Jewish journalist optimistic about Israel's future

Published: Thursday, March 7 2013 2:35 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jews were told that there is an “easy” way they can support and enhance peace efforts involving Israel in the Middle East.

“It’s EASY — E, A, S, Y,” said Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent and columnist with the Jerusalem Post, during a special presentation at the Tess Kaylie Chabad Community Center. “Education, advocacy, solidarity and …” He paused and then added playfully: “Your money.”

A crowd of more than 100 responded with laughter, after which Hoffman corrected himself.

“The real ‘Y’ is your prayers,” he said. “I am aware that there are people of different faiths here in the room. I want you all to know that your prayers on behalf of Israel are appreciated, and I think effective.”

Hoffman, a Chicago native who is also a regular political analyst on CNN and Al-Jazeera, cited the progress that has been made through the years in Israel.

“My grandparents, who were Holocaust survivors, would never have believe that one day I would be raising my two Aryan-looking children in Jerusalem,” he observed. “It’s like the ultimate insult to Hitler.”

Still, the man who Israel Television calls "the most optimistic man in Israel" acknowledges that there continues to be issues of concern in Israel, many of which were reflected in the outcome of the most recent elections, conducted in January.

“I believe this election will show that we are maturing as a people,” Hoffman said. “At the age of 65, we are finally growing up.”

As evidence, he said the recent elections were not about the things that Israeli elections have historically always been about: war and peace and the Palestinian question. Rather, he said, the election was about socio-economics, frustration with politicians and what it means to be a democratic state and a Jewish state at the same time.

The discussion of economics was especially noteworthy, in Hoffman’s view.

“In America, you talk about the economy all the time — you know, ‘it’s the economy, stupid,’ ” he said, citing James Carville’s catch phrase from Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 U.S. presidential campaign. “But in Israel, you were stupid if you brought up the economy during an election.”

This time, however, Israelis “voted with their wallets,” which Hoffman said is “very different from what we’ve had in the past.”

Israelis also voted out of frustration with politicians and political corruption, with the winning party featuring candidates that were not professional politicians.

But mostly, Hoffman said, the election “was about who we are as a people.” And in his view, “things are going in the right direction.”

Similarly, Hoffman is optimistic about President Barack Obama’s planned visit to Israel later this month. Although previous interactions between the U.S. president and Israeli officials have gone poorly enough that Hoffman says Obama has “lost his potential political base in Israel,” the journalist expects few headlines stemming from the upcoming visit.

“The goal (for Obama) is to come and go without making waves,” Hoffman said. “He’s not coming to introduce a new Middle East peace plan. He has to do what he can to regain the trust of Israelis,” who will be watching the presidential visit carefully because “politics in Israel is a national sport — in part because we’re no good at other sports.”