Analyzing the inevitable in the Mideast with Michael Koplow

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Michael Koplow. Photo by Eli Kowaz

Many American Jews believe they will face a dilemma in November: Trump in the White House or “woke” progressives on Israel’s case.

Not to worry, says Michael Koplow.


“I don’t think the Squad will have very much influence at all,” says Koplow, policy director of the Israel Policy Forum. “First of all, Biden comes from a very different wing of the party. Philosophically, there is a difference on foreign policy, and there’s certainly a difference on Israel.”

(The Squad refers to Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, four progressive Democrats).

“Second, as we’ve seen in the Trump administration, foreign policy gets run from the White House first and foremost.”

Where Congress does have influence, it comes from congressional leadership and congressional committees. Those who favor progressive foreign policy in relation to Israel are not congressional leaders.

Even in the case of the proposed amendment, sponsored by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and 12 other senators, that would prohibit Israel from using U.S. aid to fund annexation of the West Bank — the projected annexation is currently on hold — “not only does it not have majorities in the House or Senate but also doesn’t come close to having majorities among Democrats in the House and Senate,” he says.

Koplow’s journey to his present position has been interesting and indirect.

After receiving a bachelor’s from Brandeis in history, Koplow, 40, went to law school at New York University, but decided practicing law was not for him.

He studied Arabic and decided to make a career in Middle Eastern studies.

“I didn’t intend to be an expert on Israel but rather focused on the Arab world and Turkey,” the Potomac resident says.

But he had grown up in an Orthodox household, had gone through 12 years of Jewish day school and spent a year in Israel before going to college.

“Israel was a huge part of my life, and I was constantly reading about Israel and keeping up with Israeli politics,” he recalls.

Eventually, given his personal interests and background, “it made more sense to make Israel the focus of my career, rather than Turkey, and that’s what I’ve doing ever since.”

So, after receiving his law degree, he got a master’s in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard and a Ph.D. in political science from Georgetown.

He was founding program director of the Israel Institute, dedicated to promoting the study of Israel, working there from 2012 to 2015. He has been at the IPF since 2015.

During the past eight years, he has noticed a considerable increase in knowledge about what people from the region are thinking and talking about. Much of this has to do with the rise of social media and Twitter. This means that “it is a lot harder to have a conversation about what’s happening there or should be happening there that’s divorced from what people there are talking about.”

He and the IPF are dedicated to promoting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s hard to be optimistic about it, Koplow says, but there are two factors that give him hope.

“One is that it is the only way to keep Israel Jewish, democratic and secure. So, that is a goal that is worth working toward.

“Second, it may take a while to get there and may mean more tragic bloodshed on both sides, but I don’t see an outcome that is sustainable in the long term except two states.”

Israelis are not going to give up their 2,000-year-old dream of a Jewish state, he believes. So, the idea of a single state that is not Jewish is a nonstarter.

And, an Israeli state between the river and the sea that does not give its Palestinian residents equal rights “will collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions and from international sanctions.”

Therefore, he says, two states are “inevitable. The question is to figure out how to get there in the quickest, most straightforward and most peaceful manner possible.”

Aaron Leibel is a Washington-area writer.

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