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By Jacob Nestle
In a talk given at Ashland University in Ohio on Tuesday, Israel’s Consul General in New York, Dani Dayan, said that education was key to any future peace between Israel and Palestine. He also remarked on the current state of diplomatic relations between Israel and other Middle Eastern countries.
Dayan is a widely popular diplomat and was even called by the New York Times a “worldly and pragmatic leader,” drawing praise from those of different political bents. For almost his whole life, he has been an outspoken supporter of Israel as a nation, though he was born in Argentina. He is not a born diplomat. Rather, he holds a B.S. in Economics and Computer Sciences from Bar Ilan University and M.S. in Finance from Tel Aviv University.
Dayan was invited to the college during his second official visit to Ohio and spoke in an attempt to help shed light on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He first attempted to clear up misconceptions he felt Western media portrays. He spent a sizable amount of his time in the talk explaining how large of a role those of Arab descent play in the nation. Then, he explained that Israel itself was crucial to humanitarian efforts in Syria.
The next part of his talk was focused on the concept of a Jewish state. He called this idea necessary for the Jewish people. However, he made sure to clarify that a Jewish state, in his view, is not one in which non-Jews have less rights. Rather, it is one which goes the extra mile for Jewish people in need. As an example, he used the 1991 evacuation of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. He pointed out no other nation would have gone to that extra effort.
His speech, under an hour long, was not the most interesting part of his visit. Audience members were allowed to ask questions, and this was when students curious about specifics of foreign policy stood and were answered. Many of the students were there with the Ashbrook Center, an independent political science and history-focused center located at Ashland.
One senior asked what paths could be taken to make peace a more likely solution. Dayan responded that until the Palestinians worked to respect the rights of the Israelis, peace would never be achieved. He said that “The most important person for the future of the conflict is the Minister of Education for Palestine.”
Dayan acknowledges that Palestinians have a claim on the land that is now Israel. However, he believes that “As long as the Palestinians will keep denying the Jews are indigenous to Israel… not exclusively, but indigenous, there is no chance for peace.” The primary fault, in his mind, is with the Palestinians. For him, the Annapolis Conference and its consequences are a particular example of this divide.
Another student, a junior, asked him how the recent aggression of Iran has influenced the conflict. He responded “In a word? Amazingly.” Dayan pointed out that the United States could not be counted on for support. This was especially true, for him, during the Obama administration. He relayed the perceived threat of Shi’ite Iran owning a nuclear bomb as nearly as problematic for Sunni Muslim countries nearby as for Israel.
He then said “The other Sunni countries knew they could not rely on the United States… They had to choose whether to start learning Chinese, or Russian, and almost miraculously, they started speaking Hebrew… metaphorically, of course.” He then continued by saying “I cannot elaborate, but relations with Gulf States have been… surprising.”
When a student followed up with a question about the recent Olympic scandal, Dayan did not seem surprised. “We have extremely good relations with the governments of Jordan and Egypt.. We do not have so good relations with the people of Jordan and Egypt,” he said. Perhaps unintentionally echoing Ronald Reagan, who dedicated the Ashbrook Center, he pointed out that favorable relations have not “[trickled] down… to the population.”
His talk was well-received, and he received a good deal of applause when he was done answering questions.