By Jacqueline Chase
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected in a close race to what will be a record fifth term in office Tuesday night, despite facing a pending criminal indictment on bribery and fraud charges and pushback against his conservative stance on Palestine.
Students and other members of this university gathered to listen to two political scholars discuss the election as the votes were being counted.
Amb. Dennis Ross and Prof. Yoram Peri spoke about the current political climate surrounding the prime minister and how it could have affected the election.
Ross, who worked on the Middle East peace process during the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, was invited to speak at the event by The Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies. Peri, a professor of Israel Studies, moderated and took part in the discussion.
The event began with an analysis of the exit polls that showed Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party and Netanyahu of Likud in a close race. The three major television stations’ polls showed a tie, a four-point lead for Gantz and a one-point lead for Gantz, respectively. Ross said this did not show much considering how close the polls were and that exit polls are not always accurate.
Ross discussed the relationship between Israel and the U.S. as having both advantages and disadvantages. Though President Donald Trump’s support for Israel is beneficial to the country in many ways, Ross said lots of people are unhappy that this relationship makes it appear as though Israel supports all of Trump’s policies.
“If you don’t like Trump, Trump likes Israel, Israel likes Trump, therefore Trump’s bad, therefore Israel must be bad,” Ross said. “If you really did have a change in government, no Israeli prime minister is going to want to have bad relations with Trump or with the American president, but you don’t have to hug him.”
The men also discussed the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which insists that Israel move out of areas the organization believes should be Palestinian territories. Their discussion followed a question from an attendee who expressed concern that if Netanyahu is reelected, convincing the middle to disagree with BDS may be difficult.
Peri said there are three American groups that support BDS, two of which he said will continue to do so regardless of the government: anti-Semites and anti-Israel.
“But then there’s a third group, particularly the young people who are not anti-Semites and not anti-Israel, who simply oppose the Israeli government over the last 10 years or so,” Peri said. “And if the policies would change, they would leave the BDS movement in a day.”
Sophomore marketing and government and politics major Dan Alpert asked the speakers what the first step in starting a dialogue with the other side is. Ross told him to reach out and organize an event for the two opposing groups to talk.
Alpert said he enjoyed the presentation, though he would have liked to ask a follow-up question.
“I think it was the way I worded it,” Alpert, the vice president of Terps for Israel, said. “I asked for the first step. I understand the first step is to reach out, but I wanted more about how to actually have those tough conversations with people who may not really want to listen to you and try to kind of push you away when you want to simply have a dialogue with them.”