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Ken Stein (right) likes what he hears from Rabbi Arnold Goodman (left). – Photo by Michael Jacobs –

By Michael Jacobs | mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right when he declared on the eve of mid-March elections that now is not the time for a two-state solution with the Palestinians, Rabbi Arnold Goodman told a group of about 35 congregants at Ahavath Achim Synagogue on April 16.

Rabbi Goodman said no prime minister concerned with the security of his nation could enter into an agreement to shrink Israel while “the rest of the Middle East is a cauldron.”

The emeritus AA rabbi was visiting from Israel for his regular scholar-in-residence weekend at the Buckhead synagogue. He was joined on the chapel bimah by Emory University’s resident Israel expert, Ken Stein, with educator Steve Chervin moderating their free-flowing hour-long discussion on Israel after the elections and in the face of Islamic State and other regional violence.

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Rabbi Arnold Goodman – Photo by Michael Jacobs

Rabbi Goodman said his own family of 10 adults reflected the general Israeli populace in the election with votes across the political spectrum, often depending as much on their feelings about the party leaders as about issues such as the peace process and pluralism.

He predicted that the yet-to-emerge governing coalition under Netanyahu will make American Jews unhappy because it will tilt to the right and empower the religious parties.

For all the excitement about the elections, Stein said, the left-center-right divide among the electorate was largely the same as in 2013.

While Rabbi Goodman said a two-state solution is the ideal and will happen someday, he has a hard time seeing how it will happen soon.

For one thing, 300,000 Jews living in the West Bank would have to be resettled within Israel, and he said the country still hasn’t dealt with the 8,000 Gaza settlers evacuated in 2005. And Rabbi Goodman said even an immediate withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders wouldn’t satisfy the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement and other critics because “they’re not interested in the settlements, but in Israel.”

“A two-state solution won’t stop the delegitimization of Israel,” he said.

Lois Frank expressed concern that the lack of progress toward a two-state solution will result in a drift toward an oppressive river-to-the-sea Israel or a multinational single state that would cease to be the Jewish homeland.

But Rabbi Goodman said neither will happen. Israelis have no desire to annex portions of the West Bank, let alone the whole thing, and are determined to hold on to Israel as a Jewish state.

“Israelis are just waiting for Elijah to return” to resolve everything, he said.

He added that he draws hope from what he sees in Israel’s shopping malls, where he has seen Arab and Haredi women sitting and talking together. People are learning to get along mixed together, he said.

Stein said Israel can afford to let the Palestinians wait because they don’t represent an existential threat. Iran is another matter, and sooner or later it will develop nuclear weapons.

Questioned by Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal about what Iran intends to do with such weapons, Stein said Iran is likely to use the threat as a bargaining chip rather than rush to press a button to blow up Israel — not because the religious leaders of the country are against destroying Israel, but because they fear losing power.

That desire to hold power is what brought Iran to the negotiating table, Stein said. Once President Barack Obama took regime change off the table as a U.S. goal, the Iranians were willing to talk.

Stein said regime longevity is the real issue. The mullahs will do what they must to hold power; Netanyahu wants to keep the sanctions on them to cripple their power and force their downfall.

But he warned the audience that history is not linear. “We are always surprised by the right turns in history.”

Stein said Israel is in a good position to handle those surprises because it has the most powerful military in the Middle East, although he said he wouldn’t want to be the head of Israeli military intelligence and have to decide whether Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic State, Iran or some other threat required the most attention.

“Where do we go from here?” Rabbi Goodman asked. “Israelis will hold the line as best they can.”

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Torah Tidbits

Rabbi Arnold Goodman was selling his new book, a compilation of his writings about the weekly Torah portion called “Ma Nishma From Jerusalem,” during his visit to Atlanta.

“I wanted it to be a quick and easy read for people who wanted a quick and easy read,” the rabbi said.

You can get a taste of his Torah commentary at www.aasynagogue.org/about-us/clergy/manishma-rabbi-goodman.html. His book is available through Amazon and other online retailers for $24.95 in hardback or $14.95 in paperback.