Over the last few weeks, it’s been hard to miss all of the videos of missiles flying through the air, buildings collapsing, and people shouting. The conflict between Israel and Hamas Palestinian Militants continues to present challenges for achieving lasting peace in the Middle East. But after 11 days of fighting, there is a cease fire. However, in response to this conflict, there has been an outbreak of anti-Semitic attacks around the world. The video footage is horrifying.
On this episode we talk with Ellie Cohanim, who served as a top official at the U.S. State Department on this issue. She fills us in on the conflict, corrects the mainstream media narrative, and how Americans must realize that this is not just an issue that is bad for Jewish people—it impacts all of us.
Tim Doescher: From The Heritage Foundation, I'm Tim Doescher and this is Heritage Explains.
Doescher: Over the last few weeks, it's been hard to miss all of the videos of missiles flying through the air, buildings collapsing and people shouting. The conflict between Israel and Hamas Palestinian militants continues to present challenges for achieving lasting peace in the Middle East. But after 11 days of fighting, there is a ceasefire. So how did we get here and where do things currently stand?
Doescher: Well, in an effort to manipulate ongoing anti-Israeli riots, the Islamic terrorist organization that controls Gaza, Hamas, used this as a pretext to launch more than 4,000 long-range rockets at Israeli communities. In response, Israel used the so-called iron dome missile system to defend itself and strategically bombed targets that pose threats to Israel's security. However, on May 20th, the Israeli Prime Minister's office announced a ceasefire, that as of this recording, still holds. While this conflict has severely disrupted the region, the aftermath outside of the Middle East is also devastating, especially to our Jewish brothers and sisters around the world.
Clip: What are you waiting for? Jihad's responsibility on you. Wipe out the Zionist entity. How dare they? There is no honor in you. We, the Muslims in the West, we are with you. We make, do offer you make.
Doescher: That audio is taken from a pro-Hamas rally calling for jihad and genocide against Israel.
Doescher: Do you hear that? That's taken from a video on the streets of Los Angeles showing a group of people harassing, beating, and attacking Jews on the street. It's horrifying.
Doescher: A report by the Anti-Defamation League shows that a week after the conflict started, anti-Semitic incidents were up 47% in the United States. In addition, they found 17,000 tweets, which used variations of the phrase, "Hitler was right." If you've listened to Explains for a while, you know this isn't the first episode we've done on the rise of antisemitism. It's not just a threat to the Jewish way of life, it's a threat to all of us. So where is all of this going to end up? Ellie Cohanim joins us with a fresh perspective. She's the former deputy special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism at the US State Department. She stood at the front lines and push back against antisemitism at the highest level. Now she's a visiting fellow at the Independent Women's Forum and a friend of the Heritage Foundation this week. She explains
Doescher: Ellie, we did our best to set the stage in the opening portion of this episode, kind of just giving a timeline of the events that have led to where we are now, but I just wanted to give you a chance to do your own stage setting. So for this conflict, as we're going to call it, we're not going to call it a war, we'll call it a conflict. Where have we been? And where is it heading?
Ellie Cohanim: Tim, I'll tell you something. I think the key idea that everyone should really focus in on is the notion of moral equivalency, which a lot of voices in the United States and the far left fringes are trying to make this argument that somehow the Jewish state of Israel and the terrorists who wish to destroy her have moral equivalency. And so in this conflict, what we saw was Hamas began to rain down, by the end of the conflict, 3,300 rockets over Israelis. And then you've got the Jewish state of Israel using mostly the iron dome system, which was 90% effective, according to the idea, in protecting her citizens in her population centers. And so there's-
Doescher: So, let me just stop you. For the iron dome, please remember where you left off, but I just want to clarify here. So the iron dome system that is not offensive, that's defensive, correct?
Cohanim: 100% right. And so what's astounding to me is I've been seeing on social media and in the media, people somehow saying that because there's not the same number of deaths in the conflict that somehow it's disproportionate. But like you said, because the iron dome is defensive, it defends Israeli citizens and population [inaudible 00:07:20]. And so the Palestinians on their side in Gaza don't fight in the same way. What they do is, you have Hamas terrorists going purposely into dense population centers, going into places like hospitals, schools, the building that AP and Al Jazeera were working out of and purposefully using Palestinians and others as human shields.
Doescher: Let me stop you really quick here, because you've used a term, you've said Hamas and terrorists and terrorist is a very extreme word. So if you could, maybe just define a little bit terms here they are. They're a terrorist organization, is that correct?
Cohanim: Tim, you know what, that's not Ellie Cohanim's opinion, that is the designation of the United States State Department. Hamas is a foreign terrorist organization and the European Union agrees.
Doescher: Okay. Wow. That is very, very telling. So let me ask you this. What, with the initial firing of rockets, Hamas firing rockets at Israel, what's their goal with this?
Cohanim: Well, the Hamas Charter says that they want to eliminate Israel and they also want to eliminate Jewish people around the world. So it's in their charter. Again, that's not a Ellie Cohanim's opinion, it's what they say their goal is.
Doescher: I see. Okay.
Doescher: Well, look, I want to move into a little bit of maybe context for why this is happening. One of the signature achievements, and you were a part of this for the Trump administration was the Abraham Accords. And every story that I read on this has some mention of the Abraham Accords that the Trump administration was able to bring to fruition. It was an unprecedented normalization between Israel and several Muslim nations in the region. It's a big deal, a normalization of these relations. And the main refrain that I read in stories is, is that, oh, this is just an unraveling of the Abraham Accords. What is your response to that?
Cohanim: You know, I disagree with that completely. And I think that sadly, there's a lot of people, again on the left who are trying to cheerlead away from the peace deals that the Trump administration made, away from the peace in the region and kind of back towards conflict. So, Tim look, the way the Trump administration left off the Middle East, we kind of handed on a silver platter to the Biden administration, a region that had achieved four war and peace deals. These were the first deals in 26 years. And we also left a region where the Iranian regime had been contained through the Trump administration's maximum pressure campaign.
Cohanim: What's sad to see is that in only over 100 days into the Biden administration, all of this did unravel and I would argue as I did in the Hill this week, that it's because the Biden administration is drawing closer the Iranian regime, while at the same time alienating US allies, Israel, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the other peace-making Gulf states.
Doescher: Ellie, you mentioned your piece in the Hill and it was awesome. Biden administration engagement with Iran yields violence in Israel. And I'm going to link to it in the show notes, but you had a great poll quote from that and you mentioned Iran. You said, "We are seeing the consequences of emboldening the world's greatest state sponsor of terrorism, Iran, in real time." We hear a lot about who's funding this war. We heard people asking President Biden if we're going to help Israel restock their rockets. And then we hear people say, well, Iran is going to help Hamas restock their rockets and munitions. So just talk a little bit more about Iran's role in this current conflict.
Cohanim: Yeah. I'm happy to, and Tim, I think for people to understand, this conflict was not about big Israel versus little Hamas or little Gaza. This conflict was about little Israel versus big Iran. And the way that works is that the Iranian regime knows that they cannot have a straightforward military confrontation with Israel. So what the Iranian regime strategy has been throughout the Middle East is to use its proxies to cause instability and cause bloodshed around the region so that they don't themselves enter into the military fray. And so in Israel, they are funding and training Hamas and Palestinian Islamic jihad. The same is the case with Hezbollah and Lebanon and with the Houthis in Yemen who are attacking Saudi Arabia. So when you look at the Middle East, what you find is that all the instability, the terrorism, all roads lead back to Tehran.
Doescher: Wow. I want to just kind of get into what I read right before I went to bed last night, which was, there was a cease fire that was reached. And when I hear that I hear, oh, they have an agreement. So I'm wondering, is this something that we are satisfied with, a ceasefire. Is the Biden administration involved in it? And is it something that we support?
Cohanim: You know, the pattern has been that Hamas attacks Israel and Israel, retaliates, and Israel wants to have the time and the space to really destroy Hamas' terror capability. They attack the underground tunnel network that Hamas has, which they use to move people and arms and ammunition underground. And so, Israel really kept saying that they weren't going to agree to cease fire until they've had the time to really destroy some of Hamas' capability so that the Israelis don't find themselves under rocket attack again in another month from now.
Cohanim: And so, I would have to believe that Israel did reach a point where they might be comfortable. But look, there was a lot of pressure from the Biden administration. We were hearing it in the last few days. President Biden did demand of Israel to agree to a ceasefire. And you can only hope that the Israelis achieved what they needed to militarily. I would say though, that ultimately for there to be a real peace between Israel and the Palestinians, they don't have a peace partner in a foreign terrorist organization like Hamas.
Doescher: Wow. I just keep thinking about the difference in response between a Trump administration and a Biden administration. I mean, it is so stark to me. As somewhat of an outsider on an issue like this, you're really close to it, you're probably way more sensitive than I am to this.
Cohanim: Yeah. Tim, here's the thing, the Biden administration, again, they were handed a Middle East that was stable and that had achieved four peace deals in the region and all they had to do was continue on that path. They need to be encouraging more and more Arab countries around Israel to accept the fact that there is a Jewish state in the region and that this Jewish state is here to stay. Once the Arab countries, Israel's neighbors, understand that it will only lead to more peace and also peaceful coexistence. It will lead to prosperity in the region. It's a win-win for everybody. And that's really the path that the Biden administration needs to be following. Unfortunately, what we're seeing is that they are engaging with the Iranian regime and they're, in essence, talking about lifting sanctions on Iran, which will release billions of dollars in funding to the regime.
Doescher: Yeah. Ellie, you have an incredible thread on Twitter documenting some of the extreme rhetoric and demonstration of anti-Semitic response to this current conflict. And it's chilling some of the things that you have posted. and I'm going to link to it in the show notes, if that's okay. But of course I read some comments and by the way, the late great Rush Limbaugh used to talk about Twitter. He would refer to it as if you ever want to feel like you're crawling through a sewer, read the comments on Twitter. So I kind of regret doing it, but at the same time, I'm not just seeing random people on Twitter supporting statements like this. I'm seeing now sitting members of the US Congress coming out and parroting talking points from Hamas, various prominent members in the media, lots of people, celebrities coming to a place of almost antisemitic behavior. So I'm wondering is this now officially normalized in our mainstream culture, antisemitism?
Cohanim: Tim, what you're referring to is what we saw in Los Angeles. On Tuesday night, there were Jewish, Iranian-Americans, people in my own community, sitting outside a restaurant, just having dinner and a convoy of cars waving Palestinian flags drives through this very Jewish neighborhood says that they're looking for Jews. They come out of the cars, they attack these Jewish restaurant goers. And now the LAPD is investigating hate crimes. Yesterday in New York, we saw similar scenes where 47th Street, the diamond district, which is known to be a heavily Jewish industry, had a convoy of cars, Palestinian flags, [inaudible 00:17:09] wearing. Same thing, they come out of the car, they start harassing Jewish passersby, and they threw some sort of fire bomb or explosive into the street. NYPD is now investigating as well. What I want to alert everyone to is that we cannot become a society that tolerates this antisemitism. The United States has no room for this hatred. And ultimately what we need to understand is that anti-Zionism is antisemitism. That's what we're seeing happening in our cities right now.
Doescher: Yeah, man. And we've actually talked about this on Heritage Explains before. You have members of the squad coming out, again, parroting these talking points, and then you have leaders of the Democrat party, supposed supporters of the state of Israel who are letting them lie. They're not coming out and correcting the record. They're just letting it go. So I want to dig a little bit more into that. Do you feel like this is intentional? Is this something that liberals, that the Democrat party actually support, or they don't support the state of Israel? What is your take on that?
Cohanim: Tim, I think the Democrat party has really lost their way and they've lost their moral compass. You're exactly right. It was shocking to see people like Representative Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, take to the floors of Congress and just really spew complete inaccuracies, falsehoods and lies against Israel.
Doescher: It's almost like they didn't even ... like, they just took the talking points. It's not like they even formed it on their own, it's almost like they were emailed talking points. They went and they read them verbatim.
Cohanim: Exactly right. And what they were doing is again, creating this false moral equivalency between Israel defending herself from Hamas terrorists and the terrorists. Ilhan Omar literally tweeted that Israel was committing acts of terrorism. And how dare she, how dare she compare the Jewish state of Israel, one of the strongest democracies in the region, the strongest ally of the United States, how dare she compare the Jewish state of Israel to a Hamas foreign terrorist organization? There is no comparison and she should be held accountable. And I agree that the democratic party leadership should be holding these newbies to Congress, they should be holding them accountable.
Doescher: Let's talk about the state of play in the State Department. You left the State Department, like you said, it was in a good place in terms of the relationships in the Middle East with Israel. But talk about more about your work with antisemitism. Where did you leave things in the State Department and where do you see things going?
Cohanim: Tim, that's a great question. We had a number of priorities that we focused on. First and foremost, we had our eyes on the communities around the world where we felt that the entire Jewish population in a certain country might be at risk. So those were places like Iran, like Turkey, like Venezuela, where we thought that things could move fast on the ground and we had to keep a very close eye on them. And I certainly hope the new State Department under the Biden administration is taking the same tactic. We also, as you mentioned, were part of the Abraham Accords team, and so we worked very closely with the kingdom of Bahrain, with the kingdom of Morocco and with many of Israel's Arab neighbors to help them root out some of the anti-Semitism that has had a place in the region historically. And we were really thrilled to be able to work and make historic agreements with Bahrain, with Morocco and with others, pledging to fight antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and Islamophobia together. And so, again, that's a legacy for the State Department to carry on as well.
Doescher: It's so funny. I was in conversation with somebody who you worked with, but I won't mention their name, but they said in some private talks that it wasn't just an obligation for these nations to come to the table with Israel, they seemed very excited and very optimistic about establishing these relationships with Israel. So that says a lot to me.
Cohanim: It is a lot, Tim, and there's a lot of potential. There is a lot of potential, but we need United States leadership. And we can only hope that the Biden administration will step up to the plate and lead, and lead the region towards peace and reconciliation. I would tell you that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain who were the first two to make these peace deals with Israel, their societies have worked very hard internally to create a culture of coexistence. And in the United Arab Emirates, I was pleased to go visit in office. They have achieved that. There is true coexistence in the streets of the United Arab Emirates. The same with Bahrain. Bahrain has a Jewish community that dates back to the 1860s. So these are countries that are really role models in the region and for the world of how you can live side by side with your Jewish neighbors.
Doescher: Ellie, I am so grateful for you doing this interview. I'm looking forward to keeping up with you, talking more in the future. So again, thank you so much.
Cohanim: Thanks for having me on. I'd love to come back.
Doescher: And thanks so much for listening to another episode of Heritage Explains. I've linked to all the relevant info in the show notes. So feel free to log on, check it out. Ellie's pieces are there, her Twitter thread is there with all the videos. Again, this issue is huge. It doesn't just impact the Jewish people, this impacts all of us. So thank you so much for your concern. We'll catch you next week.