Casablanca, Jerusalem and Washington. Perhaps nothing better epitomizes the current confluence of Middle East relations more than the fact that the Jerusalem Strategic Tribune, a new bimonthly strategy and policy journal that examines the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem, is printed in Morocco and that its publisher, Ahmed Charai, is himself Moroccan.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Jerusalem Post, Col. (ret.) Eran Lerman, editor-in-chief of the publication, discussed the origins of the journal, what makes it unique, and the broad scope of subjects that it covers.Lerman is no stranger to the world of foreign relations, having served as Israel’s deputy national security adviser (2009–2015) and prior to that as director of the American Jewish Committee’s Israel and Middle East office (2001–2009). He is currently the vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and a lecturer at Shalem College.
The Jerusalem Strategic Tribune – available in print and online at jstribune.com – is an independent publication founded by Ahmed Charai, who heads a media conglomerate and is a Middle East adviser in the United States and abroad. Charai serves on the boards of numerous think tanks and NGOs, including the Atlantic Council, the International Center for Journalists, the International Crisis Group and the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security. He is the publisher of L’Observateur du Maroc, a leading Moroccan weekly.
In the Tribune’s premiere issue, Charai outlined the reason for its creation. “I had always found it surprising,” he wrote, “that no public media platform exists for the express purpose of examining the US-Israel alliance. “Perhaps such a platform could help policy-makers and civic actors alike better understand their own roles in ensuring that this unique, time-honored relationship yields maximal benefit, both for them and their many allies. “Perhaps in addition to Israelis and Americans, Arab and other voices with a stake in the relationship could contribute to such a journal, weighing in crucially on the implications of a given development for them.
“Such a forum, I felt, would bring together its own alliance of thought partners, perhaps differing politically in some ways but agreeing on an essential principle: The US-Israel alliance can, and must, always be a force for good in the world.”
Lerman expresses a similar idea, though perhaps a bit more succinctly, when he states, “I would say that the first function is to remind people of the fact that the commonality of discourse and commonality of purpose is on both sides of the Atlantic. It is focused on the underlying elements of the US-Israeli relationship, and it goes into broader questions of purpose – American purpose and Israeli purpose. We want to sustain a sense that our two countries are in dialogue.”
Beyond, that, says Lerman, the journal brings diverse points of view, new ideas, and innovative ways of looking at the issues from both the Israeli and American perspectives.
Lerman himself is a third-generation Sabra and acquired much of his understanding of the United States and its Jewish community from the year he spent at Harvard as a Wexner Program Fellow, earning a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government in 1996.
As an intelligence analyst, Lerman says that he gained a sense of the greater picture of American policy. “As an analyst, I understood that American policy cannot simply be explained in terms of the narrow definition of what American interests are. When I was at the Military Intelligence Directorate, people said American interests and held their nose on the assumption that it all had to do with oil. It doesn’t work that way, and it never did,” he says.
Lerman suggests that another key mission of the publication is to enrich the discussion between US Jewry and its relationship with Israel. “American Jewry had a role to play, and certainly since the 1970s and 1980s has become very significant,” he notes.
The Relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community is the focus of the recently released January-February issue.
In one article, Prof. Uzi Rebhun, head of the Division of Jewish Demography at the Avraham Harman Research Institute of Contemporary Jewry at Hebrew University, traces the close relationship between American Jewry and Israel to three foundational issues – the Holocaust, Israel’s centrality as a symbol of ethnic and religious belonging, and antisemitism.
Rebhun cautions that while older American Jews retain a great deal of affinity and loyalty to the State of Israel, American Jews ages 18-20 have markedly less loyalty, due to either their overall weak Jewish identity, their disappointment with Israeli foreign policy, or government discrimination against Reform and Conservative Judaism.Nadav Tamir, executive director of J Street Israel, addresses the issue of the connection between American Jews and Israeli Jews in a second piece.
In his youth growing up on a secular kibbutz, he writes, he viewed Diaspora Jews as “weak and fearful,” compared to the “strong Israelis, capable of defending ourselves and working the land.”It was only years later, after spending a year in Boston while studying abroad, that he was able to grasp the idea of Jewish peoplehood, which extends to Jews around the world, not just in Israel.
Tamir writes that the rift between Israel and many in the Diaspora requires a “proactive approach with a broad vision of Jewish peoplehood which advocates for a new direction in Israeli politics.”
A third article, written by Dan Feferman of the Jewish People Policy Institute, touches on Feferman’s speaking tour of the US, in which he discussed the Abraham Accords with American Jews and the possibilities that the accords can lead to greater peace between Israel and the nations in the region.
Feferman writes that many younger American Jews, who are too young to remember Israel’s peace offers to its neighbors and their rejection of Israel’s proposals, have been disillusioned by Israel. Learning about the Abraham Accords, of which they knew little, has filled them with greater optimism about Israel and given them hope.
Each issue of the Jerusalem Strategic Tribune focuses on a specific theme. The first issue dealt with America and the post-1945 world order, the second concentrated on Iran and its nuclear strategy, and the third centered around aspects of Diaspora politics.
The publication regularly features articles by highly regarded experts such as Dennis Ross, Dov Zakheim, Victoria Coates and Edward Luttwak.
Robert Silverman, a lecturer in the Middle Eastern and Islamic studies department at Shalem College, and a former senior United States diplomat, serves as managing editor, and is a frequent contributor to the pages of the journal.Lerman says that the journal periodically prints diverse opinions by writers on both sides of the diplomatic divide. For example, the first issue featured an article titled “The Two-State Solution Imperative,” by Gen. James L. Jones, national security advisor to president Barack Obama. Immediately following that article was a second piece titled
“No, You Can’t: Assessing the prospects of Jones’s two-state solution,” by Dr. Dan Schueftan, head of the International Graduate Program in National Security at the University of Haifa, which counters many of the points made in Jones’s piece.
Lerman says that the Tribune has made a favorable impression among readers on both sides of the Atlantic, among administration and congressional staffers, think tanks, and among leading decision-makers in Israel. He adds that it has also been recognized as a significant contribution within the IDF for those who deal with strategic issues.
While there is no question that the publication appeals to foreign policy wonks and aficionados, it seems likely that the Tribune will find a following among thoughtful readers who follow events happening in Jerusalem and Washington.
Lerman enjoys his role as editor-in-chief and chuckles that he has an added duty since the journal is printed in Morocco and flown to Israel. “I didn’t realize that being editor-in-chief also involves lugging boxes weighing 110 kilos for distribution, but that’s part of the fun of it.”
Ultimately, says Lerman, the Jerusalem Strategic Tribune seeks to find a middle ground, where a commonality of interests between nations exists.
Lerman, ever urbane and erudite, refers to the poem “The Second Coming,” written by William Butler Yeats in 1919, which reads, in part, “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.” Smiling, he says, “We are trying to disprove Yeats.”He then quotes the poem’s final stanza, which reads, “The best lack all conviction,” adding, “Nor do I think that the best lack all conviction. I think that we are on to something quite interesting, and we are just beginning to make our impact.”
This article was written in cooperation with the Jerusalem Strategic Tribune.