Israel faces new dangers in Mideast, speakers say

Gil Hoffman

TORONTO — The Arab Spring could have ominous implications for Israel, audiences at Ryerson and York universities heard last week.

Hillel and five other groups invited Gil Hoffman, the Jerusalem Post’s chief political correspondent, to speak at Ryerson on Oct. 25, while Hasbara at York and B’nai Brith on Campus invited Daniel Pipes, a controversial, right-wing Mideast scholar, to speak a day earlier at York.

Both were wary of security threats to Israel posed by the Arab uprisings.

“The hope in Israel is not that these countries will suddenly become Zionist, but that they will become more pro-America and less pro-Iran,” said Hoffman, whose speech focused on the nuclear threat from Iran’s Islamist regime.

Pipes urged students to look to the new Middle East with caution, worried about the possibility of new Islamist governments emerging from amid the turmoil.

“People who reject the modern world, reject the West, reject non-Muslims” could become leaders in the region, he said, also pointing to Iran, and more recently Turkey, as examples of threatening Islamism.

With the possibility of Iran’s nuclear capability on the horizon and immense upheaval in the region, Israel not only has to keep an eye on Iranian developments, but also on the changes even closer to its borders, Hoffman said.

In Egypt, a long-time ally of Israel, the first round of elections since president Hosni Mubarak was ousted is set to happen late this month. If the popular Muslim Brotherhood wins, it would “lead to there being immediate security concerns for Israel,” he said.

Pipes shared a similar sentiment. “Overall, it’s dangerous for Israel,” he said of the Arab Spring and the new governments that may form as a result.

The last time Pipes, who is outspoken about the dangers of militant Islam, visited York, there were protests by students who called him anti-Muslim.

This time, “[York was] on high alert right from the beginning,” said Oriyah Barzilay, president of Hasbara at York, one of the groups who brought Pipes to campus.

She added that B’nai Brith covered the $1,800 cost for police and security for the lecture, which were determined by the university. However, in the end, no protesters showed up.

Despite the difficulty in bringing speakers to talk about the Mideast conflict, Barzilay thinks that it’s crucial.

“With all of the changes that are going on in the Middle East right now, it was really important to bring in someone like Daniel Pipes now, with his perspective,” she said.

At Ryerson, although security was not present, Hillel event organizers read a “statement of understanding” from the Ryerson Students’ Union, reminding audience members to be respectful and tolerant during Hoffman’s lecture.

“Israel is fighting three battles for its existence,” Hoffman told The CJN, “one on the military battlefield, where Israel has an obvious advantage, one on the airwaves, where it’s pretty even, and one on college campuses, where Israel is at a great disadvantage.”

Hoffman spent part of his lecture discussing Israel’s history with the Palestinians, as well as the recent prisoner exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit to bring audience members up to speed on the current political and security climate in Israel.

He said Israel will need to be on alert because of shifting ground in the Middle East, but he’s optimistic that, together with the international community, Israel will be able to thwart the Iranian nuclear threat.

“Being Israeli is about hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” he said.