Last week, more than 650 people gathered at the Jewish National Fund’s New York breakfast at the Pierre Hotel, to raise funds for the 116-year-old organization.
Jeffrey Levine, president of JNF, opened by emphasizing the work they’re currently doing to build communities in the Negev and Galilee (pointing specifically to the succesful creation of a 25,000-square-foot indoor playground in Sderot, a city in the Negev), as well as their work in developing infrastructure for ecology, and much more. And while JNF may be best known for its tree-planting programs, Levine stressed that its scope is about “more than trees” (JNF is responsible for the planting of an impressive 250 million trees and counting, though).
Guest speaker Alan Dershowitz, an attorney, Harvard professor and author of 2003 book “The Case for Israel,” focused much of his speech on the increasing difficulty of being a both liberal and pro-Israel.
“In the first years of my career, everyone loved Israel.” But ever since the Six Day War, liberal groups have aligned themselves more with the Palestinian cause, he says. Now, Dershowitz, who still describes himself as a liberal Democrat, spends much of his time and energy “trying to defend Israel from malicious attacks on the hard Left,” as Left-leaning groups turn away from Israel, and college campuses become increasingly hostile to supporters of Israel, he said.
“That’s a fight I need to continue to fight from within,” he said. Dershowitz believes that “Jews should exercise their power in an unabashed, unashamed way to try and bring about just policies toward Israel … we should use our economic power, our political power, our academic power, our media power—all of the power we have,” he said to the crowd.
Dershowitz also lamented the fact that Israel has become a scapegoat of sorts on college campuses. “You can’t get a campaign on university campuses today against what’s going on in Syria, but you mention Israel and you get 500 students protesting the only Democracy in the Middle East. It’s thoughtless, it’s unnuanced, and it has to be fought at every level,” he said to applause.
Dershowitz described college faculty as falling into three categories on the issue of Israel: “The virulently hard left, anti-Israel activists; people who don’t know and don’t care; and a third group, the silently pro-Israel supporters who are supportive of Israel, who donate to the JNF, but try to get them to speak out on campuses, and they won’t do it,” he said. “I’ve never met a less courageous group of people than professors with tenure,” he said.
To bridge the gap, Dershowitz called for what he describes as the “80 percent solution.” “American Jews and Israeli Jews should focus on the 80 percent we agree on — that Israel has the right to exist and thrive as the nation-state of the Jewish people, that BDS is anti-Israel, that the Iran deal raises serious existential issues for Israel, that Israel should be praised for its start-up nation, for building forests and trees, for creating a new land and new language—I think there’s consensus on a lot of these issues… but we prefer to focus on our disagreements rather than agreements,” he said.
“The JNF,” he added, “is the 80 percent… we stand for consensus.”
At the end of his speech, talk turned to—what else?—President Donald J. Trump. While Dershowitz said he highly doubts the president will get impeached over what’s currently known about the administration’s connections to Russia (in fact, he put odds at around zero), he foresees a “difficult” path for the president when it comes to the Middle East. “The one thing you can predict about Trump is he’ll be unpredictable,” he said.