A dearth of strategic thinking

2007 isn't 1938. The Jewish people have record resources - moral, economic, intellectual, political.

Independence Day 88 (photo credit: )
Independence Day 88
(photo credit: )
As the Conference on the Future of the Jewish People opens in Jerusalem today, we are witnessing a gathering storm without parallel or precedent since the 1930s, including a dangerous Mideast threat environment with Ahmadinejad's Iran at its core, alongside the volatile Hamas-Fatah and Syria-Hizbullah-Lebanon configurations. Globally, a radical Islam threatens international peace, security and human rights no less than Israel, Jews and moderate Muslims. Internally, there are the questions of drift and discontinuity, identity and identification within and between Israel and the Jewish people.
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  • A policy conference without haredim? But 2007 is not 1938. There is a Jewish state as an antidote to Jewish vulnerability. There is a Jewish people with unprecedented resources, moral, economic, intellectual and political. There are non-Jews prepared to support Jews in their common cause. Israel does not stand alone. It has the support of important allies, such as Australia, Canada and the United States. It has a peace treaty with two of its neighbors and developing relations with emerging superpowers such as India and China. Amidst this threat environment, we can develop a principled, effective, comprehensive and multilayered strategy regarding Iran, including an enhanced sanctions regime, a panoply of legal remedies to hold Ahmadinejad's Iran accountable, and a grassroots divestment from genocide campaign. We can develop benchmark standards to hold Palestinian leadership to account for their support of terrorism, their culture of corruption and the incitement and hate education they encourage and finance. We can, as a result of the interdependence wrought by globalization, seek to revive the Madrid process working groups on joint issues such as water, desertification and the like. And from within, we can broaden and deepen the understanding and affirmation of our history and heritage, our ethics and ethos, our values and our vision. Moreover, the threat environment does not only threaten Israel and the Jewish people. If you took Israel and the Jews out of the equation, Iran would still be a threat to international peace and security. Radical Islam would still be a threat. The energy crisis and global warming - which will have tragic consequences also in the Middle East - would still be a threat. We therefore need to work in common cause with the international community to address these threats. Indeed, I come to the support of Israel not because it's a Jewish cause but because I believe - with all its imperfections - that it is a just cause, bound up with the larger struggle for international peace, security and human rights. This is what distinguishes 2007 from 1938, and leveraging it is our most urgent challenge. The Winograd Committee's interim report showed us that the greatest failure in the Israel-Hizbullah war was the preoccupation with personalities and politics, and in particular the absence of strategic thinking. It is often the same in the wider Jewish people - our greatest challenge is the absence of strategic thinking and action. A strategic planning process would see the threats as challenges, and seek to translate them into mobilizing opportunities through strategic thinking, planning and advocacy. For this reason, this week's Conference on the Future of the Jewish People being convened by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute is as timely as it is relevant. It brings together the best of American Jewry's organizational leadership, Israel's political leadership, and representatives of communities and organizations from around the world. The agenda will address the global threat environment, as well as the internal one within and between Israel and the Jewish people. Regrettably, we are not thinking and acting strategically in the face of these threats and challenges. We need new paradigms and policies, rather than the reiteration of the litanies of old, so that we can develop and act upon a comprehensive, inclusive and multilayered strategy to secure the future of Israel and the Jewish people, in common cause with the international community and our shared humanity. Irwin Cotler is a renowned Canadian jurist, a former justice minister and current MP. Haviv Rettig contributed to this report.