By Maxine Dovere from Washington D.C.
Leaders of the American Zionist Movement’s more than twenty five member organizations recently convened in Washington, DC to “re-energize and reclaim Zionism,” as well as commemorate the agenda of a month of Zionist anniversaries — including the 100th year of the Balfour Declaration, the 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Resolution, and the 50th year of the reunification of Jerusalem. Throughout the conference’s discussions of these milestones, the centrality of Israel was strongly emphasized. “It is impossible to separate one from the other,” said AZM National President Richard D. Heideman.
The 2017 AZM conference was robust and informative. In a packed 48 hour agenda, some 50 scheduled (and more unscheduled!) presenters including an Ambassador (Israel’s to the United States, Ron Dermer), a Baroness (Ruth Ditch), generals and military experts (generally retired), and Jewish leadership of diverse Jewish communities were joined by notable civilian and scholarly commentators.
cadre of Congressional Representatives attended, including Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee Edward Royce, and the Committee’s Ranking Member, Eliot Engel. Senator James Lankford, Representatives Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Robert Pittinger (R-NC), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Joe Wilson (R-SC), and Lee Zeldin (R- NY) brought greetings and assurance of bipartisan support. Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) spoke on video.
The panels and briefings were complemented by special events. The Balfour Gala at The Embassy of Israel, a Capitol Hill Congressional and diplomatic luncheon honoring Ambassador Dermer, and an exclusive showing of David Ben Gurion’s final interview.
President Heideman stated that “Zionism … is under attack. The American Zionist Movement is leading a campaign to reenergize Zionism and remind the world of the historical connections and rights of the Jewish people in the ancient land of Israel … their indigenous and ancestral land.”
As the conference concluded, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed H. Con. Res. 92, commemorating the Balfour Declaration anniversary. Heideman called the resolution “a clarion call of united American support for Israel.” The document established Israel’s internationally acknowledged legal basis for national sovereignty.
At the Congressional Luncheon held in the Rayburn Building, Ambassador Ron Dermer received the American Zionist Movement’s inaugural Distinguished Leadership Award, presented in recognition of his service to America and the Jewish people. He noted that the visionary Theodore Herzl understood the need for having both land and the rights of a sovereign power which “could only be granted by the ‘great powers.’” “Herzl,” said the diplomat “was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the state institutions that have contributed to Zionism.”
He acknowledged the changing relations between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors — (“some say they are prepared to accept Israel”) — but stressed that “until Palestine accepts the legitimacy of the Jewish State, no peace can be achieved.”
Dermer spoke of the transformation of the US-Israel relationship during the modern Jewish State’s 70 year existence, recalling that though there was support of statehood, there was also an arms embargo during the War of Independence. “A moral commitment has evolved into a strategic partnership,” Dermer noted. The United States, said the Ambassador, “has a strong ally on the ground,” and predicted an “increasing strength of the alliance.”
“Today, the Jewish people beg no more…The Jewish people have the ability to defend themselves, and do so with the courage of the Maccabees.”
“The most remarkable thing about being Israel’s ambassador is that there are ambassadors!” he concluded.
Baroness Ruth Deech, the noted British academic, lawyer, bioethicist and politician,, and a Zionist from childhood (her mother helped smuggle Jews into pre-State Palestine), said “Israel represents the best of the democratic form the United Kingdom and the United States can offer.” She acknowledged the British “bad record” in leaving its former colonies, and with mandates. “People like me must watch out and protect Israel. It’s our duty and we love it. We who are not in Israel stand by Israel’s side and do what we can.” . She suggested that “European Jews have recognized current threats and embraced Zionism – unlike American Jews.”
Former Brandeis University President Frederick Lawrence spoke of Jewish unity. Referring to first words of the Book of Isaiah, he reminded the assembled that “one must be a mirror to himself – to take a clear, honest look at ourselves to recognize the problems to be solved and ultimately find a solution. If you will be willing and obedient, you shall eat of the good of the land.” Lawrence remarked that the late Shimon Peres had said “our mission is to strengthen our unity, work together in harmony, and reach agreement through dialogue … We must not allow disagreement to tear us apart. Solidarity and understanding are the foundations of Jewish unity.”
In video greetings, United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said “no American should ever apologize for loving Israel and urging the United States government to support Israel.”
Congressman Nadler cautioned that the Palestinian Authority “has no recognition of the State of Israel. The American-Israeli alliance is necessary for Israel’s stability and for America’s stability. We must seek to maintain bipartisan support. Any momentary disagreements,” said the Congressman “do not detract from the fundamental agreement and solidarity.”
Marlene Post is an icon of American Jewish leadership. A past president of Hadassah, the Womens Zionist Movement, she has shaped the Jewish community’s relationship with Israel – and Zionism – for decades. Deeply involved with more community institutions than most people can even name, she assured that the United States ”knows and appreciates what Israel was and will be in the future.”
Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York’s 1st District in Long Island, one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress, said “education and advocacy are an everyday need. To understand the challenges to the Jewish people and the State of Israel means “getting the facts out and being passionate.” “There should be no daylight between the United States and Israel.” Zeldin called The AZM Conference “an inspired call to action.”
Herb London. President of the London Center for Research, suggested Zionism is “bred into the bones,” but may be missing from many in the current Jewish population. He offered a bit of personal history, recalling listening to the United Nations vote for partition with his father. He was, he said, a child gun-runner: his father collected weapons from colleagues and the pre-teen London then “moved cartons of guns to the ships at a New Jersey dock.” AZM, he said “must rekindle the sentiments.”
“Could anyone have imagined Israel as the ally of the United States 100 years ago?” marveled Congressman Eliot Engel. “The United States – Israel relationship must remain strong and must remain bipartisan.”