Klein Halevi speaks at UCLA on Israel’s foes, friends

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s constant Holocaust denial is not only a personal obsession, but also part of a larger policy by the Iranian president, according to Yossi Klein Halevi, the influential Israeli-American journalist, writer and commentator. Ahmadinejad’s calculation is that if he succeeds in discrediting the Shoah, “he will undermine the basis of Western support for Israel and that the Jewish state will eventually disappear,” Halevi said.

The New York native pondered this and other topics Nov. 16 and 17 during three lectures on Israeli society, politics and culture at UCLA’s Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.

In between, Halevi fielded a barrage of questions during a private dinner hosted by Sharon Baradaran, a UCLA political scientist and chief catalyst for the establishment of the Nazarian center a year ago.

The Iranian nuclear threat may be the most serious among the many problems facing Israel, none with easy solutions, Halevi said; if Iran is allowed to develop a nuclear arsenal, it would probably not attack Israel directly, but rather instigate its Hezbollah proxies to deploy a “nuclear suitcase” to cause widespread destruction in Israel.

“If Iran goes nuclear, that will trigger an erosion of Israeli self-confidence, and, in a sense, mark the end of Zionism as we knew it,” Halevi warned.

He cited a recent Israeli poll, in which 11 percent of respondents said they would consider leaving the country if Iran became a nuclear power.

However, while making a case for a preventive strike by Israel, Halevi worried that such an initiative “would be devastating for Israel,” a country where everyone is within missile range.

Israel and the Diaspora Jewish communities must rethink not only the Iranian threat, but also a host of other problems, Halevi argued.

One is that Zionism has become a “dirty word,” as one questioner put it. Ironically, “Zionism’s greatest enemy has been its success,” Halevi suggested, and urged that “we revitalize our stories.”

In his global travels, Halevi found that “our best friends in Europe are now Poland and the Czech Republic. The level of acceptance I have received there, I wouldn’t get on a visit to London.”

Elsewhere in the world, India, though hardly a vocal defender of Israel, “is one of our most important strategic allies,” and China, while pursuing an “amoral” foreign policy, has a great interest in Israel, he said, and that in the future, Israel may have to look for its friends beyond the United States and Western Europe and tilt instead toward Eastern Europe and Asia.

Halevi was introduced by professor Arieh Saposnik, director of the Center for Israel Studies, who said that one focus of the center’s program in the coming year would be on the impact of Israel’s sovereignty on Jewish self-perception and culture.

The center was established through a $5 million endowment by Younes and Soraya Nazarian, and bears the name of the couple, who found success in the United States after leaving Iran.

Their daughter, Sharon Baradaran, is director of the family foundation and chair of the center’s advisory board.

Through speakers, conferences and artistic performances, the center seeks to familiarize the academic and general communities with Israeli politics, law, economy, film, theater and environmental policy. 

For more information, visit international.ucla.edu/Israel.