Interview w/ Elliot Chodoff
What in the world is going on in the Middle East? We’ve got the answers for you on this week’s show! During Chris’s recent trip to Israel, he interviewed IDF Major Elliot Chodoff to get his scoop as a political analyst on the major developments in Israel and its Middle East neighbors.
Elliot discusses the details of the Israeli government’s current plans for judicial reform and the explosive reactions they have sparked across the country. He also shares the facts you need to know about the Israeli political system and the shift in the political spectrum taking place in the Jewish state.
Shifting his focus to the entire region, Elliot’s insight on the warming relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran will give you a clear picture of what’s taking shape in the Middle East and what their pact means for Israel. Don’t miss this timely analysis of the key events unfolding in Israel!
Steve Conover: Welcome to The Friends of Israel Today, I'm Steve Conover. With me is our host and teacher, Chris Katulka. Have you visited our website, foiradio.org? After this episode ends, visit us if you haven't been there yet, we have over eight years worth of programming on our site for you to listen to. Once again, that's foiradio.org.
Chris Katulka: Steve, I just got back from Israel. We had a fantastic time as we toured through the Holy Land. We saw amazing biblical sites, but one of the things I love about the Friends of Israel is we've been taking trips to Israel since 1970. For nearly 50 years we've been leading Christians to the Holy Land. And not only do we have expert staff who are able to lead you and guide you to all the biblical locations, but we also have great relationships with Israelis on the ground who have deep insights into what's going on in Israel and the Middle East. And that's why I'm excited to share with you an interview that I did with Elliot Chodoff, a political and military analyst specializing in the Middle East conflict and the global war on terror. It was a great time to sit down with him while I was in Israel.
Steve Conover: Before we hear that interview, in the news, more than a dozen Republican senators sent a letter to Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, demanding answers regarding taxpayer money, which funded anti-Semitic activity on college and university campuses. The letter accused the Biden administration of allowing "taxpayer funded anti-Semitism" at colleges and universities, demanding to know how much public funds went toward programs and events that meet the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism.
Chris Katulka: Well, Steve, here's my take. A 2021 poll found that 65% of Jewish college students felt unsafe on college campuses due to anti-Semitic attacks, with one in 10 reporting they have feared physical assault because they are openly Jewish. Additionally, nearly 70% of the students say they had personally experienced or were familiar with an act of anti-Semitism on campus or in virtual campus. I'm just glad to hear that senators are standing up for the rights of Jewish students to be openly Jewish on their college campus.
Chris Katulka: Well, I'm sitting here in Israel with Elliot Chodoff and it's a joy to be here with you, Elliot. You just spoke to a group of about 50, 60 Americans and Canadians about what's going on here in Israel and the Middle East and globally. We really tackled a lot of issues and so I thought I'd bring you in to share with our radio audience. It's great to have you.
Elliot Chodoff: Great to be with you.
Chris Katulka: Elliot, you were talking about the judiciary situation that's going on right now in Israel and how that's spilling over into, really, all of Israeli life right now.
Elliot Chodoff: Yes.
Chris Katulka: Can you give some definition to what's going on so our listeners can maybe, when they're opening up the newspaper, they can understand better what they're reading about?
Elliot Chodoff: Sure. There's a new government in Israel that, among other things, had promised judicial reform and they're pushing it through. That's sort of the headline. The difficulty or the turmoil, if you will, is that while probably about 80% of the Israeli population believes that there needs to be some sort of a judicial reform, at least 60% to 65% believe that this particular reform is not the one that's needed. Too far, too much, there are all sorts of aspects to it.
Chris Katulka: The Netanyahu government, did he run on judicial reform?
Elliot Chodoff: He did not, but some of his people did. For example, Levin, the Justice Minister, has made that an issue of his for a very long time. And as I said, many people agree with the idea that there needs to be reform. So in and of itself, that didn't seem to be a particularly controversial issue. The government squeaked in essentially, and this is somewhat important in the sense that it didn't win by an overwhelming majority. And they immediately proposed a series of laws that many people, and I'm among them, believe that in some cases at least are going too far.
I'm personally a firm believer in the idea that institutions, when they need to be changed, should be changed slowly and carefully because you don't want to over swing in the opposite direction. You want to try to center. Now, you may overshoot by a bit, but you certainly don't want to go from one pole to the other and then have to right yourself. It's just not healthy. So the Supreme Court in Israel, many people [inaudible 00:05:11], probably about 80%, believe has taken too much power upon itself, and that needs to be reigned in. But there's a difference between making an institution like the Court stay in its lane, so to speak, and it's another thing to weaken it, politicize it, do things to it that change its absolute nature rather than parts of its behavior.
Chris Katulka: You mentioned to our audience that we had tonight, and it's a line that's stuck with me because I thought it really defined really well what's going on. You had talked about the fact that the Supreme Court in the United States and Israel function a bit differently. We have a constitution in the United States. In Israel, they don't, they have basic laws. But because they don't have a constitution, when the Supreme Court in America makes opinions, it's based off the Constitution. In Israel, you used a word I thought was very fascinating. It's based off of reasonableness.
Elliot Chodoff: Correct.
Chris Katulka: Explain that.
Elliot Chodoff: Okay. So first of all, in order to really understand this, one difference as you mentioned, is the issue of the Constitution. But the Israeli Supreme Court is also different from the American one in another very important way. The Israeli Supreme Court actually exists in two different forms simultaneously. In other words, the same justices sit in two different varieties. One is the Supreme Court, as you know, which is an appeals court that cases come up through the system and ultimately come to the Supreme Court. But the other part of it is what is known as the High Court of Justice. In Hebrew, Beit Mishpat Gavo'ah L'Tzedek or the Bagatz, which is the acronym, which is a court of first appeal. Any resident of Israel can appeal directly to Bagatz without going through a lower court on any issue that they feel is a wrong being done by the system. That's a very, very wide definition. The court, due to its activism over the past 30 some odd years, even longer, has said that any issue can be brought before the court. So for example, a military appointment can be brought before the court and can be overruled by the court. I'm talking about a promotion of a colonel to brigade command can be overruled by the court. The awarding of the Israel Prize can be directed or canceled by the court. Things like that, which puts the court, A, in a position of-
Chris Katulka: Legislation.
Elliot Chodoff: ... Essentially legislating, or even worse executive decision making. And doing it not on the basis of law, but on the basis of reason.
Chris Katulka: And then making precedent that they can always go back to as settled law.
Elliot Chodoff: That's right. And this activism is over 30 years old. But what's happened is that the precedent building has taken decades, to the point that now the Supreme Court has a legal foundation to be doing what it was doing, but a foundation based on quicksand, essentially, starting with, if that was reasonable, now this is reasonable. That was reasonable, now this is reasonable, and always drawing it a little bit further along.
Chris Katulka: And Israelis have always considered that somewhat of a leery situation for how the judiciary should act in its country?
Elliot Chodoff: Yes. The use of the judiciary in that way has become much more rampant, as I said, because of the building of tradition, of precedent. But also what's happening over time is that it's partisan direction is also becoming clearer and clearer. In other words, decisions that it was making against the right-wing, it's taking the exact same case with the left and making the opposite decision. Because the justices of the Supreme Court tend to be on the left side of the political spectrum.
Chris Katulka: While Israel is moving more right.
Elliot Chodoff: Has been moving right.
Chris Katulka: We see that in the government they have now. That's kind of my next question is where do you think this is going to land? I feel like there's still some things that have to happen, but where do you think this all lands for the Israeli people? Because they keep screaming, democracy is over. That's a big statement to make.
Elliot Chodoff: Right. That's what the demonstrators' leadership is screaming. I'm sure some people believe it. I think that there are plenty of people who realize that it's not the end of democracy. There are those who fear that this may be the first step toward it, and those kind of fears, you can't do anything about. Right now, what I'm seeing... And here I should mention, it's not so much that the Israeli population or politics are moving to the right as much as it is that the left has disintegrated. And the disintegration of the left has shifted the center of gravity rightward, and it's not so much that people have moved further and further to the right.
Chris Katulka: I see what you're saying.
Elliot Chodoff: Because what they're calling left-wing parties today, Benny Gantz's party and Yair Lapid's party-
Chris Katulka: That's your moderate parties, if anything.
Elliot Chodoff: Or even right-wing. They're even right of center, but they're left of the government of today. And here as part of the rhetoric of politics, the government calls them leftists and they call the government fascist.
Chris Katulka: That's right. Well, and when your right-wing, that you're talking about, are the ultra-Orthodox party, and they seem to have a stronghold on the coalition government that's ruling right now.
Elliot Chodoff: So you have the ultra-Orthodox parties, which have been in many other governments, but you also have a very small, very far right religious Zionist wing. Itamar Ben-Gvir, Smotrich, the Minister of Economics, who were never in the government with any power. In other words, these parties, they were always considered a fringe out to the right of the government. And they were brought in because of coalition building. In other words, Netanyahu needed a majority in order to seat his government, and he brought them in because, A, he needed them. And here, quite frankly without going deeply into Israeli politics, the ones who are just to the left of him, who are still to the right, won't sit with him because they have personal issues with his history. So that's sort of the perfect storm combination of where we find ourselves today.
I don't think that the ultra-Orthodox, per se, are the core of the judicial reform issue. They're going along with it because they also have their issues with the Supreme Court. They're doing other things that many people are upset about in trying to push things through. And as I mentioned in the lecture, unlike the American system, since the government can be brought down at any time, they don't know what their timetable is.
Chris Katulka: So they have to act fast. Just, in the few seconds that we have here, when we think about the future of how this all lands, is there judicial reform in Israel and then how does the nation respond to that? How does Israel respond to that?
Elliot Chodoff: What I would hope will happen is that a bunch of responsible adults on both sides will sit down and say, look, we agree on 60%, 70%, 80% of this. Let's put that through right now and let's now work out our differences on the other issues. That would solve it tomorrow. Whether they'll do it is another question.
Chris Katulka: Okay. Well listen, when we come back, we've got Elliot Chodoff still. We're here in Israel, and when we come back, we're going to be talking Saudis, Iran, and, no, not the United States, China. So stick around.
Welcome back everybody. We've got Elliot Chodoff with us. I'm in Israel right now and leading a group of people through the Holy Land. It's a fantastic time and our nearly 100 people that have come with us have been able to come out and to hear from Elliot Chodoff on the events that are happening here in Israel and the broader Middle East. And one of the topics that you talked about, Elliot, that I know that's been on the minds of a lot of people, is the issue of the new relationship or the reconciliation that's happened between the Saudis and Iran, and even more importantly, who brokered it, China. Can you talk a bit about that?
Elliot Chodoff: Sure. The Saudis were certainly westward facing, politically, for decades. Recently, in part because of the threat from Iran, they were becoming more openly close to Israel. I say openly because we've had all sorts of contacts and relations with them.
Chris Katulka: There were talks about them making peace.
Elliot Chodoff: Actually making peace and start having formal relations. We have the Abraham Accords, the Emirates coming in, and other countries. So it all looked like things were starting to come together. I think that a number of factors have come into play, and I would say that they do focus around the United States, both the reality of American military weakness today and the perception of American weakness as a result of decisions like the disaster of withdrawal from Afghanistan, not the withdrawal itself, lack of response to other things, waffling about certain things. And here, without getting into the Russia-Ukraine issue directly, America not taking a stand one way or the other as the world's superpower is perceived as weakness.
Chris Katulka: Yeah. Can I say, we're standing in Israel and Israel over the millennia has been stuck in the middle between kingdoms and has had to make choices about what side to take, and oftentimes making the wrong choice. Could make a devastating decision. And we're talking about going back to the period of Alexander the Great and even further back. Does that still stand in the Middle East today? When you think of Riyadh, even when you think of Jerusalem, they're in the middle stuck between Washington DC and Beijing, and they're two powerhouses. So do you choose one side or do you think Riyadh is saying, we want to make sure we have alliances on both sides?
Elliot Chodoff: Okay, so first I think that they are hedging their bets. They certainly don't like the current administration's attitude toward them, going back to its campaigns. That was clear in the way they treated President Biden when he visited. They didn't particularly respect him in the visit. This is the Middle East, you don't slap someone and expect them to treat you nicely. But it also concerns them, flip-flops of American policy, and America's renowned for it, it's not news. This is old news. Reassessments of policy based on all sorts of issues make countries nervous. Because if you are relying on a country for your security, you don't want to wake up one morning and find that it's changed its mind.
Chris Katulka: That's right.
Elliot Chodoff: Now, the Saudis are not existentially threatened by anyone but Iran. Unlike Israel who's existentially threatened by lots.
Chris Katulka: Everyone in their neighborhood.
Elliot Chodoff: And beyond. Israel's the only country in the world where the question, does this country, Israel, have the right to exist is even asked. Or does it have the right to defend itself?
Chris Katulka: Yeah, who asks that question?
Elliot Chodoff: So we're legitimately paranoid about those sorts of things. The Saudis are normally concerned, as any country would be, about their security. And what they're seeing is a more active China, an act of Russia. Despite all of Putin's problems in Ukraine, he's got plenty of them. But an act of Russia, a more passive, weakened United States, and they're hedging their bets.
Chris Katulka: Can you describe a little bit about the tension that existed between the Saudis and Iranians and then how Israel plays in that. Because Israel and the Saudis were making friends with one another because of Iran. Now there's that reconciliation that's taken place. Can you talk about that?
Elliot Chodoff: First of all, we should start by saying, keep in mind that in international politics, nothing is permanent.
Chris Katulka: That's right. Things move fast.
Elliot Chodoff: Very fast. Yesterday's friends are tomorrow's enemies and vice versa.
Chris Katulka: Nobody saw this alliance taking place.
Elliot Chodoff: No. On the other end, it could disintegrate in a month. We're used to thinking in Cold War terms where nothing moves for 50 years.
Chris Katulka: That's hubris, and I think that all the time. Whenever the UN talks about the shifting of borders or this happening or that happening, and then you think about the fact that they think nothing can change. That's hubris. It's the [inaudible 00:20:14] of history. It ignores history.
Elliot Chodoff: Totally. It ignores history or believes that we can now overcome history.
Chris Katulka: That's right, exactly. And keep everything as it should be and we make the decisions.
Elliot Chodoff: And we decide what should be.
Chris Katulka: Exactly.
Elliot Chodoff: So what's happening, I think, today in the world in general, are shifting, I'm going to call them ties rather than alliances because I don't think Iran and Saudi Arabia-
Chris Katulka: It seems like a joke to me, almost, in some way.
Elliot Chodoff: It's like a “if you don't hit me, I won't hit you” kind of a thing.
Chris Katulka: Exactly. But we're going to show the world. Because that's big for China if Iran and Saudis can make peace and China brokered it, that gives China a lot of leverage.
Elliot Chodoff: And I don't know who was offered what, but I'm willing to bet that the Chinese offered the Saudis a lot in order to bring them around. And I don't know how well the Saudis sleep with it.
Chris Katulka: Yeah. Because you think if Saudi's made peace with Israel, that sounds more logical than the Saudis making peace with Iran.
Elliot Chodoff: Yes. First of all, democracies don't break peace all that quickly, by initiation. It happens periodically, but it's a rare event. Dictatorships do it all the time.
Chris Katulka: Yeah, 100%.
Elliot Chodoff: And the Saudis know it, they're not stupid. But I think that this is another attempt by them, first of all, like I said, to hedge their bets, but also to give America a bit of a slap and say, you know what? You think you can treat us any way you want because we need you so desperately. We don't. We can talk to other people. Now, Israel's certainly not in that situation for a variety of reasons, starting with common values.
Chris Katulka: With America.
Elliot Chodoff: With America. Through deep institutional ties with America: military, economic, technological, and-
Chris Katulka: Security, all of it.
Elliot Chodoff: Right, and it's a two-way street. It may not be a balanced two-way street, but it's a two-way street. And our need for American aid immediately, in a way that the Saudis don't have that kind of a problem. Between us, all the equipment the Saudis have that they got from America has relatively little value because they're just not that good. So for them, it's less of a critical issue. They can't fight the Iranians off.
Chris Katulka: Alone, they can't.
Elliot Chodoff: They themselves. And if they can't count on America, well, might as well cut a deal.
Chris Katulka: That's right. Well, listen, we've been speaking with Elliot Chodoff. You need to come, if you're listening right now and you are interested in coming on a trip to Israel, I want to encourage you to come on one of our Up to Jerusalem tours where not only are you going to see the biblical sites and learn the scriptures on location by expert staff that we have here at Friends of Israel. We've been taking trips since 1977 to the Holy Land. But not only are you going to see amazing biblical sights and walk in the footsteps of Jesus, but you're also going to get a chance to hear from individuals here like Elliot Chodoff as he shares about what's going on on the ground here in Israel, here in the Middle East, and globally. And I know that this news will be old news by the time our next tour gets here, Elliot.
Elliot Chodoff: Right. But we'll come up with something,
Chris Katulka: I'm sure we'll have something new to talk about. So Elliot, thank you very much for being with us.
Elliot Chodoff: My pleasure.
Chris Katulka: You mean a lot to us here at Friends of Israel.
Elliot Chodoff: Thank you.
Steve Conover: Thank you for joining us today, and thanks to Elliot Chodoff for being our guest. The last two weeks, we've spent both our programs in the land of Israel. Chris, where are we headed next week?
Chris Katulka: Yeah, now we're back in the United States, and in fact, we're going to be sharing about some of the ministry that the Friends of Israel's doing domestically here in the United States. Talking about ways that we're building bridges and bringing hope to the Jewish communities around the United States.
Steve Conover: We hope you'll join us then. Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, edited by Jeremy Strong, who also composed and performs our theme music. This program was engineered by Bob Beebe. And I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. Our mailing address is FOI Radio PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. And one last reminder to visit us at foiradio.org. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry, proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
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