Monday, October 31, 2011

To Be a Jewish University Student in Britain

One way to think of British Jewry is to focus on its slow and steady decline: 270,000 souls, demographically graying; synagogue affiliation on a downward spiral; out-marriage running at between 30-50 percent. The possibility of anti-Semitism a constant with 283 verified incidents reported in the first six months of 2011. Of these 41 were categorized as "extremely violent" and 11 took place on campus. The line between despising Israel and holding Jews in contempt has been blurred beyond recognition with the Guardian and Independent leading the way and even the once respectable Times joining in.

A more nuanced take, however, would view the community as a sort of gradually dying star: moribund yet illuminated. The "strictly Orthodox" are growing in number. Culture is thriving. Next month there will be another Jewish Film Festival. Over the Christmas holidays hundreds will gather in Coventry for the 30th annual Limmud Conference, which bills itself as a "carnival of Jewish learning." Construction will soon begin on a new Jewish community center in northwest London. There are more kosher restaurants in London today than there was after World War II when the Jewish population crested at about 450,000. It is not remarkable nowadays to spot young men openly wearing kipot on the London Underground – surely a sign of a community at ease. Hundreds gather every fall at the Regent's Park Bandstand to enjoy Kletzmer music in the shadow of London's Central Mosque.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, British Jewish life can be "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." To flip through the pages of the Jewish Chronicle one could erroneously conclude that its readers are desperate for any scrap of news about anti-Semitism, mesmerized by features on the Holocaust and famished – despite a steady diet in the British press – for more critical reportage of "east Jerusalem settlements" and uprooted Palestinian olive trees.

How the fate of British Jewry will play itself out will depend greatly on its next generation of leaders -- today's university students comprising a miniscule 0.5% of the country's 1.6 million undergraduates. Their attitudes have now been mined in a comprehensive survey conducted by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a think-tank with loose ties to the Board of Deputies of British Jewry. As one would have expected, the younger generation is mostly pessimistic about their community's future and troubled about the way current leaders are managing its affairs, according to the report.

The survey authors, David Graham and Jonathan Boyd, note that the formative experiences of today's university cohort – all born in the late 1980s and early 1990s-- encompass the July 7, 2005 London bombings (by Islamist terrorists) and Operation Cast Lead (the 2008-2009 IDF campaign to halt Hamas rocket fire from Gaza into Israel).
It is a generation that came of age in a "multi-cultural" England where Judeo-Christian values are not dominant. Britain's Muslim population stands at 2.87 million and growing; Islam is ascendant and Christianity in decline. Mohammed is most popular name for baby boys in London. On a good month, perhaps 1.7 million, mostly older worshippers attend Church of England services. The Church's hierarchy is riddled by clergy who do not believe in God.

In this milieu, and like their cohorts elsewhere in our post-modern, post-industrial, digital age being Jewish is mostly a personal lifestyle choice. With all that, the report's findings are generally encouraging. Seventy-nine percent agree that having a "religious identity" is integral to being Jewish; 95% basically embrace the idea of Jewish peoplehood. Though like many young Jews they conflate what it means to be Jewish with the Holocaust (83%) and anti-Semitism (75%).

By the time they reach university a majority will have had some formal Jewish education (though some will have been barred from attending day schools such as JFS over not being Orthodox). Nearly all will have been members of youth movements; about half arrive at university Jewishly observant, eating only kosher meat at home, for example. Remarkably, 27% are Sabbath observers. Most (59%) say their closest friends are Jewish. At the same time, of those who have had romantic relationships, just 40% have had exclusively Jewish partners. A clear majority of traditional respondents, but only a minority of progressives, agreed that it is important for Jews to marry other Jews.

Whatever their views, most Jewish students cluster (whether consciously or not) around a small number of universities mostly Leeds, Birmingham and Nottingham, Manchester, Cambridge, Oxford, and Bristol, and various London-area colleges. On campus, the majority professes to be open about their Jewishness and 72% say "supporting Israel" is integral to their Jewish identity. (Among the broader community, 80 percent feel a "commitment" to Israel.) An overwhelming majority has visited Israel and, no less important, hold predominantly positive attitudes. Eleven percent, however, is indifferent, ambivalent or negative toward the Jewish state. The key variable in attachment to Israel is level of commitment to tradition. The more observant students are the more emphatically pro-Israel.

In focus groups students found fault with the Jewish media and establishment for overemphasizing anti-Israel sentiment on campus, according to the report. Yet 42% nationwide say they have experienced anti-Semitism. And fully a third of Jewish students in London (where British Jewish life is centered) have experienced Jew-hatred. Indeed, a former head of the National Union of Students (NUS) who has a Jewish-sounding name but is not Jewish had to be escorted away from a Manchester demonstration against tuition hikes last year when louts in the audience chanted “Tory Jew scum."

This year, under different leadership, the NUS first adopted and then scrapped a range of anti-Zionist resolutions.

And last week, Mike Freer a pro-Israel Member of Parliament (yes, such a species still survives) was threatened in his London constituency offices by a Muslim crowd. While most non-Jewish university students are indifferent to Mideast issues, Jewish undergraduates prefer to keep their pro-Israel sentiments to themselves rather than risk the opprobrium of pro-Arab rabble-rousers on campus. Muslim extremists are disproportionately the perpetrators of anti-Semitic outrages.

Perhaps it is in this context -- rather than the dovish views of British Jewry generally -- that we should ponder the pathetic plan by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) leadership to distribute both Palestinian and Israeli flags on campuses. The risible idea is to prove that Jewish students, too, support "freedom, justice and equality." It will be interesting to see whether the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) begins distributing Israeli flags to prove it has come around to supporting a two-state solution.

To be fair, when University of College London President and Provost Malcolm Grant outrageously declared that campus anti-Semitism was not a problem, the UJS called on him to "stop ignoring the harmful influence of extremists," though the former head of the Jewish student union at UCL said more plainly: "He knows this is an outright lie." In any event, it is left to unapologetically pro-Israel groups like "Stand With Us" to proactively campaign for Israel and against Palestinian Arab intransigence.

The authors of the report, David Graham and Jonathan Boyd, argue that it's time to put campus hostility toward Israel into perspective. "Anti-Semitism continues to be a significant issue on campus, but it is also subtle and complex" and on the whole, a reader might conclude, students have become inured to toxic hatred of Jews and Israel.

Boyd acknowledged that Jewish students can't articulate pro-Israel sentiments without "grief." Non-Brits might read it as quintessential British understatement, but the report takes cold comfort in finding that students are more concerned about grades, relationships and future aspirations than day-to-day anti-Semitism. The problem may be so endemic, crushing and discouraging that pondering it for too long can sap morale.

Or as Boyd argues more delicately, anti-Israel hostility "should not dominate our view, not least because over-emphasizing it appears to be affecting the Jewish identities of this young generation."
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Israel Labor Party Rises as Kadima Falls

Ladies in Waiting

Being Tzipi Livni can't be easy. The Kadima Party chair and leader of the opposition knows that were elections held now – instead of 2013 when technically scheduled – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party would once again be positioned to lead a right-of-center coalition with 66 out of 120 Knesset seats. What she might be loath to acknowledge is that as her political fortunes wane the woman to watch is Labor's newly elected leader Shelly Yachimovich.

Livni will be lucky if she holds on to the Kadima leadership. That's quite a come down for someone who garnered one more seat in the 2009 elections for her party than Netanyahu did for his and who fully anticipated the government's collapse – with a little help from the Obama administration – by 2010.

The ascendant Yachimovich, age 51, began her career as an advocacy journalist focusing on the social welfare beat. She formally entered the political area in 2005 at the behest of her mentor-turned-adversary Amir Peretz. Her leadership chance came when the abrasive Ehud Barak quit Labor to establish the breakaway (and moribund) Atzmaut Party in May 2011. Polls show Yachimovich could catapult "new" Labor from its current 13 mandates to 26 easily supplanting Kadima as the official opposition party.

As a writer and politician she has campaigned against privatization and neoliberal economics though not in conventional Marxist terms but as a betrayal of "Zionist ideals" and as a form of "post-Zionism." Under her leadership Labor will emphasize domestic issues and seek to harness the diffuse energies unleashed by the summer's massive economic protest movement. She knows she'll need a long period in opposition to rehabilitate Labor and develop her own leadership capabilities. Even as she's dovish on security issues, unlike Livni she has not obsessively berated the government's handling of the Palestinian front.

If anything, Yachimovich takes flack from the hardcore left for being uncomfortable with liberal universalism. She scandalized hardliners by her refusal to demonize the settlement enterprise. "I certainly do not see the settlement project as a sin and a crime. In its time it was a completely consensual move. And it was the Labor Party that founded the settlement enterprise in the territories. That is a fact. A historical fact," she told Haaretz.

Nor does she tend to engage in gratuitous haredi-bashing. In fact, Yachimovich is easily the right's favorite woman on the left. Confirmed left-wingers for whom principle is more important than influence will likely be drawn to Zehava Gal-On, effectively the new Meretz leader.

All the while, Kadima has fretted away one third of its Knesset seats to Labor, polls show. Ariel Sharon intended Kadima to be pragmatic, but Livni has ineptly maneuvered it further to the left only to discover that in any "left-left" contest the more authentic Yachimovich comes out ahead. For instance, Livni failed to capitalize on the summer's economic protest movement. Visiting a Tel Aviv tent encampment, she told protesters – not incorrectly – that their real goal should be to establish more rational budgetary priorities. Livni claimed she'd parse national spending more equitably than Netanyahu and be less beholden to special interests. Yet without reforming the electoral system – a structural reform that would necessitate collaboration between Likud, Labor, Yisrael Beitenu and Kadima – no government has much of a chance of passing a budget not weighed down by pork barrel politics. If truth be told, Livni squandered an opportunity at electoral reform when she refused to partner with Netanyahu and Lieberman.

For Livni, foreign policy does not stop at the water's edge. She recently told a British audience that the Netanyahu government was chiefly responsible for failing to inveigle Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table. Her visit to London had been intended to be the first test of Britain's amended universal jurisdiction law which has seen anti-Zionist Jews collaborating with the pro-Arab lobby in waging lawfare -- threatening the arrest of visiting Israeli officials on contrived "war crimes" charges. But Livni's efforts fizzled when it was revealed that the Foreign Office had simply granted her special diplomatic immunity.

Her now legendary indecisiveness – as foreign minister she repeatedly hesitated to call for Olmert's resignation though he was paralyzed by scandal and discredited for his handling of the Second Lebanon War – was again on display this week. With Gilad Schalit home and a fresh spike in Palestinian violence already being felt, Livni revealed to Yediot Aharonot that she had been opposed the deal. Why had she kept silent for two weeks after the Cabinet voted to move forward? Because she didn't want to "turn this matter into a political issue," was her lame explanation. Yachimovich – who openly supported the deal – took Livni to task for sitting out the debate.
Now, Livni's best advice to Netanyahu's "extreme right wing government" is to add fuel to the fire: release 550 Fatah terrorists to bolster Abbas's popularity on the Palestinian street. She further grumbles that Netanyahu has been too tough on Turkey but too soft on Egypt.

Prospects are fair that she will not lead Kadima in the next elections. Party founder Ariel Sharon could square Kadima's intrinsic ideological contradictions and squash vicious personality conflicts by force of his bulldozer personality. Olmert held the party together with Machiavellian maneuvering. Livni just does not have the right stuff.

Her most immediate threat comes from Saul Mofaz, Kadima's number two, who will try to oust her in party primaries to take place by early 2012. His penchant for double-speak – "the Schalit deal sets a dangerous precedent" and I support it – and lack of popularity foretells that he will not be the one to salvage Kadima's fortunes.
Of course, politically Netanyahu could yet falter if, for instance, the Schalit deal – still to be concluded – realizes its critics' worst nightmares. Still, any real challenge to his leadership will probably come from security hawks such as the Likud's Moshe Ya'alon or Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu not from any of the ladies or gentlemen on the left.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Conservative Judaism in America -- Where the movement's next generation of rabbis are heading

Centrist No More?

For all the theological, ritualistic and institutional differences separating Orthodoxy, Conservatism and Reform, for all their divergent approaches to revelation, halacha, decision making and politics, what outwardly distinguishes the streams in the minds of many ordinary American Jews comes down to branding: Orthodoxy is on the right; Reform on the left; and in the middle stands Conservative Judaism.

But can the movement still be thought of in those terms? A recent report conducted by the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary that examined the political views of its Generation Y rabbinical students, and those of its older alumni ordained since 1980, implies that the new crop of Conservative rabbis are unlikely to want the movement anchored in the center. At first blush, the report purports to show what one would hope to find in examining the views of those committed to the rabbinate: a solid Jewish identity and strong attachment to Israel.

On closer examination, this identity appears increasingly filtered through a universalistic perspective. And it seems as if the rabbis' support of Israel is more and more conditioned upon redefining what it means to be pro-Israel. It is hard to uphold the center when you are not in it. American Jews identify themselves as liberal (38 percent) or moderate (39%), according to the Pew Forum. In contrast, 58% of the Conservative rabbis surveyed identified themselves as liberal. The rabbinical students were even more tilted to the left with 69% calling themselves liberal. As liberals, who by definition hold an optimistic view of human nature, the rabbis would find it hard to acknowledge the zero-sum nature of the Arab-Israel conflict no matter what the Palestinians say.

To understand events in Israel, they seek out ideologically reinforcing left-oriented sources, according to the report: liberal media outlets, Facebook posts and Haaretz. This helps explain the conspicuous disconnect between how mainstream U.S. Jews and the next generation of Conservative rabbis understand the conflict. Strikingly, only 30% of JTS rabbinical students believe that the Palestinian Arabs seek "not just the disputed territories, but Israel's [ultimate] destruction." In contrast, the latest American Jewish Committee survey showed that 76% of American Jews believe that the Arab goal is not the return of the "occupied territories" but "rather the destruction of Israel."

Disappointingly, 12% of the students are "uncomfortable" with Israel being a "Jewish state." Moral relavatism comes more naturally to those of a universalistic bent. The movement's future rabbis – all of whom have spent time studying in Israel -- mostly do not see Palestinian leaders as enemies: 56% say the Palestinian side is no "more to blame" than Israel for the ongoing conflict. In stark contrast, most Israelis – regardless of their political views – simply do not believe that today's Palestinian leadership is capable of making peace with Israel.

Sure Hamas dominates Gaza and the Fatah leadership in the West Bank refused to negotiate with the Netanyahu government during a 10-month settlement freeze, nevertheless a majority of the rabbis surveyed wants – at this juncture – an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 "borders" with "land swaps" and a freeze on "expansion of settlements in the West Bank." Compare this to where most U.S. Jews stand given unremitting Palestinian intransigence -- 55% oppose a Palestinian state, an AJC poll revealed.

The rabbinical students, by a 68% margin see the "settler movement" – mind you, not just extremist among the settlers – as a "threat." Oddly, the JTS survey did not bother to ask whether the Palestinians should be required to accept Israel as a Jewish state (a position adhered to by 96% of rank and file American Jews) or whether Mahmoud Abbas should abandon his demand for the Palestinian "right of return." Still, it's not hard to discern the rabbis' political orientation: AIPAC is not liberal enough; J-Street, whose platform practically mirrors that of the Palestinian Authority, is closer to their hearts (58%), and the New Israel Fund is the absolute cat's meow (with an 80% approval rating).

The survey tells us that 72% of rabbinical students have engaged in dialogue efforts with Arabs; we read that some head to Ramallah for the opportunity to socialize with Palestinians; others take excursions with New Israel Fund-supported activists to West Bank Arab villages. The survey – for reasons we can intuit – tells us nothing about commensurate efforts to understand the "settler" mindset. Many of the student rabbis report having visited a "settlement" though it is left to our imagination under whose patronage or indeed how the study defines "settlement."

The 63-year-old Zionist enterprise is a work-in-progress and no Israeli would suggest it is beyond criticism. Thirty percent of Reform rabbinical students return to the U.S. feeling “hostile” or “indifferent” toward the Jewish state. We don't know what makes 53% of JTS rabbinical students report being "sometimes" or "often" ashamed of Israel. Is it the ultra-Orthodox stranglehold on state-controlled religious life that's alienated them? Too bad, then, that one sees so few future rabbis volunteering extensively at existing Masorti congregations in Israel.

Seminaries and professors have been unable or unwilling to provide their students with the necessary moral compass that might profitably help them navigate between worthy universalistic values and particularistic Jewish standards. By the time they get to seminary it may be too late. Most of today's rabbinical students did not attend Jewish elementary or high-schools (though they were likely to have attended Camp Ramah). The attitudes revealed in the JTS survey hammer home the need – now more than ever – for the community to find the means of providing its youth with a parochial education.

The JTS report concludes that the younger cohort of rabbinical students is "no less connected" to Israel than their elders. Yet, for too many, this connection seems compromised by the felt need to reconcile attachment to Israel with uncritically assimilated universalist ideals, and in extreme cases, with left-liberal dogma that is anti-Zionist. No amount of redefining what it means to be pro-Israel can paper over the predicament facing Conservative Judaism's future leaders: What is the place of the movement in Jewish life if not as the centrist stream embodying political and theological moderation?

Monday, October 10, 2011

REMEMBER THE AWACS BATTLE?

Political Contrail

This month marks the 30th anniversary of an emotionally fraught and bitterly waged political confrontation between the Reagan administration and the organized Jewish community that culminated in the U.S. Senate approving, 52 to 48, an $8.5 billion sale of sophisticated airborne radar planes (AWACS) and F-15s to Saudi Arabia.

Now, the Pentagon is overseeing the phased sale -- unveiled in 2007 with nary any opposition-- to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of warplanes, helicopters, missile defense upgrades and layers of anti-missile weaponry worth over $67 billion. The Obama administration's desire to sell Bahrain bunker busting missiles and other weapons has been criticized -- not by Israel's friends, but -- by opponents of the sheikdom's handling of internal protests.

How to explain the fact that ever since the 1981 AWACS debacle massive arms sales – including offensive systems – to Arab countries have faced no real domestic opposition?

For one, the American Jewish community simply does not have the stomach to fight such sales. For another, geostrategic circumstances have changed: Iran now poses a clear threat to both Gulf States and Israel. And finally, Israeli decision makers are broadly convinced that the Washington really is working to maintain the country's qualitative military edge.

Politically, there's no question that the AWACS battle wilted the resolve of Israel's friends to confront any U.S. administration head-on. True the Saudi ambassador may no longer enjoy unfettered access to the White House as Prince Bandar once did in the Reagan era. Then Arab lobbyists shamelessly called on senators to choose between "Begin and Reagan." But the whiff of anti-Semitism injected into that row has apparently had a long shelf-life. Even then-Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger said -- apparently with a straight face-- that criticism of Jewish lobbying efforts against the AWACS deal had taken on "an ugly tone." His cabinet colleague Alexander Haig claimed to have been worried that if the deal were blocked there would be "a dangerous potential for anti-Semitism." And then Senator Joseph Biden said he had the "feeling that American Jews are being made a scapegoat by supporters of the sale." It probably did not help that the president himself warned "other nations" not to meddle in "American foreign policy.”

In geopolitical terms, at the height of the AWACS controversy Iran had been ensnared in a devastating war with Iraq (that was to claim staggering numbers of casualties on both sides). In contrast, the Saudis today find themselves besieged by imperialistic Persian ambitions which have instigated unrest in their Eastern Province, threatened nearby Bahrain, added fuel to endemic instability in bordering Yemen and undermined Sunni interests far and wide.

It is widely understood that King Abdullah has found the Obama administration's approach to blocking Iran's drive for a nuclear weapons capability not good enough. Arms sales to Saudi Arabia send an important signal to Teheran of Washington's commitment to the kingdom, according to Stephen Schwartz, author of The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror.

Back in 1981, Jerusalem feared that its overall qualitative edge was indeed being eroded; that armed with the latest American military jets the Saudis might feel compelled to join the next Arab war against Israel, and that despite their refusal to help lead the Arab side toward peace with Israel Washington had unfairly rewarded the kingdom. At the time Israel also faced wall-to-wall international opprobrium – not least from the White House – for having destroyed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor.

In the midst of the AWACS storm, Reagan wrote Prime Minister Menachem Begin: "You have my reassurance that America remains committed to help Israel retain its military and technological advantages." Significantly, that pledge -- discounted by some at the time as a political maneuver -- has been by-and-large kept ever since, according to Joshua Teitelbaum, a senior lecturer of Middle Eastern History at Bar-Ilan University and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.

On the other hand, it is regrettably clear that selling weapons to Saudi Arabia has had no hoped for impact on moderating its stance toward Israel. The kingdom remains in the vanguard of the 60-year-old Arab League boycott of Israel. In any event, Schwartz argued that the House of Saud, given its custodianship over Mecca and Medina, simply cannot be seen to be at odds with what passes for the Palestinian Arab consensus on Israel.

On top of deterring Iran, the U.S. military hardware bolsters the prestige of the Saudi ruling class and solidifies its power (though the regime's ultimate domestic guarantor is the National Guard – not the armed forces), said Schwartz. He argues that King Abdullah has decided to rein in Wahhabi extremists and wants the kingdom to be part of a "crescent of normality" that would extend from Kuwait to Oman.

The possibility that current comparatively moderate rulers will be replaced by extremists is a chance Washington has been willing to take -- with Israel's tacit approval. In calculating the risk-benefit ratio, the threat of Iran weighs more heavily than an extremist putsch in Riyadh, said Teitelbaum. Moreover, precisely because U.S. weapons technology is so complex American advisers necessarily play ongoing training and support roles, what the Pentagon calls "interoperability." That also means that U.S. forces can step in to use them in case of emergency.

Such assurances go only so far. What if the virulently anti-American Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz were to come to power in Riyadh? According to Schwartz he despises the U.S. and Israel no less than Iran. Nor can Israelis take comfort from events elsewhere in the region. Who, after all, would have imagined that a Turkish premier would intimate that U.S. military hardware might one day be aimed at the IDF? And while Egypt's ongoing military build-up has always been suspect in Jerusalem – after all the country has no enemies on its borders -- who today could reasonably promise that its post-Mubarak, American-supplied armed forces will not someday turn against Israel?

In this volatile situation, AIPAC has been warning that the United States security assistance, pledged at $30 billion over a 10-year period, is facing growing budgetary threats. Most of this money is spent in the United States yet America's economic woes could make it politically impossible for Washington to honor its pledge of maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge. Shouldn't this new fiscal reality be part of the decision making calculus as Washington moves ahead with arms sales to the Gulf States?

Monday, October 03, 2011

IDF -- THE OFFICERS IT NEEDS

An Officer And A Professional

Last month, under the auspices of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and the Technical Command College, several hundred IDF officers – including scores of freshly minted lieutenants along with a sprinkling of top brass – packed an auditorium on the campus of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan to hear ranking commanders and scholars talk about military life as a profession. What qualities does a fine officer need to possess? Does character still play a role on the 21st century battlefield where technological prowess can be more devastating than physical dexterity? How can officers better understand the politicians they need to advise?

The United States army has its military academy at West Point; British officers are trained at Sandhurst. These are essentially military colleges that graduate cadets as junior officers complete with undergraduate degrees.

In contrast, IDF officers usually start their careers straight out of high-school as conscripted privates. The road leading to a junior commission in the Israeli military typically begins when a private is identified as having leadership potential or some other desired skill and is invited to make a further service commitment – periods vary – by enrolling in a course of less than six-months at the Haim Laskov Officer Candidate School (BAHAD 1) near Mitzpe Ramon.

Ground forces cadets pursue an area of specialization (armor, Special Forces, logistics and so on) while navy and air-force enrollees undergo their own expert training. In addition, there are a variety of other training programs for elite units within the IDF. A separate pre-recruitment selection system operates to tap high-school youths bound for elite volunteer units who may or may not become officers. Most officer cadets will anyway not make a career in the permanent army. No matter their path toward a commission, officer cadets must ultimately complete their undergraduate degrees. Those who do want to move up the ladder of command must ultimately pursue further advanced security and academic credentials. While today's officer training is more structured than in Israel's early years the Jewish state has never had the luxury of sending its officers off to years of uninterrupted study.

Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, head of the Northern Command, a plain-speaking rising military star, said the qualities he looks for in an officer are the ability to think creatively, plan meticulously, and instill morale through personal example. For

Maj.-Gen. Sami Turgeman, the Ground Forces Commander, the key is an officer's ability to execute doctrine learned in the classroom under actual field conditions. "Even when you know what needs to be done, applying it is the hard part." Good officers have to build their forces for war 365 days a year. Continuing military education is essential, Turgeman asserted, adding that he was intent on protecting the army's training budget from recently proposed austerity measures.

Prof. Christopher Coker of the London School of Economics challenged the military men and women to consider how waging war from behind computer consoles, for example sending remotely piloted aircraft (drones) on targeted killing missions, might affect their ethos as warriors. Cyber-warfare may remove a soldier from immediate danger yet they must nevertheless struggle not to allow technology to diminish their humanity. Human behavior is invariably inconsistent depending on circumstances so character-building matters. This places added demands on building esprit de corps. In Iraq's Abu-Ghraib prison, for instance, highly motivated U.S. Navy fighters refused to take part in ongoing prisoner abuse.

Officers should also know how to give advice to politicians, Prof. Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins told the assembly. There is no straightforward training for the role of strategic adviser; expertise is developed mostly through self-education. Cohen, who counseled former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, noted that "advice is a dangerous gift even when given from the wise to the wise." Since war is a constantly evolving situation, advice-giving officers need to time after time ask – precisely because they may not get satisfactory answers – "What are we trying to do?" "What are our priorities?" "Why do we think this will succeed?" "What else is happening in the political and security environment?" and "How will we define victory?"

A professional officer needs to muster the courage to disagree with his superiors – something that, paradoxically, may be easier within the military system (especially in Israel) than when advising the political echelon. For this, a good liberal arts education and overseas experience is essential. Those who understand an organization's sub-culture (be it the White House or the Prime Minister's Office) are better positioned to sway decision makers. Courage and character come fatefully together as life-and-death decisions are made in the absence of complete information.

Meanwhile, the scope of what Israeli warriors are required to know keeps expanding though there is little time for extended educational breaks. Ideally, a good officer should study philosophy (as a means of enhancing clarity of thought) while achieving mastery over ever more complicated machines of war. Doctrine must be constantly updated and disseminated especially to reservists.

Though the IDF remains primarily a people's army, the unremitting threats the country faces has long demanded that it be professionally organized. Its officer corps – standing army and reserves – is rightly renowned for the legendary battle-cry “Acharai!” – “Follow me!” All the same, Israeli parents who send their children into the army have every right to expect that officers' decisions will be informed – less by idealistic notions of heroism – than by the skillful application of the art and science of warfare.

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