NEW YORK — David Passig, a professor at Bar-Ilan University, is the first to admit that he is neither a prophet nor a seer.
Still, his job is to predict the future, based on the new academic discipline of Future Studies. His latest book, “2048,” describes the conflicts that likely will dominate the next half-century, including a major world clash between superpowers by 2020, the emergence of Turkey as a key regional power and buffer between the United States and Russia, and a major Israeli attack on its northern neighbors that will result in its conquering Lebanon and Syria on the way to making peace with the Palestinians and the Arab states.
The 400-page book, first published in Hebrew in 2010 and updated for its new English edition, is a self-described “rather depressing and deterministic” look at how Israel will fare. It’s based on Passig’s close study of history, psychology and technology, as well as the theory that history tends to repeat itself in cycles of 60 to 80 years, culminating in major clashes.
Anticipating my skepticism during a recent interview here — he is living in New York this year — the frequent lecturer and consultant noted that in the 1990s he predicted a major terror attack, at the beginning of the 21st century, on a building, a major symbol of world order. And his last book, “The Future Code,” a bestseller in Israel, described the coming of a world economic crisis by 2008.
“It’s not about intuition but about science,” Passig explained. “Futurists believe in the logic of history. We have come to believe there is order in the disorder,” he said. He uses his skills to forecast trends by understanding patterns from the past.
“It’s a big struggle to have people take this work seriously,” he acknowledged. “It’s very humbling work” because one often makes predictions that may be only 50 percent accurate. But he noted that his is a multidisciplinary, complex field that is just beginning to emerge.
The story of how Passig came to this pursuit goes back to 1982, when he was part of an IDF unit ambushed by the Syrians during the war in Lebanon, and later came under attack, inadvertently, by Israeli warplanes. Many casualties were sustained, including a number of Passig’s friends.
“I was 25, and I thought, ‘Will I fight forever?’ I kept thinking about the future” and whether it was Israel’s fate to be in a constant state of war. At the urging of his father, Passig took time off, toured Europe, and while in Brussels happened to visit an exhibit on homes of the future. He was intrigued. “How did they know?” he wondered.
Though he had been studying psychology, he found a graduate program in future studies, called Anticipatory Anthropology, at the University of Minnesota. He had never been to the United States, but he applied, was accepted and earned a Ph.D., specializing in the future of technology, social trends and education. In addition to teaching at Bar-Ilan and heading the university’s Virtual Reality Library, he consults for clients ranging from private companies in the United States and Europe to Israel’s ministry of education and air force.
His focus is always on the future, but in talking to Passig and reading his work, one sees that he believes much depends on ancient, and basic, human emotions, with an emphasis on deep-seated fear for the security of one’s family, people and nation. Also of critical importance, he believes, is a country’s geography.
Seeking to understand why nations go to war and are willing to send their children into battle, he employs a methodology that explores the convergence of a nation’s “six key variables: geography, topography, demography, economy, technologies and scientific developments.” In “2048,” he offers detailed analyses of these factors in writing about the United States, Russia, Turkey, key Arab countries and Israel. His overall thesis is that “a new historic era is now about to dawn in the Middle East,” and will play out in violent ways.
Turkey, he writes, will become an increasingly influential power, of importance to both the United States and Russia, which will renew their major struggle for dominance. Russia and Iran will seek to “wreak havoc on the front between Israel, Syria and Lebanon.” Israel, driven by strong fears for its survival, will launch a major attack to “wipe out large areas deep inside Syria and Lebanon” in a devastating war that will “reshape regional history for years to come.” And years later it will be Turkey, not the United States, that will play a major role in overseeing a peace treaty between Israel and the Arab states.
Passig is quick to point out that his scenarios are not to be taken too literally. But his emphasis on the importance of geography to the mindset of a nation amounts to a warning to Israel, noting that he wrote the book “to help raise its consciousness” and encourage its leaders not to over-reach.
“It is the nation’s connection with the land that is destined to change the nation’s identity,” he writes. “Unknown fears and urges will surface, and only an awareness of these facts will help the nation mature” and survive. He says Israel must recognize its limits, as a small country in the region it finds itself, and must always be “alert, clever, cunning and unpretentious,” aligning with “the superpower of the hour,” whether it is the United States or another country.
Based on Jerusalem’s current behavior, it’s clear that Passig has his doubts about whether its leaders can adhere to this script. He believes, for example, that regardless of who is in power, Israel will attack Iran’s nuclear sites because it is “driven by profound survival fears.”
Though Passig maintains “most of us live in a fog,” unable to perceive events taking place around us, much less effect change, he believes we are capable of doing so. And he closes the book with the hope that those who live in Israel will “understand where they live,” which will “help them shape that understanding with a degree of humility.”
Whether or not he is right about the particulars, such a warning resonates for those of us who share his concerns about the future of the Jewish state.
(Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The New York Jewish Week, can be reached at Gary@jewishweek.org. This column previously appeared in the Week.)