'There's No Alternative to Netanyahu; Our Democracy Is Safe,' Says Israel's Top Public Policy Expert

No danger Israel will slide into fascism ■ Iran should have been attacked ■ Expelling the Arabs in 1948 was superb statesmanship ■ Trump's peace plan is the best deal Israelis and Palestinians will get ■ A world government of geniuses is needed ■ We need to get used to the idea of having sex with robots ■ At age 92, Prof. Yehezkel Dror publishes his ‘great valedictory work’

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Prof. Yehezkel Dror.
Prof. Yehezkel Dror.Credit: Emil Salman
Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn

At the age of 92, Yehezkel Dror is out to save humanity and avert its self-extinction. A moment before humans destroy themselves by means of out-of-control technology, and their tribal conflicts torpedo the cooperation that is essential for sustaining the coming generations, the doyen of public-policy experts in Israel is offering a recipe for salvation.

Prof. Dror’s newly published book, “Steering Human Evolution” (Routledge), surveys the developments that he expects to occur until the year 2200. According to Dror, this is the era of re-creation, when humans will acquire the ability to accelerate their pace of evolution and steer it into new realms. The era is stirring anxiety in the author, in the face of the possibility that a “supermind” will evolve, seize control of the world and eradicate the human species. He also raises the possibility that humanity will succeed in creating life from inanimate objects, thus helping to decipher the secret of existence.

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“This is my great valedictory work,” he says.

Nuclear weapons will remain the primary danger to human existence for the foreseeable future, Dror thinks. The need to supervise them, restrain them and prevent their use by extremist groups remains a cardinal international interest. Climate change and the measures that will be taken to curb global warming will cause “a lot of hell on Earth,” but “the human species will survive, however high the price.” Dror blames the existing political leadership for the rise in temperatures, and writes that “in a just world, at least half of the top political leaders would be removed from office and put before a tribunal, accused of gross dereliction of duty.” Now, he believes, “the question must be faced of whether contemporary forms of democracy can cope” with climate change and other fateful problems.

He suggests the establishment of a world government that would be able to punish states that depart from the new norms or promote the development of dangerous technologies. He mentions the concern about lethal viruses, experiments involving particle accelerators that could produce black holes, as well as the prolongation of life and strengthening of natural abilities among a select few – something that would bring about large disparities and severe tensions. The world government, he says, should be headed by political leaders who are committed to the survival of the human species and its long-term development. The power of this government should be limited, and balanced by a council of experts.

Dror was and remains an elitist, believing in the power of individual geniuses to divert the course of history – both positive geniuses such as Leonardo da Vinci, Beethoven and Dostoevsky, and negative ones such as Hitler. Approximately a thousand people, no more, will dictate the fate of humanity in the era in which we are living, he maintains. He holds out little hope for the “populist democracy” that is now dominant in the West, because it rewards the ability to be elected and not a concern for future, as-yet-unborn generations, who do not take part in elections. He thinks Plato’s “philosopher king” is a more appropriate ruler than the leaders we are familiar with.

Are you disappointed with Western democracy?

Dror: “I am not disappointed, because I do not expect more than a barely satisfactory grade from any human government, in part because of the basic characteristics of most people. What is new is the scale of the fateful potential of governments’ power, owing to the power of the tools that science and technology provide. Hence the necessity for innovations in governance that will reduce the risks of calamity.

“My practical recommendations are to establish a second legislature consisting of thinkers, to obligate every cabinet minister to attend a college of policy, to form a small decision-making team at the top that will prevent one-person decisions in critical issues, to foment a revolution in the teaching of civics, and perhaps to give people with higher education a double vote, though this [education] in itself is no guarantee of moral principles, as Nazi Germany showed. But without a new world order that will temper tribalism and supervise technologies and dangerous processes, that will not be enough.”

Dror acknowledges that his ideas will be on the agenda only if a global catastrophe occurs, such as an epidemic more lethal than the coronavirus or a nuclear war, “possibly between India and Pakistan.” Another possibility is that the United States will elect another president like Barack Obama, who will strive for global cooperation instead of isolationism. The future of the world, he asserts, depends on cooperation between the United States and China.

No way to prepare for an epidemic

On a hot day at the end of June I traveled from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to interview Dror. We sat in a shaded corner of the yard in the assisted-living facility he lives in, located in the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood. The building itself is off-limits to outside visitors because of the coronavirus pandemic. Even though Dror’s age puts him in a high-risk group, he says he is not afraid of becoming infected. “Not in the current situation – 20 years ago, yes.”

He is not critical of the government for failing to deploy in advance to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. “I don’t know of a way to get ready for an epidemic caused by a new virus. You can conduct staff drills, prepare food depots and the like, but that won’t make much difference. Coping with an epidemic takes time until it is understood and you can perhaps develop a vaccine and find medications. Border closures, social distancing and face masks are familiar from the Middle Ages. I don’t think it’s right to accuse Israel of not deploying for the coronavirus epidemic. One cannot demand the impossible.”

A police officer enforcing the coronavirus lockdown in Tel Aviv, on Passover Eve, April 8, 2020.
A police officer enforcing the coronavirus lockdown in Tel Aviv, on Passover Eve, April 8, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Dror wholeheartedly supports restrictions on social encounters and gatherings. “Do you think I enjoy the fact that my granddaughter can’t come to me? But that’s nothing.” The Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment should be included in those charged with dealing with the crisis, and no state commission of inquiry should be established the day after. Instead of looking for who to blame, it’s better, he avers, to appoint a committee of experts to draw conclusions.

Dror’s name, his books and his many articles in journals and newspapers are well known to everyone who takes an interest in Israeli governance and in the formulation of the country’s security policy and military strategy. In an academic and public career spanning more than 60 years, he has waged a Sisyphean struggle against the “Don’t worry, it’ll be okay” approach, and has urged the adoption of policy based on planning and thinking processes, the formation of orderly staff bodies and prior deployment for catastrophes.

“Yehezkel is gifted with extraordinary genius, which can’t be replicated,” says one of his former students, David Dery, emeritus professor of management and public policy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “His book on setting public policy in large measure founded that discipline internationally and continues to be quoted everywhere. Yehezkel believes in the ability of scientific knowledge to contribute to the solution of problems of society and state, and in the ability of leaders – if they will only meet his very demanding criteria. His optimism and his belief in his ability to wield influence are amazing.”

According to David Levi-Faur, a professor in Hebrew University’s political science department, Dror is “one of the most influential scholars in the founding generation of public administration in the world. He is an important voice in connection with promoting planning, prior deployment and prediction in public policy. Politics for him is mainly leadership, and bureaucracy mainly expertise. We are familiar with a different politics, here and there. A politics of swinishness and avoidance of blame, an appeal to the lowest common denominator, lies and incitement. A different world from the one that Dror describes. In connection with bureaucracy, we have long been seeing a decline in the government’s executive abilities, accompanied by a privatization of expertise. To a large degree, the world is moving against Dror, which is a pity.”

Dror is known to the general public from his participation in the Winograd Commission, which examined the failures of the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Dror concluded that Israel lost the war – or at least didn’t win it – but among the lessons that were drawn he chalked up a small victory in the form of the decision to strengthen considerably the National Security Council. For years Dror had recommended the establishment of such a body, in order to improve the management of foreign and defense policy. His advice was implemented in part only when he was given the power, as he puts it, to push the idea via the Winograd Commission. Now a parallel body needs to be established, to oversee domestic policy, he says.

He is not perturbed by the present political crisis facing Israel. He observes the recurring elections and the conflicted government, whose head is accused of corruption, from a historical perspective.

“Israel is a young state,” he says. “Let’s take the mother of democracy, England. To arrive at a semi-stable regime there took 200 to 300 years, the execution of King Charles I, the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. And do you think it is functioning at 100 percent now? Look what happened with their exit from the European Union.”

Approximately a thousand people, no more, will dictate the fate of humanity in the era in which we are living, he maintains.

Nonetheless, Dror has cautioned for years that the existing system of government is inappropriate for Israel. The state’s founders, he notes, “were very much influenced by England, but they were not historians. They didn’t recognize the fact that England’s development took a long time. As long as the [Israeli] regime was based on what is known as a dominant party – Mapai [forerunner of Labor] – it worked, more or less. Once democratization occurred, and not as in England with two parties, but with many parties, the need arose for complex, unstable coalitions, and making decisions became very difficult.

“Let’s say that formally, Benjamin Netanyahu wants to accept [Trump's] ‘plan of the century.’ Does he have a Knesset majority? Will he conduct a referendum? That is why I have been saying for many years that we need to move to a quasi-French regime. Not the American system, because it is dangerous.”

Why is that?

“Because you are dependent on one person. In France there is a president, true, but there is a prime minister, the parliament is stronger. Unlike in the United States, where you need impeachment, there are simpler processes [for deposing a leader], in France if a president is a bit mad, he is removed. The founders of the United States, who were very successful overall, created a very dubious regime. It’s one where the majority of the people can elect A and the Electoral College can elect B, where they introduced into the Constitution clauses under which everyone can have a submachine gun at home, where they exaggerated the power of the Supreme Court to intervene in political issues, where under freedom of information, anyone can publish a diagram of how to make a nuclear bomb. But not much can happen to a country like the United States; Israel is a country on the razor’s edge of existence.”

The only plan on the table

Concern for Israel’s future leads Dror to make one central recommendation to Prime Minister Netanyahu: to adopt the “plan of the century” put forward by U.S. President Donald Trump. Dror speaks of “an explicit Israeli declaration, pursuant to the Bar-Ilan speech [delivered by Prime Minister Netanyahu at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, stating his willingness to accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel under certain conditions], a declaration that supports the establishment of a Palestinian state according to the plan of the century, expresses readiness to begin negotiations based on it amid mutual flexibility, and without taking any action on the ground that departs from the plan. In my estimation, this is a historic shift that demands an internal Israeli decision that’s not much easier than the abolition of slavery in the United States.”

Dror warns that “there is no other plan. The alternative is to mark time, a situation that in my estimation will with high probability work to Israel’s detriment, including a settling of accounts that the Democrats will undertake in that connection if they win the election. And if Trump wins, he will settle accounts with Israel if it rejects the plan or causes its failure.”

But Netanyahu is talking only about annexation, not about a Palestinian state.

“After a declaration of that kind [regarding acceptance of the U.S. plan], a small-scale annexation can be carried out in order to placate the moderate right – or not carried out, it’s immaterial. In any case, the army is ensconced there. But I would declare in advance that this annexation does not affect our readiness for a Palestinian state, more or less according to what is spelled out in the Trump plan. The proposals included in the plan of the century for the [continued] existence of Jewish settlements within the Palestinian state are totally impractical, and in fact they would have to be removed.”

In Dror’s view, “It makes no difference that the two peoples have clashing historical memories, provided each side understands that there is no choice but to come to a compromise, and that if one side is slaughtered, it will be the Palestinians. They are in a worse situation than Israel. The plan of the century, more or less, is the maximum Israel can get and the maximum the Palestinians can get. If I were a Palestinian, I would leap at the Trump plan. If we are in a problematic situation, they are on a slippery slope. Fewer and fewer Arab states are taking an interest in the Palestinians.”

Benny Gantz, left, with Benjamin Netanyahu.
Benny Gantz, left, with Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Let’s talk about Netanyahu.

“First I have a question for you: If you could now choose a prime minister from among the personalities currently in the political arena, who would you appoint?”

Tough question.

“Right. And that tough question pushes me to say that for the time being, the combination of Bibi and Benny Gantz, which is keeping Bibi from making decisions alone, is the lesser of all evils – or the optimum in a bad situation. Especially when I am very apprehensive about a person whom I see as dangerous, who sees himself as the next prime minister from Likud – what’s his name, the one who took a year off? The one who ran against Bibi.

Who, Gideon Sa’ar?

“Yes. If there is a choice between him and Bibi, I choose Bibi. Besides which, Sa’ar has no experience, but that’s another matter. I don’t see a candidate on the horizon.”

Unfazed by accusations

Three years ago, Dror published an article in Haaretz (in Hebrew) titled “A personal recommendation to the prime minister.” In it he called on Netanyahu “to rise above himself and perform an historic deed, in contrast to which personal transgressions are negligible.” Netanyahu, he wrote, should put forward a regional peace plan “that will surprise his supporters, his opponents and the entire world.” Netanyahu read the article and responded to it in a meeting with Likud activists: “I am compelled to disappoint Haaretz, which this morning published an opinion piece that made an explicit offer to handle me with kid gloves – just withdraw from Judea and Samaria and we’ll get off your back. So here’s my answer: No, thanks.”

Dror, who started his professional career as a lawyer, continues to maintain that proper policy is more important than the criminal charges for which Netanyahu is currently on trial. “The deal Netanyahu made with the newspaper editor is ordinary politics. That he received all kinds of gifts – I am very much against that. It’s a flaw, but I don’t call it bribery. As for the submarines, I don’t know. If I were shown that he made a decision about the submarines in order to receive monetary remuneration, that is prison for life. But there is no submarines case.”

In his view, “what there is in the existing cases does not look like a first-degree felony. That’s why I support the ‘French law.’ In France, [when an elected official is suspected of criminal acts], three investigative judges are appointed to determine whether there is evidence of a serious crime [having been committed]. If there is no serious crime, they wait until the person has concluded his term of office.

“I am not certain whether, if three investigative judges had examined the Netanyahu cases, they would say they constituted a serious crime. I am not sure whether the court will convict Netanyahu, and I am not sure it won’t. But the fact that an attempt was made to enact legislation to prevent him from forming a government because he is under indictment, is to pass a law ad hominem. Once you start to pass ad hominem laws, you destroy the whole judicial system.”

Dror credits Netanyahu with bolstering ties with Arab states, but warns that his identification with Trump, “which has succeeded in large measure,” is liable to prove seriously detrimental to Israel when the president leaves office. “Netanyahu took a big gamble by placing all his cards on Trump and not leaving a plan B. He did not maintain relations with the Democrats. Obama offered a very good defense assistance plan. My impression is that we got less from Trump, who is giving Israel symbolic assets: recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, sovereignty on the Golan Heights. That is not hardware. It has no practical significance.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu visiting the submarine fleet in Haifa, in 2016.
Prime Minister Netanyahu visiting the submarine fleet in Haifa, in 2016.Credit: BAZ RATNER /Reuters

Dror hesitated and pondered whether to level direct criticism of the American president in the interview. A few days after our meeting, he wrote me: “My concern for the future of humanity and of Israel leaves me no choice but to note that U.S. President Donald Trump seems to be showing signs of ‘ruler’s craze’ [a term coined by Dror under the influence of the Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote about the Emperor Caligula]. For example, in his behavior regarding the coronavirus epidemic. It is essential for Israel to be aware of this, in order to reduce long-term damage stemming from over-identification with him.”

Dror believes that Netanyahu was wrong to persuade Trump to withdraw from the nuclear agreement with Iran. “It [the agreement] restrained them, after all, and today they are not restrained. What alternatives does this leave? To launch a war? A war of Gog and Magog?”

In the previous decade you urged an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“I suggested an attack, along with the proposal of a generous peace plan. This was discussed at the most senior levels. At that time I had connections with very senior officials. My hesitation – let’s say you attack and succeed – what memory does that leave in Iran? Does it leave a never-ending desire for revenge? I am not annihilating a country of 80 million people, I am not going to perpetrate genocide. I am carrying out a targeted attack. Say the attack succeeded, and it took them 20 years to rebuild [their program]. What would their desire be in 20 years? I supported it to the extent that the alternative to which it was opposed was nuclear weapons now.”

Are you disappointed in Netanyahu, who did nothing?

“He wanted to act.”

But he didn’t.

“He did not have a security cabinet majority, he and [Ehud] Barak, who very much supported the plan. The majority of the defense establishment hierarchy were against it. I regret that they did not accept the proposal to attack, together with a generous peace plan [i.e., a regional accord involving the Palestinians and Arab states]. I did not examine the tactical details, and I have no understanding of them, but if the air force said there was a good prospect [of success], I accept that, and I also trust Barak on issues like this. Apparently a mistake was made.”

Not much can happen to a country like the United States; Israel is a country on the razor’s edge of existence.

Prof. Dror

Dror suggests adding to the American deal of the century a clause promising Iran’s “containment.” “Containment means that Iran does not have nuclear weapons. Not maybe it doesn’t, it simply doesn’t. They have to stop, or the long-range missiles and the nuclear weapons have to be stopped for them. Here is a scenario: Iran has three-four nuclear devices, enough plutonium, with four-five launchers – two of them will get through our screen. A revolution develops in Iran, the rulers know they will be executed. They say, ‘We will die with the Israelis.’ Low probability. Very. But most of what happened in history was of low probability.”

Three days after our meeting in Jerusalem, the Iranian uranium enrichment facility in Natanz was damaged by an explosion inside. The photographs showed a scorched building, and Iran accused Israel, which did not go out of its way to deny responsibility. I asked Dror whether his old recommendation had finally been implemented, even without aerial bombardment.

“It is essential to deny Iran nuclear weapons, using the most minimal possible measures, of all types,” he says. “That seems to be what was done. But I don’t know how far it’s possible, and I’m not convinced that we know everything that’s being done in Iran. For example, I could imagine that the surprising Iranian announcements that serious damage was caused are mere deception.”

Leaving the planet

In his new book, Dror journeys far beyond Israel and its problems of security and government. He displays an impressive ability to articulate new concepts, such as his suggestion to term the human species “Homo creator” instead of “Homo sapiens,” referring to wisdom. This is not a mere word game, he writes. “There is a fundamental difference between wisdom and creativity. Wisdom, as recognized in Eastern philosophy, does not necessarily entail constant activity. But creativity is an impulse to create, and not only in one’s mind. Music, architecture, literature, warfare, philosophy, statecraft, forms of hedonism, and much more are inherent in our species as creative beings, and characterize us as such. Without being very creative, we would not be what we are.”

For the first time in history, Dror writes, humanity can refute the assertion in Ecclesiastes that “there is nothing new under the sun” and tilt the direction of evolution. He suggests a futuristic version of Noah’s Ark: to settle 1,000 human couples of fertility age on Mars or on one of the planet’s moons, to serve as a core for continued human existence in the event that the species will become extinct on Earth in the wake of a natural disaster or deliberate annihilation. This would entail a large-scale engineering and technological effort, but one that is justified, in Dror’s opinion.

He lists 23 challenges that the new era poses, seven of which he says require immediate action: “atomic weapons; climate change; cybersphere; energy; genome editing and synthetic biology; high-energy experiments; and extreme global inequality” – the last of which Dror sees primarily as a threat to stability, not as a moral problem.

The other challenges will appear in the future, but we should already be prepared for them: autonomous weapons, human cloning, cyborgs, bringing extinct species back to life, climate engineering, extending human capabilities (such as by prolonging the lifespan to 200 years), creating life artificially, nanotechnology, population size, exiting reality by means of drugs or virtual reality machines, robots that will render work superfluous, the use of outer space, superintelligence, artificial meat, the vitality of nature and environmental quality.

Prof. Yehezkel Dror.
Prof. Yehezkel Dror. Credit: אמיל סלמן

These challenges and changes need to be viewed through a systemic prism, as their components are mutually influential. As an example, he cites the sexual revolution of the prior generation, which resulted from “human enhancement technologies”: “easily used contraceptives,” Viagra, and the internet. “All in all,” he writes, “the sexual phenomenon is a mass phenomenon largely outside political control. It is a striking example… of technologies interacting with human behavior and cultures.” The next stage in the revolution, Dror anticipates, is “the looming possibility of humans having satisfactory sex with robots. I leave possible consequences to the imagination of readers.”

I point out to Dror the internal contradiction in his writing. When he deals with the world’s problems, he sounds like an optimist preaching a world with no borders, with trans-human vision, aims and efforts. But when he writes about Israel and the Jewish people, he presents a distinctly Zionist approach and focuses on ensuring the future of the tribe and preventing a second Holocaust. In an autobiography he published three years ago, “Mending the World: A Contemplative Autobiography” (Hebrew), Dror wrote that the “core meaning of his life” was “taking part, even slightly, in a total revolution in the history of the Jewish people, on the path from Holocaust to resurgence.”

Here’s an example. “Let us say for the sake of discussion,” he wrote in that book, “that Israel acted consciously and deliberately for the departure (‘expulsion’) of many Palestinians during the War of Independence. If that is what happened, then Israel displayed a superb aptitude for statesmanship. For, without radically reducing the number of hostile Palestinians living in its territory, it’s doubtful whether [Israel] would have endured over time. Because in my view, the long-term moral significance of the establishment and flourishing of the State of Israel override the moral wrong done to the ‘expelled.’

“If I had been in charge of Israel’s policy during the War of Independence, I would have given an order – with a heavy heart but with determination – ‘to cause the mass departure by nonlethal means’ of as many Palestinians as possible who supported the attack on Israel or at least identified with it. There is no choice, a leader sometimes needs to sin, but needs to be aware of this, to regret the necessity and to justify it in terms of meta-values. There is a solid basis for believing that this is exactly what David Ben-Gurion did and thought.”

Dror responds with discomfort to the question of how his call for a new and united world that will curb tribalism can be reconciled with his position on Zionism and Israel, his support for the sale of Israeli arms worldwide and the understanding that he showed for the close ties that Israel maintained with benighted regimes such as the one that carried out apartheid in South Africa, or with the Pinochet government in Chile, in the name of the national interest.

“There is a separation, there is a separation,” he acknowledges finally. “In my thinking there is compartmentalization in my mind – with connecting tubes – between Israel and the Jewish people on the one hand, and the problems of the world. I don’t like Israeli tribalism, but if we are a war state, we need people’s readiness to go to the battlefield. Israel’s situation as a war state obligates me to provide unpleasant recommendations in the security realm, most of which are of course not public.”

Dror would like Israel to set an example for tikkun olam (repairing the world), and would like to see greater positive activity by Israel in the United Nations, for example, but he knows that its ability to exert such influence is quite limited.

“I do not see Israel contributing to tikkun olam. To protect the environment in Israel does not change the world. That does not impress me even symbolically. If the Environmental Protection Ministry is against oil exploration, I would ignore them. We need the money. We are a war state, we don’t know what will happen. We have to be careful not to pollute, but I can’t forgo oil. Israel needs to ensure its survivability and its quality, and its contribution to the advancement of the world is to accept the deal of the century. That will advance peace.”

Will Israel exist in the year 2200, which is the horizon of the forecast in your book?

“It will most likely exist, but an apocalyptic war is possible that will destroy most of the Middle East and push the world into a different regime.”

Dror does not share the fears of his colleague Prof. Zeev Sternhell, alongside whom he taught in the political science department of the Hebrew University, who died last month, and who warned about Israel’s slide into fascism.

“Zeev and I were friends and were on good terms,” says Dror, “but in my opinion Zeev went overboard in his fear of fascism. Everyone who writes that political democracy in Israel is in danger is wrong, because there is no political danger. Political democracy means that there are free elections and the public can vote freely and campaign freely and hold nonviolent political demonstrations. That exists in Israel without a doubt. So why do people say me that democracy is in danger? You can write that the democratic culture is in danger – I don’t know exactly what that is, but it’s possible. A fascist regime means authoritarian one-person rule, with terror and love of war.”

Prof. Zeev Sternhell.
Prof. Zeev Sternhell.Credit: Yanai Yechiel

From lonely boy to Harvard

He was born in Vienna in 1928 as Arthur Yehezkel Friemann. His father had served as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I and grew rich as the publisher of art books and the owner of a chain of bookstores. Arthur was the only Jew in his school, which was attended by members of the royal family of Emperor Franz Joseph. He was 9 when Hitler annexed Austria to Nazi Germany. Seeing the danger, his father obtained immigration certificates to Palestine, and the family settled in Haifa in 1938. Dror’s Austrian childhood is evident to this day in his manner of speech and his mannerisms. “He always looked like an outsider among the sabras,” says a former student, referring to native-born Israelis. “He was never one of the guys.”

In his autobiography, Dror writes frankly about the poor relations between his parents. In his view, they had very little influence on the course of his life, beyond the genes he inherited from them. “They accepted with equanimity my poor marks in most of the subjects at school,” he writes. “I think my mother felt that I would succeed, but my father held out few hopes.”

He grew up as a lonely boy but insisted on being accepted into and succeeding in the Scouts movement. When most of the boys voted against granting him the Scouts’ badge, the balance was tipped in his favor by his classmate in Haifa’s prestigious Reali School, Eli Zeira, later the director of Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence, whom history remembers for his failure to warn about the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“He helped me with the winning argument that Yehezkel had stuck it out in the Scouts despite suffering greatly from our abuse,” Dror wrote. “In that case, Zeira assessed the situation correctly: I already possessed determination, and I stayed that way.”

In my estimation, [Trump's Mideast plan] is a historic shift that demands an internal Israeli decision that’s not much easier than the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Prof. Dror

During the War of Independence, he was earmarked for an infantry battalion together with his friends from the pre-state Haganah militia in Haifa, but in the end was assigned to the manpower branch thanks to his rapid typing ability and his knowledge of German. “I had guilt feelings for not having been in a combat unit, but I knew that if I had served in the infantry battalion to which I’d been posted, I probably would have been among those who fell, like most of those who served in it.”

After the war he resumed the legal studies he had already begun. At the Hebrew University he met Rachel Elboim, his “soulmate,” and they were married in 1954. Elboim-Dror had a successful academic career as an education researcher; she died this past January. Dror mentions her frequently with longing and tells about their shared experiences. They have three children: Otniel Dror, a professor of the history of medicine at the Hebrew University; Asael Dror, an expert in computers and software, who lives in the United States; and Itiel Dror, who obtained a Ph.D. in neuropsychology at Harvard and moved to London, where he heads a business and leadership workshop company, and researches experts’ cognitive biases. Until the outbreak of the pandemic, his children visited him in rotation, one each month. These days the family ties are conducted remotely.

Dror is proud that three generations in his family attended Harvard, which was where his and his wife’s professional breakthroughs began, when they went there for doctoral studies from the small, poor Israel of the 1950s. Upon his return, he was appointed a senior lecturer in political science at the Hebrew University, where he taught until his retirement. His scientific articles gained him a reputation in the United States. In 1968, he was accepted as a senior staff member at the Rand Corporation, which played a key role in shaping American strategy in the Cold War. His superiors at Rand devised the “mutually assured destruction” strategy for the nuclear age, which remains the foundation of the balance of terror between the powers.

It was during his period at Rand that Dror coined the term “crazy states,” perhaps his best-known and most incisive contribution to strategic thought. His colleagues were occupied with the balance of terror vis-a-vis the Soviet Union and were surprised both by the concept he coined and at the idea of confronting fanatical states and organizations that ignored profit-and-loss considerations on the way to realizing their goals. “I had an insight as one who came from a fanatical culture,” he recalls. “Zionism was fanatical, otherwise it would not have established the State of Israel.”

In his 1971 book “Crazy States,” Dror wrote that entities like that could change the course of human history, as was shown by Nazi Germany, the craziest state of all. He put forward scenarios, some of which were played out in reality years later, such as a large-scale terrorist attack on the United States. He presented a recipe of measures to curb crazy states, covering the range between destruction, submission and diplomacy. In the Hebrew edition of the book Dror wrote that Israel more closely resembles a crazy state than a normal state, in the very vision of the Jewish state, in its demand for sacrifice from its citizens and the notion of “Thou hast chosen us.”

Is Israel a crazy state, according to your model?

“Israel needs to have a moderate image of a crazy state – that adds to deterrence. The other side has to think: ‘I don’t know what the Israelis will do.’ Just as I think that Iran will go crazy, they need to think that Israel will go crazy. But that has its limits, because if they consider you to be genuinely insane, they have to attack you. If you think, ‘They’re reasonable enough, but they’re stressed, who knows?’ – that’s the image you want. It’s an image that has to be built up. Ariel Sharon understood it very well. There was nothing I could teach him.”

Are there crazy states in the world today?

“The closest is North Korea.”

Protestors try to pull down the statue of U.S. President Andrew Jackson at Lafayette Park in front of the White House during racial inequality protests in Washington, D.C., June 22, 2020.
Protestors try to pull down the statue of U.S. President Andrew Jackson at Lafayette Park in front of the White House during racial inequality protests in Washington, D.C., June 22, 2020.Credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/ REUTERS

Academics needed in government

In Israel, Dror was a lecturer and a researcher in academia, and an adviser to the defense establishment and to the government. He served for two years in the bureau of Defense Minister Shimon Peres and also got a taste of political activity in the Labor Party. He is convinced that academics should take part in government and acquire practical experience, and not make do with teaching and research. Dror had difficulty in his struggles against the ruling establishment of the Hebrew University. His critics characterize him as “square and fixated,” as a former senior figure in the defense establishment says, and maintain that his models are disconnected from reality and do not actually exist in any country. In his articles in the press, Dror avoids theoretical discussions about concepts and puts forward ideas in clear, vivid language.

What do you make of the protest movement in the United States, with its smashing of statues and rethinking of history?

“I don’t think the awakening against racism will change anything. The wave of protests stems from coronavirus pressures and Trump’s incitement. As for rewriting history by smashing statues, that’s something Orwell could have written about. Why not boycott the works of Athens, which were made possible thanks to leisure and abundance based on slavery? It’s foam on the currents of history. For a country to shift its emphases is justified, maybe even to move selected statues to a side place, but I think that to shatter statues is barbaric. That’s what ISIS did at important historical sites of ‘heretics.’”

Dror is not deterred by his advanced age. True, his pace has slowed down – “Instead of 16 hours a day, I only work 10” – and he needs help walking, but he continues to read and study intensively about science, technology, genetics, history and philosophy. The bibliography in his new book is up to date with studies conducted in recent years, and he has another 30-40 books on his reading list.

Even though he writes and speaks with great openness about personal affairs, there is one question that he consistently refuses to answer: whether he believes in God. He and his wife gave each of their sons names that end with “el” (one of the Hebrew words for God), but he says this was to symbolize the miracle and mystery residing in the creation of life, without taking a metaphysical position. “A religious newspaper once interviewed me. At the end, the interviewer asked me if I believe. I was silent. ‘You’re smart,’ she said.”

Why were you silent?

“There are things I keep to myself within the framework of individual privacy. The truth is that I can’t know. I do know that we do not have an explanation for existence. Our brain cannot answer that. Maybe we will be able to get to other planets, maybe we will go beyond Einstein’s theories. There is an interesting theory about the existence of multiple universes, which there is no way to examine. We are built for the cosmos, more or less, with the reinforcement of robotics and the like. But that’s it, the cosmos is enough for us. The tree of knowledge is limited.”

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