mean, the United States has made it very clear they do not want escalation, and they do not want Israel preemptively attacking Hezbollah. And listen, you know, the problem with U. S. support for Israel is it's a bear hug, and it's a very tight one. And you could see the Biden administration starting to slow down the resupply of the IDF, you know, those JDAMs you need? Well, the boat hasn't left port, and some of the massive bunker busters, sorry, you're not getting those. And your small diameter bombs, sorry you don't have a resupply route that is going to get them there in a timely way.

You’re hearing from military people that the supply has already started to slow down?

No, it hasn't.

But it could?

It could. That's my fear, by the way.

Okay, but it hasn't started yet.

No, it hasn't. No. I think what I'm hearing from the U.S. military, I'm hearing from the Israeli military, and I'm hearing from both governments, is so far A plus for the Biden administration on their Hamas policy, by the way, an F on their Iran policy. That's my assessment. But so far A plus on their Hamas policy, and we'll see for how long that lasts and how long Biden can actually withstand the enormous pressure he's under right now to basically call an end to all of this. But for now, it's going well. But if Israel hits Hezbollah in a preemptive attack in opposition of the Biden administration's wishes, that's where I worry about military resupply and the kind of political pressure that will be put on Israel.

So, now let's go back to the politics, the people that you're talking to, because you came here, you found a reawakened Israel, you found a love of this country, which is really unparalleled, especially among the young and especially among the left in the United States, just doesn't exist in the same way at all. So, you've discovered some greatness here and now religious, secular, old, young, left, right, the whole shebang. What's your sense as a mix of where people want to see the political system here go? When the canons either stop or whatever, it becomes a new routine. It's a new shigra, as we call it in Hebrew. It's the new norm. Where do people for the youth been talking to want to see this head?

They want new leadership. They want new competent and responsible leadership. I think, and I hope that there's no longer this sense of we need to find the next Ben-Gurion, the next Begin, right, this next genius Israeli leader that can lead us to the promised land. It's almost a sense of like, just give us a competent government. I met with mayors in the south from Likud strongholds, right?

Right, the south is or was a Likud stronghold.

And I won't name the towns because I don't want to you know give away the mayors, but I was struck by these hardcore Bibi- Likudnik mayors. They've had it, had it, and it was the same thing. They looked up vertically and they saw nothing.

There's nobody home. People in Ashkelon, for example, I'm not saying that's where you were, but people in Ashkelon when they had to evacuate, they evacuated themselves at the beginning because the government said, oh, you're outside the line, outside the radius. People in Sderot who have been living a hell-full life for a very long time feel abandoned. So, people it's interesting. So, people are saying we don't need the next know, we don't need the Ben-Gurion, the Begin, the John F. Kennedy, the whatever… competence. And do they talk about any names, or they're not there yet?

You know you hear names, and the obvious ones are Gantz and you hear Bennett and depending on where you are in the political spectrum you know, Lapid here and you know people who are competent, like Gadi Eizenkot and others. But I think people are in a position now where they haven't yet made up their minds and haven't even turned their heads to the political question. It's like first we win the war and then we win the politics. And I hope that in the aftermath of the war that there are young people, the names that may not be familiar to your American viewers, may not even be familiar necessarily to some of your Israeli listeners who step forward and say, listen, I'm here, I'm a patriot. I'm here to serve and do so selflessly. And I'm here to provide competency. And by the way, it's not just at the federal level. I mean, again, I'm an American, right? So, I believe in federalism. And I believe the most competent government at the end of the day is at the local level. These mayors-- resource them properly, make sure that they have what they need to run their local communities. Because I think what Israelis learnt after October 7 is there's no one home at Balfour.

Balfour is where Bibi lives or doesn’t live…

Right, or doesn't live.

He's moved into a private house with his government paid cook that he's not supposed to travel with. But okay, whatever.

Right, whatever. I mean, I think at the end of the day, and I want to make this because you're asking me to look forward, like less about Bibi and more about competent local leadership, right? Get good mayors in the job, give them the money they need to resource their communities, hold them accountable, hold them responsible. By the way, do that at the ministerial level. I mean, I was here during the Bennett government, the Bennett - Lapid government, and I'll say, you know, again, I'm not an Israeli, so I don't have a particular political perspective. But I just remember the moment, it was like there wasn't a crisis every day. The ministries seemed to be working. They were delivering, government was holding them accountable. There was almost like a different energy in the air.

Well, there was professionalism.

That's the word.

And accountability.

And accountability. Right. And I think that that's what people here are demanding. I would say, also, we haven't talked about the IDF and the intel services. And what struck me is you meet them, and the first thing I say to them is, thank you for defending the state of Israel and the Jewish people. And they say, don't thank me, I failed.

You hear it from every soldier that gets interviewed on the news. “I failed.”

I failed, I failed. And I'm going to be sent home after this. But before I get sent home, it is my responsibility to help reverse this and win this. And I think the leadership of the IDF, and the intel service has accepted responsibility with honor. And now I think they're all rising to the challenge with competence and courage and determination. So, you've got this generation again of IDF leadership that may have to go home, but rising up in the ranks are all these people who have fought with such courage and determination, who will be the next generation of the security establishment of this country, and please God, there will not be another October 7 again.

Please, God. So, Mark Dubowitz got here during the war. Mark Dubowitz is going to leave here during the war. Eight, nine days, ten days, whatever it is. A clear message to the American Jewish community about what they need to hear from you, given what you've seen.

Look, I think the message to the American Jewish community is, first of all, you should be very proud of this country. You should be very proud of the Jewish people in this country. And the non-Jewish people. We haven't even spoken about the Druze, who have been unbelievable. Unbelievable. I mean, I've been meeting with Druze soldiers, and they're interesting because they'll tell Mark, I think in Arabic, I speak Arabic. Unlike you, Ashkenazis, I understand that evil because I hear that evil in Arabic. And they are amazing. I mean, they have performed heroically, and they're also dying in defense of this country. And by the way, as we go through, you asked me about the demographics of Israel, the Israeli Arab community, I mean, there were Israeli Arabs on October 7 and Bedouins who bravely fought and died.

Correct.

And I think they were also horrified by what they saw.

And there's thousands of Haredim who have signed up for the army. Now, it's a drop in the bucket, it's true, but it seems to potentially be a game changer in terms of things that would never have been acceptable in their community. All of a sudden, thousands of kids have done.

Exactly. And by the way, it's not just the couple of thousand that volunteered for the IDF. It's also all the Haredi civil society organizations that are down near Gaza feeding the troops, picking fruits. Right. And also putting on tefillin. And by the way, I think that's another thing that the American Jewish community should understand is that I think there's been a renewed sense of commitment to the faith and the traditions of what it means to be Jewish. I mean, I heard stories of, like, elite combat units going into Gaza, sitting, taking a break in a bombed out building, and the guys are standing up and putting on tefillin, and even the secular guys are putting on tefillin. And the commander walks in, who's secular and he's like, what are you guys doing putting on tefillin? And they said, you know what? This is the time to connect. And he says, you know, you're right. Let me put on tefillin. I don't know if there's going to be some huge religious awakening in Israel, Danny, you know better than I may.

But a softening of the anti-religious.

I think that's right. I think that's right. I think American Jews, first of all, need to be proud out of Israelis and just admire the courage and the resilience of the Israeli people in the face of these horrors. Second is to understand yeah, the potentially profound changes that may take place in a positive sense from the cusp of civil war on October 6 to potentially a more unified Israel that will be stronger going forward. Third, I think the lesson learned should be come and understand Israel on its own merits. Don't transpose your political map, your ideological map on this country to help you figure it out. I mean, I think the one thing that failed Israel on October 7 was this conceptsia about Hamas, right? This conception which really drove away the intelligence services, the political establishment, and the military understood or actually didn't understand Hamas, right? We all have conceptsia, right?

We thought they were manageable. Give them enough money, look the other way, keep them happy, they'll leave us alone.

They became pragmatic. But my point is, I think all of us have our own conceptions because it helps us understand a very complicated world. And we do that as Americans in understanding America. We do that as American Jews in trying to understand Israel. And we have these conceptions. Well, I think October 7 blew apart many conceptions, security conceptions, but also the American Jewish community understanding of what is Israel and what is Israeli society. And I think it gets to the whole question of judicial reform that you pointed to earlier, like, stop trying to understand Israeli society through Republicans and Democrats, through the American system of the Supreme Court and the checks and balances of our system. Understand Israel not as an American colony, but as a sovereign Middle East country. I think that's a lesson. So those are some of my takeaways. I mean, I have a lot of takeaways on the security side, on the policy side, on what to do about Iran and Hezbollah and all of those maybe not the topics for this conversation, but I think I've walked away with a much more profound understanding of what I do know and a much more profound understanding and humility of what I don't know.

Well, that's also unbelievably important. For all of us, no matter what we're looking at. There's a phrase that they use in the yeshiva world, which is “yodea, sheino yodea”, person who knows what they don't know. And that's considered a compliment. That's not a dig. None of us know everything. The question is, do you pretend to know what you don't know? Or do you say, I don't know? And I hope that for all of know, there were people here, some people on the right didn't know the left, some people on the left didn't know the right. A lot of people in America didn't really know Israel. We haven't touched at all. We won't do it today, but we'll do it, I hope, in the next conversation, which won't be too far from now. We haven't talked at all about what American Jews are discovering about America and what American Jewish life is going to be like or not be like, because that is, to many Israelis, just as shocking as what's happening here. I mean, I go to shul in Shabbat morning, and we happen to have a lot of journalists in our shul. They're all coming up to me like, what in the hell is going on at Harvard and Columbia and so on, so forth. It's a whole other conversation.

But to know what we don't know, and this is an opportunity for all of us to think again, to look again. And what was so moved me about your tweets was especially the first one, I didn't get it. I mean, nobody knows this one really better than you as an American Jew. Nobody does. You just were here for 14 months, and then to see your tweet. I just didn't get it. That's what felt to me so important for people to hear your impressions on the eve of your departure. I know it's been a crazy, whirlwind trip. I know that even today was crazy. So, I really appreciate your taking the time to come by and have this conversation. Wish you a safe trip home and looking forward to welcoming you back here soon.

Thank you, Danny. I'm grateful to be here, and I'm humbled to be here, and I really appreciate, as I said, your voice, and it's been a prophetic one. So, I will continue to listen to it and learn from it. And I hope your listeners and many other people listen to you because you've committed to this country. You've got kids who've served this country, and you have deep insight, and people should listen with humility rather than malign you for your, let's say, unorthodox views.

Thanks.

If you’re just joining us, Israel from the Inside typically posts a written column on Mondays and a podcast on Wednesdays. That is obviously irrelevant for the time being.

We’ve delayed all the podcasts that were ready to go, because the people whose stories they tell deserve to tell them when we all have the bandwidth to hear. Hopefully, that will return some day.

In the interim, we’ll post as possible. Here in Israel, there are non-stop funerals to go to, shiva homes to visit, grandchildren to help care for while sons and daughters are in the army, so we’ll see.

Schedules are the least of our worries.


Impossible Takes Longer is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and at other booksellers.


Music credits: Medieval poem by Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gvirol. Melody and performance by Shaked Jehuda and Eyal Gesundheit. Production by Eyal Gesundheit. To view a video of their performance, see this YouTube:


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