During the presidential campaign season, candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have both been grilled on a number of important issues, especially about how they'd handle the troubled economy. But there's one crucial question Kenneth W. Stein, president of the Atlanta-based Center for Israel Education, would like to ask the next president, whoever he may be: What will Israel's place be in your administration?
Stein knows a thing or two about politics in the volatile Middle East and just how presidential decisions affect the region, since he's also the William E. Schatten Professor of Contemporary Middle Eastern History, Political Science and Israeli Studies at Emory University in Atlanta.
Appropriately, Stein addressed the issue of the Middle East — specifically the "pitfalls and prospects" facing the next administration — on Oct. 26 in the auditorium of Gratz College. About 50 people gathered to hear what he had to say.
Stein's presentation was cosponsored by his own CIE (a nonprofit organization that focuses on preparing both curriculum and instruction about Israel and the Middle East, to be used in pre-collegiate settings and for adult learners); the Center for Israel and Overseas of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia; the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education; and the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College.
A Media Presence
Stein became something of a media presence back in 2006, after resigning in protest as Middle East Fellow at the Carter Center after the publication of former President Jimmy Carter's controversial book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. And during his recent presentation, Stein had no qualms conveying to the audience his strong objections to what was written in that book. The professor stated that his resignation had little to do with the title of the work; rather, he stepped down over Carter "saying Jews had too much power."
Since he had known Carter for more than 20 years, the book "cut to the core of who I am," explained Stein, "[be]cause he didn't get it. It's our obligation that our kids get it. He didn't."
Stein also had few reservations about letting his listeners know what he thinks the next administration needs to keep in mind.
He began by stating that neither President Clinton nor the current President Bush had "made it easier to live" in the Middle East, with the former, for example, trying to win over the late Yasser Arafat and Bush supporting Ariel Sharon.
"Is Israel better off?" questioned Stein. "Unequivocally, no.
"Israel's strategic position in the Middle East is a lot worse than in 1992, or even 2002," stated the professor. The next administration will face several challenges both at home and abroad, he continued, and will have to immediately worry about Iran — "even the day after the election."
With a map of the Middle East projected on a screen behind him, he questioned where foreign policy fits into McCain's or Obama's governing agenda; a subcomponent of that is just where Israel fits in.
Not every president since the 1940s has made a deep commitment to protecting the Jewish state, noted Stein, and while "Israel is a strategic asset," the next president will have to determine if it continues to be part of the United States' national interest. This, he stressed, comes down to just how the person who is elected defines the term "national interest," and if that includes respecting Israel's right to exist or protecting the state from Iran.
Once elected, "do you know how McCain or Obama would do?" questioned Stein. "You have no clue. That is how sterile the debate has been."