On the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5781, we present the Jewish People Policy Institute’s Annual Assessment of the Situation and Dynamics of the Jewish People under the unique reality of the global coronavirus crisis. The pandemic has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world. It has also sparked an economic crisis, and has raised the specter of a fundamental change in the world order. COVID-19 was a catalyst for the establishment of Israel’s new unity government. Having eased earlier lockdown measures in a bid to gradually restart the economy, we now face a resurgence of the virus.
Israel’s new unity government was supposed to end a turbulent political period in which three separate elections were held in the space of a year. However, the landscape of governance has proved to be anything but smooth. Israel has a coalition, but it doesn’t appear to have the necessary partnership to move the country forward. The trust between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz was critically hobbled by their rivalry across the three consecutive campaigns.
It looked like the year might go down as among the most challenging in the history of the state until just a few weeks ago, when the normalization process between Israel and the United Arab Emirates was announced. This is perceived as a significant positive development, and with the expectation that other Sunni states will follow may even represent a regional paradigm shift. It shows that Israel’s essential strength has not been damaged despite the crises. Most of the Sunni leaders prefer an alliance with the Jewish state (even if yet kept quiet) than with Shiite fundamentalists who threaten their vision of a modern future. This is good news for Israel, the Jewish people, and the Middle East.
On the face of it, the pandemic could, in theory, draw attention away from other serious challenges facing the Jewish people and the State of Israel. But critical developments are forcing the government to take major decisions in several areas, despite the shaky nature of the coalition:
- Iran’s continued pursuit of its nuclear program, and the growing power of Iran-sponsored terrorist organizations.
- The normalization process with UAE put on hold the annexation of parts of Judea and Samaria (as stipulated in the Trump plan), but it has created even greater frustration in the Palestinian camp. And this remains a critical challenge in the region. In should be noted that the annexation as laid out in the Trump peace initiative created a very difficult Jewish dilemma: on the one hand, it presents an historic opportunity to exercise our forefathers’ rights to the Biblical homeland, while on the other hand, it carries the danger of Israel becoming a binational state and losing its Jewish identity. This dilemma was divisive among Israelis. Even if a recent poll found that 75 percent of Israelis favor the UAE deal over annexation, there remains a significant segment of Israeli society still pushing for extending Israeli sovereignty.
- The unprecedented political polarization in the United States, which is affecting Jewish attitudes toward Israel, especially among the younger generation.
- A worsening trend of anti-Semitism, which threatens Jewish communities around the world, exacerbates the damage wrought by the coronavirus. This convergence of the pandemic and Jew hatred could potentially increase Aliyah to Israel, especially among communities committed to a Jewish way of life; it could also alienate other Jews.
The last weeks allowed us to relate to the nascent normalization process with the Sunni states in this Annual Assessment. This report also discusses the situation and dynamics of the Jewish people, with an emphasis on the pandemic and its ramifications. It addresses other major issues on the agenda. It presents a snapshot of the Jewish world and its major dilemmas. JPPI provides professional analysis and offers operative policy recommendations for decision-makers. JPPI submits its Assessment to the government each year, in accordance with a decision made in 2004 by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon z”l, and to Jewish organizations worldwide.
I would like to thank Shmuel Rosner for heading the project these last few years, and I will also take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all of his predecessors since the first edition, which was under the leadership of Brig. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilboa and Professor Sergio Della Pergola.
Since 2004, the Annual Assessment, JPPI’s flagship project, has provided decision-makers in Israel and the Diaspora with a set of professional tools in five main dimensions: geopolitical developments affecting the Jewish people; identity and identification; bonds between communities; demography; and material resources and influence capacities.
This preface is also, for me, a personal opportunity to bid farewell to JPPI: I am expecting to retire later this fall after 18 years, since the Institute’s founding.
The Jewish People Policy Institute was established in order to fill a gap in the Jewish-people policy planning sphere – to provide a global perspective rooted in a deep commitment to Jewish communities worldwide, and recognizing Israel as the Jewish people’s core country. This implies a clear commitment of the Jewish state to world Jewry’s continued existence and flourishing.
It isn’t easy to give advice. In order to be heard and to have real impact, JPPI has recruited the best policy minds of the Jewish people, which represent the full ideological spectrum, from left to right and from Haredi to secular on two levels: leadership and staff.
I am proud that we’ve succeeded in creating a common professional language, one that doesn’t shirk from controversy, that strives for mutual understanding, and is capable of representing the policy dilemmas in all their intensity.
This effort could not have borne fruit had major figures from the policy world not mobilized. Notable among these are: JPPI’s Co-Chairs Ambassador Dennis Ross and Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat; Elliott Abrams; former Chief Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court Miriam Naor; former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler; former Jewish Agency Chairmen Ambassador Sallai Meridor and Natan Sharansky; current JAFI Chairman Isaac Herzog; former Federation CEOs Steve Hoffman, Dr. John Ruskay, and Dr. Steven Nasatir; current Federation of New York CEO Eric Goldstein; Isaac Molho; Sami Friedrich; and to my dear colleagues Ambassador Avi Gil, Brig. General Michael Herzog, Dr. Shalom Wald, and Projects Coordinator Ita Alcalay for their highly appreciated contribution. I would also like to express my gratitude to Professor Yehezkel Dror, who contributed greatly to establishing the highest-quality professionalism of the Institute.
JPPI owes its accomplishments, first and foremost, to the caliber of its fellows – their professionalism and dedication. I would like to thank everyone, from the bottom of my heart, for their cooperation, and wish JPPI continued success. My wish for the leaders of Israel and world Jewry is that they make the right decisions, taking advantage of JPPI’s products. May they navigate a wise course for the Jewish people that will bring us to secure and peaceful harbors.
President and Founding Director