To the Editor:
Professor Eyal Zisser is mistaken in his conclusions as to why Israel's northern border has been "quiet" since August 2006 ("Nasrallah's Defeat in the 2006 War," Winter 2009). He implies that Hezbollah is afraid, but is a group actively arming itself for aggression afraid? The question to consider should be: "What is Hezbollah waiting for?"
Zisser describes the political realities of Lebanon, stating that "in a few years" the Shi'a of that country will be the majority. But by then Iran may have nuclear bombs and might transfer them to Syria and/or Hezbollah. Hezbollah's goal, like Iran's, is no secret: Both want to destroy Israel, and they mean to accomplish this goal, not by political maneuvering but with weapons of mass destruction.
Israeli Think Tanks
To the Editor:
Hannah Elka Meyers' conclusion that Israeli think tanks have "little impact" is without foundation ("Does Israel Need Think Tanks?" Winter 2009). Ms Meyers was an intern at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs but was not involved in the substance of our organization.
Here are just a few examples she did not acknowledge: One of our flagship projects, Defensible Borders for Israel, was launched through a joint effort with the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The proposal of the Jerusalem Center to indict Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for violating the anti-incitement clause of the Genocidal Convention was backed by then-former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who joined the Jerusalem Center team at a conference, which we cosponsored in the British House of Commons. A joint conference on rocket defense, held with the Israeli Missile Defense Association, led to pressures on the Ministry of Defense by the heads of the civilian regional councils of the Western Negev to reconsider the Nautilus Laser Defense System, which it cancelled in 2004.
Other Israeli think tanks have their own stories to tell but to dismiss the hard work in which these institutions engage misrepresents the facts.
Chaya Herskovic, Director General
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
To the Editor:
My experience as the head of a small policy institute in Jerusalem leads me to question Hannah Elka Meyers' conclusions ("Does Israel Need Think Tanks?" Winter 2009). Think tanks already play a critical role in policy debates, centered in the Knesset, about Israeli domestic policy and constitutional affairs.
Israel's political system is starved of independent, reliable research and policy analysis. Unlike their American counterparts, Israeli legislators and even Knesset committees have no professional policy staff and the Knesset's "Research and Information Center," budgeted at $8 million annually, is little more than a glorified Internet search service. Ministers are not in much better shape. They are highly dependent on professionals within their ministries although acutely aware that the advice tendered is often colored by institutional bias. Israeli politicians thus welcome the independent information and analysis that think tanks provide.
Israel's different political structure is not necessarily the handicap that Meyers portrays. It does mean, however, that effective Israeli think tanks need not only a research strategy and a policy agenda but also a marketing strategy. They need to know who their likely "customers" are, how to gain access to them, how best to package and market their recommendations to make them attractive to decision-makers, and how to use the media—politicians are strongly affected by how policy proposals they are asked to consider are treated by the press.
Think tanks in Israel played a significant role in setting the agenda for constitutional reform in Israel; in raising to prominence the issue of reform of Israel's judicial system; and in promoting the recent law amending appointment procedures to Israel's Supreme Court. They have played a valuable role in mediating between political representatives of the religious and secular public; in ending politically-based discrimination in the Israel Defense Forces; and in advancing protection for civil and due-process rights in Israel.
Think tanks may be less effective in foreign and security affairs, the field where most funders of think tanks, Israeli and foreign, tend to put their money. The day-to-day issues that concern policymakers in these fields are dependent on current and confidential intelligence where private think tanks—unless they have access to classified information that they cannot publish—are at a serious disadvantage. Think tanks, however, can play a role by challenging the fundamental terms and narrative in which Israel's security issues are conceived.
Director, Israel Policy Center
Hannah Elka Meyers responds:
Ms Herskovic is right in her assessment of the intelligent work of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) and other Israeli think tanks, and the good programs of which they have been part. Nevertheless, Israeli think tanks do not have the presence or the overall impact on government that their American counterparts enjoy. This was the topic of my article, and it was something that Ms Herskovic did not address.
She is also correct that I was not in a high level position as an intern at the JCPA. However, my article was based on extensive interviews, research, and larger knowledge of both Israeli politics and the world of think tanks, rather than strictly on my time at JCPA. In fact, I avoided focusing on the JCPA lest it appear to readers that I was biased or spoke as a representative of the institution.
It is not clear what Ms Herskovic actually thinks of my thesis: Would she concur that the differences in political systems, in levels of charitable giving, in the formality of conducting business, and the other spheres mentioned in my article hold back Israeli think tanks from having an impact comparable to that of think tanks in the United States?
I agree with Mr. Klein's view that "Israel's political system is starved of independent, reliable research and policy analysis." I appreciate his comments on the weaknesses of the Knesset's internal policy organs, and I am intrigued by his comment that Israeli think tanks need to spend more energy than their American counterparts to tailor and sell their work. I hope he will elaborate on how Israeli institutions accomplish this and whether he believes that Israeli think tanks can become as effective as their American counterparts.