By DAVID PORTNOE
This year’s Super Sunday/Super Week events actually kicked off a full week earlier than usual, as Federation and agency board members gathered for a leadership briefing from David M. Mallach, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) vice president and executive vice chairman of United Israel Appeal/IEF. Mallach’s talk was followed by a leadership phon-a-thon that raised $94,000 for JFund, formerly known as the Annual Campaign.
Leadership Event Photos
“Without what you do, what I do would not exist,” Mallach told those gathered in the Katz JCC’s Family Activity Center on Sunday, Jan. 22. “We at the United Israel Appeal are instrumentalities of the Federation system,” he said.
Mallach focused his remarks on Israel and the history of U.S.-Israel relations. He said that Israel has a pivotal place in the Jewish consciousness, but that place has changed during the past 30 years. He said that unlike the previous generation, there is no communal consensus as to the role of Israel in American Jewish life.
President Trump has a dramatically different view of Israel than did President Obama, noted Mallach, who discussed at length the recent U.S. abstention on UN Resolution 2334 as well as then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech on the Middle East. He said that while other administrations have viewed settlements as an obstacle to peace, the mistake of the recent abstention and Kerry’s speech was the belief that by doing this, the administration could change the situation completely.
“They tried to hit a home run, and instead struck out.” Mallach said that when there has been success in the peace process, it has come by “trying to hit singles,” by taking small steps forward.
Mallach also pointed to the fraught relationship between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which dates back to the very beginning of the Obama administration when Israel announced an expansion of settlements while Vice President Biden was making a visit to Israel. Viewed as a personal affront, the Obama administration has not forgotten that slight.
Mallach said that it remains to be seen if there would be dramatic change in the U.S. government’s positions on Israel, but he did note that President Trump’s commitment to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, which other candidates have promised, has been very explicit, so it is likely to happen.
“The issue of BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] is very much from the bottom up. It is a grass-roots movement,” said Mallach. He traced the BDS movement back to the 2001 Durban Conference, which was purportedly designed to oppose racism, but instead turned into an anti-Israel conclave. It was at that UN-sponsored conference that the strategy took shape of using the tactics that had been employed to isolate South Africa’s Apartheid regime against Israel. Immediately following the Durban Conference, the 9/11 attacks happened. While attention was focused on 9/11, anti-Israel elements organized and began putting BDS in place to delegitimize Israel.
“BDS supporters,” said Mallach, would not accept Israel with any borders. “There is no question that the goal of the BDS leadership is the non-existence of Israel,” he said.
Mallach spoke about the state of BDS on college campuses, the effort of BDS supporters to influence the policies of companies, as well as the effort to delegitimize Israel among Mainline Protestant churches and various professional associations. He said that JFNA and other Jewish groups are fighting these efforts and promoting Israel, while by-and-large keeping a low profile. He said that right now, the Federation system is funding 90 shlichim (emissaries) on college campuses.
“What we need to recognize as a community is that the message must be different. Empathy is crucial,” said Mallach. He said the challenge is to combine support for Israel while expressing empathy for the plight of the Palestinians.
Mallach then took questions from the audience. Among the points he made during the Q&A was that Israel has a problem in that there is a widespread view that people have a right to self-determination, and the Palestinians benefit from that view. He also noted that one reason Israel has built settlements in Judea and Samaria is that from the period of the Bible, that land was historically the heartland of Israel. King David, said Mallach, “ran around Hebron, not Tel Aviv.” Mallach also noted that following the Six Day War, the settlements were supported by both sides of the political spectrum. Among the most ardent supporters was Shimon Peres, Israel’s late prime minister, president, and an architect of the peace process.
Israel, said Mallach, is a core piece of Jewish identity. “The nature of Jewish identity from its beginning is inextricably linked to Israel,” he said. Mallach pointed to the free Birthright trips to Israel as having an impact in creating positive views of Israel among young people.
Following Mallach’s talk, Federation President Glenn Fuhrman told the audience that the largest allocation Federation makes is to Israel and overseas. He thanked the leadership for attending and encouraged them to make their JFund gifts and then make calls to raise the dollars.