‘J Post’ analyst discusses Israel politics

Gil Hoffman talks with guests during an informal meeting held by the Jewish Light and Anti-Defamation League.

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

The recent political defeat of Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni could be a “positive development” for a possible new unity government in Israel and for the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, according to Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent and analyst for the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s oldest English language daily newspaper.

Hoffman, 35, was in St. Louis last weekend as the 2012 Milton and Frieda Ferman Memorial Lecturer of the Anti-Defamation League, Missouri/Southern Illinois Region. Sponsored by the ADL along with the Young Professionals Division of the Jewish Federation and the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis, the event was attended by a capacity audience Sunday at the Ritz Carlton in Clayton.

The Jewish Light caught up with Hoffman for an interview prior to his address. Hoffman is well-connected to Israeli and Palestinian leaders, has interviewed every major figure across the Israeli political spectrum and is a regular analyst on CNN, Al-Jazeera and other news outlets.

He was raised in Chicago by Israeli-born parents and graduated magna cum laude from Northwestern University’s School of Journalism. He wrote for the Miami Herald and Arizona Republic before moving to Israel about a dozen years ago, where he is a reserve soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces Spokesman’s Unit and resides in Jerusalem with his wife and two children.

What’s your take on the sudden downfall of Tzipi Livni, the leader of the centrist Kadima Party founded by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon?

The main impact is that the next government of Israel will be more pragmatic. Tzipi Livni, because of her problematic relationship with (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu, was, for all intents and purposes, an obstacle to peace.

“Obstacle to peace” is a phrase you can’t use lightly. Livni’s Kadima Party wanted to be part of the government, and she kept that from happening. Netanyahu needed to have a government of people he could trust. In order to function, you need to be able to talk to your closest ministers and trust them. Her very presence in politics prevented there from being a government that could be put together.

Now Netanyahu was able to achieve what he needed—having a government that would have right and left together by including (Defense Minister Ehud Barak).  But Barak has no political future. So had the next Israeli government been one in which Livni was still running Kadima, Netanyahu would have had no choice but to form a right-wing government. Now, without Livni, he has a choice.

Livni has enjoyed a positive image in the United States and elsewhere in the West. How does that square with her political downfall?

The week after Livni was named by Newsweek as one of the 100 “Most Influential Women in the World,” she lost the Kadima election by a landslide. That just shows how out of touch America is with Israeli politics.  The main Israeli political satire show, “A Wonderful Country,” the day after Livni was named one of the 100 most impor

tant women in the world featured as its sub-headline, “Livni: I hope to one day be among the 100 most important women in Kadima.”

Do you think the next Israeli government will be more dovish?

There are a few factors that could make the government more dovish. One is that Shaul Mofaz (former IDF Chief of Staff) as head of Kadima could join the government and have that impact. Mofaz’s views are dovish. He calls for an immediate withdrawal from 40 percent of the West Bank, and then negotiations to form the final border. His plan is also the plan of (Israeli President Shimon) Peres and Barak, but they don’t talk about it. He would create a Palestinian state with temporary borders from the areas from which Israel would withdraw, while beginning negotiations immediately on the final border.

Are there other factors as well?

Another example is that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (an ultra-hawkish nationalist) is about to be indicted. His case is in the hands of the attorney general right now and a decision is expected soon. Another is that the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Shas Party is about to split in two. But there’s one reason more than any other that the next Israeli government will be more dovish than any other: the socio-economic protests that have taken place in Israeli cities.

How did the protests compare to the Occupy Wall Street protests in the U.S.?

Those protests were different from “Occupy Wall Street” protests in America in two important ways. Number one, the Israelis were protesting that our economy is good, not bad. And if our economy is so good, then why isn’t the good economy trickling down to me? People who have benefited from Israel as the “Start-up Nation” are people who have already made it big and are part of the problem and not the solution. There are others in high-tech who are working 16 hours a day and are not making very much yet. Those people didn’t go to the protests because they were too busy. But the income disparity in Israel is no less than it is in the United States. And this will have a big impact on Israeli politics and voting.

What impact do you foresee?

The left and right have been defined around the Israeli-Palestinian issue—and the Iran issue. So all these factors together will result in a more pragmatic government that can pursue peace more than the current one can. And all of this is in spite of the fact that Netanyahu is going to win the next election by a landslide.

Why is that?

Because on diplomatic and security issues there is a broad consensus favoring the positions that he articulates. When polls are limited to the diplomatic-security issue, which is a nice way of saying Iran and Palestinians, he gets 62 favorable, 38 unfavorable. That’s very good. On the economy, the numbers are less positive, but they would be for any government. The Israelis complain, they kvetch, they’re Jewish.