Former Knesset member and retired IDF Brigadier General Effie Eitam visited CU last Thursday as part of the Jewish National Fund’s Caravan for Democracy program. The BJN caught up with him between talks to ask our “Four Questions”:
What one or two main points would you like your audiences to take away with them from this speaking tour?
The first point is directed to the general public and all students who come to my talks. And that is that Iran is not only an Israeli problem. Every person, every state, has to decide which side they are on. It’s not just a military issue, it is a moral issue. Ahmadinejad vows publicly to wipe Israel off the map. This week was Holocaust Awareness Day, and we have states boasting of exterminating the Jews. There is a rise of pure evil, pure hatred — Iran, spewing hate, using the same terminology as the Nazis, they have no land dispute with Israel, so the world gets confused (as they were in the 1930’s). We need a clear line in the sand in the world. A call for moral clarity and a call for clear action.
The other message is for Jewish students on college campuses all over. In the big campuses back east, Arab students are very vocal, very active. Some campus voices are calling for delegitimizing Israel. If they combine with such regimes as Iran, it will be very bad, very destructive. Jewish students are much less involved, even apathetic. Jewish students must demonstrate the core of American spirit, defending freedom and justice, reminding people of the American principles that all men are created equal, in God’s image. These principles are the foundation of America and the special relationship she has with Israel. We need to wake those (pro-Israel) voices on campus.
This generation has almost been abandoned by Israel, without facts and ammunition against the new face of anti-Semitism on campus. That’s why we are doing these visits. We’re here to inspire and equipment them with arguments and facts. This is a joint mission of JNF, the Prime Minister, and the Ministry of Public Relations in Israel. We’re trying to make the presence of Israel and Israelis more visible and vocal. A solid focused campaign representing Israel as a real state. Not perfect, but not evil.
If you sat down with Mahmoud Abbas tomorrow, what would you say to him to get him to the table?
Abbas knows Israel is ready to go far for peace. They’ve signed treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and signed a treaty with Lebanon, but Bashir Gemayel was killed before it could go into effect. When Abbas is ready, not as an excuse, but ready to compromise, Israel will be cooperative.
In their first free election, the Palestinians elected Hamas, which took reconstruction money and made Gaza a fortress. Democracy is not a magic bullet to create a democratic state. Land for peace is not an instant creator of working democratic institutions. If Palestinians are serious, they need to accept a process — “even a baby takes nine months” — to build a working state. If Abbas is a responsible leader of his people, he must see that he needs to develop a real state — don’t repeat the failures of Gaza in the West Bank. We’re willing to have peace, but need a mature, capable and proven partner. We won’t repeat the mistakes of Gaza and Lebanon.
Of what part of Israel does Boulder remind you?
Driving from the airport to Boulder reminds me of the Negev, Mizpe Ramon — dry, rolling, brown, flat country. But when you get into Boulder, and you are right up against the mountains, that reminds me of the Golan Heights and Mt. Hermon.
What makes you proud of Israel right now?
Without a doubt, our Haiti operation. We were among the first there, the first to set up a hospital. It is a wonderful representation of Israel’s real values and compassion. A state that proves over and over the power of help, hope and compassion. I saw something amazing there — an Ethiopian IDF doctor treating a black Haitian child. Think about that!As a member of the 17th Knesset from the National Union Party, Effie Eitam served in various ministerial positions and was a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Prior to entering politics, Brigadier General Eitam had a long and distinguished career in the IDF. He was the last commander to successfully face Hezbollah, he commanded the Golani Brigade during the Entebbe rescue operation, and was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Service as a young officer during the Yom Kippur War. Eitam lives in Ramat Hagolan with his wife and has eight children and two grandchildren.