Each year for the past six,The Jerusalem Post has gathered Israeli and American politicians and community leaders—the personalities who fill its daily pages—and the generally right-leaning (mostly) paying audience at a daylong conference in New York.
Topics focus on the relations between the Jewish communities (Diaspora and Israel-based), political approaches to Israel’s on-the-ground realities and, in 2017, a strictly positive approach to the Trump administration in anticipation of its wholehearted support of the Jewish State. Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz called the upcoming presidential trip to Israel “an opportunity to strengthen the alliance.”
The reality of the challenge to achieving a “deal” was strongly noted by former generals Moshe Ya’alon and Dan Halutz. The question of whether Mahmoud Abbas—Abu Mazen—can be trusted as a reliable or even able partner for peace and security was part of every conversation.
During past years, sparks have flown from the stage, igniting a fiery audience response. At the 2017 conference, clearly under the control of The Post’s recently appointed editor-in-chief, Yaakov Katz, most presenters elicited a generally polite response. When Larry King, the American broadcaster known for expressing strong opinions, offered his thoughts about what “really drives” evangelical support of the Jewish State, those thoughts were not well received.
“Never has Israel been less isolated,” said the consul general of Israel in New York, Amb. Dani Dayan, humorously noting that, together with allies India and China, Israel comprises one third of the world’s population.
Dayan was followed to the podium by Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources. He focused on maintaining “the greater Jerusalem,” emphasizing the need for a Jewish majority in a united Jerusalem that “is and will be the eternal capital of the Jewish people.”
The minister discussed the serious challenges facing Israel, including terrorism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. He advocated for the United States and Israel to reach an understanding regarding Syria, and offered a five-point plan. Included was recognition of Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan heights—“an indivisible part of the state of Israel.”
Steinitz stressed the importance of sanctions against nations supporting terrorist organizations in the region, saying bluntly, “Iran must be stopped.” He believes that Iran is taking advantage of the nuclear deal, and that the pressing issue is not to allow nuclear development. He stated that Israel does not want Iran to have air bases in Syria.
He said the United States and Israel should work together against Iran’s aggression in order to achieve stability in the region and foster security and regional economic initiatives focusing on the civilian economy.
He further proposed a regional transportation initiative that would connect the Palestinians and strengthen their economy. He suggested the construction of an artificial island three miles off the coast of Gaza, which “would provide an economic and transportation outlet for Gaza without endangering Israel’s security.” He stressed the need to continue to build and develop Israel “because when we are united inside, Israel is strong outside.”
To achieve positive conditions, said the minister, “Abu Mazen should put an end to the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incitement.” The Palestinian Authority, he continued, is not only paying terrorists being held in Israeli jails, but is also inciting children in the schools. “Though we always want to promote peace, I am not that optimistic unless these two conditions are met.”
Turning positive, Steinitz noted that most of the energy in Israel is being produced with its own natural gas. He said that the country is exploring ways of becoming an energy exporter, and listed regional and European market possibilities. “We are building the longest and deepest pipeline…to export gas to Western Europe.”
Isaac Herzog, Israel’s opposition leader, spoke next. He has been both a critic and a supporter of the sitting Israeli government and its policies. He sees in the Trump administration “a spirit of change that needs to be seized.”
Herzog is a firm believer in a two-state solution. He said, “There is no other choice but to move towards a break with the Palestinians.” He stated that he is “building a political block to replace Netanyahu as soon as possible.”
The opposition leader commended former generals Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi for being ready to “present a separate, clear vision both on social and economic issues.” He recognized the United States as a “vital partner,” but expressed concern that President Trump does not understand “the facts on the ground….Our ‘potential partner’ is difficult, if not impossible.” Israel, he assured the audience, “will work with the facts on the ground and recognize the political realities.”
Ronald Lauder, the newly re-elected president of the World Jewish Conference (WJC), took the podium next. He was strident in his denunciation of “anti-Israel” activities. “Being anti-Israel is being anti-Semitic, plain and simple. There is no difference,” he said. “You can disagree with Israeli policies but you cannot disagree with Israel’s right to exist.” He assured the audience that the WJC would combat anti Semitism.
Lauder, who through the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation has funded the construction of 37 Jewish schools, stressed the need to “teach young people to be proud of their Jewish heritage. Our real asset is our children.” He concluded, “We, the Jewish people, must advance a strong and united front….We are one people.”
Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, came to the Jerusalem Post conference to affirm his rejection of anti-Semitism. In dialogue with Yaakov Katz, he was questioned about wearing the Vitezi Rend award given to his father in 1979 by the group. (Vitezi Rend is a Hungarian nationalist group with alleged historical ties to Nazi Germany.) Gorka defended the group, claiming that one of its members had been recognized by Yad VaShem.
Asked if he would be leaving the White House, he said, “There’s fake news and there’s very fake news….I will be there as long as the president has use for me….If there’s a man who can make peace it’s Trump.”
Katz asked about the strategy the United States would take in confronting radical Islam. Gorka responded adamantly, “We don’t talk about what we are going to do; rather, it’s about the objective. The objective is to stop the ISIS.” Gorka said the President has been explicit: He has absolutely no interest in invading and occupying. “We will help our friends fight the war themselves….We will show we have won when the black flag of ISIS is as the swastika.”
Ayelet Shaked is Israel’s minister of justice. At the conference, she contended that “both Israelis and Palestinians deserve better….The new battlefield is in the courts. Our enemies are changing their tactics and we have to adapt.”
Noting that Israel’s enemies are trying to use international jurisdiction against Israel, she said, “All efforts against Israel are doomed to fail. The United States and Israel are like a family. Discussions with the Trump administration are promising.”
The head of Shaked’s party, Naftali Bennett, acknowledged that “the right does not have a monopoly on patriotism; the left does not have a monopoly on peace.” Noting that the Palestinian Authority rewards terrorists based on how many Jews they kill, Bennett said, “The first fact all must recognize is that Abu Mazen is an ardent anti-Semite.”
Bennett continued, “There is a Palestinian State: Gaza….There is a full-fledged Palestinian State with borders, a central government, a military….Founding a second Palestinian state in the heart of Israel would flood Israel with refugees. The Jews are the indigenous people of the Land of Israel….It’s not only about security but about our home….All must realize Israel is here to stay!”
Bennett concluded by saying, “We should focus on improving and making everyone’s life better. That’s what peace is about—peace is about no war and good lives.”
Also in attendance at the conference was Danny Danon, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations. He said, “The main goal of the multilateral relations is the same; changing the direction is difficult. I don’t accept it. I believe we will see changes with Russia and China.”
Danon, the first Israeli to be appointed chairman of a United Nations committee, heads the U.N. Legal Committee. He noted that 109 member states voted for him. “Good Diaspora relations lead to changes, even in the U.N.,” he said. “Some support is quiet, not public….Hopefully, with Nikki Haley [the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations] we will be able to change at the U.N.”
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) addressed an audience that included a significant number of her Queens constituents. She stressed the importance of “the safety and security of our close ally, Israel.” The congresswoman has worked to ensure that resources needed for security are available. Meng noted that she was the first member of the New York congressional delegation to oppose the Iran Deal, and continues to strive to “ensure that Iran isn’t able to subvert the goals of the deal.” She has introduced legislation that tracks “not only who is coming and going, but where they go before and after their stops. Following their path allows us to better monitor activities to ensure Iran isn’t trading illicit and dangerous materials.”
Meng noted that in the Foreign Affairs Committee, hearings were held questioning State Department and think tank officials. She added her name to a bipartisan congressional letter to the White House about the issue of Palestinian payments to terrorists. As a new member of the House Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, she will continue that inquiry.
Reminding the audience that she is the mother of two sons, Meng called for an end to raising children while surrounded by hatred. She stressed that the BDS Movement “at its core is about delegitimizing Israel,” and noted that the Department of Education has been asked to “look into anti-Israel activity that overlies anti-Semitic activity….Most anti-Israel activity manifests itself as anti-Semitism.”