December 16, 2018

Netanyahu, Rivlin and Others Offer Insights at GA

The 2017 General Assembly (GA) featured three giants of Israeli leadership — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky.

Netanyahu’s appearance on the final day of the three-day gathering was virtual, as he participated in a live conversation via satellite. The Nov. 14 interview conducted by Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Chair Richard Sandler marked the conclusion of the GA.

During a 15-minute conversation, Netanyahu said he appreciates U.S. President Donald Trump’s stance on Iran as well as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley’s willingness to fight against Israel bias.

But he specifically stressed that his issues with Iran are with the country’s leadership, not its people. In fact, he said he had just announced hours earlier that Israel would provide medical assistance to the Red Cross to aid in the recovery effort for Iranians and Iraqis after the recent earthquake on the Iranian-Iraqi border.

“We have no quarrel with the people of Iran,” Netanyahu said. “Our quarrel is only with the tyrannical regime that holds them hostage and threatens our destruction.”

Rivlin, whose in-person appearance on Nov. 13 prompted ramped up security, discussed the need for Israel and Diaspora Jewry to work together in confronting anti-Semitism.

“We are one nation,” he said, appearing before a backdrop decorated with Los Angeles landmarks, including the Hollywood sign, the Capitol Records building, the downtown skyline and the Santa Monica Pier. “As one nation, we shall continue to fight together against anti-Semitism in all its forms; from the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, to terror attacks against our brothers and sisters around the world, from BDS [the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement] on campuses, to attacking Israel’s legitimacy in the U.N. There is no room for hesitation; we must continue the fight against it as one united front.”

As he walked on the GA stage on Nov. 14, shortly before Netanyahu’s appearance, Sharansky, a living legend who escaped the Soviet Union, drew a standing ovation. In a heavy accent, he said how important it was that there was Jewish unity in America during the time of the free Soviet Jewry movement.

“As one nation, we shall continue to fight together against anti-Semitism in all its forms.” — Reuven Rivlin

“That’s how the struggle was developed. That’s why for many years in prison, whenever the KGB was trying to tell me I was alone, I knew the Jewish people were behind me,” he said.

That sense of a need for Jewish unity carried through other sessions at the GA. The previous day, during a panel titled “Philanthropy, Politics and Federation,” Jay Sanderson, CEO and president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said Jews need to stand together in the face of challenges — and how they do it is important.

“A lot of people in the community want us to be their voice, but their voice is not every voice,” Sanderson said, explaining the role of Federation is to be a convener, not to release statements about political situations.

Sanderson’s remarks followed a discussion about the backlash the L.A. Federation faced after releasing a statement of opposition to the Iran deal during the Obama years.

Tablet Magazine founder and editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse, participating on the panel with Sanderson, said she wished Jews, even when they disagreed, would be willing to lose an argument with each other for the sake of unity.

“I think the challenge for Federation is in trying to relay that message, trying to explain to people in fact their voice is going to be heard much more clearly and much more loudly when they have solidarity with other Jews,” she said.