Speaking to a packed Battell Chapel Thursday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak cautioned against concessions in the war on terrorism, describing the U.S.-led effort as “the first world war of the 21st century.”
“There can be no compromise with [terrorists],” said Barak, the prime minister of Israel from 1999 to 2001. “The choice is clear — either we destroy world terror or be destroyed by it.”
As he spoke on one of the world’s most controversial issues, Barak was accompanied by a security officer, and other policemen stood nearby for the duration of the talk. Prior to the event, state troopers, New Haven police, University police and a private crowd control company surrounded Battell and set up metal detectors for audience members to pass through. A bomb-sniffing dog sat at each entrance to the building, and audience members were prohibited from bringing purses or backpacks into the lecture.
Barak focused on two aspects of terrorism in his lecture — Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s government and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He emphasized that this latter conflict is, above all, a war on terrorism.
“Whenever a Palestinian spokesman or leader tells you it’s all about occupation, occupation, occupation, I will tell you ‘No, it is all about terror,'” Barak said.
His statement was met with a prolonged round of applause, as was his plan for improving the situation in the Middle East. He outlined three “pillars” for Israel to adopt — striking at terror “anytime, anywhere and anyplace” while maintaining the safety of Palestinian civilians; keeping an open door for the resumption of negotiations; and creating a physical barrier between Israel and the Palestinian settlements.
Barak also said that the conflict could not be resolved without the creation of an independent Palestinian state. He said this must be achieved, despite Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s refusal to cooperate in pursuing peace.
“The fact that Arafat does not want peace should not paralyze Israel from pursuing peace in a way that works with our Palestinian neighbors,” Barak said.
Barak, whose visit was sponsored by the Yale Friends of Israel, the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, Yale Hillel, and the Center for the Study of Globalization, was given two standing ovations by his audience.
“I was very impressed,” Josh Picker ’04 said. “Even though he is a general, Barak seems like such a genuine person who wants what’s best for both Israel and the Palestinians.”
“I hope a lot of the people who tend to be more liberal and more wary of the Israeli position went, because what Barak put forth was a very reasonable position,” Picker added.
Nelson Moussazadeh ’05, who helped organize the event, was also impressed by Barak’s policy statements.
“He really has a great vision of what the Middle East should be,” Moussazadeh said. “He has a perspective no one else can offer, since he was actually at Camp David and was an integral part of what happened in Israel and Palestine.”
Demonstrations both inside and outside Battell were minimal, with a few members of Students for Justice in Palestine distributing pamphlets denouncing the “Israeli apartheid” and others unfurling a Palestinian flag and banner from the balcony a few minutes into the lecture.
Hanan Karam ’03, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, handed out flyers to audience members before the lecture.
“We are protesting the fact that the University is giving [Barak] a forum to distort Palestinian history and mock justice, under the guise of an ‘honorable’ man of peace,” Karam said in an e-mail.