Ambassador: 'Shared challenges' confront Jews, the West
A top advisor in three U.S. presidential administrations, Stuart Eizenstat’s remarks were part of celebration marking the first year of Jewish Studies at Elon.
Unstoppable social, political and economic forces will shape the world’s Jewish population in the years ahead, and Western nations led by the United States must play an active role in safeguarding a people who have contributed an “outsized” amount to world culture over the millenia, a former U.S. ambassador said Thursday to the Elon University community.
Stuart Eizenstat visited campus for an April 11 lecture titled "The Future of the Jews: How Global Forces are Impacting the Jewish People, Israel and its Relationship with the United States." His remarks were part of celebration marking the first year of Jewish Studies at Elon.
The talk, inspired by his latest book of the same name, found Eizenstat outlining three “shared challenges” confronting the Western world, including Israel:
⇢ A profound and historic shift of power is drifting away from the countries of the West, which share common values with the Jewish people of tolerance and democracy and respect for human rights, to countries of the East and South, particularly China and India, which have different sets of values with tiny Jewish communities.
⇢ Globalization, the rapid movement of people, products, services and capital across national boundaries, powered by a digital revolution and the internet, is as profound in changing the way people live, teach, learn and communicate, as the Gutenberg printing press was 500 years ago.
⇢ What Eizenstat called the direction of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world is unknown. He said it’s wrong to assume there is a “war of civilizations” between Muslims and Westerners, though extremist groups would certainly like to launch one.
“The great majority of Muslims want the same thing we want: empowerment, education, economic opportunity, security and freedom,” he said. “I would argue that the real war isn’t between the Muslim world and the West ... the real battle is within the Muslim world between Shiites and Sunnis, between those who want to integrate into the global world and those who want to destroy it, between modernizers and jihadists.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in Iran, a nation that has professed a desire to destroy Israel. Eizenstat said the global community led by the United States will likely act within the year on Iran’s nuclear developments, which continue despite crippling economic sanctions and previous efforts by the West at industrial and cyber disruption.
“2013 is going to be the year of decision,” he said. “One of three things will happen by the end of this year or by the beginning of next. There will be a negotiated settlement, and the negotiations in the past few days have gone badly. Iran will have crossed a threshold where it will be virtually impossible to stop it from developing a nuclear weapon. Or there will be a war.
“Going to war in the region again is a profound choice, but i want to suggest that if sanctions and diplomacy fail, and I hope they are successful, in my opinion, it is better to use all of our efforts, including cyber efforts, than allowing Iran to have a nuclear weapon. It would shred what’s left of the massive nonproliferation treaty, undercut the whole UN system that a country could ignore five unanimous security council resolutions, and create a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is not going to stand still and allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”
Eizenstat said there is really only one answer to securing peace between Israel and the Palestinians. “The window for a two-state solution is fast closing,” he said, “and the alternative solution to a two-state solution is a one state solution, but each party has a very different view of what that one state should be.”
In addition to external challenges facing the Jewish people, internal struggles must be addressed, he said.
Half of the 5.5 million Jews in the United States are vibrantly engaged in Jewish life and American life, expressing themselves culturally and politically in a way that Jews were afraid to do during World War II because there was a tremendous amount of anti-semitism in this country, he said.
However, the other half of American Jews are in a different position. They’ve assimilated but in the process have dropped much of their Jewish identity. One in every two marriages involving a Jewish spouse is with a non-Jewish partner, Eizenstat said, and birth rates in a population of 5.5 million are below replacement levels.
“There’s really a risk of evaporation, having made it in America. This is not a hopeless situation, but what I call for is an embrace of intermarried couples in all of our Jewish institutions, having rabbis perform intermarriages, even if there’s no conversion, if children will be raised Jewish.”
Eizenstat has held senior U.S. government positions in three presidential administrations, from the White House to the State Department, from U.S. Ambassador to the European Union to the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. He also has been a leader in the Jewish community, having led American and international Jewish groups and institutions.
Eizenstat was among the earliest voices in Washington calling for the establishment of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
His visit was sponsored by several programs and academic departments on campus: the Lori and Eric Sklut Emerging Scholar in Jewish Studies, the Department of Political Science and Policy Studies, the Department of Religious Studies, the Department of History and Geography, Middle East Studies, International Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies, the Law School and the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center, and the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. The lecture was also made possible with support from the Office of the President.
Recent gifts to Elon University from Eric and Lori Sklut in Charlotte, N.C., parents of a current university junior, have supported a vibrant Jewish life and Jewish Studies program on campus. The evening lecture was the latest event contributing to that end, organizers said.
"We are celebrating the first year of Jewish Studies at Elon, and this evening’s lecture by Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat helps us to celebrate this new program," Assistant Professor Geoffrey Claussen, director of Jewish Studies at Elon, said while introducing Eizenstat. "We are deeply, deeply honored to have him with us. And we are deeply grateful to Lori and Eric Sklut for making Ambassador Eizenstat's lecture possible."