By AJC, Special for USDR
Five young AJC staff members met in Jerusalem for an unprecedented – and wide-ranging – discussion on global Jewish affairs with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The video-recorded conversation was arranged in connection with the AJC Global Forum, the advocacy organization’s signature annual event, which began yesterday and was shown today.
“The leadership that you have shown, that [AJC CEO] David Harris has shown, is valuable and admirable,” Netanyahu said during the conversation, which touched on Jewish security in Europe, Israel’s relations with Asia, Europe and the U.S., religious pluralism in Israel, and the BDS movement.
In response to Fabian Weissbarth of AJC Berlin, who asked about Israel’s relations with the European Union, the prime minister said that many European leaders appreciate Israel’s importance as a “bastion of freedom” in the Middle East. At a time when large parts of the region are undergoing the ravages of civil war and terrorism, Europeans are well aware that Israel is “keeping the western part of the Middle East intact.”
In addition, he noted, they see the Jewish state as their partner in preserving Western, democratic values. But he expressed concerns about continuing efforts by some in Europe to delegitimize the state of Israel and “the unholy alliance between radical Islamists and the radical ultra-left,” which, he added, is not good either for Europe or for peace.
Shani Benoualid of AJC Paris raised an issue close to her heart. Like many of her friends in France, she struggles with the question of whether to emigrate in the face of rising anti-Semitism, and she asked the prime minister his opinion. Netanyahu stated that “every Jew should have the right to live anywhere,” but, at the same time, Israel welcomed “any Jew who wants to live here,” and so it was a matter of individual choice.
AJC Jerusalem’s Ella Goldberg asked for clarification about recent shifts in Israel’s governing coalition, to which the prime minister replied that in pursuit of peace and security, he is seeking the widest possible government. And when the American-born Goldberg, who made aliyah, spoke of how she and her Israeli husband had to get married legally in the U.S. because ofIsrael’s restrictions on non-Orthodox weddings, he expressed his commitment to the principle of religious pluralism, noted the difficulties in achieving it given the political constraints he faced, and pledged to continue trying to alter the status quo.
Janna Smith of AJC Los Angeles brought up the problem of apparent strains in U.S.-Israel ties, as well as the impact of the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement that has gained a foothold on some campuses, including in California. Netanyahu stressed the overwhelming importance of maintaining bipartisan support for Israel in the U.S., and said that while BDS has inflicted no economic harm on Israel whatsoever, it constitutes a “moral outrage” and must be fought.
Responding to a question on Israel’s relations with Asian nations from Daniel Silver of AJC’s Asia Pacific Institute, the prime minister noted that the accelerating pace of Asian interest in economic ties with the Jewish state was likely to continue, since Asian political leaders and businesspeople understand that Israel is the “innovation nation.”
The two-day annual AJC Global Forum marks the 110th year of AJC. The event is the largest in the organization’s history, attracting over 2,700 people from across the U.S. and over 70 countries, including key political figures, high-ranking diplomats, and hundreds of young people from around the world.
SOURCE American Jewish Committee