by Alan Potash, CEO, The Jewish Federation of Omaha
There are several people I turn to when I need to gain a stronger understanding of a challenging Mideast issue. Topping the list is Dennis Ross. I am so pleased to announce that Ambassador Ross will be the featured speaker for the 2016 Ruth & Phil Sokolof Annual Lecture Series. The Schwalb Center for Israel and Jewish Studies will be presenting this event Tuesday April 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Thompson Alumni Center on the UNO campus. The event is free and open to the community.
For the past 25-30 years, Ross has been one of the leading experts on the Middle East, having served through four administrations in positions including President Clinton’s Middle East peace envoy and special assistant to President Obama. With his in-depth understanding of the very complicated issues facing the region, Ross proved a leading voice when explaining the recent Iran agreement and its ramifications. In my professional role as a Jewish community leader, he has been a tremendous resource, always providing a fact-based perspective.
In his new book, Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama, he uncovers attitudes and opinions that help explain each presidency’s approach to Israel and its neighbors. Over and over we hear that America is Israel’s closest ally – and it is. Going deep inside these presidential administrations, Ross opens up a vault of decision making that leads one to question how this unique relationship evolved.
As a student of Israeli history, I have had suspicions that the U.S.-Israel relationship did not develop as smoothly and as quickly as most believe, despite President Truman’s recognition of Israel just 11 minutes after its declaration of statehood in 1948. Ross’ thorough review of the efforts of each president breaks open myths and exposes their willingness or hesitation to support Israel. It was fascinating to see how President Kennedy grappled with supporting Israel’s need for self-defense while appeasing the Arab world.
Appeasing the Arab world, fear of a restricted oil supply and the Arab reaction to support of Israel were driving forces for each administration. And in most situations, that fear was unfounded. As an example, Ross reports on several occasions where some Arab countries would have been okay with supporting Israel as it would have diminished the power of leaders like General Nasser of Egypt.
We also learn the Middle East was a battle ground of the Cold War, both physically and ideologically. After battles between Egypt and Syria, Israel was able to share information about the Soviet weapons they had captured. The question of which Arab countries the Soviet Union was supporting by providing those weapons was of vital importance to the United States’ efforts to protect its own interests.
Doomed to Succeed, for me, reads more like a mystery novel than a fact-filled history tome. I’d put the book down but soon found myself drawn back to it, unable to stay away from learning more.
I will have more of this review in the coming weeks, but please join me in hearing first-hand from Ambassador Ross on April 5.
The UNO bookstore will have copies of Ambassador Ross’ book, winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award’s Gerrard & Ella Berman Memorial Award; it will be available for purchase and signing following the lecture.
The Phil & Ruth Sokolof Lecture Series, established in 2009, is made possible by the generosity of the Sokolof Family Foundation, the Phillip & Terri Schrager Supporting Foundation, the Shirley & Leonard Goldstein Supporting Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Omaha.
Also established in 2009, the Schwalb Center for Israel and Jewish Studies aims to create, coordinate and promote an interdisciplinary program focusing on teaching and scholarship in Jewish and Israeli history, politics, culture and society. The Center’s primary goal is to expand knowledge about Judaism and Israel, both on the university campus and in the broader Nebraska community. It is part of UNO’s College of Arts and Sciences.