This past week, I attended, along with OU Chairman of the Board Stephen J. Savitsky and IPA Director Nathan Diament, the Israel Leadership Mission of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. 110 representatives of the most prominent and influential Jewish voices in America met for candid and heartfelt discussion with Israel’s top leaders, up to and including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
One of the most personally meaningful conversations was organized by long-time members of the OU family, Jerry and Anne Gontownik. (Jerry is a former member of the OU’s Executive Board.) This meeting, with Minister of Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein, addressed a crucial issue: our youth on college campuses. These older teens and barely-adults are not involved in the Middle East conflict; many of them are woefully ignorant of it. Yet they will inevitably be vilified on campus by BDS movements (“boycott, divest, sanction”) and anti-Israel “apartheid” weeks. The answer is not to arm Jewish youth with statistics demonstrating Israel’s rights; our enemies won’t listen and disinterested parties don’t care. Rather, we must present the human side of Israel. We must show them the beauty, warmth and personality of Israel, to set straight the distortions presented by world media. (The meeting with Minister Edelstein was additionally significant to me because, aside from hearing his insights on our youth, I was able to share with him the great work that NCSY and JSU are doing in 250 public schools across North America.)
Another highlight of the Mission was our time with Meir Dagan, former head of the Mossad. Discussions included analyses of the situations involving Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and the Muslim Brotherhood. A tour of the Lebanese border served as a wake-up call as we were shown the houses – yes, houses – where Hizballah stored their rockets. (As if that weren’t bad enough, these houses were invariably strategically-situated next to mosques, hospitals or schools.)
One final, crucial topic of discussion was the need to combat efforts to delegitimize Israel and the challenges of a Palestinian state being unilaterally imposed. Look at the recent UN Security Council vote in which 14 out of 15 member nations voted in favor of a motion declaring Israeli settlements in allegedly Palestinian territories illegal and “a major obstacle to the achievement of a just and lasting peace.” (This motion was, thankfully, vetoed by the US on the grounds that adopting it would in fact impede negotiations.) What would it mean for Israel if the Palestinian Authority were successful in unilaterally declaring a state, circumventing the negotiating process? What are the ramifications? What would the appropriate response be?
There is always much going on involving Israel – many challenges, to be sure, but also much nachas. It is gratifying for the leaders of these organizations to come together with Israel’s leadership so that we can continue to update our constituencies with the latest information and best present Israel’s case to our elected officials and the general public