A member of the Israeli parliament spoke to a packed room in William L. Harkness Hall on Wednesday night about Israel, the Arab Spring and the future of the Middle East.
Einat Wilf, the chair of the Education, Sports and Culture Committee of the Knesset — Israel’s legislative branch — and a native of Israel, said her country is currently in the “eye of the storm” in the Middle East. Despite the violent conflicts throughout the region, Wilf said the political atmosphere in Israel has been one of “eerie calm” for the past four years. Going forward, she argued that the nation should remain as neutral as possible amid the region’s shifting alliances.
“I predict nothing less than a decade or two of these primordial forces expressing themselves,” Wolf said. “It will take a while to play itself out.”
The 2011 Arab Spring uprisings began to unravel the order that has existed in the Middle East since World War I, said Wilf, who also serves on Israel’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and the past few years have been reshaping the region for the 21st century. As that new order continues to unfold, Wilf said Israel should avoid inserting itself into conflicts between other Middle Eastern nations, and should instead aim to be a “bunker” by keeping its defense capabilities as strong as possible.
So far, Wilf said, Israel has adhered to this course of action.
“There is this public opinion of Israel as a warmongering nation, itching to go to war at any moment,” she said. “In reality, and especially since the revolutions in the Arab world, Israel has been very prudent and measured, and has calculated its decisions carefully to avoid regional war at all costs.”
Wilf said there is also a false perception that Israel does not want democracy to spread in the Middle East, for fear of losing its status as the only democractic country in the region. Israel would like nothing more than to be the first of many democracies in the region, she said.
While the event drew students and faculty from several departments and segments of campus, a large portion of those in the audience were students who already have ties to Jewish life at Yale. The event was co-sponsored by Yale Friends of Israel, the Yale International Relations Association, the MacMillan Center Council on Middle East Studies, and International Security Studies at Yale.
Rachel Miller ’15, who said she attends many Yale Friends of Israel and Slifka events, said it was interesting to hear an Israeli perspective on current conflicts in the Middle East, especially since Israel has tried to stay out of revolutions in the region.
David Lillenfeld ’15 also said he was excited to listen to a speaker from Israel.
“Dr. Wilf gave a perspective tonight, one from the Israeli government itself, that is not often given as much attention as it deserves,” he said. “To have such an articulate, intelligible speaker tonight was such a treat.”
In addition to her other roles in the Israeli government, Wilf is also the chair of the Knesset subcommittee for Israel and the Jewish people.