Despite specter of nuclear Iran, ZOA’s featured speaker sees positives in Israel’s future

Despite specter of nuclear Iran, ZOA’s featured speaker sees positives in Israel’s future

Jonathan Adelman (Photo provided by Jonathan Adelman)
Jonathan Adelman (Photo provided by Jonathan Adelman)

Jonathan Adelman is reminded of the words of Charles Dickens these days when he thinks about Israel: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Adelman, a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, was the guest speaker at the ZOA Pittsburgh District’s 2014 awards dinner Oct. 22 at Congregation Beth Shalom. At the event, Cyril Wecht presented Mayor Bill Peduto with the ZOA’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his support of the organization’s Tolerance Education Program. Rhonda Horvitz received the Natalie E. Novick Achievement Award, and Ronna Harris Askin was presented with the Israel Service Award.

Adelman, the founder of both the China Center and the Israel Center at the University of Denver, began his address by discussing Israel’s security challenges, focusing on the prospect of a nuclear Iran.

He cautioned against the dangers of a “soft deal” with Iran, a country that is “close to having an atomic bomb.”

“I fear we’ll see a soft deal that seems good on paper but ignores all the salient facts,” he said.

A nuclear Iran would inevitably pose a threat to the world, he said. While some pundits point to America’s coexistence with the Soviet Union during the Cold War as an example that could be followed by a nuclear Iran, Adelman asserted that such a relationship was unlikely.

“Iran is no Soviet Union,” he said, noting that the leaders in the Soviet Union during the Cold War were being advised by highly educated professionals. In contrast, he said, Ali Hosseini Khamenei has stated that Iranian nuclear weapons would be controlled by members of the Revolutionary Guard, “most which haven’t graduated from high school.”

And if Iran does acquire nuclear weapons, he said, other countries in the region would acquire them as well, leading to a larger probability of an accident occurring.

But in the shadow of the threat of Iran, there is good news for Israel as well, Adelman said, “and some of it is ridiculously surprising.”

Israel’s relationship with some of its Arab neighbors is improving, he remarked.

Egypt, he said, has been attacking jihadists in the northern Sinai and has flooded their tunnels with waste. Israel’s relationship with Jordan remains strong. And even the Saudis have been talking about Israel in a more positive way.

“It’s a different world order,” he said, noting that Israel is no longer an isolated state and is now recognized by 162 countries, including India and China.

“We have come a long way with China,” Adelman said.

Adelman first began traveling to China 25 years ago, he said in an interview prior to the awards dinner. Things have changed drastically in those years.

Israel now has about $8 billion a year in trade with China, said Adelman, who is an honorary professor at both Beijing University and the People’s University of China. There is now an Israeli embassy in Beijing and a consulate in both Shanghai and Guangzhou. Israel has not only opened a branch of the Technion in China, but it is also launching a second school for higher technology in Shantou financed by more than $300 million in Chinese contributions, he said.

“So, Israel has made a lot of progress,” Adelman said. “But if you look at the overall politics, it’s not that overwhelming.”

Although Israel has more than $8 billion in trade with the Chinese, “that’s bupkus” relative to China’s $4 trillion in imports and exports.

“But it is better than it was 25 years ago,” he added.

The industries in which Israel is training the Chinese include agriculture and technology, according to Adelman, adding that the Chinese “have a core problem with creativity.”

“The Chinese are well aware that Jews are very creative and powerful in Silicon Valley,” he said. “There is no Silicon Valley in China.”

While Israel and China have greatly improved their relationship over the years, the fact remains that China also maintains a strong relationship with Iran that is not likely to change, he pointed out. And because Israel is so small, its relationship with China is unlikely to trump China’s relationship with Iran.

“The Chinese do not view Iran as threat,” Adelman said, “but as a future ally.”

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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