Israeli writer and scholar Yossi Klein Halevi came to Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill Sunday to speak about his new book, “Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation.”
But as his host, Rabbi James Gibson, noted, there was an “elephant” in the room: the just-concluded temporary nuclear deal between Western powers and Iran.
Speaking to some 120 people in the main sanctuary of the synagogue, Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and a widely respected authority on Israeli affairs, said he believes the deal makes the world more dangerous, weakening two important checks on Iran’s nuclear program: sanctions and the prospect of a military strike, primarily Israel.
Because of this deal, he said, Iran will be less likely to make more concessions in subsequent talks, and Israel will be thrown into a situation similar to the early 1970s, prior to the Yom Kippur War, when then-Prime Minister Golda Meir anticipated an attack from Egypt and Syria but debated whether to strike first.
Halevi spoke little about his book, which traces the evolution of the political left and right in Israel through the eyes of paratroopers who fought for the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.
But he said one paratrooper he writes about went on to become a founder of the Peace Now movement while another helped found the Settler movement.
Both movements have had their ups and downs since the war, he said. The settlers experienced a wake-up call with the First Intifada when the Palestinians demonstrated they would not quietly accept the status quo. But the peaceniks had their own wake-up call during the Second Intifada when they realized many Palestinians would not just automatically embrace peace and coexistence.
Today, most Israelis are centrists, Halevi said, though they frequently lean left or right depending on the circumstances and turn of events in Israel. He said he does so himself.
He equated Jewish Israelis to Passover Jews who remember the Exodus from Egypt and Purim Jews who remember to blot out the name of Amalek, and he warned both traditions must be manifested.
“If you’re only Passover Jew you become like Noam Chomsky,” Halevi said, “and if you’re only a Purim Jew, you’re like Meyer Kahane.”