Yossi Alpher

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Yossi (Joseph) Alpher (born in Washington D.C. and moved to Israel in 1964) a former senior Mossad official, is an Israeli strategic analyst. He is a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Alpher is a consultant and writer on Israel-related strategic issues, and is co-editor, with Ghassan Khatib (minister of labour in the Palestinian Authority) of bitterlemons.org, a web-based Israeli-Palestinian political dialogue magazine, bitterlemons-international.org, a web-based "Middle East round table", and bitterlemons-dialogue.org. He also writes Hard Questions, Tough Answers, a weekly security Q&A available at peacenow.org and a monthly column for Forward, called the Strategic Interest. Alpher served in the Israel defence forces as an intelligence officer, followed by 12 years’ service in Mossad. From 1981 to 1995 he was associated with the Jaffee centre for strategic studies at Tel Aviv University, filling the posts of deputy head of centre, director and acting head. From 1995 to 2000 he served as director of the American Jewish Committee's Israel/Middle East office in Jerusalem. While at the Jaffee centre, Alpher coordinated and coedited the JCSS research project on options for a Palestinian settlement, and produced the Alpher plan for an Israeli-Palestinian territorial settlement. Since 1992 he has coordinated several track II dialogues between Israelis and Arabs. In July 2000 (during the Camp David talks) he served as senior adviser to the prime minister of Israel, concentrating on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In 2002 he published And the Wolf Shall Dwell with the Wolf: the Settlers and the Palestinians (HaKibbutz Hameuchad, Hebrew). He is married to Irene Tamar Alpher. They have three children and two grandchildren. They live in Ramat HaSharon, north of Tel Aviv.

Alpher is the founder and director "Political-Security Domain", an Israeli-based "independent" NGO (no web presence). It is under this umbrella that BitterLemons is published.

An article about him appeared in Ha'aretz on 13 December 2002.

In an article about the pros/cons of the release of Palestinian prisoners, Alpher liberally used the word "terrorism" to refer to Palestinian violence. Since this is a very charged word, and not conducive to "dialog", Paul de Rooij sent a few questions to Alpher, and the ensuing emails are found below.

From: Paul de Rooij (proox@hotmail.com)
To Mr. Yossi Alpher
Sent: Sunday, March 20, 2005 10:24 AM
Subject: reaction

I just read your "Release prisoners with 'blood on their hands'" article.

Could you explain why you use the ideologically tainted word "terrorism" when referring to Palestinian violence? It seems to me that you prejudge the people by using this word. I suspect you would further your argument by using "resistance" - which is precisely what it is. Israelis may not like violence due to resistance, but its nature should not be confused or hidden. By using the charged word "terrorism", one doesn't address its cause. In my opinion, the Israeli discourse would be elevated by taking the cause of the violence into account. As such, your use of words is sloppy or confusing, and it is detrimental to a constructive dialog.

You may also want to address the fact that releasing a handful of prisoners without taking into account the injustice of the situation would just delay the onset of intifada #3, and then you can start all over again discussing the pro-cons of releasing this or that prisoner.

Paul de Rooij

From yossi alpher [email address suppressed]
To: Paul de Rooij
Date: March 20, 2005 10:30
Fw: reaction

Dear Paul de Rooij

Terrorism is not an ideologically tainted word. It is, however, often abused and misused. I use it to mean the deliberate targeting of civilians for a political purpose. There can be no doubt that that is what Palestinian "resistance fighters" do. Nothing "sloppy" about that.

Yossi Alpher

From: Paul de Rooij
To: yossi alpher
Sent: Monday, March 21, 2005 1:49 PM
Subject: well, lets clarify matters

Do you refer to Israeli (army or settler) actions entailing killings or mass demolition of property as "terrorism"? Your answer to this question will prove my point about the political uses of this terminology.

From yossi alpher [email address suppressed]
To: Paul de Rooij
Date: March 21, 2005 11:58
Re: well, lets clarify matters

any israeli action that deliberately targets civilians is also terrorism; in the case of the IDF, state terrorism. but i argue that the IDF, as a matter of policy, does not deliberately seek to kill civilians. if soldiers nevertheless do so, they should be prosecuted. settlers, on the other hand, do at times deliberately target civilians, and this is terrorism and should be prosecuted.

i fully agree that cases of individual israelis, soldiers and settlers, targeting palestinian civilians have not been dealt with harshly enough. on the other hand, the difference between the IDF's inadvertent killing of civilians (which happens in the most "moral" wars) and deliberate palestinian terrorist attacks on civilians is, in my view, significant in terms of societal morals: it puts us on the cutting edge of a clash of civilizations.

From: Paul de Rooij
To: yossi alpher
Sent: Monday, March 21, 2005 3:49 PM
Subject: part of the problem?

Dear Sir;

So, in your view, it is the intention that is the key to differentiate between terrorism or other forms of violence. You intimate that most Palestinian killings are intentional and thus classed as "terrorism", and Israeli (state terror) or settler violence is for the most part non-intentional or inadvertent. How about the "targeted assassinations", the one ton bomb thrown in a refugee camp, the flattening of Jenin, ... it seems to me that many people are killed "inadvertently" but that this hardly exculpates/or lessens the crime or the Israeli culpability in a bona fide war crimes tribunal. Intention isn't a necessary condition to be liable to serious war crimes.

In my view, there is legitimate and illegitimate violence -- that used to oppress others is illegitimate and that inflicted for liberation is legitimate. The latter is called resistance, and it may incorporate terrorism (as a tactic).

Be that as it may. You seem to apply some sophistry to suggest that it is the Palestinians who are mostly responsible for "terrorism" while Israeli army/settler violence is somehow "inadvertent"/non-intentional, and thus not to be classified as "terrorism" (state or otherwise). In my opinion, you are using this word in its propagandistic form. If you write for BitterLemons with the intent of furthering discourse/dialog, then certainly this type of language has to be cast aside. Furthermore, it is essential that we examine the cause of the violence to make any difference, and once again, the usage of the "terrorism" adjective is less than useful. The cause of "terrorism" is never examined, but when it is "resistance" then it is implicit. Again, examining the cause of the violence is essential to be able to do something about it; one cannot attenuate the violence without addressing its causes. I know Israelis don't like to talk about causes, but this is a large part of the problem.

Paul de Rooij

From yossi alpher [email address suppressed]
To: Paul de Rooij
Date: March 21, 2005 15:24
Re: part of the problem?

paul de rooij

i resent anyone, yourself included, telling me that i have to change the tone of my writing to suit his/her ideological preferences, or that my writing is detrimental to constructive dialogue, when bitterlemons is widely seen as being precisely about that: constructive dialogue. unless you believe that dialogue is constructive only when everyone involved accepts the palestinian position.

we are all entitled to our opinions. the idea of bitterlemons is to engage in a civilized exchange of views rather than killing one another.

i have no problem at all talking about causes, including the arabs' decision in 1947-48 to invade the jewish state rather than recognizing 181, thereby launching the conflict and causing the refugee problem, ongoing palestinian rejection of the right of the jewish people to a sovereign state in their historic homeland, and the effect on israeli attitudes of the palestinian suicide bombing campaign.

finally, i have no intention of getting into a long, drawn-out ideological argument with you. scroll back through three and a half years of bitterlemons and you can read my views on every aspect of the conflict.

yossi alpher

Jerome Slater comments[1] (March 2010):

Yossi Alpher and APN

In effect though not officially, APN's primary spokesman on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is Yossi Alpher, a former high Mossad official, later a senior adviser to Ehud Barak during the Camp David negotiations, and still a pillar of the Israeli military/intelligence establishment. APN regularly publishes political commentary by Alpher, under the heading "Hard Questions, Tough Answers With Yossi Alpher." At least until the Israeli attack on Gaza and then the Goldstone report, Alpher was essentially a centrist in the spectrum of Israeli public opinion, maybe even a little left of center: he worried about the settlements, the overall Israeli occupation, and sometimes the Israeli methods – but only because they had undesirable consequences for Israel (were "counterproductive," one of his favorite terms), rather than because they were morally unconscionable.
Alpher is also the co-director for the weekly Israeli publication bitterlemons, where he often elaborates on his APN commentaries. For example, during the 2006 massive Israeli attack on Lebanon, Alpher wrote that Israel was committing a "strategic mistake": some of the civilian suffering in Lebanon and Gaza was "a deliberate act on Israel's part… intended to generate mass public pressure on the [Lebanese and Palestinian] governments," but it was not producing that result. Similarly, in Janurary 2009 January Alpher denounced "the folly of collectively punishing 1.5 million Gazans for the sins of Hamas… .Starving masses of Palestinians is a counter-productive strategy." And a month later he wrote that "economic warfare against Gaza… has failed totally and can even be deemed counterproductive," because the Gazans have not turned against Hamas and Israel's international standing has been seriously undermined.
Recently, however, Alpher has moved considerably to the right, especially on the Gaza/Goldstone issue. Indeed, it sometimes appears that he is simply losing control, reacting with apparent rage and downright bizarre arguments to the charges of Israeli war crimes. Here are some examples:
Shortly after the end of the Israeli attack on Gaza, Alpher wrote that "Israel should not be accused of war crimes because it took more than reasonable precautions to prevent them… " "More than" reasonable – meaning its measures to protect Palestinian civilians were too extreme?
Alpher continues: yes, there had been some "inevitable lacunae" in Israel's "unusually thorough measures during the war to alleviate humanitarian suffering on the part of the Palestinian people," perhaps even some "excesses," but ones which were "proportional" and "constituted the exception." ("proportional excesses": an original concept in moral theory) Consequently, "the war crimes accusations against Israel can only be seen as a kind of selective witch hunt waged by religious and ideological extremists, political opportunists and Israel-bashers."
Then came the Goldstone report. In a October 2, 2009 column in the Jewish Daily Forward ("The Goldstone Disconnect") , Alpher argued that Israel was right not to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission's investigation, because "by Goldstone's standards, virtually all Gazans are civilians, and all structures in Gaza are civilian structures," so that "the fact that the Israeli military… [sought] to ensure that civilian casualties were kept to an absolute minimum would have made no impression on Goldstone whatsoever."
Two months ago, Alpher summed up his views on Gaza and Goldstone in his regular interview with APN. From the strategic point of view, Alpher said, the consequences of the war had been "a decidedly mixed bag." On the one hand, it did add to Israel's "deterrence," as evidenced by the marked drop in Hamas attacks in the last year which, along with the fact that during the war there were few Israeli military or civilian casualties, had made the war "far more tolerable for the Israeli public." On the other hand, Alpher conceded, the large numbers of "enemy" civilian casualties had "radically exacerbated… the [international] drive to delegitimize Israel – a drive that the Goldstone report, probably unintentionally, played into." (emphasis added)
Moreover, Alpher continued, "Goldstone singled out Israel at a time when far worse civilian casualties were being inflicted by the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan and by Sri Lanka in Jaffna, with few if any international questions asked. But nobody wants to hear these Israeli responses. Nobody wanted to hear that very true and courageous statement by British Colonel Richard Kemp, veteran of the Afghan war, that 'the IDF did more to safeguard civilians than any other army.'"

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