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Jewish journalist optimistic about Israel's future

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

Jewish journalist Gil Hoffman shares his optimism for Israel's future during a presentation at the Tess Kaylie Chabad Community Center in Salt Lake City Tuesday night. (Stephen Beller) Jewish journalist Gil Hoffman shares his optimism for Israel's future during a presentation at the Tess Kaylie Chabad Community Center in Salt Lake City Tuesday night. (Stephen Beller)

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.

"Politics in Israel is a national sport — in part because we're not good at other sports," Jewish journalist Gil Hoffman observes during a Tuesday night presentation at the Tess Kaylie Chabad Community Center in Salt Lake City. (Stephen Beller) "Politics in Israel is a national sport — in part because we're not good at other sports," Jewish journalist Gil Hoffman observes during a Tuesday night presentation at the Tess Kaylie Chabad Community Center in Salt Lake City. (Stephen Beller)

“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.

Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah introduces Gil Hoffman during a presentation at the Tess Kaylie Chabad Community Center in Salt Lake City Tuesday night. (Stephen Beller) Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah introduces Gil Hoffman during a presentation at the Tess Kaylie Chabad Community Center in Salt Lake City Tuesday night. (Stephen Beller)

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.”

Nearly 100 listeners crowd the Tess Kaylie Chabad Community Center in Salt Lake City to hear Israeli journalist Gil Hoffman report on "Israel at the Crossroads" Tuesday night. (Stephen Beller) Nearly 100 listeners crowd the Tess Kaylie Chabad Community Center in Salt Lake City to hear Israeli journalist Gil Hoffman report on "Israel at the Crossroads" Tuesday night. (Stephen Beller)

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.”

Hoffman is also optimistic about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. For example, he doesn’t think there will be war with Iran (“I think Iran’s nuclearization can be stopped without military intervention,” he said). And no matter what happens in Syria, he says, “they are going to have to spend a lot of time rebuilding their country.”

“They are going to be so busy dealing with that they are not going to have time to worry much about us,” he said.

“As an Israeli, you would think I’d be happy to see the suffering of the people of Syria,” he added. “But when I see what’s going on there it makes me sick to my stomach. That’s the way we are as Jews. We cry for our enemies. We don’t want to see pain, even for them.”

And while Hoffman expresses concern at stalled talks with Palestinian officials (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has his hand outstretched to the Palestinian people, and he has been holding it out there for four years”), he says “Israel is willing to go a long way to move the peace process forward.”

Still, he continued, “there are some places that we can’t give up — areas of national and strategic importance,” he said. He cited Hebron as an area of national significance because of its history to the Jewish people, and a hill overlooking Ben Gurian International Airport in Tel Aviv as an area of strategic importance.

But Netanyahu has indicated that there is room for negotiation elsewhere, and Hoffman believes there are no more excuses for the Palestinians to not come back to the negotiating table.

“I have a lot of hope that things are getting better and better and better,” he said.

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