AJC Passport is a weekly podcast analyzing global affairs through a Jewish lens. AJC Passport examines political events, the people driving them, and what it all means for the Jewish community. Hosted by AJC Global Director of Young Leadership Seffi Kogen.
This week, Simone Rodan Benzaquen, Managing Director of AJC Europe, joins us to discuss AJC's leading role in the Jewish community's diplomatic efforts at the United Nations General Assembly. Simone highlights key areas of advocacy, including countering the Iranian threat, addressing antisemitism and anti-Israel bias, advancing the Abraham Accords, and supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression. We also explore the impact of addresses from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, who have used the UN platform to spread antisemitic and anti-Israel narratives. Simone sheds light on the challenges and progress in shaping international policies on these critical issues. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. Episode Lineup: (0:40) Simone Rodan Benzaquen Show Notes: Test your knowledge: About the UN, Israel, fighting antisemitism, and AJC's role Read: AJC Advocacy at UN General Assembly 2023 Top 5 Things AJC is Tracking at the United Nations General Assembly Five Things to Know About President Raisi and Human Rights in Iran and Beyond Key Takeaways From President Biden's Address to the UN General Assembly Mahsa Amini Protests One Year Later: What is the Current Human Rights Situation in Iran? Listen: Deborah Lipstadt on the Abraham Accords' Impact and the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod You can reach us at: email@example.com If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Simone Rodan Benzaquen: Manya Brachear Pashman: All this week, leaders from 193 nations have gathered in New York, addressing the United Nations General Assembly. But there's a lot of action on the sidelines as well. That's where policy experts from the American Jewish Committee do their diplomatic outreach, urging leaders to expand and strengthen ties with Israel, and counter rising antisemitism and extremism. With us to discuss what's been happening on those sidelines is Simone Rodan Benzaquen, Managing Director of AJC Europe. Simone, welcome to People of the Pod. Simone Rodan Benzaquen: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me. Manya Brachear Pashman: So I'll start with Iran. How are we pushing leaders to address the threat from Iran this week? Simone Rodan Benzaquen: So Iran, as you rightly point out, is a really priority issue for us in all of the meetings we've had in particular with on my end with the European leaders, and it's, and our objective is really to make sure that we are countering Iran on all fronts. Of course, there's the nuclear file. And so our objective is to push leaders to be aware and really understand that, if that was to happen, we are entering an entirely new world. If we think that the war that Russia has been waging on Ukraine was a game changer for the stability of the world, we have not seen anything yet. So our objective is to really push European and international leaders to really address the issue. The second issue is, of course, human rights. We are now a year after the murder of Mahsa Amini, and really the horrible repression that the Iranian regime has committed against its own people. And there has been a time when European international leaders were very, very clear in their support for the Iranian people, and in condemning the Iranian regime and the Islamic Republic. But these past months, we've heard a little bit less of that. So our objective is really, has really been to reengage them on that commitment. And then third of all, and this is really a very specific issue, particularly in Europe, is the Iran Revolutionary Guard. And so the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council, the IRGC, is not listed as a terrorist organization in the EU. And that is obviously not normal. First of all, because they have been committing horrible crimes in their own country, because they have been committing terrorist acts across the world. Because they are obviously a key sponsor of terrorism across the world, because of their role also in Ukraine. They have armed Russia with Iranian drones, they have trained people on the ground. And lastly, and this is for us, very important as the Jewish advocacy organization, they have been threatening Jewish communities across Europe. There are a number of cases that are now very clear, which include in Germany, in the United Kingdom, but also in Greece and in Cyprus, where it's very clear that Iran is threatening Jewish communities and Israelis on European soil. Now, Europe for the past years, has made it very clear that it's a key priority for itself to combat antisemitism on the ground and in Europe. And that's a very important commitment. Now, if they're very, very serious about that commitment, they also have to act against the IRGC, which is today a key threat to Jewish communities on the ground. So we have been pushing European leaders to take steps to list the IRGC as a terrorist organization. As always, this will take time; it's not going to happen just during the UN General Assembly. But we've made some progress. We have had some very good conversations with a number of European countries and I hope down the line that we will be able to get there. Manya Brachear Pashman: So now what about Hezbollah? Because I know for many years we have pushed leaders at the UN General Assembly to designate Hezbollah, a terrorist organization in its entirety. This campaign has been going on for many years. Is that campaign changing in any way this year? Simone Rodan Benzaquen: No, it's not changing, it continues to be a key priority for us. By the way, the issue is linked, of course, I mean, what is Hezbollah, if not a proxy of Iran, an Iranian state within Lebanon, that is threatening, of course, Israel, but also has been committing terrorist acts across the world. So no, it has not changed. We are just trying to link the dots and explain to everybody that everything is linked. We're not there yet. There are a number of countries, as you know Manya, who have taken individual steps in Europe to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, because it is blocked on the EU-wide level. But you know what, we just celebrated Rosh Hashana. You know, at the end of the day, there is always hope, particularly for the Jewish people. So we will not be giving up on it and eventually we'll get there. Manya Brachear Pashman: You mentioned the IRGC's role in Ukraine with providing weapons and we heard from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky this week, warning that Russia was weaponizing essentials like food and energy, not only against Ukraine, but against every country. And I know the UN Human Rights Council created, with AJC's urging, an independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which has already determined that Russia is responsible for war crimes. So how are we advancing that conversation on the sidelines this week? Simone Rodan Benzaquen: Listen, on the European side, I would say the conversation is very easy, because Europeans understand that if Russia is allowed to strategically win this war. That means that, though, that they, their countries, that the European Union, as such, will be threatened by Russia. Russia will not stop with Ukraine. President I hesitate always to call him president, but Putin has made it very clear that for him, the biggest catastrophe of the 20th century, is the fact that the Euro that the Soviet Union fell apart. And so he wants to go back to that scenario. So Europeans are aware of it, their commitment to Ukraine, is very much there, actually, surprisingly, because many people, when the war started, were very much afraid that that, at the end, you know, there will not be European unity, that there will not be unity in the international community and in the West, in their support for Ukraine, and finally, you know, a year and a half later, we're still there, the United States is committed in supporting Ukraine, the European Union is committed in supporting Ukraine. But more needs to be done. We need to be able to provide more help to Ukraine. And again, as you said, especially as Russia is weaponizing every single possible way, whether it's energy, whether it's food, to exert pressure, to make sure that at the end, we are faltering. Manya Brachear Pashman: So I want to switch the focus a little bit from international diplomacy and war to the IHRA working definition. This has been an ongoing conversation with the UN. AJC has been urging the UN and its member countries to use it to develop plans to counter anti semitism. How is that coming up on the sidelines this week? Simone Rodan Benzaquen: So we've had some very constructive conversations, first of all, a majority of countries now have adopted the working definition of antisemitism. And they've recognized how much an important tool it is to not only to recognize, to define, but also to apply and to combat antisemitism. So it's a very constructive conversation. But we have also had conversations with countries who have not yet adopted the working definition, who would say, we don't have a problem of antisemitism, we don't really have to do it. And after explaining to them how important it is, and what an important tool it has been for countries, and what an important signal also it would send to the world, if they were to adopt the working definition of antisemitism. I can tell you now, in advance that in a few days, a couple of countries will be announcing that they will be adopting the working definition of antisemitism because of the conversation that we have had with them. Manya Brachear Pashman: The conversation you've been having this week with them, or ongoing over a matter of time? Simone Rodan Benzaquen: Over a matter of time, but that was concluded, specifically here at the UN General Assembly this year. Manya Brachear Pashman: And what about anti-Israel bias? Has that come up? Because I know that has been a blockage for a lot of countries who won't adopt the IHRA working definition, they want to leave the door open for criticism of Israel, but there has been some pretty blatant anti-Israel bias at the UN. And that has really been a priority for AJC to address. How have you been trying to eliminate that kind of chronic one-sidedness that targets Israel? Simone Rodan Benzaquen: This is, I have to say, Manya, a complicated conversation that we've been having, obviously, for years. As you rightly point out, Israel is treated in a way that no other country is. There is a permanent agenda item at the UN Human Rights Council. There is a disproportionate number of resolutions against Israel compared to any other country in the world. Many countries we are speaking with acknowledge that fact. But often their excuse is that they are working in a multilateral environment and that is therefore complicated, because you always have to come to some sort of compromise. But I have to say that nevertheless, I think we are making progress. If you and I had had that conversation 10 years ago, most European, most countries would not have even acknowledged that that was a fundamental problem. That situation today has changed. Many countries do recognize that there is something profoundly discriminatory in that disproportionate targeting of Israel. They just are very slow in finding solutions to that approach. Manya Brachear Pashman: We also heard from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week. What do you fear he is communicating? What do you fear that members of the United Nations are hearing from him and taking as truth? Simone Rodan Benzaquen: For years, I think Muhammad Abbas has been really in an endeavor to distort history by denying the link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. He has engaged on a number of occasions in historical revisionism. He has been engaged in a number of occasions in Holocaust denial and antisemitism, in stereotypes and conspiracy theories. And I think the world needs to wake up to that reality. I mean, if any other world leader had had that kind of discourse, take away the face of Muhammad Abba, take away the voice of Muhammad Abbas and just neutrally look at what he's been saying over the years, we would not accept that. The world, the Western world, the European Union, the United States, we would not accept that, and rightfully so. So why is it that we should continue to accept these kinds of words? European leaders were right, the United States was right, to criticize Mahmoud Abbas, as they have, after his recent antisemitic remarks. But that needs to now apply all the time, we sort of have a bigotry of low expectations on Mahmoud Abbas. I mean, why is it that we consider him somehow not capable of living up to the same standards as everybody else? So I hope that the world will, at some point, wake up, and just expect of the Palestinian Authority and of Muhammad Abbas himself, to accept to have certain rules. He cannot continue to have these kinds of statements. He cannot continue to do the pay for slay, meaning to pay the families of convicted terrorists. He cannot continue to incite hatred in Palestinian schoolbooks. We have to set the same standards for everybody, including for Muhammad Abbas, including for the Palestinian Authority. Manya Brachear Pashman: And do you think the member states realize that or comprehend that and are kind of seeing through his narrative? Simone Rodan Benzaquen: There seems to be the beginning of a process. I don't know if we're there yet. But there seems to be a beginning of the process. I mean, when you have the mayor of Paris, for example, who took away the honorary medal of the city of Paris to Muhammad Abbas, when you have statements that you have never had before, by leaders of the Western world, criticizing Muhammad Abbas. I think we're maybe at the beginning of something new. I just really hope that we're not walking backwards from that, because we just simply cannot go back to that just behaving as if, you know, this wasn't happening. Some of it has to do with the fact, with this delusional idea that, you know, if the Palestinian Authority was to fall apart, if Muhammad Abbas was to fall apart and not be president anymore, there would be worse. But still, I mean, this cannot be an argument in not having the same expectations of a leader than of any other leader in the world. Manya Brachear Pashman: So speaking of narratives, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi spoke to the general assembly as well, this week. His narrative was that Iran is the model of human rights and justice. Did that surprise you? What surprised you about his sermon, if you will, to the UN? Simone Rodan Benzaquen: No, there is nothing that surprised me, the Butcher of Iran, who is president, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has been lying to everybody's faces, of course, for many years. Iran is committing human rights abuses, Iran is imprisoning young people. Every single human rights organization has spoken about it. Every single western country knows it and has said it. They are committing rapes of young women in their prisons. They're abducting the families, including by the way the family of Masah Amini just a few days ago, every single day, and the fact that he is lying once again to the world is despicable. What is equally despicable is that the Council of Foreign Relations has intended to host Ebrahim Raisi. There is no way even with people who are asking difficult questions or having difficult conversations with him. That it does anything else then legitimize him and legitimize this terrible, murderous regime. So the only thing that should be done is, really be as tough as possible with this regime, and clearly impose sanctions, condemn, walk out of the room, ignore, but certainly not welcome him with open arms. Manya Brachear Pashman: And do you think the world is buying his narrative? Simone Rodan Benzaquen: Well, it depends what you mean by the world. But I don't think the western world is buying his narrative at all. I think everybody knows, you know, the reality of things. They know everything that is wrong with the regime. There might be differences in how they think they should be approaching that and they might, by the way, also be differences in perception between some Western countries and ourselves on how we think things should be approached. But nobody is naive about what is actually going on in the country. And the way this person, the Butcher of Iran, is treating his own people. Manya Brachear Pashman: Simone, thank you so much for joining us, and giving us a glimpse of what's been happening there. Simone Rodan Benzaquen: Thank you.
Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, joins us to discuss how she's settled into her new role and shares insights on the development of the new U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, for which AJC has long advocated. Lipstadt, a renowned Holocaust historian and one of Time Magazine's Most Influential People of 2023, also delves into the ways in which the Abraham Accords have contributed to the fight against antisemitism in the Middle East. Additionally, she provides an insider's look into the challenges and progress associated with addressing antisemitism and how the National Strategy factors in. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. Episode Lineup: (0:40) Deborah Lipstadt Show Notes: Go Deeper: Test your knowledge of the National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism Read: Everything You Need To Know About The U.S. National Strategy To Counter Antisemitism And AJC's Task Force Honoring International Antisemitism Envoys AJC David Harris Award Listen: People of the Pod: Hear from America's New Antisemitism Envoy Deborah Lipstadt Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod You can reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Deborah Lipstadt: Manya Brachear Pashman: Deborah Lipstadt, US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism is a renowned Holocaust historian, recognized earlier this year as one of Time Magazine's Most Influential People of 2023. She has written eight books, and four years ago, advised the United Nations on its unprecedented report on global antisemitism. In fact, she joined us on this podcast shortly after the report's release. Since then, she has joined the US State Department in a role that for the first time carries the rank of Ambassador. She joins us again this time in our popup Tel Aviv studio. Ambassador, welcome to People of the Pod. Deborah Lipstadt: Thank you. Manya Brachear Pashman: America's National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism was adopted in May. Your job primarily deals with US Foreign policy to combat antisemitism. But how does this new domestic strategy affect your work? Deborah Lipstadt: Well, it affects our work and that certainly I was consulted and worked closely with the White House in the shaping of it, my team played a part in helping to shape it people to reach out to and things like that. And there are over 24 agencies involved including the State Department, we're now looking at all the other national strategies to see best practices, what America could possibly adopt. And of course, informally, I'm the administration's most knowledgeable person on antisemitism. So they turned to me quite often for advice, for ideas, etc. Manya Brachear Pashman: Okay. All right. Well, so as I said, your role is more international. Do you need a domestic counterpart? Does the United States need a domestic antisemitism czar? Deborah Lipstadt: I'm not sure. It's a lot on–the strategy is really run out of the Domestic Policy Council, which until about a week ago, was headed by Ambassador Susan Rice, who was greatly responsible for seeing this thing come to fruition. And we'll see how it works. It's up to them to decide how they want to do it. But I think it's also good that each agency from the usual suspects, as I like to say, homeland security, education, FBI, law enforcement, are involved, but so are so many others. Small Business Administration, Veterans Affairs, Smithsonian, all looking at ways to counter antisemitism, make sure there aren't barriers that are there, whether because of antisemitism or just ignorance. Manya Brachear Pashman: And second gentleman Doug Emhoff has been certainly-- Deborah Lipstadt: Even before I was sworn in, after I was confirmed, I was in Washington and he asked me if I would come in and visit with him. We had a wonderful visit. We're in touch all the time. And he really feels this very deeply. And I give him great credit because he could easily have said, Look, I'm the first Jew in this position. First second gentleman. We put up a mezuzah for the residence. We have a Hanukkah party. We have a Seder. We do other things. Don't ask me to take the lead on this. But he's taken the lead. He's traveled all over, he traveled with me to Poland and Germany, where I coordinated a meeting for him with other special envoys, just to give him a sense of what other countries were doing. And I think when he and his staff and other people in the White House who were with us saw that, it sort of energized them to say, my God, other countries have taken this really seriously. They're way ahead of us. We have to do something serious as well. Manya Brachear Pashman: You know, with that in mind, I mean, if you think about it, your predecessors in this position have kind of made it their business to monitor, sound the alarm about antisemitism in Europe, elsewhere around the world. AJC helped convene that group of envoys at the White House. And so in many ways, the table's turned a little bit in terms of, you know, instead of the United States monitoring and sounding the alarm, these envoys came and advised the United States. Has this kind of mutual mission actually improved the relationship with some of these countries? Deborah Lipstadt: It's improved the relationship tremendously. We really work as a team, not as a team–each one has its own you know, position, certain things one can get involved in certain things. You know, I lurk and watch what's going on, but I'm not involved in it. But one of the first things I did in fact, it was the same day as last year's AJC Global Forum, which was in New York, I think, at Temple Emanuel. And I was on the stage with Katrina von Schnurbein, the amazing EU envoy on Countering Antisemitism and Enhancing Jewish Life. And then she and I left the meeting with Mr. Lottenberg, Fernando Lottenberg, who's the OAS Special Envoy, and we met with a group of us of special envoys met to talk about how we could work together. And so we've been meeting and convening. Katrina convened something that the EU others have convened, and then we meet, you know, sometimes we'll meet through the auspices, let's say, we'll be meeting here because many have come for AJC. But it is a government to government when we meet, it's not, convened by someone else. But it's people who speak for their governments coming together, which is quite amazing. I've had great predecessors in this job. They're all terrific. And were strong supporters of me taking the position, very excited about it from both sides of the aisle. And I'm very grateful for that. But there are differences. First of all, Congress elevated the position to an ambassador before I was in the picture. So it wasn't for me. And that carries weight in the world of protocol. That means you speak for the President. I see what weight it carries. In fact, I was just in conversation with a Republican senator, around the time of the rollout, because I was briefing him about the national strategy. And he had been one of those who had pushed for the elevation of it to be an ambassador. And I said, you know, when I first heard you were doing this, I said, Oh, doesn't really matter. I said, I was wrong, you were right. It really enhances the importance, and it shows how America takes this seriously. But my predecessors, certainly amongst the earlier ones, we were the first country to have a position like this. So when something happened in France, and Belgium and Germany, whatever, they would go, and they would say to the government, you know, we take this very seriously, and we think you should take it seriously. Or if they were taking it seriously, we take this very seriously, and what can we do to help you take it seriously, and say, you have a problem, we've got to address it. And now first of all, I go and I said, we have a problem, because we have acknowledged that exists in our country. And sometimes I don't have to go racing as they might have had to, because there's someone else there. There's a local person, there's a national person there, too. So the fight has become much more coordinated, enhanced, and really raised to a government level in a way that it hadn't been previously. Manya Brachear Pashman: Are there particular lessons that you can recall from any of your predecessors? Any of the envoys that you've taken to heart and realized. Deborah Lipstadt: I spoke to virtually all of them before I took the position. And they each had different advice, and I won't say one or the other, etc. But one the reasons–and I've only been in the job a year, but – building alliances in the State Department. And I'm worried a little bit not because of anything anybody tells me, just natural inclination to worry to be a pessimist so that we can be happily surprised when good things happen or the bad stuff doesn't happen. But, would I find compatriots in the State Department, would people see me as you know, an add-on, a niche? Would I be operating off by myself? And that hasn't happened. And it's really been quite amazing. Partially thanks to the advice I've gotten, partially, I think, my own interpersonal connections, but I have built really strong alliances. And I'm not saying I have personally, but people in other offices with other portfolios, see this not as a niche issue. But as a central element of American foreign policy. Manya Brachear Pashman: We hear a lot of statistics of incidents of hate crimes each month each year. And I'm curious if that's what matters most. In other words, does the perception of a community also matter whether it's a Jewish community or any other minority community, if that community perceives a rise in hatred against it? Is that enough to amplify our response? Deborah Lipstadt: The perception of a community is important, perception of an individual. Sometimes, any community, any individual can see things more dire than they are. But I think if anything, the Jewish community has become more aware of certain incidents and more aware of certain things. Give you an example, New York. I think there were a lot of Jews in New York who didn't take seriously some of the antisemitism encountered by Haredi, Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, you know, who would walk down the street, get their hat knocked off, or get spat upon. And you could say, Okay, what's the big deal? Well, if you're walking down the street, especially walking with your kids and your hat gets knocked off, suddenly you're looking at your father, or your mother gets a little nervous because she's in, you know, other people that she sees people come in and might be dangerous or whatever. And I think now they take that much more seriously. Have that been happening on the Upper West or East Side. We would have been quicker to respond. Manya Brachear Pashman: Do you think that that is enough for a government, for example, to amplify a response? Deborah Lipstadt: Well, certainly a local government, this was happening in New York, but as it became more national, and there's something else in the strategy addresses this. That government can't really deal with, but it can call out. And that's the normalization of antisemitism. And the strategy speaks very directly in the beginning, when it's something I'm paraphrasing, when politicians, when actors, when rap stars, when sports figures engage in anti semitism and amplifies it in a way that it hasn't been before. Government can't stop them. We have that pesky thing called the First Amendment and we all treasure it. Even though sometimes it can make us gnash our teeth, the good comes with the bad, or the bad comes with the good. But the normalization, so with the strategy. And when the strategy was rolled out, I spoke from the podium of the White House, one of the things I said: government can do a lot. Congress is already doing a lot and is willing to do more. But it calls for an all hands on deck and it has to be a public, the broader society has to be involved in this fight, not just because of protecting fellow American Jews, fellow citizens, but because as I think as listeners to People of the Pod know well, antsemitism is a threat to democracy. I've been talking about it now someone even said to me, the cliche, and I realized that I had been the one to really popularize it, as the canary in the coal mine of democracy. But it's a warning, it's a warning. Manya Brachear Pashman: You began your tenure with a tour of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, right? Deborah Lipstadt: And Dubai. The first stop was Riyadh. Manya Brachear Pashman: Oh, right. Okay. And in fact, you were just in Abu Dhabi again just a few days ago. Deborah Lipstadt: I was for a second time, right. And where I encountered an AJC's delegation. But AJC has been present in Abu Dhabi in the Emirates for a very long time. Manya Brachear Pashman: I want to talk a bit about those visits and the Abraham Accords, which is another circumstance that has changed. I mean, your immediate predecessor got to benefit a little bit from the Abraham Accords. But I'm curious if those Accords are removing barriers, helping foster relationships. And you know, that will only continue to improve the relationship between Israel and Muslim majority countries but also, their receptiveness to your message for combating antisemitism. Deborah Lipstadt: The Abraham Accords are of prime importance. And they've been wholly embraced by the State Department, this administration, and not only embrace, but I've been encouraged to build on them, in part because we see them as a good thing in terms of fostering relations in the region between Israel and these other Muslim majority countries, but also because we see them as enhancing the Middle East enhancing the economy. I mean, it's a great thing when we all go into Ben Gurion Airport and we look up and there's the flight to Atlanta and right in front of it's a flight to Abu Dhabi, you know, or the flight to Detroit, Dubai , you know, it's some people say it's Mashiach, it's the time of the Messiah in that sense. The Abraham house in Abu Dhabi, which is a mosque, a church and synagogue is magnificent, of course, that's not part of the Abraham accords. So that wasn't, that was generated in 2018, with a visit of Pope Francis to Abu Dhabi, who said, Let us build the church and a mosque, and it was the leadership of the Emirates that said, let's build a synagogue, to make it a complex of the Abraham House, of the Abrahamic faith. So and then of course, Morocco, which refers to its normalization because it's been doing this for quite a while, Morocco that expects 400,000 Israeli tourists this year. I think last year it had 225,000. And then it's just you know, everywhere. And all those things are good things. And then there are countries which are not yet and I've used not yet euphemistically, part of these things, but see them as working and see them as operating. And I think they're very important. Manya Brachear Pashman: And do you do feel that they are perhaps more receptive to your message and to listening to what you have to say? Deborah Lipstadt: Yes, of course, I mean, I think even you know, when I went to Riyadh, to Saudi Arabia, I had meetings with high ranking officials, now you can show up and you can meet with the Minister of, I don't know, keeping the paint dry or something like that. Or you can meet with higher level ministers and I met with high level ministers, very productive meetings. And one of my messages was, look, there is a geopolitical crisis in this region, we're well aware that, my country is well aware of it. I work for a government that has hundreds of people actively engaged in addressing this issue. But that's something in many respects separate and apart from prejudice, and from hatred. And the example, I had this interesting encounter in either Riyadh and Jeddah with an older imam who knew what was meeting with me and he knew what my, what my status was on my remit, was my portfolio was and he said, If Israel solved the Palestinian crisis, there'd be no antisemitism. So there was a part of me that thought, I think there was antisemitism before there was a Palestinian crisis, I think there was antisemitism, for those in Israel, I think there was antisemitism, Zionism, you need to go back and back and back. But I didn't think that was going to get me anywhere, you know, putting it on my professorial hat, my mortar board as we do at graduation and lecturing him on that. So instead, I said to him, after 9/11, in my country, there was a surge, not of Islamophobia, but Islamic hatred. And as you will remember, I'm sure, there was an attempt at one point to build a Muslim community center, opposite Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center had been. And in fact that the group that was building it consulted with the Jewish community center of Manhattan, you know, how, what's your experience? What room? Did you build enough? Should we have a gym, swimming pool, you know, et cetera, et cetera. And whatever body whether it was the city council or whatever in New York. New York, the polyglot capital of the United States, refused permission, because they said to build the Muslim community center, adjacent to Ground Zero, when it was Muslims that had destroyed the buildings and murdered the people there, would be an insult. And many of us thought that was wrong. That was prejudice. And I said, why should Muslims in lower Manhattan, a woman who wants a good place for her children to learn about their tradition, or to have an Iftar or whatever it might be a man to go to pray or whatever? Why should they be denied that right, because other Muslims had destroyed and attacked the buildings? And the man said to me, you're absolutely right. It was prejudice. I said, well, to say that antisemitism is solely dependent on what Israel does or doesn't is the same thing. And he got very quiet. I don't think I changed his mind. But he stopped arguing. Manya Brachear Pashman: Do you see any progress toward people understanding it more as a territorial conflict? Deborah Lipstadt: I think so. I hope so. I think it's a continuing, it's not like you get to a point and then well, we're at this point. Now we get to the next point, you know, like I used to lift 20 pounds, I can lose 30 pounds, you know, it goes back and forth. It goes back and forth, depending on the situation. It's a volatile process. Manya Brachear Pashman: Do you think that getting them to understand it as a territorial conflict would actually fulfill part of your role in terms of combating antisemitism? Deborah Lipstadt: Yes, absolutely. But I think it's also necessary not to do things that are going to aggravate or not to do things that are going to make it harder for some of these countries to follow through with the Abraham Accords, so it cuts both ways. Manya Brachear Pashman: In May, you and Ambassador Hood attended the annual Lag Ba'omer Festival at the El Ghriba synagogue. Deborah Lipstadt: In Djerba, Tunisia. Manya Brachear Pashman: The island of Djerba. Tunisia is one of dozens of Arab countries where Jews were forced out and displaced. And I'm curious if you could reflect a little on the situation of Jews in the Middle East and North African countries. Deborah Lipstadt: Tunisia is a different story than Morocco, different story than the Emirates, then Bahrain. In that it does have a very small Jewish community. I think there are 1300 Jews in Djerba, been there, hundreds, thousands you know, years. And it's much more a community in Tunis than in a number of other places. But this festival has been going on for quite a while. And it was really reasserting itself after COVID, after an attack about 20 years ago on the festival. And it was so promising. And when I heard that Ambassador Hood, our American ambassador in Tunis was going, I said, you want company, he said, I'd love it. So we went together. We visited the school there that is funded by and supported by the Joint American Jewish joint distribution committee, the joint, the JDC, one of the little students showed them how to draw an aleph. It's was very poignant. And we had a wonderful time. And then we went to the festival that night. And it was joy. The night before the deputy minister from the government catered a kosher meal for us, a kosher feast for many of the foreign representatives who were there. And we went to the festival and it was just joyous and we just loved it. We were so happy and meeting people and seeing people and meeting old friends and etc. And people are the American ambassadors here, which was very exciting. And we stood in a place and I noticed that our security guards were pretty tight security because of course Americans and back to two ambassadors and personnel from American Embassy in Tunis. We're getting nervous I said, it should relax. 24 hours later precisely in that same place, there was a shooting and two guards were killed. Two Jewish one French, Tunisian and once one Israeli Tunisian, were murdered. So it's very sober. Very, very sobering. And Tunisia was that in the beginning, what we say reluctant to acknowledge this as an anti semitic act they talked about as criminality, they talked about it as terrorism. So Ambassador Hood and I together, not together with, but also with president Macron, and the German Foreign Minister, all said this is antisemitism plain and simple. Manya Brachear Pashman: And swayed them, turned? Deborah Lipstadt: Oh, well, I don't know if we swayed them, but we got them to, he met with the President and met with the chief rabbi. And they changed a little bit, but sometimes it's criminality. Sometimes someone gets mugged on the street, and doesn't matter what they are who they are. But when this guy shot, he was on guard at a naval base. He shot his fellow guard, took a car and drove half hour across the island, to the synagogue, to attack the synagogue. And he didn't say, Oh, they're a crowd of people. I mean, he knew where he was going. And he knew what he was doing. Manya Brachear Pashman: My last question is, some listeners might not realize that there is actually a separate Special Envoy for Holocaust issues. Deborah Lipstadt: That's right, Ellen Germain. Manya Brachear Pashman: Your colleague Ellen Germain. Given the rise of Holocaust distortion, trivialization, your candidate, the loss of survivors, how much of what you do now intersects with her work? Deborah Lipstadt: Well, we're very careful. I mean, she's really handling Holocaust reparations issues, property reparations, not that we get directly involved, but in urging countries to address these things. But there's not that much overlap. But there's a great deal of cooperation with us, you know, times traveling together, working together, the more the more. Manya Brachear Pashman: Are their priorities that you can see for implementing the National Strategy since we started talking about it. Deborah Lipstadt: I think there are so many things in there that can be done large and small. I urge people to download it. Maybe you can put the link on your website. It's downloadable. It's 60 pages, read the whole thing. thing. I have to tell you, I knew it as it was emerging. But at one point when I saw a draft of it, and they asked me to go over it, I was abroad doing it in another country. So complicated. But of course, as I began to read it without going into the specifics even have different issues. I was deeply moved. Because I don't like to correct my boss, otherwise known as the President of the United States. But when he spoke about it at the White House, he called it the most momentous comprehensive plan the American government has ever addressed and he was wrong. It was the first comprehensive plan that the American government has ever addressed. Of course, when there've been tragedies and presidents from both sides of the aisle, from all perspectives have condemned, have responded, America has responded. Law enforcement has responded. But this is the first time that the United States government is taking the bull by the horns and saying, What can we do to address this scourge? And as I said, from the podium of the White House when it was rolled out, probably making history because it's the first time a mishna was quoted from the White House or talmud was quoted from the White House. I quoted from the verse from ethics of the elders, pirkei avot – lo aleicha hamlacha ligmor, v'lo ata ben chorin livatel mimenu. You're not obligated to complete the task, but you're not free from starting, from engaging in it. The United States government has now seriously engaged in it. Manya Brachear Pashman: Well, thank you so much, Ambassador. Deborah Lipstadt: Thank you.
As we mark the third anniversary of the Abraham Accords, significant progress has been made in deepening Arab-Israeli engagement. With us this week is Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a founding member of the Senate Abraham Accords Caucus. Ernst joins guest host Benjamin Rogers, AJC's Director for Middle East and North Africa Initiatives, to reflect on the achievements of the landmark deal, its importance to the United States, speculation over Saudi Arabia, and the crucial role of the Senate in advancing peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. Episode Lineup: (0:40) Joni Ernst Show Notes: Engage: How much do you know about Abraham Accords? Take our quiz and put your knowledge to the test! Read: The Abraham Accords, Explained Listen: Meet 3 Women Who are Driving Change in the Middle East 'Golda': Behind the Scenes with Israeli Director Guy Nattiv on the 1973 Yom Kippur War Noa Tishby on the Abraham Accords: The Middle East Realizes Israel is Not the Enemy Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod You can reach us at: email@example.com If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Joni Ernst Manya Brachear Pashman: As an organization, AJC has been engaged in the Middle East for more than 70 years. In fact, a senior AJC delegation first traveled to Morocco in March 1950. Since then, there have been several more milestones. AJC's own Jason Isaacson participated in the Madrid Conference in 1991, a historic effort by the international community to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; and AJC opened its first Arab world office in Abu Dhabi in 2021. This week, Benjamin Rogers, AJC's Director for Middle East and North Africa Initiatives, explores one of the most significant developments in the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict – The Abraham Accords. The conversation marks the Accords third anniversary on September 15. Benjy, the mic is yours. Benjamin Rogers: Thank you so much, Manya. And I remember the day well, I had been in the Gulf just a few months prior December 2019, talking about these issues, talking about normalization, talking about cooperation. But to see the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Israel, the foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain, on the White House lawn, signing an agreement of friendship, an agreement of cooperation. It was an electrifying moment. As we prepare to celebrate the third anniversary of what is possible,when Israelis and Arabs come together and set aside their differences. I can think of no better person to help us reflect on this moment than our guests today. It is my honor to welcome Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, founding member of the Abraham Accords Caucus to our program today. Senator, thank you so much for being here. Joni Ernst: Of course, it is an honor, a privilege and a pleasure to be with you today. I'm celebrating as well, I think it's a phenomenal achievement for the United States and for our friends in Israel and those Arab nations. Benjamin Rogers: And I think that's a great starting place for our conversation. Share with us a little bit about your story. What was your reaction when you learned of these agreements? How did that translate to saying, Hey, I'm going to work with my colleagues. I'm going to sit down with Senator Lankford, Senator Rosen, Senator Booker, and we're going to be the founding members of the Senate Abraham Accords caucus? Joni Ernst: And it goes back quite a ways. My own personal journey, I had served in the Iowa Army National Guard and had deployed to the Middle East for Operation Iraqi Freedom and, and having that experience serving in our United States Armed Forces, we have the great privilege and honor of serving with many members from other countries as well. And we have an understanding of those nations and what they're trying to achieve and how we can promote stability in certain regions. So from that basis, then I served in the Iowa State Senate, and when you think of Iowa and Israel as maybe not a natural connection, but we have a huge Christian community across the state of Iowa that is very supportive of our Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel. And so from that platform of the Senate, I was able to move into the United States Senate with a broad basis, not only the military perspective, but then also how Iowa and Israel can come together collaborate on things like agriculture, cultural exchanges, and with that basis, then finding other members of the Senate that had similar goals and objectives. And that came together really, with the incredible, really the incredible advent of the Abraham accords. And so we were able to start the caucus, those of us that have very strong feelings about stability in that region and partnership in that region. So coming together with senators, Rosen and Volker and Lankford, it was a really wonderful way for us to celebrate the Abraham Accords, and bring others from the United States Senate and House into that fold as well. Benjamin Rogers: Amazing. I was struck by what you said, you don't necessarily think of commonalities between Iowa in Israel. But the interfaith component, the agriculture cultural component, I know you're also you talked about a little bit of security, I know, energy is a huge issue. Can you walk us through how these issues that are, you know, seemingly local, actually have larger, regional and international importance? How cooperation could maybe help your average person in Iowa City say, hey, look, this makes sense to me. I get what we're trying to do here. Joni Ernst: Right. And we exist in a global economy. Of course, we, as the United States are blessed with an abundance of resources. But when we're able to partner with other nations around the globe, we find new ways of using the resources that we have at virtually at our fingertips. And what we have seen just in the exchanges and the ideas that are shared between entrepreneurs and Iowa, entrepreneurs and Israel, Israel being a huge startup nation. It has been a fascinating journey for me just explore from the realm of agriculture, the types of irrigation methods that are used in Israel. One of the visits that I had to Israel is visiting with a young entrepreneur that had developed left, a type of bandage, skin type bandage a liquid that could be applied on the battlefield. But the source of that one of the sources for that bandage, that liquid bandage that would seal the skin together, actually comes from hogs that are sourced from Iowa. So I mean, it's it. We're all connected in so many interesting and fascinating ways. But when you talk to Iowans about this, they get it, they understand how connected we are, through our everyday activities. And I love it that we've been able to work strongly and partner with Israel, now expanding that opportunity as well, and to the other narrow Arab nations of that region. It's just an incredible time period of time that we're witnessing right now. Benjamin Rogers: So that's great to hear it. Can you say a little bit more? What, when you found her the caucus? What were the hopes? As you know, we've been, as we're about to celebrate three years on what are some of the successes, AJC has been engaged with you a lot on bills like the defend act, MARITIME Act, the Regional Integration Act, what, how, what is the role of the caucus? What is the role of the US Senate in saying, Hey, we're here to support the Abraham accords? Joni Ernst: Well, you outlined a number of those goals and objectives. But the first reason bringing us together, one was to celebrate the great accomplishment of the accords. That was the baseline. But then we built off of there because between the four of us in the United States Senate that founded the caucus to Republicans to Democrats, understanding that this is an extremely bipartisan move, and how do we not just celebrate the existence of the accords? But how do we become tools to further engage with those nations, maybe expand the chords? And, you know, what we'll say is normalization of relations. And maybe sometimes that's not the right word, but just this incredible collaboration between those countries? How can we be a part of that, and really sphere, the legislation that we're working on in Congress to benefit the United States, first and foremost, always, you know, looking for ways that we can, can protect ourselves further articles. But also do that with our friends, Israel, and other Arab nations that have joined the courts or are considering joining into the courts. So we have been able to focus primarily from my perch on the Armed Services Committee then on things like the defend act, where we are working with Israel, the members of the Abraham Accords, and integrating air and missile defense systems, giving these nations a common operating picture, where they can literally save minutes seconds on an impending attack coming from, of course, main adversary in the Middle East Iran. So if we can all work together and save lives on the ground, so much the better for all of those nations. So we did have the main parts of that bill, the defend act, it was passed through the National Defense Authorization Act, last year. This year, Senator Rosen and I also have the MARITIME Act, which is yet another step forward for our caucus, our objectives of securing that region. And it does basically the same thing that you'll see with the defender Act, which was primarily focused from the air protecting from the air. Now we are focusing on the maritime domain, and making sure that as we see naval traffic through that region, that they are protected as well. So we just continue to take steps to protect that region protect buses as United States citizens, but always looking for ways to further our goals through the Abraham accords. Benjamin Rogers: That's remarkable. And in reading the legislation, being engaged with the region. You hear all these things about the Middle East, there's the Middle East is disconnected, the Middle East is not united. But then you look at some of the sources and you look at the potential and you look at the ability for all these countries that maybe would be traditional adversaries are now saying, hey, we need to worry about things like heroes. We need to worry about things like security, we need to worry about things like stability, we're going to come together, we want to work with a larger architecture. And it's been remarkable from our standpoint, to see the US as a major driving force for that. Joni Ernst: Yes. And you mentioned security, stability, they go hand in hand, and what I have witnessed and in traveling through that region, and of course, getting to know leaders throughout that region, is that they are so interconnected, they really are. And the Abraham accords really provided a path forward for them to do more together. There has been a lot of work in this area for decades now. But we're finally seeing a real breakthrough, rapid advancement of cooperation between these nations. And because of a number of these nations coming together in the Accords, we say that, maybe there's a little bit of competition now as well with some of the other nations and in the region. And I say that and maybe top of mind, we should be thinking, What about Saudi Arabia, you know, so I, I do want to say, we hope that they will join in more, and I hope that they are on that glide path to get there. It is something that I have spoken with, with many of the leaders in Saudi Arabia. And we hope that we'll continue to see that really positive movement forward. But we want to see a strong foundation to build upon and which is what we're doing right now. But it can always improve. And that's what we want to see is continuous improvement, not just with the United States. And its existing allies and partners right now than many others that we hope to bring into the fold as well. Benjamin Rogers: So, since you brought up Saudi Arabia, and that's been top of mind on the news, can you share a little bit more with us. What does it mean, from your perspective, to have the Saudis as part of this process? What does it mean, from a US security standpoint? What does it mean from Chinese influence in the region? What are some of the pitfalls there? But where are the opportunities, that clearly, there seems to be a lot of hope for? Joni Ernst: Well, let me start with the pitfalls. And I think it's pretty obvious that the largest pitfall is if we ignore Saudi Arabia, if we don't engage with Saudi Arabia, they will find another partner, and that partner is China. And so we don't want to see that happen. I think the natural alignment is for the United States and Saudi Arabia to come together. And I have always been of the thought that the Abraham accords would not have happened, if behind the scenes, Saudi Arabia had not given a signal that it was okay. So I do believe they had somewhat of a role in the Abraham accords. And I hope that they will continue working on a relationship with Israel, while maybe they won't come fully into the courts, but they will lend their leadership to the accords. And so I think that as we look forward, on the flip side, you know, that if we can avoid the pitfall of Saudi Arabia engaging completely 100% with China, we can avoid that we can move ahead in this region and have the participation of Saudi Arabia. I want them to look to the west for their partnerships. I think that's incredibly important. So I do engage heavily with leadership from Saudi Arabia, I do engage with the ambassador to the United States Ambassador Rima. We have had many, many phone and in person conversations in the US in Saudi Arabia, just continually working on the areas that we can't work on. There are things that we disagree on. But one thing I find with Ambassador Rhema is that we can be very blunt and upfront with one another and have those discussions respectfully. I have the greatest respect for Princess Rhema. And the position that she is in in negotiating in the best interests of her country. I am always going to talk and negotiate in the best interests of the United States. And the best interests of the United States are that we continue to be The best ally for Israel, and find a way for us to work with Arab nations as well, again, going back to having strong security and strong stability in that region and all partnering together against a common adversary Iran. Benjamin Rogers: This has been an absolutely fascinating discussion. We're three years out, and we're talking about Israeli Arab relations, as if this was commonplace as if this was how it's always been. If there is, you know, you do have to stop yourself. And I think an anniversary is always a good moment to say, Things did not always used to be this way. So with that reflection of the past, I know you spoke a little bit about the future. But where do you see the future of the Senate Abraham accords caucus going? If you were to look, you know, three years out, what position do you hope we are? The US, its engagement with Israel, its engagement with the Arab world and its engagement in trying to create a more interconnected Middle East? Joni Ernst: Well, I'm incredibly pleased with where we are today on this third anniversary. And if we look another three years, what are my hopes Senator Joni Ernst, from the state of Iowa, you know, co founder of the Abraham accords caucus, where do we want to be? My vision in three years is that we will have all of this, those military type protections put into place that the defend act is fully implemented, the maritime act is now passed and implemented, and that we are integrating our military resources with one another. So this is a step forward, if we can bring Saudi Arabia into this fold, that we can start working with them on military platforms, as well, the Saudi Arabia of the sides, want to engage with these platforms, if we can get them to move away from China, and really work more with the United States, I can see greater sharing of this technology, with the Saudis. And I do think that that's important. We have to have checks and balances, no doubt about it, we have to have those discussions. But if I can just say three years, this is what I want to happen. I want to have us all fully integrated, to make sure that the region is protected. And in turn, that makes us stronger in the United States, we know that we'll be protected as well for my brand. If we all are partnering together, I do want to say additional, you know, trade with that region as well. I think it's been incredibly important. As you look at UAE and Israel, the types of activities that they have been able to engage in whether it is just travel, education, and trade opportunities, there are so so many areas that are yet untouched, where we can go. And I hope that we see that in three years where we don't really differentiate ourselves as this group or that group, but that we're just common friends and partners. So I think that we've got a long ways to go. But I can act, I can, you know, actually say with this caucus, and the founders of the caucus, both in the Senate and the House, because the House members are really punching above their weight as well, is that we continue to bring members into the fold focus on this region and our opportunities there. And that we have a much more stable world because of the actions we have taken. Benjamin Rogers: Well, Senator, thank you, thank you so much for your time. It goes without saying our AGC has a huge appreciation for the work that you're doing, for the work that your colleagues Senator Rosen, Senator Lankford and Senator Booker have been engaged on. We're grateful for your house colleagues and everything that they've been doing on pushing and securing the Abraham Accords as well. AJC's shares your vision of a more interconnected region of a stronger USA of a more united front against adversaries. And we are your partners in this and we look forward to working with you to realize the vision you just spelled out. Joni Ernst: Well, I appreciate it so much and to you Benjamin and the entire team at AJC. Thank you so much for being such incredible advocates for the Abraham Accords, of course for Jewish communities all across the United States, and the work that we can all achieve together. It's pretty impressive. When we lean on each other and we move with a purpose. So thanks so much for all of the wonderful support. Manya Brachear Pashman: If you missed last week's episode, be sure to tune in for my conversation with Academy Award winning film director Guy Nattiv about his latest film Golda, which opened in American theaters last week. The film examines the Yom Kippur War, a transformative moment in Israel's history.
This week, Academy Award-winning director Guy Nattiv discusses his new film 'Golda,' which follows the journey of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir as she navigates the tense 19 days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Nattiv delves into how Helen Mirren, who portrays Golda Meir, expertly embodied the role. He also shares why, being a child of '73, he felt so compelled to tell this story. Tune in to hear the poignant anecdotes from the set and learn about the involvement of war veterans in the filmmaking process. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. Episode Lineup: (0:40) Guy Nattiv Show Notes: Watch: ‘Golda' opens in US theaters starting August 25th from Bleecker Street / ShivHans pictures–find theater and ticket information at www.goldafilm.com Read: Tough Questions on Israel Answered Listen: Matti Friedman on How the 1973 Yom Kippur War Impacted Leonard Cohen and What It Means Today The Rise of Germany's Far-Right Party and What It Means for German Jews AJC Archives Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod You can reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Guy Nattiv: Golda Meir [from AJC Archives]: We've suffered because of our stance, which is not just obstinacy, not just because we liked it this way. But I think it has been accepted more and more that we have something at stake, and that's our very existence. Whether the borders are such that we can defend them or not, is a question of to be or not to be. Manya Brachear Pashman: That's the late Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir speaking with AJC about fighting wars to defend Israel's existence. The movie Golda premiering in American theaters this week tells the story of one such battle: the Yom Kippur War of 1973 when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against the Jewish state. Here to talk about the movie and why it's an important story to share with the world, especially through Golda Meir's eyes is its Academy Award winning Director Guy Nattiv. Guy, welcome to People of the Pod. Guy Nattiv: Hi, Manya. Manya Brachear Pashman: So Guy, as we just heard from Golda Meir herself, Israel has been defending its very existence since its creation, in war after war after war. Why did you want to direct a film about this particular war, which turned out to be quite a turbulent moment in the life of the Jewish state? Guy Nattiv: Well, I was born into this world, in a way. I'm a child of '73. My mom ran to the shelter with me as a baby, my father went to the war. And I grew up on those stories, of Golda, of the war, and I really wanted to know more, but there wasn't any way of knowing more. And I think that 10 years ago, protocols came out and gave a sense of what really happened, protocols from the Agranat Committee, from the war rooms, from the government. All those declassified documents. And that shed a different light on what really happened there, and on Golda. And doing the research on Golda and talking to people who really knew her, gave me a sense of why we needed to tell the story. It's for my generation and for the generation of my fathers' and mothers'. Manya Brachear Pashman: So who made the decision to cast Helen Mirren as Golda Meir? Guy Nattiv: I wasn't the one who casted Helen. When I came on board, Helen was already attached. I think that Gideon Meir, the grandson [of Golda], he was the one who thought about Helen first, he said, I see my grandmother in her. And when I came she already read the script, and it was only meeting me to close the circle. Manya Brachear Pashman: And what did she bring to the role? Guy Nattiv: Humor, humanity, wisdom, charm. It's all there. But she brings a lot of human depth to the character. Manya Brachear Pashman: Were there conversations off camera during the making of the film about Israel, about its history, about the lessons learned in this moment in its history, with Helen Mirren, or other cast members? Guy Nattiv: Yeah, but the problem is that we don't really learn, right, because look what happened now in Israel. It's the Yom Kippur of democracy. So I don't think we learned enough. Where we are basically in the same situation, as '73, with a leader that is so disattached. At least Golda believed in the judicial system, she believed in High Courts, she was a humanist. She believed in democracy, full democracy. And I think the situation now is so dire. And when I went to protest in Israel, I went to protest with a lot of veterans from the war, who had the t-shirt 'This is the Yom Kippur of democracy.' We're fighting, they're almost fighting again, but this time not because of our enemies, because of ourselves. We're eating ourselves from within. Manya Brachear Pashman: I'm glad you mentioned the veterans of the war because this was such a painful conflict for Israel. Such a tragic blow to the nation's psyche. More than 2,600 Israeli soldiers were killed, 12,000 injured, nearly 300 taken prisoner. What do you believe this film offers those veterans? Guy Nattiv: I think it brings a lot of humanity to Golda, who they saw as just the poster, as just a stamp, as just a statue, right? She was somebody who's not human. And I thought that Helen in the way that the film is structured is bringing Golda in a human way. And they see her struggle. And how she cared about those veterans. How she cared about every single person, every single soldier that died in this war. She wrote every name. She took it to her heart. And I thought that was something that veterans would respect. And also what I did is, when I edited the film, I brought five veterans from the front, a lot of them watched the movie in the first cut, the really first offline cut, and they helped me shape the narratives and bring their own perspective to this movie. So I thought that was very cool. Manya Brachear Pashman: You've made it clear that this is not a biopic about Golda Meir. This is really about this moment in history. Guy Nattiv: No, it's not your classical biopic, if you want to do a biopic about Golda Meir, you'll have to have a miniseries with eight episodes or more. This is an hour and a half, on a very specific magnifying glass on the requiem of a country. The requiem of a leader. The last of Golda. The last days. Manya Brachear Pashman: Let's listen to a clip from the film that really shows why Golda Meir was known as the Iron Lady of Israeli politics. Here's Helen Mirren as Golda Meir, sitting across the table from Henry Kissinger, played by actor Liev Schreiber. Clip from ‘Golda': Golda Meir (portrayed by Helen Mirren): This country's traumatized. My generals are begging me to occupy Cairo. And Sharon is, is like a dog on a leash. Henry Kissinger (portrayed by Liev Schreiber): If you do that you will be on your own. Israel's long term interests will not be served by a fracturing of our relationship, Golda. Sadat has already agreed to the terms of the ceasefire. Golda Meir (portrayed by Helen Mirren): Of course he has. He's on the brink of defeat. It will give him a chance to regroup. You are the only person in the world who could possibly understand what I'm going through. Henry Kissinger (portrayed by Liev Schreiber): Yes, I know how you feel, but we need a ceasefire. Golda Meir (portrayed by Helen Mirren): I thought we were friends, Henry. Henry Kissinger (portrayed by Liev Schreiber): We will always protect Israel. Golda Meir (portrayed by Helen Mirren): Like you did in ‘48? We had to get our weapons from Stalin. Stalin. Our survival is not in your gift. If we have to, we will fight alone. Manya Brachear Pashman: So Guy, what would you include in a mini series, if you produced a mini-series instead? Guy Nattiv: I would go to her childhood in Ukraine, probably, I would show her family in Israel. I would show more of her relationship with Lou Kedar, they were really close, her assistant. There's a lot of things that I would do, but not in the format of a feature. Although if you want to do something like you know, a four and a half hour feature, like, used to be in the 80s or the 70s. They were massive, like Gone With the Wind. This is something else. But this is not this movie. This movie is really a specific time in history. Manya Brachear Pashman: Through her eyes, basically. Guy Nattiv: Through her eyes. Manya Brachear Pashman: Yeah. Guy Nattiv: Under her skin. Manya Brachear Pashman: I'm curious, if in the making of the film, there were any kind of surprising revelations about cast members or their perspectives, their opinions, or revelations about the history itself. Guy Nattiv: One of the guys that was a stand-in, he was an extra in the movie. He was at the table of all the ministers. Ephri, Ephraim, his name is. I played the siren in the room. So everybody will get the siren, and the long siren. And he started crying. And he said, I'm sorry, I cannot really stay here for long. And I asked him, why not? He said, because I'm a veteran of the war. I was 21 when I went to the tunnel, and I fought. And he lives in the UK. And we shot the film in the UK and he came and it was amazing. And he came to Helen and me and he showed us photos of him as a 21 year old from the war. It was very emotional, it was surprising, he's only this extra. Who is a war veteran, who's playing a Minister. Manya Brachear Pashman: Wow. Did he explain why he tried out, or auditioned to be an extra, why he wanted to do this? Guy Nattiv: He's doing a lot of extra work in the UK. You know, he moved to the UK and is an extra in a lot of movies. And when he saw that this movie exists, he said, I must come, I must be one of those ministers. And we needed a desk full of ministers, you know, and he was the right age. So he's just an extra. That's what he does. I don't know if he thought that he would be in the same situation. I don't think that he thought that. Because he didn't read the script. It was a very emotional moment. And a very emotional moment for Helen. Manya Brachear Pashman: So this was filmed in the UK? Guy Nattiv: It was filmed in an Indian School, outside of London. The Indian abandoned school that was basically huge, like, massive. Arad Sawat, who is my production designer, he basically created the entire kiriya [campus/city], and war room and all the bunker and Golda's kitchen, he built it from scratch, exactly like it was in Israel. And it was crazy. It's just like walking into the 70s. Me, as a grown up, you know, and seeing Helen as Golda. And the commanders. It was surreal. Just surreal. Manya Brachear Pashman: And how did you gather those kinds of personal details about her life? In other words, like, did you have pictures, plenty of photo photographs to base that on? Guy Nattiv: My two sources were Adam, her bodyguard, that gave me all the information, and her press secretary, who's 91, who told me everything about her, and books that were available for us, and protocols. It was very specific protocols that showed us how everything went down. Manya Brachear Pashman: Did Helen spend a lot of time with those people as well to really get a sense, and I'm curious how else she prepared, if you know, how else she prepared for this role, to really embody the former prime minister? Guy Nattiv: It was her own private process. I didn't get into it so much. But I think that she read all the books. She worked with a dialect coach to understand how the Milwaukee accent, to talk in the Milwaukee accent. Walk the walk. I think she prepared also with an animal coach. There's a coach, every actor becomes, every role it's a different animal. And you behave like this animal. You take the physiques of this animal. I think she was a turtle. I think that Golda was more of a turtle. The way she spoke. Everything was so slow. So I think that she became, she did, the way she carried herself like a ship into this. So it was a lot of metaphors, a lot of stuff, a lot of tools that help actors get into the role. But when I met her, and that was after like three and a half months we didn't talk, she was Golda. It's almost like she got into the trailer as Helen and she came out as Golda. We didn't see Helen, we saw Golda. Even when we spoke and we ate lunch with her, we saw Golda. And so at the end of the 37 days of shooting, I was like, you know, I don't remember how you look like, Helen. And only in Berlin Film Festival, when she gave us Helen Mirren, is where we really saw her. Manya Brachear Pashman: So you mentioned Berlin, the film has premiered there in Berlin, also has premiered in Israel. I'm curious how audiences have received it in both places. Has it hit different chords in different countries? Guy Nattiv: When non Jews see the movie, I mean, they have lack of emotional baggage. And they see it as something foreign in a way. But for Jews, for Israelis, there's a lot of emotional aspects to it. So it's, yeah, it's different. It's a different view. But a lot of people that are not Jews are still really like, this is such an interesting, we didn't even know about her. You know, a lot of people are learning who she was. And they didn't know. It's like she paved the way to Margaret Thatcher. And to Angela Merkel. So they see now what's the origin of that. Manya Brachear Pashman: That's a really wonderful point, it being filmed in the UK and premiering in Berlin. Guy Nattiv: [Angela] Merkel said that Golda was her inspiration. Manya Brachear Pashman: So how do you expect it to resonate here in the United States? Guy Nattiv: I really feel that it's just starting out right now, we had an Academy screening, and I'm getting amazing text messages from people from that generation. But I also would love for younger generation to know about that and explore Golda. Yeah, I mean, I'm interested to know, to see how it is. But I know that it's very emotional for the Jewish community. I can feel that. Manya Brachear Pashman: Do you think this film will change how people view Golda Meir and Israel's leaders in general? Guy Nattiv: I hope it will spark a nerve in a way that we are in the same situation now. And people will see that history repeats itself, in a way. It's not the same exact situation. But it's the blindness that our leaders are in right now. And I hope it will bring a different narrative to the character of Golda, and who she was, not just the poster, not just the scapegoat. Because she was the scapegoat of this war. It was easy to blame her for all the faults of her commanders and all the other human intelligence commanders and what happened there. But it's just, she's not the only one. She's not the scapegoat. She was actually very valuable for Israel, because she brought the shipments from the state, of the planes and the weapons. She was in charge of it. And I think without that, we would probably find ourselves in a different situation. Manya Brachear Pashman: Golda was the first female head of government in the Middle East. Do you think her gender had something to do with her being blamed or the being labeled the scapegoat, as you said? Guy Nattiv: Absolutely. Absolutely. I truly believe that with more female leaders in this world, the world will be a better place. I feel that men proved us wrong. You know, I want to see Tzipi Livni leading Israel again. I want to see more women in key roles and leading countries. I think the world would be a better place. Manya Brachear Pashman: Guy, thank you so much. Really appreciate you sitting down with us. Guy Nattiv: Thank you.
Polls in Germany suggest the far-right political party Alternative for Germany, or AfD—with its antisemitic, anti-Muslim, anti-EU, and other extreme views—has support from a fifth of German voters. Hear from Felix Klein, the Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Antisemitism, and an AJC Project Interchange Alum, on what has contributed to the rise of AfD, why the party threatens German Jews, and the danger it presents to Germany's democracy. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. Episode Lineup: (0:40) Felix Klein Show Notes: Read: A Roadmap for America: AJC's Experience in Europe Is Helping the U.S. Fight Antisemitism German Antisemitism Czar Says Calling Israel 'Apartheid' Is Antisemitic Listen: What the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism Means for Jewish College Students Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod You can reach us at: email@example.com If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Felix Klein: Manya Brachear Pashman: Polls in Germany suggest the far right political party Alternative for Germany has support from a fifth of German voters. In some states, such as Thuringia, the AfD has the support of more than a third. This past weekend, the party met to select its candidates for the European parliament, where it has joined a far right bloc that will boost EU funding for the party. Here to discuss how that affects Germany's Jewish community is Felix Klein, Germany's first Federal Government Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Antisemitism. Felix, welcome back to People of the Pod. Felix Klein: Hello, it's a great pleasure to be here again with you. Manya Brachear Pashman: So tell us a little bit about Alternative for Germany or AfD, as it's often referred to, and explain for our audience why it was founded 10 years ago? Felix Klein: Well, AfD was founded in light of the big financial crisis. It was at the time, about 10 years ago, it was questionable at all whether the euro, as one of the most prestigious and most important European projects, could continue as a currency, as a common European currency, because countries like Greece were heavily indebted. And there was a big discussion whether to, to kick Greece out of the Euro system, or, and it was differently decided. O r to keep it in the EU, of course, and in the Euro system. And the then-Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is no alternative to that. No alternative for the solution suggested by the government. And there were many people in Germany that were not happy with that, saying, Oh, yes, there is an Alternative for Germany. And that was also the title of this new party, the Alternative for Germany. So it started really, with people who were not happy with the policy towards the European Union and the European solidarity. It didn't start so radical as it is now. Manya Brachear Pashman: So how did it become as radical as it is now? And why are we seeing a bit of a resurgence? Felix Klein: Well, in times of crisis and uncertainty people are unfortunately, I think that happens when many democracies are more open to populist ideas and parties. And that happens, many countries, including Germany, and AfD, was successful in getting support of those who were not happy with the decisions of the government in Corona, pandemic, from 2020. And now, last year, with the War of Russia, attacking Ukraine, again, we had a strike of uncertainty, energy prices went up in Germany, people are uncertain of what to do, many are not satisfied with the way the government deals with all these issues. And this is another explanation why AFD was able and successful to catch support, particularly in Eastern Germany. Manya Brachear Pashman: But it sounds like it also has values that go beyond fiscal responsibility or the economy. Felix Klein: Yes, it's beyond the economy. So as I told you, AFD started off with economic issues, but unfortunately, it was attracted by people who have very, very problematic views. And to people who would deny or distort the Holocaust. People will say it was for a long time anyway, Germany was dominated by foreign powers by the EU, and you hear what they're saying this is antisemitic thoughts and narratives. And those people became more influential by the party over time. And what we've seen now, where this party really now chose candidates for the European elections who actually are in against the European Union. Many of them want Germany to leave the EU. There you see how radical it has come, they're also anti-Muslim. This is maybe the most important narrative, anti-migration, anti-Muslim, anti-EU. And of course, with all of that comes also antisemitic narratives. So this is why I'm very, very concerned about the success of this party. And I've expressed it openly in an interview that was published in Welt am Sonntag last Sunday. Manya Brachear Pashman: You just mentioned that this party appeals to those who deny or distort the Holocaust. How so? Felix Klein: Holocaust distortion is a very common idea in this party. Up to 20% of the Germans think that we should not talk so much anymore about the atrocities committed by the Nazis, that we have to look forward, etc. So, it is not a big surprise that, of course, anything that downgrades, if I may say so, the horrors committed by Germans in the Holocaust, and in the Second World War, in general, is very common. Very prominent figures of the AfD call really for a cut, which is illogical anyway, you cannot cut yourself off of your own history as a country. But many of these voices call for a different remembrance culture, that it is a shame for Germany that it constructed the Holocaust Memorial in the heart of Berlin. Germany should not be so shameful with itself. And unfortunately, many people agree to this kind of ideas. So holocaust distortion is a big thing. Holocaust denial, it's not so much of a problem. But of course, anything that kind of makes the Holocaust less, less cruel or less incredible, as it was, is welcomed by this party. Manya Brachear Pashman: I want to go back to the topic of the European Union, because one of the reasons why Alternative for Germany joined this far-right bloc was to boost EU funding for the party, but yet it's calling for the dissolution of the EU, or at least for Germany to withdraw. Can you explain that calculus? Felix Klein: Well, it's, of course very contradictory. On one hand, you call for European funds. And anyway Germany is, I think, the one of the countries that really is taking advantage of the most of the European Union, our industry is heavily export-oriented. One out of four workers in Germany depend on international trade, and of course, it would be very much against German interest to leave the EU. On the other hand, it is a very common narrative in Germany to blame the EU for many developments and decisions taken by the government and they do not have a problem calling these two things at the same time. Manya Brachear Pashman: So besides Holocaust distortion, is there other antisemitic rhetoric coming from this party that you see, or fear threatens Jewish life in Germany? Felix Klein: Yeah, one of them, clearly I see conspiracy theories being very popular within the AfD voters and a very concrete danger for Jewish life is a motion the AfD has tried to introduce into our parliament that would have banned kosher slaughtering. And fortunately, it didn't go through of course, but if you ban kosher meat, with the argument for animal protection, then of course, you violate the basic right of religion. Because the way you would like to eat is a part of the freedom of religion and fortunately, the motion didn't go through but you'll see that the AfD is really in that very concretely threatening Jewish life in Germany. Another thing is, of course, they are on first hand very anti Muslim, anti migration. But it is a common fact that anti Muslim hatred is very much linked to antisemitism actually and the way they also talk about Israel as being a big and important factor against the Muslims shows the whole narrative of, to say that Israel is there also to keep Muslims out, is very dangerous. Because I think we all agree that Israel is not against the Muslims, or it's not an anti-Arabic country, as such, but this is what the AfD would like people to believe. Manya Brachear Pashman: In other words, championing Israel, for motives that don't belong to Israel, in other words, assigning motives to Israel that don't even exist. Felix Klein: It triggers a discussion about Israel, which is absolutely bad, not only for Israel, but also for the Jews living here, because they then have to have an opinion about Israel. And it is complicated enough anyway for the Jews who live in Germany, to explain to non Jews that they are not ambassadors or representatives of the Jewish state here, that they are normal German citizens, and of course, they might have an opinion about Israel. But they are by no means representatives of Israel. I think you have the same discussions in the US, where many people think that American Jews represent the Jewish state. Manya Brachear Pashman: So you have also warned that there are not just antisemitic forces, but anti-democratic forces at work in this party. What do you mean by that? I mean, is that in reference to how they denigrate the EU? Or are other other things in play? Felix Klein: I refer to the conspiracy theories I already mentioned, which are as such anti democratic, because anybody who believes in a conspiracy theory thing has a problem with democracy. And I would say 99% of the conspiracy theories have an antisemitic content in the end. Because the theory is that a small group of privileged people, in brackets, the Jews, take advantage and profit from a uncertain and difficult situation at the expense of, of everybody, a small group gets an advantage. And this is what leading figures in the AfD also emanate. And of course, this is not only antisemitic, but also anti-democratic. Manya Brachear Pashman: They really are one in the same. If you're anti democratic, then you're probably anti semitic and vice versa. Felix Klein: Once again, I cannot reiterate enough, that shows that antisemitism is anti-democratic as such, and if you turn it around, every success we have in the fight against antisemitism is a fight for our democracy. It is really directly linked. I think it's like a litmus test we have in our society. Manya Brachear Pashman: So what other questions should people ask to measure a candidate or a party's democratic ideals? Certainly listening out for conspiracy theories or antisemitic rhetoric? Are there other litmus tests? Felix Klein: Yeah, of course, well first off, particularly in Germany, every politician should make it clear that he or she distances himself or herself from the horrors of the Nazi past. I mean, our democracy is the answer to the horrors of the Third Reich. And if you don't make that clear, or if you leave it uncertain, then you have a problem. And this is what voters should actively ask candidates: do you really think that the Holocaust is singular in history? Or is it an atrocity, like any other atrocity that was also committed by other people in history? This has to be made very, very clear. And I hope that in the coming elections, people will ask these questions. Manya Brachear Pashman: I love what you said about how every victory against antisemitism is a victory for democracy. They really do go hand in hand. And I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about the EU's Digital Services Act, which takes effect this month in fact. Now for our audience members who aren't familiar with this, this is a new law that will require internet platforms like Facebook and X, formerly Twitter, to not only delete unlawful content, but also provide information about those publishing that information, to the police. Some people would say this is not democratic. Others would say, Oh, yes, it is. So can you speak to that, to that criticism and whether you think this law will make a difference in the fight for democracy and against antisemitism. Felix Klein: The main number of antisemitic crimes committed in Germany happens in the internet. Holocaust distortion, particularly, but also incitement of the people. More than two thirds of all antisemitic crimes are committed there. And if you look at the antisemitic incidents below the threshold of crime rate, it's even more. So we have to get and develop new instruments in combating antisemitism online. And the idea is very simple. Whatever is punishable offline should be also punished online. So any sentence you could be punished for, like an incitement of the people in the real world should also be punishable when you do it on the internet. It's very, very simple. And that is, this is a very simple idea of the EU Digital Services Act. And in the past, of course, it was very difficult for police and prosecutors to trace the perpetrators and the main people now we want to involve, or big organizations, is the internet platforms because they have access to the IP addresses of those who spread antisemitism and hate speech. And we have to make them responsible. So I think this is a very, very good instrument in fighting antisemitism online, I would even say it is a game changer. We have had pilot projects in Germany, where prosecutors who actually then found out with their means the perpetrators who spread antisemitism and will then get counter pressure from the state. So for instance, when the police car is in front of their homes, and the neighbors are watching, these people do not spread antisemitism anymore, they are impressed that the states can defend itself or defend its citizens and go against hate speech. I think this will be very effective. And we I'm very happy that the federal police office here in Germany has now founded offices to and departments to be ready for the new law. And as you said, yeah, it is getting affected soon. And this is, I think, a very good example, that democracy is not self-evident. It has to defend itself. And freedom of speech has its limits, at least in our European concept. You cannot say anything you would like if you violate the rights of others. And this is a clear case. Manya Brachear Pashman: The White House just recently released the US national strategy to counter antisemitism. And you and other envoys traveled here to the United States to advise the officials who were developing that strategy. In fact, the last time you were on this podcast, it was to talk about that trip. Did you talk about the limits on free speech during that trip with officials, the need to hold social media platforms accountable? Because what the EU is doing is not happening here. Not yet, at least. Felix Klein: We talked about this, of course, but I'm aware of the legal situation in the US where you have a different concept of the freedom of speech, that the First Amendment of the US Constitution is, there problematic in that case to limit that. I hope that US administration finds ways nevertheless to go against, or to be effective against hate speech and antisemitism online and I think the right way is to talk to the internet platforms, to provide us– many of them have their headquarters in the US and earn much money in the US. So, there should be ways in getting them to limit or to do their responsible share of maintaining the US democracy too. Manya Brachear Pashman: Felix, thank you so much for joining us. Felix Klein: It was a pleasure. All the best, and it's always great to be together with AJC.
In May, the White House released its U.S. National Strategy for Countering Antisemitism. As students return to campus, hear from two student leaders who are working to share and implement the strategy's recommendations at their colleges and beyond: Sabrina Soffer, a rising junior at George Washington University and the head of the school's Presidential Task Force to Combat Antisemitism, and Abe Baker-Butler, a rising junior at Yale University and the president of the AJC Campus Global Board. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. Episode Lineup: (0:40) Abe Baker-Butler and Sabrina Soffer Show Notes: Learn: AJC Campus Library: Resources for Becoming a Strong Jewish Student Advocate Listen: IsraAID CEO on Sharing Israel's Expertise With the World's Most Vulnerable Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod You can reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Abe Baker-Butler and Sabrina Soffer: Manya Brachear Pashman: At the end of May, weeks after most college students headed home, abroad, or to summer internships, the White House released its US National Strategy for Countering Antisemitism. But given the timing, it's unclear how many students know it exists. With me are two student leaders who not only know, they've shared it with other students with the intention of helping to implement its recommendations for college campuses, when in a few weeks they go back to school. Sabrina Soffer, a rising junior at George Washington University is the Commissioner of the Presidential Task Force to Combat Antisemitism at GW, and Abe Baker-Butler, a rising junior at Yale University is the president of the AJC Campus Global Board. Abe, Sabrina, welcome to People of the Pod. Abe Baker-Butler: Thank you for having us, Manya. Manya Brachear Pashman: So I will ask you both, when did you hear about the US national strategy? Abe Baker-Butler: So I heard about the national strategy when it was in the headlines initially. But with school ending and finals, I didn't have the time to actually sit down and read it in full until we got to AJC Global Forum. And what really stuck with me was how there are real action items in there for students, and not only Jewish students, but all students to take action to combat antisemitism. And I was very excited that as the campus global board, we had the opportunity to spend some real quality time brainstorming how we could play a meaningful role in implementing this National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism. Sabrina Soffer: So yeah, that's really interesting, I took very similar tidbits away from the strategy. But the first time that I heard about it was actually the same day that I was giving a talk to a group of women in San Diego, which is my hometown, in California. And it gave a lot of hope to the women who were listening to what I was saying, especially because the talk was about my experience on campus, which I think I'll get into a little bit later. But similar to Abe, the time I read it on the plane, actually on the way to Israel. So I had quite a bit of time to do that. And the thing that really stuck with me was exactly what Abe said, how all students, not just Jewish students, can take action and also the interfaith component. I think that having other students stand up for the Jewish community is essential and spreading awareness that way can really help in the fight to combat antisemitism. Manya Brachear Pashman: So yes, Sabrina, I do want to talk to you a little bit more about the Taskforce. But first, Abe, can you tell us about the AJC Campus Global Board? It was formed last year, but who makes up its membership? And why? Why are they on this board? Abe Baker-Butler: We're a group of 30 students, I believe, there are 20 of us from the United States, 10 of us from the rest of the world. And when I say the rest of the world, truly the whole rest of the world, Australia, to South Africa, to Europe, you name it. And our mission that we're working to pursue, is to support AJC's work on campus, and also to really ensure that AJC's work is informed from a student leader and young person's perspective. I think it's a real testament to AJC that they are taking this tangible step to prioritize us as young people and to say, you know, we want to hear you, and we want your perspectives to inform our advocacy. Manya Brachear Pashman: So what schools do students hail from? Are they all East Coast schools? Or is there geographic diversity? Abe Baker-Butler: Certainly not all East Coast schools, we have people from all over ranging from the University of Florida University of Southern California, University of Tennessee, Northwestern, and that's just in the United States. Our goal is really to ensure that we are incorporating a broad array of perspectives from across our country, from across also all parts of the Jewish community. We care deeply on the Campus Global Board about ensuring that we're embracing a pluralistic Judaism, that we have people from all denominations, all backgrounds, and we believe that by doing that we can best inform AJC's work. Manya Brachear Pashman: And what have you done so far? Abe Baker-Butler: So in the past year, we've really been building our structure and integrating ourselves into the AJC institution. A few highlights that I can think of from the past year that have been particularly meaningful to me, are well I guess this is one of the biggest ones in my mind during the development and prior to the announcement of the National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism, Holly Huffnagle, AJC's US director for combating antisemitism, her and other AJC content experts and staff took the time to meet with a contingent of our Campus Global Board members to hear their thoughts in a listening session of sorts. And then what Holly and those staff members did is they took those thoughts and used them as they were giving feedback to the White House, as it developed the National Strategy. To me that's extremely meaningful. Some other events we did is we had an event with Ted at University of Pennsylvania, which received really diverse audience in terms of Jewish denominations and observance, which I was very happy about. We also held an event with Richie Torres, at Harvard, which was also much needed, given the situation on campus there. And beyond those sorts of headline events, we've also been doing more-- we've started a mentorship program between our campus full board and ACCESS. And there's a lot more in the pipeline, too, that I can also talk about. Manya Brachear Pashman: Can you talk a little bit more about what was going on at Harvard? Is the campus global board, is the primary responsibility to respond to situations? Abe Baker-Butler: Yes, so the reason I made that remark is because I think there's often a perception that you can't be both progressive and Zionist, and I think Ritchie Torres, who was our speaker there, really cuts that misconception straight through. But in terms of us responding to what's going on on campus, another really interesting part of our work that I'm proud of is our antisemitic incident response. Whenever there is an antisemitic incident on a campus, we the leadership of the campus global board, try and reach out to the Jewish leaders on that campus, whether it be the presidents of Hillel, or the head of the Chabad board. And we come saying, Hey, we're not here looking to get any kind of headlines, or press coverage, or to meet with your university administrators. You tell us what you need. And we're here as a group of 30 committed individuals to provide it to you. Manya Brachear Pashman: Sabrina, tell us about GW's task force to combat anti semitism and who makes up that group? Sabrina Soffer: Yeah, so GW's task force came about after the Lara Sheehi incident that happened in December. So basically, there was a professor who was teaching a mandatory diversity class at the grad school level. Everybody had to introduce where they were coming from. And there was a group of students from Tel Aviv. And the professor responded, it's not your fault you were born in Israel. And to make a long story short, that class became increasingly about imperialism and settler colonialism and more anti-Israel over time, and the students became more and more uncomfortable, and even after they reported it to the dean, there was no accountability. And then there was a title six complaint. And after that, there was an investigation conducted by the University, I guess, the university hired a law firm. And they found that there was not only no antisemitism, but no discrimination, because it fell within the lines of free speech, what was going on in the classroom, which I don't necessarily agree with, I think that it created a really hostile environment. Because the students did report that they couldn't sleep well, they couldn't eat because they had to turn in assignments to that professor who they couldn't trust because obviously, she disrespected them because of their identity. So something I'm trying to do with the taskforce is trying to create trust between all members of the GW community, whether they agree or disagree, and no matter their identity groups, but I'll put that aside for now. So after that incident happened, there was a student in the student government, I think he's the former legislator General. And he was friends with the president of Chabad. And I'm the vice president. So they were speaking about it. And I guess the president, who's a good friend of mine, said, Oh, I have a friend who's very much involved in the Jewish world. And she would definitely like to take on an initiative like this one, and create a taskforce to deal with these issues on campus, because we've had quite a few of them that are either similar or radically different than the Lara Sheehi incident. So you know, I took the task upon myself I, they gave me some parameters of what to do, like it had to be 10 students, which I've now expanded to 15, because I couldn't reject people who seriously sounded amazing in their interviews, and then it had to be tied to the student government in some sort. So from there, I had to pass it through three different committees on the task force, and I really wanted it to be an all encompassing group. For example, I didn't want it all Jews, like the White House National Strategy says. And I think at the back of my mind, my mom raised me with this principle of like, you can't solve a problem without making people who are a part of the problem, a part of the solution. So I said, You know what, let's go for it, Yallah, and it'll be better this way. And we'll figure out these issues together. So then it came about, it was voted on unanimously. And then we've kind of started doing some work during the summer, we started collecting data. I've gotten the whole team organized, and I'm really, really pleased. Manya Brachear Pashman: You know, I'm sure there are Jewish students who are listening, who are heading to campus as freshmen this year, perhaps their parents or their grandparents are listening. And Sabrina, I'm curious, what should they expect? And how can they prepare to be a Jewish student on an American college campus? Sabrina Soffer: So I think that every campus is different. And I want to preface this by saying that no, the campuses themselves, besides a few, like, you can't label the campus as an antisemitic University, I think that's really important to note. For me, from what I've seen in conversations with administrators, with faculty and other students, is that there's a problem of systemic ignorance that breeds antisemitism, not so much a problem of systemic antisemitism. Because really, people don't have that, the majority of people don't have that much hate in their heart, you know, to like, go out and say tropes and demonize, you know, another, another person's identity for no reason. I think it really comes from people trying to advocate for something else, but they don't know how it makes other people feel, or they just don't care. And I think we have to do a better job of explaining how we feel. So that was just a little bit of a preface, but the backstory is that I came into college not having any idea what this would be like. I tried to look for a campus with a great Jewish community, which GW absolutely has. Not all campuses have it. But I'm lucky, I actually don't believe that we do have a Chabad, Hillel, Meor, GW for Israel. So groups that I really identify with, and I thought that I would have no problem. However, in some of the classes that I was taking, I would openly share my ties to Israel, where my family was from, where I got my principles and my ethics. And over time, I came to realize that my ideas were being tarnished, they were being called racist and xenophobic. This was just a quick story. We were trying to talk about Holocaust education and slavery education, and one girl told me, Oh, the Holocaust is a lot more sensitized than slavery in school, because Jews are white. And that's like, I took that very, you know, did not sit well with me. But it was a problem of ignorance. I had a conversation with the girl afterward. And you know, we reconcile the differences, but like, I think that happens a lot on campus where there's so much ignorance, that it just comes out in ways that they shouldn't. So, from then on, I really took it upon myself to become an educator, no matter what people would think of me. I would always try to spread my truth and do it in a loving way. So I would just encourage all Jewish students before they get to campus to find their community because this whole time that I was experiencing this difficulty, I was really leaning on my Chabad friends, my Hillel friends, and of course, my family back home. Always talk to your parents. I think that's a really important point. And find the people who are going to support you no matter what. So that's just my my big piece of advice as well as get yourself educated. Know your history. Know your facts, know your identity, and never stop being who you are. Manya Brachear Pashman: Abe, what about you? What advice do you have for incoming freshmen? Abe Baker-Butler: Yeah, well, I think Sabrina really hit the nail on the head here by talking about ignorance. The stories I've heard from my friends and what I've experienced on campus, I've seen that a lot of the antisemitism we see is really driven by ignorance. I've heard multiple times on my campus. ideas such as the Jews are white and privileged. Why do the Jews have so many resources in the form of their lovely Hillel building? Look how rich the Jews are-they have security guards. These kinds of ideas, these kinds of comments. I think they're not coming from. Yeah, I don't think there's such a thing as informed hatred, right. I think that's an oxymoron. But they're coming out of ignorance. And I think because these sorts of antisemitic sentiments are coming out of ignorance. It makes the work that people like Sabrina and I, like Sabrina's taskforce and our campus global board, I think it makes the work that we're doing, ever more important, extremely important. Abe Baker-Butler: In terms of my advice for Jewish students coming to campus, I would say, you should keep in mind that while you can have an extremely meaningful impact by teaching those who may be ignorant about antisemitism, you also should remember that it is not only your responsibility to fight antisemitism, it is the entire community's responsibility to fight antisemitism. That includes it, should and must include allies. And then the other advice I would give is exactly what Sabrina said, you should know that as a Jewish student, there is a community behind you both on your campus, whether it's Hillel or Chabad, or anything else. And also, nationally, there are students like Sabrina and I, who are here to support you. There are organizations like Jewish on Campus, for example, of students that have ambassador's programs on campus. So you should never feel alone as a Jewish student on campus. Because there's so many people out there who care about you and support you. And you have the facts behind you. Sabrina Soffer: I also just something that's really important for students to know is like know your rights on campus, both in the campus realm and the legal realm. Because what happened with the Lara Sheehi incident, those students, they knew how to report the incident. But there was no accountability. So it's like, where do I go from there? I've had students, I've had friends who've given up after they've had incidents, and they didn't know to go to groups, like AJC or Hillel International, maybe to help them out. So I think that knowing your rights before you get to campus is imperative. Manya Brachear Pashman: You know, I was going to add, thank you so much, Sabrina, for that. I was also going to add to what Abe said, you know, I went to a very small school. For undergraduate. I was one of two Jews on campus that I know of. There might have been more. So there was no Hillel. It was a very small, tiny Jewish community. But like you said, there are organizations like AJC, there are national organizations. Now there's a national action plan that applies to every school. Not just these larger schools that have Hillels or Chabads on campus. So we talked about engaging different points of view, and different perspectives. These are all young people, your age, still learning. I also think it's very important to build and find allies on campus. I think that right there is a potential for education. And Abe, I am curious what kind of thought the campus global board has given to engaging different points of view and finding allies? Abe Baker-Butler: So we care deeply about finding allies. One thing I do want to highlight is the AJC curriculum that we've been developing with Dr. Sara Coodin that we look to use on campuses. And in terms of finding allies. That is key if it's central to our work on the campus global board. Some ideas that we have that we're working on include collaboration, brotherhood and sisterhood events, with Black and Jewish fraternities and sororities, reading groups between black and Jewish groups on campus to understand each other's shared perspectives. Joint interfaith seders and events between Muslim and Jewish groups on campuses. We really have a responsibility to create shared communities of goodwill, who can be our allies on campus, because in addition to having the national strategy and having national organizations like AJC on campuses, like the one you attended Manya, having allies like that is perhaps the most important because they can be that community that supports you. And the other thing that I wanted to add to what we were discussing before, in terms of advice for Jewish students that I neglected to say was, you should always be proud of your Jewish identity. Always, always, always. You're the heir to an extremely rich intellectual and cultural tradition. And anyone who tries to make you feel ashamed of that or to slander that is wrong, and you should not heed what they say. Manya Brachear Pashman: I am curious if you could share how you have celebrated, enjoyed being Jewish on campus? Sabrina Soffer: This past April it was Yom Ha'atzmaut and we had Israel fest. It's a GW for Israel organized, we put Israeli flags in Cogan Plaza, the main plaza, we had loud music, falafel, shawarma, everything, and we were just dancing. And it was just the most amazing experiences not only feel like, for me, a lot of my Jewish identity comes from, like Zionism and my Israeli background. So just being able to celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut with a bunch of my Jewish friends who also support Israel. And it was just amazing. And also like a lot of the music that I grew up with, and that I'm familiar with, that was very fun to like, have in public on campus, and also having non Jews join us in that celebration. And this was all while SJP and JVP, were sitting right in front of us for literally two hours with posters with very hostile messages about Israel. And we didn't pay any attention, we kept dancing, and they just it's like, you know, we will do our thing, we'll be proud, we block out the noise, block out the hate. So that felt pretty great. And then another experience I had was on Pesach, my parents come and visit me a lot. I brought them to Chabad for Pesach, and it was just like they fit in so nicely with all my friends, all the students and the whole GW community. Chabad was really the organization that ushered me in at the beginning, they really made me feel like home away from home, and having my parents who like literally made my home amazing, very Jewish. Like they brought me up in a Jewish home, having them in my new kind of home in college just was very rewarding. So those are two experiences. Manya Brachear Pashman: Both sound beautiful, both sound really, really lovely. And I just want to clarify for listeners, JVP stands for Jewish Voice for Peace, and SJP is Students for Justice in Palestine, which are two groups on college campuses that have engaged in a lot of anti-Israel rhetoric. Abe, I want to turn back to you for one last question. And that is, I asked you what the Campus Global Board has done and it's one year of existence, but what will it do in the year ahead? What do you envision accomplishing? Abe Baker-Butler: Probably the most central part of our plans for this year, I want to highlight is implementing the White House national strategy on combating anti semitism on campus. One idea that we're working on, not finalized yet, but that I'm hoping will become a reality is an incubator of sorts, where we'll put out a call for proposals from not only Jewish but non Jewish groups about how to fight antisemitism on campus, in line with the plan. And then our goal is that the campus goal board will sift through the proposals that we receive and figure out how we can best support, financially and otherwise, these organizations on campus in conducting activities that will help implement the plan and stem antisemitism. Some other ideas we have are, we want to bring diplomats from Abraham Accords countries to campuses to help stem the ignorance that I was talking about. And then also, we want to ensure to, the point I was making earlier about integrating young people, and really walking to talk with young people as part of AJC's advocacy. We want to ensure that young people, members of the campus cohort and others aren't as many AJC advocacy meetings and settings as possible, because we believe, and AJC believes as well, that when our voices are there, it provides for an even more persuasive advocacy, and an even more full representation of the interests of the Jewish community. Manya Brachear Pashman: Can you give examples of where that advocacy takes place? Where would these young people go? Abe Baker-Butler: Certainly. So we're planning to do it at all levels. One example would be Diplomatic Marathon alongside the UN General Assembly, meetings with diplomats there but also at the local level with legislators and others, at the regional office level. There are a lot of opportunities for young people to get involved in AJC's work. And we want to ensure that young voices are represented in all of these meetings, whether it be domestic legislators or diplomats or anyone else. Manya Brachear Pashman: Sabrina, Abe, thank you so much for joining us and discussing what your plans are for this year. I wish you both a lot of luck and I hope you most of all enjoy your junior years in college. Sabrina Soffer: Thank you so much for having us. Abe Baker-Butler: Thank you, Manya. Shabbat shalom. Sabrina Soffer: Shabbat shalom.
Tune in for a conversation with Yotam Politzer, CEO of IsraAID, a leading Israeli humanitarian aid organization and longtime partner of AJC, about the group's mission and the impact of sharing Israel's expertise and technology to help millions worldwide after crises hit. Yotam also shares his personal journey and how he found his passion for humanitarian work. Additionally, hear what our podcast community at AJC Global Forum 2023 in Tel Aviv had to say when we asked: why do you love Israel? *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. Episode Lineup: (0:40) Podcast Listeners (2:47) Yotam Politzer Show Notes: Learn: Crossing the Red Sea: Israel and Africa in 2023 Listen: Israel's Reasonableness Law: What it Means for Israel's Democracy and Security Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod You can reach us at: email@example.com If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Episode Transcript: Transcript of Podcast Listener Segment: Manya Brachear Pashman: This week, we bring you voices from Tel Aviv. I spoke with Yotam Politzer, the CEO of IsraAID, about the importance of sharing Israel's expertise and technology with the world's most vulnerable. But first, hear from some podcast listeners who stopped by our podcast booth at AJC Global Forum 2023 to tell us why they love Israel. Listeners, the mic is yours. Corey Sarcu: My name's Corey Sarcu, I'm from Chicago. Hannah Geller: My name is Hannah Geller, and I'm from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Irvin Ungar: My name is Irvin Ungar. I'm from Burlingame, California, which is near San Francisco. Corey Sarcu: As for why I love Israel, there are so many reasons. I think, culturally, Israel is kind of a crazy place. Everyone is very welcoming. They're almost aggressively welcoming in a way, like one of the first things, they meet you for five minutes, and they're already calling you achi, which means my brother, it goes along with the whole theme that really the Jewish people, we're all one big family, and Israel is just the natural manifestation of that in the state. Hannah Geller: I love how in Israel, I can walk on the street, I can be on the bus with someone, and a stranger will invite me to Shabbat dinner. I love how the woman at the pool will just hand her baby over to me if she has something else to be tending to–and I've never seen her in my life. Irvin Ungar: The reason I love Israel is probably-I've been here several dozen times. And the first time I arrived, I do remember feeling like I was coming home, and I'm still coming home. The question is why I left if I'm still coming home, and I've been here that many times, but nonetheless, that's the way I feel. I'm with my people. I'm with my people when I'm not in Israel. These are like my brothers. So I'm here. That's why I'm here. ___ Transcript of Interview with Yotam Politzer: Manya Brachear Pashman: Yotam Politzer joined IsraAID, Israel's preeminent humanitarian aid organization, in 2011. In fact, he was the NGO's second employee. Since then, he has flown on dozens of aid missions personally helping more than a quarter million people after some of the world's worst disasters. In 2017, he took over IsraAID as its chief executive officer and has since expanded the reach of Israeli disaster aid around the world. Earlier this year, he received the Charles Bronfman Prize, a $100,000 award given to a Jewish humanitarian under 50. Yotam is with us now, in Tel Aviv. Yotam, welcome to People of the Pod. Yotam Politzer: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Manya Brachear Pashman: So first, thank you for all that you are doing to quite literally repair the world. Tell us about your upbringing and what led you up that particular Jewish professional path. Yotam Politzer: So, I wasn't thinking that I would end up chasing disasters around the world in places like the tsunami in Japan, or the Ebola outbreak, or most recently, Afghanistan, where we had a very dramatic operation. I grew up in a small village, in a small Moshav in the north part of Israel. My father is a social worker, my mom was a school counselor, and had a beautiful childhood. And before my military service in the IDF, I did something-it's kind of a gap, we call it in Hebrew Shnat Sherut, which translates to service year. And it's kind of a volunteering year before the military service. And I did that with youth at risk, many of them are from Ethiopia, Ethiopian Jews. It was an incredible year, probably one of the most meaningful years of my life and I kind of developed my passion not just for service, but also for working with people from other cultures, essentially, using humanitarian work not only to save lives, but also to build bridges. And I learned so much from the Ethiopians that I worked with at that time. And then after my army service, like every Israeli, I followed what we call the hummus trail. Which is this crazy phenomenon with about 50,000 Israelis every year are traveling, backpacking after the army to kind of clear their heads from the tension of the service. Most people go to India or South America, I went to India. And it's called the hummus trail because the locals are starting to make hummus for the Israelis that are traveling. So I was following the hummus trail- hummus was not highly recommended. In India it has a bit of a curry taste to it. But ended up arriving to Nepal. And I was planning to trek in the Himalayas. And I did that for a couple of weeks. And then I saw an ad that invited backpackers to volunteer with street children in Nepal, of all places. I thought well, it sounds cool. Oh, you know, I'll do it for a couple of weeks, I'll continue to Thailand or wherever I was going. I ended up staying there for three and a half years, really fell in love with that kind of work. I came back to Israel and want to start my life and two weeks after I came back to Israel, that was 2011 the tsunami in Japan happened. Mega disaster, more than 20,000 people lost their lives, half a million people lost their homes. And IsraAID, which was at that time, a tiny organization with basically one employee and a few volunteers, offered me to lead a relief mission to Japan. And again, I was supposed to go for two weeks and I ended up staying there for three years. So that's how it kind of all started for me. And interestingly for IsraAID, it used to be a disaster response organization, and it's still part of our DNA, but in Japan we realized that for us our impact could be not just immediate relief and pulling people out of the rubble and giving them medical support, etc. Also we need to look at long term impact. In Japan, a rich country, the third-largest economy, they didn't really need our support with immediate relief. But what we supported them with was trauma care for children. Which, again, is an area that unfortunately, in Israel, not because everything is so perfect here, but because of our, you know, ongoing challenges from the trauma of the Holocaust to the ongoing conflict, we really developed this expertise to help children cope with trauma. So that's all how sort of how I started. And then from Japan, I went to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which was terrifying. I remember every night I used to wake up full of sweat. It's one of the symptoms of Ebola, but thank god, I'm okay. And then I led a mission in Nepal, after the earthquake they had in there, we actually had a very dramatic search and rescue operation. And we found the last survivor of the earthquake, was a woman who was trapped under the rubble for six days without food or water. And then I led a relief mission to Greece with a Syrian refugee, actually also in partnership with AJC's, some of AJC's team members actually joined me. And it was amazing, because these people were considered our enemies, and then all of a sudden, they receive support from us. We can touch base on that later. But so basically, I was chasing disasters until 2017, when I was offered to co-lead the organization, first as a co-CEO, and then from 2019, as the global CEO. So now, you know, we started as employee number two. Now we have about 350 of us in 16 countries. And it's just an amazing privilege. And I'm still learning every day. That's what keeps me going. Manya Brachear Pashman: In 16 countries, how are those countries identified and selected as locations for IsraAID? Yotam Politzer: So, so for Israel, and it may sound bad, but for us, disasters are opportunities. And it doesn't mean that we sit down and wait for disaster to happen, they will happen, whether we like it or not. And it could be, you know, climate related disasters like a hurricane or tsunami, or earthquake, or manmade disaster, like what's happening in Ukraine, or in Afghanistan, when the Taliban took over, or it could be even a pandemic, like, well, we all just experienced a global crisis. So whenever there's a crisis somewhere in the world, and it could be in a neighboring country like Turkey, where we just had an earthquake or in you know, the most remote places on earth like Vanuatu, near Fiji, we have an emergency response team that will deploy, many times in partnership with AJC. But we will send an emergency response team to essentially to do two things, one, to provide immediate relief, but to look for partners. And the partnership part is crucial, because we can't really do anything by ourselves. Manya Brachear Pashman: What about inside Israel? Yotam Politzer: So when you asked me how do we decide where to go, we decide where to go, where we have resources and partners who are interested in the type of expertise that we can provide. And this expertise is what we're bringing from Israel, whether it's water technology, trauma care that I mentioned, and other areas of response. We also know that so right now mentioned 16 countries, we have teams on the ground in Ukraine, actually responding to, you know, the bombing of the dam, just two days ago, our team was actually on the ground a few kilometers away from there. So thank God, they're safe. And but the good news is that we were able to respond immediately and we already have team on the ground. We have teams in Colombia supporting Venezuelan refugees. We have many teams in Africa, supporting the drought and some of the conflicts in South Sudan and elsewhere. The teams are not just Israelis. The Emergency Response Team deploys from here but very quickly, we identify local team members. So out of our 350 employees, many of them are actually local members of the communities that we train and support and they take the lead which is much more sustainable, because our end goal is not to be needed. Our end goal is to live the know-how and the capacity in the country, in the community, so they can support themselves. Manya Brachear Pashman: What about inside Israel? Do you do anything– Yotam Politzer: No, I mean, our mandate, IsraAID- it was established 22 years ago, actually by a group of activists and the vision was to bring Israeli expertise to the world's most vulnerable communities around the world, essentially saying, you know, Israel, again, not because everything is so perfect here, because of our challenges, we developed technologies, and techniques and methodologies that could and should be shared with disaster areas around the world. So many of the original members were actually doctors and nurses, and people who were active here on a day to day basis, but wanted to share these know-how, and expertise with the world. Manya Brachear Pashman: Why? Why not just keep it for yourselves? Yotam Politzer: First of all, for several reasons, one, because we are global citizens. And we are influenced and influencing the world. And we should be a force for good. And it's really just the right thing to do. To that one, too, because we actually have an added value. We have unique expertise and unique experience that people don't have, everyone calls Israel, the startup nation, right. So we see ourselves as the humanitarian wing of the startup nation. And we also a little bit, South Korea says we think we should do more as Israelis and as a trade. So we're doing the best we can, we are reaching millions, but we should reach billions. So and the third reason, and that's also one of the reasons the organization is called East trade is that it's also an opportunity to build bridges. And I think that's where the agency partnership is crucial, because AJC is all about building bridges, right? Between the Jews and the world, if you will. And that's where I think there's such a beautiful alignment of values and of the mission and vision of how, again, terrible crisis and tragedies could be, could become a game changer in building bridges. And these bridges are, you know, could be built with Syrian refugees who are considered our enemies. I remember, I was called a Syrian guy, you know, after we pulled out his daughter, in Greece, and we treated her, she almost drowned. She told me my worst enemy became my biggest supporter, or a group of 200 Afghans that we pulled out that are now sending me Shabbat, Shalom every every Shabbat. So that's kind of the obvious, right? But, there's a lot of bridges that needs to be built also with our friends, you know, you know, whether it's in Guatemala, which is a country that's very, you know, supportive of Israel, but like, but we are supporting them. So our goal at Israel is not to, we're not here to do diplomacy work, or we're not dealing with politics. But at the same time, we do see ourselves as representatives of the Israeli civil society. And we do see how an added value of our work is these very strong bridges that are being built both on the high level and on the People to People connection. Manya Brachear Pashman: Have you ever encountered people who are not willing to accept help from Israeli agencies? Yotam Politzer: So honestly, it almost never happened. In 99.5% of the cases, people were very happy to receive support from Israelis, and from IsraAID. Sometimes people did not expect it. So I would say they were positively shocked to receive support. But, I think they were happy for several reasons. One is because it actually helped. Two is because we're not just there for short term, we're actually staying long, longer than most organizations. So we arrived in the first 72 hours, but we are typically, you know, staying at an average of five years, in an area. So we build trust. And, and people see that it's not just, you know, a token support. Three, we have a very strong kind of multicultural team, right. When I mentioned the Syrian refugees, we had a lot of Arab Israelis, people who speak Arabic, who were able to provide the support. So it's not only professional, it's also a strong cultural understanding, and many of our local team members. The only cases I would say, which was a little bit complicated and challenging, was when we actually worked inside countries that don't have diplomatic relations with Israel. So when we worked with Syrians we didn't work inside Syria worked with Syrians who escaped. Same with Afghanistan. We help people evacuate from Afghanistan, but we didn't send our team inside. We did send our team inside Iraq, inside Bangladesh. And for security reasons, mainly, our local partners knew where we were from, but the local government didn't. So we had to be much more careful in terms of our visibility. We couldn't wear our t-shirts and our logos and you know, mainly for safety and security reasons for our staff. That's that's obviously a challenge. I mean, politics is there, whether we like it or not. Manya Brachear Pashman: So in those situations, do you feel like you make headway with the citizens with the public that you're helping, that may have a long term effect on how the governments consider Israel in the future? Or is that something that you care about? Yotam Politzer: I mean, we do care, we are from here, and your organization is called IsraAID, and probably my life would have been easier if I would be working for the UN or working for Doctors Without Borders, or for other organizations that don't have any affiliation with Israel, right. So we do care, we do care about building bridges. And we do care about changing people's perspectives. One story that I have was from Sierra Leone, West Africa, during the Ebola crisis, we worked with the First Lady. And, she was shocked to receive support from the other side of the world, from Israel. She said, you came from Israel, all the way, I promise that, you know, when Sierra Leone will be Ebola free, me and my husband will come to visit Israel, and she actually followed her promise. So you know, that was like a very clear kind of diplomatic aspect. Now, when we went to Malawi, also in partnership with AJC, following the terrible cyclone that they had, the President was the one who welcomed us and said, how excited he is for the support. When we talk about the Syrian refugees we have supported over the years, we worked there for six years, about 120,000 of them. So we do believe it goes a long way, right? It's not just one or two people. It's not just anecdotal. Whether it will lead to a political change in the Middle East, maybe hopefully, it definitely does change the perspectives of hundreds of 1000s of people. Manya Brachear Pashman: What is the budget of of IsraAID? Yotam Politzer: So this year, we're close to $23 million. Yeah. We tripled ourselves in the last two years. Again, not because everything is great, but because the world has gone mad. And it was a series of events that, you know, that we responded to whether it's, you know, Afghanistan, and Ukraine, of course, is an ongoing disaster and Turkey and others. So yeah, so we are in $24 million, we are growing, and planning to grow to $50 million in the next few years. Which is really what we believe we need in order to continue responding in the countries that we are in have some kind of an emergency fund that enables us to respond to new crisis. By the way, I want to say that that's where AJC's has been an incredible partner, because AJC, I think, supported us in more than 20 countries over the last few years. And one of the main challenges is that there's a disaster in Country X, and we need seed funding, we need to be able to deploy immediately. And that's typically what AJC provides. So and by the way, it's in places that are all over the media, like Ukraine, for instance, or in places like Malawi, that no one heard of. And that's crucial, because we know, unfortunately, that media attention equals to donor attention. So when things are in the media, it's much easier to raise funds, it's also limited, right? It's usually like a week or two, and then people move to the next tweet. When you're an expert, you probably know that. But AJC has been there on both kind of the more high profile and low profile and really has been an incredible partner that really enabled us. Because once you're on the ground, it's not only that you're saving lives, which is, you know, our main goal, it's also you build partnership and relationship and you're able to communicate to the world that you're doing that so you can raise more money. So, so deploying quickly is important for several reasons. And AJC, you know, basically enabled us to do that. So that's huge for us. Manya Brachear Pashman: If someone wants to volunteer for IsraAID, are there opportunities to do that? Yotam Politzer: There are opportunities to do that, although I do have to say something because–we were based more on short term volunteers in the past. And there's a serious problem with that. Many people who come for a short term are actually doing more damage than good. I mean, they come with great intentions. But they start something that, you know, there's no continuation or if there's a lot of pictures with children in Africa, it's a very criticized field. Now, having said that, there are still people who have specific expertise–surgeons, for example, eye surgeons, you know, in a few days of volunteering, they could save people's lives, right. So, we're not against it, it needs to be people who are highly skilled, or people who can commit for long term. And we do take insurance, for example, college students, mainly graduate students, not so much undergrad, from specific fields who are looking for professional fellowships or internships in many of the countries. So there are definitely opportunities both for younger and for people who are young at heart. But the expertise or the long term commitment is crucial. Manya Brachear Pashman: Responding to those kinds of crises, how does that reflect Jewish values? In other words, how do some of these crises contradict or violate Jewish teachings, Jewish values? And how much of a role does that play in you coming in to address it? Yotam Politzer: So I think, you know, our team, just to clarify, is not just Jewish, right? We have Jews, Christians, Muslim, Buddhist, you know, other people. So it's a very diverse team, from any perspective, definitely, from a religious perspective. However, I think many of our team members are inspired by Jewish values. I mean, there's the obvious one of tikkun olam, which, you know, I think it almost became a buzzword, I heard so many people use it. So we almost don't use it because it became such a buzzword, but essentially, how we interpret this Jewish value is our responsibility to look beyond just our community. And to support the world's most vulnerable communities and really, literally repairing the world are supporting the repairment of the world. So that's kind of the clear connection, I don't I do think that everything that related to helping the strangers, right, people who are not just from our immediate community, is something that we strongly, strongly believe in. I mean, there's a story that I always share about Ukraine. You know, if you're a Ukrainian Jew 80 years ago, you are-during the World War Two. You are at the bottom of the bottom of the barrel right? You're likely to be slaughtered by the Nazis or by their Ukrainian collaborators. And today in Ukraine, the Jewish community is a big Jewish community, they are receiving so much support, which is amazing to think about it from a historical perspective, they are entitled to support from the Israeli government and from the Jewish Agency. And from the JDC, from so many great organizations who are focusing on supporting Jews in Ukraine. I don't know if you heard that. But in the beginning of the war, when millions of people fled Ukraine, the Jews were told the Jewish refugees were told to put a sign with the letters I-L for Israel, and they were taken out of the lines, and prioritized. So it's unheard of like, the tables have turned right. Which is amazing. However, what we take from it is that we have responsibility. And that's why it's so important that now Jews and Israelis show the world that we support everyone, not just Jews. And that we are different, and that we are there for everyone. And we are there even for people who are considered our enemies. Manya Brachear Pashman: My last question is, I have to admit, every time you've talked about vulnerable people, I hear you say valuable, I just misheard you. But then I think, well valuable, vulnerable, one in the same. And I'm curious, what you have learned from the communities and people that you've served in this capacity, and also whether they have gone on to teach and volunteer and help and pay it forward? Yotam Politzer: It's a great question. And I like it, I never heard this... But that's exactly how, not only me, but all of our team members feel like–vulnerable, our communities are also extremely valuable. And in many places, we see our role, not just in bringing the expertise and know-how but actually, in a way putting a spotlight on local expertise and local know-how. And that's how, in many of our countries of operation, now, the people who are leading the response are actually local members of the community, who received some training and support from us, but actually bringing their own cultural expertise. And we've been learning so much from these people, again, from languages to cultures to how you find very innovative solutions when there are very limited resources. It's a really two way street, of learning. And now, many of our team members on the regional level, actually, when there is a crisis in a neighboring country, together with our team from Israel, they respond. So now in Malawi, for instance, we sent a team from Israel and Kenya, together, when there was another crisis in the Caribbean, we sent a team from Dominica. So, because they know they're there, so practically, it's much quicker and they understand the local culture and context. So, definitely a big part of our role is to build this global team of disaster responders who can respond to disasters, both globally and locally and in the region. So we see how that becomes more of a bigger part of our strategy now to utilize local and regional resources, to support communities at risk. So it's not only, we're coming from the west, sort of with this know-how, we're combining that with local know-how and expertise. Manya Brachear Pashman: You're not just parachuting in and imposing your solutions. Yotam Politzer: Exactly. We co-create solutions. Manya Brachear Pashman: Yotam, thank you so much, I really appreciate you sharing this time with us. Yotam Politzer: Thanks for having me. And thanks for a wonderful partnership with AJC throughout the years. Manya Brachear Pashman: If you missed last week's episode, be sure to listen to AJC Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer Jason Isaacson break down last week's passage of Israel's Reasonableness Standard Law and what it means for Israel's democracy and security.
AJC Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer Jason Isaacson breaks down what Israel's recently-enacted judicial reform means for the future of the only democracy in the Middle East. The Reasonableness Standard Law will limit the Israeli Supreme Court's ability to review the “reasonableness” of government decisions. Isaacson also provides listeners AJC's perspective on the contentious bill and takes us beyond the headlines to show AJC's support for President Herzog's efforts to reach a compromise and what's next for Israel. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. Episode Lineup: (0:40) Jason Isaacson Show Notes: Learn: What You Need to Know About Israel's Judicial Reforms Listen: Matti Friedman on How the 1973 Yom Kippur War Impacted Leonard Cohen and What It Means Today Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod You can reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Jason Isaacson: Manya Brachear Pashman: This week in Israel, a majority of Israeli lawmakers, those in the governing coalition, passed the contentious and divisive reasonableness standard law, which will limit the high court of Israel's role to limit and overturn government decisions that seem unreasonable. The new law, the first of several proposed reforms to Israel's judiciary, follows 29 weeks of protests by hundreds of thousands of Israelis, and has sparked threats by labor unions to strike, by businesses to shift investments, by military reservists to decline to serve. Joining us today to explain what the passage of this law might mean for Israel's democracy is AJC chief policy and political affairs officer Jason Isaacson. Jason, welcome to People of the Pod. Jason Isaacson: Thank you, Manya. Good to be back. Manya Brachear Pashman: So Jason, for those listeners who don't quite understand the judicial reforms process in Israel, I want to steer them to our show notes to help them get up to speed. Here, I'd like to devote this time to what it means. But first I do have a fairly basic question. Would you please share AJC's perspective on the package of proposals? Jason Isaacson: Thank you for asking, Manya, when the package was put forward by the new governing coalition, the beginning of this year, we we met with senior officials of the government, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, and expressed concern that such an ambitious package should only advance with the broadest possible support in Israel if you're going to change fundamentally, the rules of the game and how Israel is governed, the balance of power, the checks and balances that exist between the legislative branch and the judicial branch. And you have to point out that in Israel, the legislative branch and the executive are virtually the same. They're in the same party. So it's the balance of power between the judiciary and the rest of the government. If you're going to make that kind of a fundamental change, you really need to strike a national consensus, the broadest possible consensus. So we encouraged the prime minister, and we also met with opposition leaders early in the year, and an urge that they get together and try to work out some kind of a compromise. It's not as though altering the system of government is a crazy thing. The Supreme Court, the High Court of Justice in Israel is an unusually empowered court. It has extraordinary power to strike down government actions. So it's not crazy. And then in the past, over the years, there have been other efforts to adjust it and adjustments have been made in this balance of power, the way the judiciary operates. That passed, there's a multistage process and passing legislation in the Israeli Knesset. If you're going to make these kinds of big changes, you really need to add, look, by the way, look, what's happened in Israeli society over the last 29 weeks, there have been protests every week, sometimes more than once a week, hundreds of 1000s of people have been out in the streets of massive display. Democracy has been on full display in Israel over this period. And it was very clear from public opinion polls, that many of these really public were not happy with this proposal and with the whole package, if it was going to be rammed through unilaterally, so unfortunately, it was pushed through unilaterally this one piece of the package. And now the question is, what happens next? Will we have other pieces move forward unilaterally? Will negotiations be reconvened? We have called for a reconvening of these talks under President Herzog, have met repeatedly with President Herzog and supported his efforts. And we're hopeful that will be where we end up. Manya Brachear Pashman: You mentioned that democracy was on display with the many protests. But some people have said the passage of this law means that democracy in Israel is at risk. So I'm curious what your take is on that. Is democracy at risk, and why is preserving democracy so important? What's at stake? Jason Isaacson: Well, Israel is a democracy, Israel will continue to be a democracy, there have been many exaggerated obituaries of Israeli democracy. I would like to put those to rest. I'm sorry, that was kind of a terrible pun. But in fact, in our country, there are tensions, we had an uprising on January 6 of 2021. People tried to take over the US Congress and prevent the transfer of power. We have huge polarization and divisions and tensions in our own democratic system. No one would dare to say that America is not a democracy, even with these challenges, even changing voting rights laws, and gerrymandering and all the other things that happen at the state level and the national level, to make alterations in our democratic system. We have our own system of appointing Supreme Court justices, and it's possible for a party in power to prevent the appointment of a justice and to ram through other justices on weird pretexts. So it's not as though we have a perfect system, nor does Israel and Israel has shown itself to have an enduring, deeply rooted democracy. I am confident that the democratic traditions in Israel will endure even with this change in the way the balance of power is going to operate going forward. And by the way, it also must be pointed out that even though the Supreme Court, the High Court of Justice in Israel, no longer according to the As law will be able to use the reasonableness standard, in other words to say that a government action, an appointment is unreasonable and therefore cannot move forward. It has other tools that it can use. It's not as though the Supreme Court has been completely denuded and deprived of its ability to counteract, to overturn, to change government policy. But it does weaken the process that the Supreme Court has been using in the past. And it is unfortunate that it was rammed through unilaterally, does that mean that Israel is not a democracy? By no means? Does that mean that more work has to be done to shore up Israeli democracy? Yes. And by the way, ours as well, and other countries in which there are these tensions in society. We all have challenges. This is the nature of democracy. Manya Brachear Pashman: I'm curious if this particular moment, even if it doesn't put Israel's democracy at risk, does it put Israel's economy or its safety? Jason Isaacson: There's a danger. We have seen reports that there are people who are withdrawing their investments in Israel, moving them to other countries. That there are Israeli companies that are moving certain operations or certain functions overseas. There are, of course, as we have seen, reports of reservists saying that they will not serve in the military, when they're called for reserve duty. All very concerning at a time when Israel's level of a threat to Israel from abroad is high. There have been attacks on Israel, not only from Gaza, which have been numerous and deadly, but also, of course, on the North. 100,000-plus missiles, maybe 150,000-plus missiles. Hezbollah every now and then someone takes a shot into Israel from there, from Syria as well. Iran continues to advance its nuclear program and its ballistic missile program, and every now and then shoot something in the sky over Israel as well. So it's not as though the threat level to Israel isn't something we should be concerned about. And therefore the security of Israel must be taken extremely seriously. If reservists are not serving. If air force pilots are not flying, Israel security is under threat. And if that is the result of changes in the governing structure of Israel, it should be a warning, a very sharp warning to the Israeli Government to go slow, as the recent American ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides famously told the Prime Minister and told us when we met him earlier this year as well, they should pump the brakes. Manya Brachear Pashman: You talked about the many threats facing Israel and for that reason, US foreign aid has been key to maintaining stability in the region. Does this development put that at risk? Jason Isaacson: I don't think so. Obviously, we watch that very closely. We're on the hill all the time. We speak frequently with members of Congress and their staff. You saw what happened the day before President Hertzog gave his address before a joint meeting of Congress, Senators and House members just last week, and that was a vote in the US House of Representatives on the essential nature of the relationship between the United States and Israel, reaffirming the strong alliance between the United States and Israel and that measure passed overwhelmingly, there were nine votes against that. One member abstained. But people talk all the time about elements of the Democratic Party, other opponents of foreign aid who speak out against aid to Israel or threaten to cut aid to Israel. You know, when push comes to shove and votes are taken, that's really not what happens at the end. I'm not saying that there isn't a concern about levels of support for Israel in the US Congress or in the broad public. Of course, that is an issue that AJC monitors closely and works very hard to make sure that there's a full appreciation of the value of the relationship, the mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Israel. Our security is advanced when Israel security is advanced and vice versa, as president Herzog in fact, said in his speech to Congress last week. Manya Brachear Pashman: As I mentioned, hundreds of 1000s of Israelis have been on the streets protesting for 29 weeks now, even in the heat of the summer there, which is highly impressive. Some people credit those protests with slowing some of the reforms. Can you explain to our listeners what has been shelved? Jason Isaacson: It's an interesting question Manya because, in fact, as you know, the governing coalition in Israel includes elements that want to see really a complete overhaul of the judiciary and have a complete rebalancing of the relationship of the courts and in the legislature, and are not interested in shelving any aspect of the very ambitious proposal that was put forward at the beginning of this of the term of this of this government. The Prime Minister has indicated in various interviews in over the last several months, that he was not interested in advancing certain aspects, particularly the override clause, which would have empowered the legislature to counteract moves by the by the judiciary by the High Court to, to negate to cancel certain actions by the parliament or by the government. And the narrowness of that vote, that would allow a very slim majority in the legislature to overrule the court. There have been questions raised about whether other elements of his coalition feel the same way and whether they would prevail with the Prime Minister if push comes to shove. So we're waiting to see really how much is shelved, how much is just kind of shelved temporarily and will not move forward for a few months, but may come back. A lot remains to be seen. Manya Brachear Pashman: Could the High Court itself overturn this new law as unreasonable? Jason Isaacson: There's been some talk about that. And just earlier this week, colleagues and I did speak to some people in the democracy movement or the resistance, as they call it. And were given the impression that while attempts have been made, there wasn't the expectation that the court would do that. But it's possible to say that an attempt to change the reasonableness standard is unreasonable, and to therefore strike it down, and then and then who knows what happens, but I really do think that the best course of action is to bring the parties back together. Manya Brachear Pashman: So AJC has been very clear about its support of President Herzog's quest for compromise. The President's position though is largely ceremonial. Can he bring parties together that don't want to be brought together? Can he halt legislation that does not come out of compromise? Does he have any power to do that? Jason Isaacson: The legislation that passes the Knesset has to be signed by the President. But he has no power not to sign legislation that's passed by the Knesset. So in fact, there are laws that go into effect, even without the President's signature, it's an unusual system. He does have certain powers to obviously, as you know, after an election, to ask a party that believes that it can come up with a majority in the Knesset and form of government, he does have that power to empower a party to advance to form a government. But his other powers are quite limited does have the power of persuasion, he doesn't have the power of the bully pulpit, he does have the great moral authority of being the head of state of the state of Israel. He was received in the highest fashion in Washington, very important meeting in the Oval Office, an important meeting with the Vice President, of course, the address before the joint meeting of Congress. And he has played his hand, as limited as it may be on paper, he has played his hand really quite well to the point where he really is at the center of the discussions that have gone forward. Manya Brachear Pashman: Jason, why is the governing coalition so determined to restrict the high court's powers? Jason Isaacson: Whether this is a matter of protecting democracy, or protecting a nationalist agenda is a big debate that's going on right now in Israel. But whatever it is, you really cannot change the fundamental rules of how a government operates, the balance of power between the branches of government, without support from the public. And right now, the public has pretty clearly expressed great anxiety about the direction that this process is taking. It would be wiser for the long term survival and support of the current government, and of the state of Israel, if such changes are made only as a result of the national consensus. Manya Brachear Pashman: Israel is so diverse when it comes to religion and ethnicities and cultures. It's so complex, that an independent judiciary seems crucial for making sure everyone shares this land. Everyone is treated by the Golden Rule equally. You talked about the High Court protecting minority rights. Is that why this decision, this attempt at reforms seems so momentous? Jason Isaacson: Yes. And I would say there are other reasons as well. And another point that I think is important to make is that the independence of the Israeli judiciary, a judiciary that is independent from the political process, to a large degree, not completely, but to a large degree is armor for Israel legally, internationally. It is the ability of Israelis to say to those in the international community and the High Court of Justice and the internet. The Court of Justice excuse me and the International Criminal Court and the United Nations and other international bodies that say, Oh, we're going to say that Israelis are committing war crimes or we're going to hold some, some, some mock trial or some other international legal action against Israel. Israelis can say and we say in AJC, that's nonsense. You don't need to do that. Israel has an independent judiciary, if there are crimes that are being committed by Israeli soldiers or political figures, Israel will prosecute them, as they have done repeatedly, Israel will put prime ministers and presidents in jail. So don't tell us that Israelis' ability to judge themselves is somehow lacking. It's very important that Israel maintain an independent judiciary and the international recognition of the independence of the Israeli judiciary, which is another reason why this whole debate has been so frustrating to advocates for Israel like AJC, who know that the judiciary will remain independent, in most part, and democracy and Israel will continue to be strong, but just the appearance that the independence of the judiciary has been weakened, will be corrosive politically to Israel, internationally and legally to Israel internationally. And that's another reason why we have been so steadfast and trying to urge the Israelis to go slow, make this done in a way that has broad popular support and international recognition that the Judiciary's independence is being upheld and is sacrosanct. Manya Brachear Pashman: We're having this conversation on the eve of Tisha B'av, which is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. It marks a number of tragic turning points for the Jewish people, but namely the destruction of the Second Temple, and the beginning of Jewish exile from Israel. My own rabbi reminded our congregation that the Jewish tradition teaches that division in the Jewish community is what ultimately led to the Temple's destruction. And here we are again. How likely is it that the coalition members will fast, reflect, and work to heal this rift in Israel? Jason Isaacson: That's an interesting question, and it was also interesting to see former US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, make that same reference in a tweet the other day, and really call for a consensus, for a more deliberative process, than the unilateral approach that was being pursued. We're now about to enter a two and a half month period of summer recess basically for the Israeli Knesset. We'll see what happens when they come back in the fall. There's other legislation that will be coming down the pike as well, including a very ambitious proposal to entrench the exemption for the ultra orthodox community to conduct Torah study, rather than serve mandatory military service that other Israeli young people are required to, to attend. Whether that moves forward, whether that also sparks popular unrest, it remains to be seen. Israel is in a very interesting place right now. The democracy of Israel as we discussed is on full display. People are out there, they're motivated, they're active. And there are tensions within the society that are right on the surface in a way that does not exist in certainly any other country in the region. We're very proud of the fact that with free expression and a rambunctious free press, and people who have very strong feelings are not afraid, and have no inhibition whatsoever about stepping forward and trying to affect the policies of their government. There will also be other elections in Israel. And if the country veers too far in one direction or another, I have full confidence that the Israeli public with its strong commitment to liberal democracy will pull it back. Manya Brachear Pashman: Jason, thank you so much for your perspective, and for really helping us explain to our audience what this all means. Jason Isaacson: Thank you, Manya. It was my pleasure.
Last month, we sat down with journalist and author Matti Friedman in a Jerusalem studio to talk about Leonard Cohen, the Israel-Diaspora relationship, and the turning point that was the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Selected by Vanity Fair as one of the best books of 2022, Friedman's “Who by Fire: Leonard Cohen in the Sinai,” explores the late poet and singer's concert tour on the front lines of the Yom Kippur War – a historic moment of introspection for the Jewish State that continues to reverberate through events we witness today. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. __ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Matti Friedman __ Show Notes: Listen: From the Black-Jewish Caucus to Shabbat and Sunday Dinners: Connecting Through Food and Allyship How to Tell Fact from Fiction About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Live from Jerusalem: Exploring Israel and the Media with Matti Friedman Watch: Should Diaspora Jews Have a Say in Israeli Affairs? Learn: Four Common Tough Questions on Israel 75 Years of Israel: How much do you know about the Jewish state? Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod You can reach us at: email@example.com If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Matti Friedman: Manya Brachear Pashman: Matti Friedman has joined us on this podcast multiple times. Last year, he gave us an essential lesson on how to tell fact from fiction about Israel, and when AJC held its global forum in Jerusalem in 2018, he joined us for our first live recording, so I could not pass through Jerusalem without looking him up, Especially after learning that the writer behind Shtisel is adapting Matti's latest book, “Who By Fire” about the late great Leonard Cohen's time on the front lines of the Yom Kippur War. He joins us now in a studio in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem. Matti, welcome to People of the Pod. Matti Friedman: Thank you for having me. Manya Brachear Pashman: So I take it you're a fan of Leonard Cohen, or just as a journalist you find him fascinating? Matti Friedman: No, of course, I'm a fan of Leonard Cohen. First of all, I'm Canadian. So if you are Canadian, you really have no choice. You have to be a Leonard Cohen fan, and certainly if you're a Canadian Jew. We grew up listening to Leonard Cohen. So absolutely, I'm a big admirer of the man and his music. Manya Brachear Pashman: What are your favorite songs? Matti Friedman: Probably my favorite Leonard Cohen song is called “If it Be Your Will." Just a prayer that came out on a Cohen album in the 80s. But I love all the Cohen you know top 10- Suzanne and So Long Marianne, Famous Blue Raincoat and Chelsea Hotel. It's a very long list. Manya Brachear Pashman: So I should clarify that your book is not a biography of Leonard Cohen. It's about just a few weeks of his life when he came in 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, and these few weeks were a real turning point in his life, also for Israel, but we can talk about that later. But I want to know, why is it important? Why do you think it's important for Leonard Cohen fans, for Jews, particularly Israelis, to know this story about him? Matti Friedman: I think that those few weeks in the fall of 1973, when Cohen finds himself at the front of the Yom Kippur War, those weeks are really an incredible meeting of Israel and the diaspora, maybe one of the ultimate diaspora figures, Leonard Cohen, this kind of universal poet and creature of the village, and this product of a very specific moment in North American Jewish life, when Jews are really kind of bursting out of the ghetto and entering the mainstream. And we can think of names like Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, even Phil Ochs, and people like that. And Cohen is very much part of that. And he comes to Israel and meets, I guess the other main trend in Jewish history, in the second half of the 20th century, which is the State of Israel, and Israelis, who are not bursting into, you know, a universal culture in the United States, they're trying to create a very specific Jewish culture–in Hebrew, in this very kind of tortured scrap of the Middle East. And the meeting of those two sides, who have a very powerful connection to each other, but don't really understand each other. It's a very interesting meeting. And the fact that it happens at this moment of acute crisis, one of the darkest moments in Israel's history, which is the Yom Kippur War, that makes it even more powerful. So I think if we take that snapshot, from October 1973, we get something very interesting about Israel, and about the Jewish world and about this artist. And in some ways, I think those weeks really encapsulate much of Leonard Cohen's story. So it's not a biography, it doesn't trace his life from birth to death. But it gives us something very deep about the guy by looking at him at this very intense and kind of traumatic moment. Manya Brachear Pashman: Do you also think it sheds some light on the relationship between diaspora Jews and Israel? And how has that relationship changed and evolved since the 1970s? Matti Friedman: When Cohen embarks on this strange journey to the war, which, I mean, it's a long story, and I tell it in the book, but it starts on a Greek island or he's kind of holed up. He's in a crisis, and he's unhappy with his domestic life and he's unhappy with his creative life and he kind of needs to escape. So he gets on a ferry from the island and gets on an airplane from Athens and inserts himself into this war, by mistake, not really intending to do it. And he says in this manuscript that he writes about that time, which is unpublished until, until my own book, I published segments of it. He says, I'm going to my myth home. That's how he describes Israel. He uses this very interesting phrase myth home. And it's hard to understand exactly what he means. But I think many Jewish listeners will understand kind of almost automatically what that means. Israel is not necessarily your home. And it's possible that you've never even been there. But you have this sense that it is your mythical home or some alternate universe where you belong. And of course, that makes the relationship very fraught. It's a lot of baggage on a relationship with a country that is, after all, a foreign country. And Cohen lands in Israel and has a very powerful, but also very confusing time and leaves quite conflicted about it. And I think that is reflective, more generally of the experience of many Jews from the diaspora who come here with ideas about the country and then are forced to admit that those ideas have very little connection to reality. And it's one reason I think that I often meet Jews here from, you know, from North America, and they're not even fascinated by the country, but they're kind of thrown off by it, because it doesn't really function in the way they expect. It's a country in the Middle East. It's very different from Jewish life in North America. And as time goes on, those two things are increasingly disconnected from each other. Manya Brachear Pashman: Yeah. Which is something that I think you say, Israelis say repeatedly, that lots of people have opinions about Israel and decisions that are made and how it's run. But they have no idea what life is like here, right? That's part of the disconnect. And the reason why there's so much tumult. Matti Friedman: Yes, and runs in the other direction, too, of course. Israelis just have less and less idea of what animates Jews in the United States. So the idea that we're one people, and we should kind of automatically understand each other. That just doesn't work anymore. I think in the years after the Second World War, it might have worked better because people were more closely connected by family ties. So you'd have two brothers from Warsaw or whatever, and one would go to Rehovot, and one would go to Brooklyn, but they were brothers. And then in the next generation, you know, their children were cousins, and they kind of knew something about each other, but a few generations have gone by, and it's much more infrequent to find people who have Israeli cousins, or American cousins, you know, it might be second cousins or third cousins, but the familial connections have kind of frayed and because the communities are being formed by completely different sets of circumstances, it's much harder for Americans to understand Israelis and for Israelis to understand Americans. And we're really seeing that play out more and more in the communication or miscommunication between the two big Jewish communities here in the United States. Manya Brachear Pashman: So this is my first trip to Israel. And many people told me that I would never be the same after this trip. Was that true for Leonard Cohen? Matti Friedman: I think it was, I think it was a turning point in his life. Of course, I wrote a book about it. I would have to say that, even if it weren't true, but I happen to think that it is true. He comes here at a moment of a real kind of desperation, he had announced that he was retiring from music that year. So he had this string of hits, and he was a major star of the 60s and early 70s. And those really famous Cohen songs that I mentioned, most of them had already come out and he'd been playing at the biggest music festivals at the Isle of White, which was a bigger festival than Woodstock. And he was a big deal. And, and he just given up, he felt that he had hit a wall and he no longer had anything to say. And he was 39 years old. That's pretty old for a rock star. And he was in those days, of course, people are dying at 27. So he kind of thought he was washed up. And he came to Israel. And he writes in this manuscript, this very strange manuscript that he wrote, and then shelved, that he thinks that Israel is a place where he might be able to be born again, or just saying, again, he writes both of those thoughts. And in a very weird way, it happens. So he's too sophisticated a character to tell us exactly how that happened, or to ever say that he went to Israel and was saved or changed in some way. Leonard Cohen would never give us that moment that of course, as a journalist I'm looking for but they won't give us all we can do is look at the fact that he had announced his retirement before the war, came home from this war very rattled, not at all waving the Israeli flag and singing the national anthem or anything like that, but he came back invigorated in some way. And a few months after that war, he releases one of his best albums, which is called “New Skin for the Old Ceremony.” Which is a reference, of course, to circumcision, which is itself a kind of wink toward rebirth. And that album includes Chelsea Hotel and Lover Lover Lover and Who by Fire and he's back on the horse and he goes on to have this absolutely incredible career that lasts until he's 80 years old and beyond. Manya Brachear Pashman: So let's talk about Lover Lover Lover, and the line of that song. You had interviewed a former soldier on the frontlines in the Yom Kippur War. He had heard Leonard Cohen sing, was very moved by that song, which was composed on an Israeli Air Force Base, I believe originally. And then the album comes out and he hears it again. And something is different. The soldier is not happy about that. Can you talk a little bit about how you confirmed that? Matti Friedman: Right, so I spent a lot of time trying to track down the soldiers who had seen Leonard Cohen during this very weird concert tour that he ends up giving on the Sinai front of the Yom Kippur War. And it's this series of concerts, these very small concerts, mostly for just small units of soldiers who are in the sand and suddenly Leonard Cohen shows up in a jeep and plays music for them. And it's kind of a hallucinatory scene. And one of the soldiers told me that he will never forget the song that Cohen sang, and it was on the far side of the Suez Canal. So the Israeli army having kind of fallen back in the first week and a half of the war has crossed the Suez Canal, in the great counter attack that changes the course of the war, and now they're fighting on Egyptian territory. And one night, on that, on the far side of the canal, he meets Leonard Cohen, it's just kind of sitting on a helmet in the sand playing guitar, and he sang a song that would later become famous, but no one knew it at the time, because it had just been written. As you said, it was written for an audience of Israeli pilots at an Air Force base a few weeks before, or a few days before. And the song's lyrics address the Israeli soldiers as brothers. That's what the soldier remembered. And he said, I'll never forget it. He called us his brothers. And that was a big deal for the Israelis, to hear an international star like Leonard Cohen, say, I'm a member of this family, and you're my brothers. And that was a great memory. But there's no verse like that in the song Lover, Lover, Lover. And there's no reference at all that's explicit to Israeli soldiers. And the word brothers does not appear in the song. Manya Brachear Pashman: At least the one on the album, the song on the album. Matti Friedman: On the album, right. So that is the only one that was known at the time that I was writing the book. And then I kind of set it aside, I just figured that it was a strange memory that was, you know, mistaken or manufactured. And I didn't think much more about it. But I was going through Cohen's old notebooks and the Cohen archive in Los Angeles, which is where many of his documents are kept. And he had a notebook in his pocket throughout the war, and was writing down notes and writing down lyrics and writing on people's phone numbers. And in in the notebook, I found the first draft of Lover, Lover, Lover, and this verse, which had somehow disappeared from the song and the verse is a really powerful expression of identification, not uncomplicated identification, but definitely sympathy for the Israelis who was traveling with, he was traveling with a group of Israeli musicians, he was wearing something that looked a lot like an Israeli uniform, he was asking people to call him by his Hebrew name, which was Eliezer Cohen. So he was definitely, he had kind of gone native. And the verse, the verse goes, ‘I went down to the desert to help my brothers fight. I knew that they weren't wrong. I knew that they weren't right. But bones must stand up straight and walk and blood must move around. And men go making ugly lines across the holy ground.' It's quite a potent verse. And it definitely places Cohen on one side of the Yom Kippur War. And when he records the song, a few months later, that verse is gone. So he obviously made a different decision about how to locate himself in the experience. And ultimately, the experience of the war kind of disappears from the Cohen story. He doesn't talk about it. Later on, he very rarely makes any explicit reference to it. The Cohen biographies mention it in passing, but don't make a big deal of it. And I think that's in part because he always played it down. And when that soldier Shlomi Groner, who I call the soldier, but he's going into his seventies, but you know, for me, he's a soldier. He heard that song when it came out on the radio, and he was waiting for that verse where Cohen called Israeli soldiers, his brothers and the verse was gone. And he never forgave Leonard Cohen for it, for erasing that expression of tribal solidarity. And in fact, the years after the war, 1976, Cohen is playing the song in Paris, you can actually find this on YouTube. And he introduces the song to a French audience by saying, he admits that he wrote the song in the war in Sinai, and he says, he wrote the song for the Egyptians, and the Israelis, in that order. So he was very careful about, you know, where he placed himself, and he was a universal poet. He couldn't be on one side of a war, you couldn't be limited to any particular war, he was trying to address the human soul. And he was aware of that contradiction, which I think is a very Jewish contradiction. Is our Judaism best expressed by tribal solidarity, or is it best expressed in some kind of universal message about the shared humanity of anyone who might be reading a Leonard Cohen poem? So that tension is very much present for him and it's present for many of us. Manya Brachear Pashman: So he replaces the line though with watching the children, he goes down to watch the children fight. Matti Friedman: So before he erases the whole verse, he starts fiddling with it. And we can actually see this in the notebook because we can see him crossing out words and adding words. So he has this very strong sentence that says, I went down to the desert to help my brothers fight, which suggests active participation in this war and, and then we see that he's erase that line held my brothers fight, and he's replaced it with, I went on to the desert to watch the children fight. So now he's not helping, and it's not his brothers, he's kind of a parent at the sandbox watching some other people play in the sand. So he's taken a step back, he's taken himself out of the picture. And ultimately, that whole verse goes into the memory hold, and it only surfaces. When I found it, and I had the amazing experience of sending it to the soldier who'd heard it and didn't quite remember the words, he just remembered the word brothers. And over the years, I think he thought maybe he was mistaken, he wasn't 100% sure that he was remembering correctly and I had the opportunity to say, I found the verse, you're not crazy, here's the verse. It was quite a moment for him. Manya Brachear Pashman: Yeah, confirmation, validation. Certainly not an expression of solidarity anymore, but I read it as an expression of critique of war, right. Your government's sending sons and daughter's off to fight you know, that kind of critique, but it changes it when you know that he erased one sentiment and replaced it with another. Matti Friedman: Right, even finding the Yom Kippur War in the song now is very complicated, although when you know where it was written, then the song makes a lot more sense. When you think a song called Lover Lover Lover would be a love song, but it's not really if you listen to the lyrics. He says, “The Spirit of the song may rise up true and free. May be a shield for you, a shield against the enemy”. It's a weird lyric for a love song. But if you understand that he's writing for an audience of Israeli pilots are being absolutely shredded in the first week of the Yom Kippur War, it makes sense. The words start to make sense the kind of militaristic tone of the words and even the kind of rhythmic marching quality of the melody, it starts to make more sense, if we know where it was written, I think Cohen would probably deny. Cohen never wanted to be pinned down by journalism, you know, he wasn't writing a song about the Yom Kippur War. And I don't think he'd like what I'm doing, which is trying to pin him down and tie him to specific historical circumstances. But, that's what I'm doing. And I think it's very interesting to try to locate his art in a specific set of circumstances, which are, the Yom Kippur war, this absolute dark moment for Israel, a Jewish artist who's very preoccupied with his own Judaism, and who grows up in this really kind of rich and deep Jewish tradition in Montreal, and then kind of escapes it, but can never quite escape it and doesn't really want to escape it, or does he want to escape it and, and then here he is, in this incredible Jewish moment with the Israeli Army in 1973. And we even have a picture of him standing next to general Ariel Sharon, who is maybe the other symbolic Jew of the 20th century, right? You have Leonard Cohen, who is this universal artists, this kind of, you know, man of culture and a kind of a dissolute poet and and you have this uniform general, this kind of Jewish warrior, this kind of reborn new Jew of the Zionist imagination, and we have a photograph of them standing next to each other in the desert. I mean, it's quite an amazing moment. Manya Brachear Pashman: Yeah. I love that you use the word hallucinatory earlier to describe the soldier coming upon Leonard Cohen in the desert, because it reminded me that it was not Leonard Cohen's first tour of sorts in Israel. He had been in Israel the year before, 1972, gave a concert in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, very different shows. Can you speak to that? Matti Friedman: So Cohen was here a year before the war. And what's amazing is that you can actually see the concerts because there was a documentary filmmaker with him named Tony Palmer. And there's a documentary that ultimately comes out very briefly, that is shelved because Cohen hates it, and then resurfaces a couple of decades later, it's called Bird on a Wire. And it's worth seeing. And you can see the concert in Tel Aviv. And then the concert in Jerusalem the next day, which are the end of this problematic European tour, which kind of goes awry, as far as Cohen is concerned. In Tel Aviv, they have to stop a concert in the middle because there's a riot in the audience and for kind of strange technical reason, which was that the arena in Tel Aviv had decided to keep the audience really far away from the stage and people tried to get close to Leonard Cohen and Cohen wanted them to come closer to the stage because they were absurdly far from the musicians and they tried to move closer but the security guards wouldn't let them and they start, you know, people start fighting, and Cohen's begging them to calm down. And you can see this in the, in the documentary and then ultimately he leaves the stage, he says, you know, it's just not I can't perform like this, and he and the whole band just walk off the stage, and you get the impression that this country is on the brink of total chaos, like it's a place that's out of control. And then the next day, he's in Jerusalem for the last concert of this tour. And the concert also goes awry. But this time, it's Cohen's fault. And he is onstage, and you can see that he can't focus, like he just can't put it together. And in the documentary, you can see that he took acid before the show. So it might have had something to do with that. But also, it's just the fact that he's in Jerusalem. And for him, that's a big deal. And he just can't treat it like a normal place. It's not a normal concert. So there's, there's so much riding on it, that it's too much for him, and he just stops playing in the middle of a concert. And he starts talking to the audience about the Kabbalah. And it's an amazing speech, it's totally off the cuff. It's not something that he prepared, but he starts to explain that, in the Kabbalistic tradition, in order for God to be seated on his throne, Adam and Eve need to face each other, or the man and the woman need to face each other in order for the divine presence to be enthroned. And he says, my male and female sides aren't facing each other, so I can't get off the ground. And it's a terrible thing to have happen in Jerusalem. That's what he says. And then he leaves, he says, I'm gonna give you your money back, and he leaves. And instead of rioting, which is what you'd expect them to do, or getting really angry, or leaving, the audience starts to sing, “Haveinu Shalom Alechem,” that song from summer camp that everyone knows, I think they just assume that he would know it. And in the documentary, you see him in the dressing room trying to kind of get himself together. And hears the audience singing, a couple thousand young Israelis singing the song out in the auditorium, and he goes back out on stage and kind of just beams at that. He just kind of can't believe it, and just smiling out at them. They're entertaining him, but he's on the stage. And they're singing to him, and then the band comes back on. And they give this incredible show that ends with everyone crying. You see Cohen's crying and the band's crying and he says later that the only time that something like that had ever happened to him before was in Montreal when he was playing a show for an audience that included his family. So there was a lot going on for Cohen in Israel, it wasn't a normal place. It wasn't just a regular gig. And that's all present in his brain when he comes back the following year for the war. Manya Brachear Pashman: Makes that weird decision to get on the ferry, and come to Israel make a little more sense. I had tickets to see Leonard Cohen in 2013. He was in Chicago, and Pope Benedict the 16th decided to resign. And as the religion reporter, I had to give up those tickets and go to Rome on assignment. And I really regret that because he died in 2016. I never got the chance to see him live. Did you ever get the chance to see him live? Matti Friedman: I wonder if we should add that to the long list of, you know, Jewish claims against Catholicism, but I guess we can let it slide. I never got to see him. And I regret it to this day, of course, when he came to Israel in 2009 for this great concert that ended up being his last concert here. I had twins who were barely a year old. And I was kind of dysfunctional and hadn't slept in a long time. And I just couldn't get my act together to go. And that's when I got the idea for this book for the first time. And I said, well, you know, just catch him the next time he comes. You know, the guy was in his late 70s. There wasn't gonna be a next time. So it was a real lapse of judgment, which I regret of course. Manya Brachear Pashman: I do wonder if I should have gone to Rome for that unprecedented moment in history to cover that, kind wish I had been at the show. So you do think that the Jerusalem show played a role in him returning to Israel when it was under attack? Matti Friedman: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, he had this very again, complicated, powerful, not entirely positive experience in Israel. And he'd also met a woman here. And that also became clear when I was researching the book that there was, there was a relationship that began when he was here in 1972, and continued. He had a few contacts here, and it wasn't a completely foreign place. And he had some memory of it and some memory of it being a very powerful experience. But when he came in ‘73, he wasn't coming to play. So he didn't come with his guitar. He didn't bring any instruments. He didn't come with anyone. He came by himself. So there is no band. There's no crew, there's no PR people. He understands that there's some kind of crisis facing the Jewish people and he needs to be here. Manya Brachear Pashman: I interviewed Mishy Harman yesterday about the Declaration of Independence, the series that [the I`srael Story podcast] are doing, and he calls it one of Israel's last moments of consensus. We are at a very historic moment right now. How much did this kind of centrifugal force of the Yom Kippur War, where everybody was kind of scattered to different directions, very different ways of soul searching, very Cohen-esque. How much of that has to do with where Israel is now, 50 years later? Matti Friedman: That's a great question. The Yom Kippur war is this moment of crisis that changes the country and the country is a different place after the Yom Kippur War. So until 73, it's that old Israel where the leadership is very clear. It's the labor Zionist leadership. It's the founders of the country, Ben Gurion and Golda Meir, and the people who kind of willed this country into existence against long odds and won this incredible victory in the 1967 War. And then it's all shattered by this catastrophe in 1973. And even though Israel wins the war and the end, it's a victory that feels a lot like a defeat, and 2600 soldiers are killed in three weeks in a country of barely 3 million people and many more wounded and the whole country is kind of shocked. And it takes a few years for things to play out. But basically, the old Israeli consensus is shattered. And within a few years within the war, the Likud wins an election victory for the first time. And it's a direct result of, of a loss of faith and leadership after the Yom Kippur War. That's 1977. And then you have all kinds of different voices that emerge in Israel. So you have, you know, you have Likud. You have the voice of Israelis, who came from the Arab world who didn't share the background of, you know, Eastern Europe and Yiddish and who had a different kind of Judaism and a different kind of Zionism and they begin to express themselves in a more forceful way and you have Israelis who are demanding peace now. You know, on the left, and you have a settlement movement, the religious settlement movement really kind of becomes empowered and emboldened after the Yom Kippur War after the labor Zionist leadership loses its confidence and that's when you really start seeing movements like Gush Emunim pop up in the West Bank with this messianic script and so, so the the fracturing of that that consensus really happens in wake of Yom Kippur war and you can kind of see it in in the music, which is an interesting way of looking at it because the music until 73 had really been this folk music that still maybe the only place that still sees it as Israeli music might be American Jewish summer camp, where it kind of retains its, its, its hold and yeah, that those great old songs that were sung around the campfire and the songs of early Israel and that was very much the music that dominated the airwaves. After the Yom Kippur War, it's different, the singers start expressing themselves a lot less in the collective we and much more in using the word I and talking about their own soul and you hear a lot more about God after 73 than you did before. And the country really becomes a much more heterogeneous place and a much more difficult place, I think, to run and with that consensus, you're talking about the Declaration of Independence. And that series, by the way, Israel Story, which I highly recommend, it's a wonderful series about an incredible document, which we still should be proud of, and which we should pay much more attention to than we do. But when do we have consensus, when we're under incredible pressure from the outside. The Declaration of Independence is signed, you know, as we face the threat of invasion by fighter armies. So that's basically what it takes to get the Jews to sit down and agree with each other. And, you know, there are these years of crisis and poverty after the 48 war into the 60s. And that kind of keeps the consensus more or less in place, and then it fractures. And we're in a country where it's much easier to be many different things, you know, you can be ultra-Orthodox, and you can be Mizrachi, and you can be gay, and you can be all kinds of things that you couldn't really be here in the 60s. But at the same time, the consensus is so fractured, that we can barely, you know, form a coherent political system that works to solve the problems of the public. And we're really saying that in a very dramatic and disturbing way in the dysfunction, in the Knesset and in our political system, which is, you know, has become so extreme. The political system is simply incapable of a constructive role in the society and has moved from solving the problems of the society to creating problems for a society that probably doesn't have that many problems. And it's all a reflection of this kind of fracturing of the consensus and this disagreement on what it means to be Israeli what the meaning of the state is, once you don't have those labor Zionists saying, you know, we are a part of a global proletarian revolution, and the kibbutz is at the center of our national ethos. Okay, we don't have that. But then what is this place? And if you grab 10 Israelis on the street outside the studio, they'll give you 10 different answers. And increasingly, the answers are, are at odds with each other, and Israelis are at odds with each other. And the government instead of trying to ease those divisions, is exacerbating them for political gain. So you're right, this is a very important and I think, very dark moment for the society. Manya Brachear Pashman: And do you trace it back to that kind of individualistic approach that Cohen brought with him, and that the war, not that he introduced it to Israel, and it's all his fault, that the war, and its very dark outcome, dark victory, if you will, produced? Matti Friedman: I don't want to be too deterministic about it. But definitely, that is the moment of fracture. The old labor Zionist leadership would have faded anyway. And just looking at the world, that kind of ethos, and that ideology is kind of gone everywhere, not just in Israel. But definitely the moment that does it here is that war, and we're very much in post-1973 Israel. Which in some ways is good, again, a more pluralistic society is good. And I'm happy that many identities that were kind of in the basement before ‘73 are out of the basement. But we have not managed to find a replacement for that old unifying ideology. And we're really feeling it right now. Manya Brachear Pashman: Thank you so much, Matti, for joining us. Matti Friedman: Thank you very, very much. That was great.
Candace Bazemore and Gabby Leon Spatt, authors of the award-winning children's book Shabbat and Sunday Dinner, are traveling to Washington, D.C. this week to help AJC, the National Urban League, and ADL relaunch the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations. Together with Dov Wilker, AJC's Director of Black-Jewish Relations, they discuss what can be accomplished through building stronger bridges between the Black and Jewish communities and how our diversity is a source of connection, not division. More on the authors: Bazemore and Leon Spatt are members of AJC Atlanta's Black/Jewish Coalition. They are also participants of AJC's Project Understanding, which is a signature achievement of the coalition. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. Episode Lineup: (0:40) Candace Bazemore and Gabby Leon Spatt Show Notes: Listen: Meet 3 Women Who are Driving Change in the Middle East Watch: Learn more about the Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus relaunch Learn: Launch of Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus (2019) Project Understanding Shabbat and Sunday Dinner by Candace Bazemore and Gabby Leon Spatt Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod You can reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Candace Bazemore and Gabby Leon Spatt: Manya Brachear Pashman: This week, American Jewish Committee is helping to relaunch the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida will join some new House leaders including Congressman Wesley Hunt of Texas and Congresswoman Nikema Williams of Georgia. The caucus aims to raise awareness of sensitivities in both the Black and Jewish communities, combat stereotypes, and showcase commonalities. And with us this week to talk about their efforts to do the same are Candace Bazemore and Gabby Leon Spatt, co-authors of the children's book Shabbat and Sunday Dinner, which was honored with the Award of Excellence from the Religion Communicators Council. Both are members of the Black/Jewish Coalition and participants in AJC's Project Understanding, a biannual weekend of dialogue to develop understanding and friendships between leaders of the Black and Jewish communities. Our guest host this week is Dov Wilker, AJC's Director of Black Jewish Relations. Dov, the mic is yours. Dov Wilker: Thank you, Manya. Candace and Gabby, welcome to People of the Pod. Candace Bazemore: Thank you. We're excited to be here. Gabby Leon Spatt: It's a great opportunity. We're really excited to chat with you. Dov Wilker: Well, wonderful, we're just gonna jump right on in. And so I'm curious, Gabby, Candace, how did y'all meet? And how did you go from being friends to co-authors? Gabby Leon Spatt: Candace and I are both transplants to Atlanta, growing up in Florida, Virginia, both moving here for college or after college. And our original meeting actually was through the Junior League of Atlanta. We served on a committee together and launched a leadership program that was trading opportunities for Junior League members. But when we really met and realized how much we really adore each other, love each other, learn from each other, was from our shared experience of both attending Project Understanding, which is a program of Atlanta's AJC office, the Black-Jewish Coalition. And once we realized we both had that experience, our conversations changed, our friendship deepened, we really had the opportunity to share to learn to have meaningful conversations. And one day, we were planning an alumni event for Project Understanding participants, and we kind of talked about writing a book. And I'll let Candace share a little bit more about that. Candace Bazemore: Yeah, well, first of all, knowing how we met is like a very cool thing, because it just showcases some of the great ways that Atlanta already has great systems and organizations in place to help people look for ways to build across different community lines. I probably would have never met Gabby otherwise, which means that the book that we wrote together would have never happened. And the way the book came about was actually really cool. During the pandemic, we got tapped to help be on a planning committee for the Project Understanding's alumni New Year's Day brunch, which was going to be virtual, since no one could go anywhere, because of COVID. In the middle of one of the planning sessions, actually, at the start of one of the planning sessions, we were waiting for the two guys to join, of course, all the ladies got on first. And... Dov Wilker: I take offense to that. Candace Bazemore: It's fine. It's okay. It's true, though. And so we were discussing what we were planning on having for the brunch, because we were encouraging everyone to find a traditional meal to have for the brunch so people could be eating and talking, even though we couldn't be in the same place. And Gabby shared, she was going to have bagels and lox and I said chicken and waffles. But I didn't know like, what's bagels and lox? And we're like, Wouldn't it be a great idea to share recipes as a way to unite people? And then that led to us to kind of discussing like, you know, well, there's tons of recipe books out there. But what if we tried to get people earlier to start thinking about it. And so that's how we got to the idea of a children's book. Dov Wilker: Wait, I have to ask, have either of you written a children's book before? Gabby Leon Spatt: Definitely not, no. Candace Bazemore: No, this is our first children's book. I've written a ton of blogs. Dov Wilker: Have you ever written a book before? Candace Bazemore: No, not since being like a little, no. Everybody does, like young authors or something like that in school, but not a book book. This is our first. Gabby Leon Spatt: We like stretch projects. We like to try new things in between taking care of our friends, our families, our full time jobs, you know. Dov Wilker: You've got boundless energy, the two of you. Gabby Leon Spatt: Yes we do. Dov Wilker: What do you hope that readers are gonna gain from the book? I mean, in the year or so since it's been released, what's been the response? Gabby Leon Spatt: The experience, the stories we hear, I mean, I'll be sitting in a meeting, and somebody says, I read that book to my granddaughter, and it's the only one she wants to read now, and she just took so much away from it. But for us, I think the big picture is when you open your stomach at a dinner table, there's a way to start to open your heart and your mind. And Candace and I have shared so many life events together, holiday dinners, Shabbat dinners, Sunday dinners, just real times, where we've had that opportunity to kind of dive in and when you taste something new or something different, and you're at someone's home or their family member cooks it–there's always a story that goes behind it. And that's really the inspiration of this book is that the dinner table is a special place that brings people, ideas, and cultures together. And we thought, how do we tell this story, and the story was about telling our own family traditions, and what we typically do when we celebrate a Friday night Shabbat dinner, or a Sunday dinner. And so the characters, you know, are loosely mirrored after us and our families, and what the dinner means to us. And so the story follows two friends through their class presentations, as they learn more about each other's family traditions. And the hope is that the book introduces readers to other cultures and communities, and that we pique some interest in learning about other traditions. And the book is a great, you know, conversation starter, not just for children, but even for adults who maybe haven't had some of those unique experiences. For us, it was really important to be able to tell them more than just the story within the book. But we tell a little bit of the history of Black-Jewish relations. And we also have a page that is continuing the conversation. Dov Wilker: I'm curious, Candace, has that been your experience as well, I mean, you sit in a meeting, and someone tells you about the book that they've read that their grandchild only wants to only wants to read that, or you got another story? Candace Bazemore: Yeah, actually, I have a couple of stories like that, I actually had an opportunity to speak at a children's center here in Virginia. And the kids were so excited, they were sharing their family dinner traditions, and things like that. So that was very cool that came from the book reading. And we've had, I was actually in a meeting last night and a program associated with AJC, and we were all talking about some plans for a program for young people. And one of the organizers mentioned about our book, and two of the people in the meeting had the book that they read to their young kids. And that's their favorite book. So it was like, very cool. I was like, Oh, my god, yeah, that's great. But one of the coolest things, I'm in a friend's group with Gabby and some other black and Jewish women. And one of the members, when we first launched the book, she ordered it on Amazon, and it got delivered to her neighbor's house by accident. And she had never met the neighbor, the neighbor just opened, because of course, it was during the pandemic, the height of everybody getting Amazon orders. And so she just was like, Oh, this must be my order. She opens it up. It's a book, she doesn't know what it is. But it's, you know, the cover was inviting, she opened it up, she read the whole book, and then she put it back in the envelope with a personal note to our friend, and said, hey, you know, I got this book by mistake, I was really excited and really love this story. The images inside, the message, and I read some of the questions at the end. I'd love to get together with you over dinner, to talk more about it, because I'd love to learn more about your community. So that's how she became friends with her neighbor through the book. So it's very cool. Dov Wilker: That's really an incredible story for so many reasons. So this Thursday, July 13, AJC's marking the relaunch of the Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations, where the two of you will be sharing your story. What do you hope our nation's leaders will gain from hearing about your experience? Gabby Leon Spatt: So we're really excited to be at the relaunch of the Congressional Caucus. I think, for us, the hope is for people to know that this work is happening, these communities are engaging already, revisiting the past, this is not a new relationship. This is one that is rooted in many, many, many years of friendship, of teaching, of learning. And it's still happening. It's just maybe happening, you know, in a new way. I hope that we're able to inspire those that are in the room, including the congressmen and the congresswomen to really make this part of the agenda, to really celebrate the relationship and show the impact we can make and that we are making. Dov Wilker: I love that. I couldn't agree more. So the goals of the caucus are to raise awareness, provide resources and unite black and Jewish, and black-Jewish communities to combat hate and stereotypes. How do you think the caucus can achieve that? Big picture here. Candace Bazemore: First of all, it's a great question. I'm gonna give you a little bit of background about myself. And the fact that I actually was in college, a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation congressional intern. So I spent a summer working on the hill, in Congressman Scott, Robert C. Scott's office, Bobby Scott, from the Third District of Virginia. And it was very cool to see some of the great things they were doing to help shape young minds and future leaders. And I think that the caucus and the role of congressional leaders and just leadership in general requires you to look at ways to unite and to get your constituents and your communities that you touch, to look for ways to work together. I mean, the goal of a congressperson is to take their district and help make it better. I know in recent years, we've seen leadership go in the wrong direction. But these leaders have the opportunity to build bridges instead of tear them down. And so they can be the catalyst for change in their communities, they have the ability to direct resources and to direct attention, as well as to put their time on these topics. So they're already doing it by obviously relaunching the program and the caucus. And so the next step is then to empower their constituents to start these dialogues, start these conversations. And, and I think this gives them a reason, and also the organizations that they touch, a reason to start looking for ways to unite these communities. Dov Wilker: Excellent. So, you know, I want to take it a little more local, before we go back to the macro national level. Can you tell us more about your experience with Project Understanding? So for those that don't know, our listeners, AJC's Atlanta office has been running this, Marvin C. Goldstein Project Understanding Black Jewish retreat, every other year, since 1990-ish. We bring together 18 black and Jewish and some black-Jewish leaders to be a part of the conversation. So 36, in total. For 24 hours of intense dialogue. So I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about that experience for you. And if you've been involved since then, beyond writing this book together, and I think Candace, you even referenced a new initiative that you're a part of, so I was wondering, if you could share a little bit more about that, too. Gabby Leon Spatt: Yes. So, you know, I mentioned earlier, the retreat was just eye opening, really moving. You know, I grew up, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, we were told, you always love everybody. The idea in my family of not liking somebody just because of their skin color, or their culture or their religion. It just didn't exist. And I don't know that I noticed, you know, growing up, I was already kind of doing some of this work. And I had a mentor of mine in college, who was my Greek advisor. And we talked a lot about black and Jewish relations at the time, he asked me to make him, challah French toast because he always associated challah with Jewish. And I said, Sure. And I went to church with him, actually, here in Atlanta, we were here for a conference. And, you know, it just kind of happened authentically. And coming to Atlanta and getting connected with AJC, and the Black-Jewish Coalition. And then Project Understanding. I think I realized how powerful the experiences I had in the past were, and this just felt like home for me. And it's also, Dov, it's incredible to see how you've invested more into the program and opened it up to a generation above, reaching 40 to 55 year olds, but also this year, launching a high school program. And so I think the impact of the retreat, that happens immediately, but also has a long lasting impact, we've really been able to make change within the Atlanta community. Dov Wilker: Candace, how about for you? Candace Bazemore: Yeah. Well, you know, first of all, Gabby touched on all the things that are dear to my heart about, you know, what we've learned along the way in our journey together. I kind of like listening to her talk about some of the programs were a part of. I mean, to see people from Project Understanding, the Black Jewish Coalition at events for the United Way or for the Junior League. I recently hosted a fundraiser for the Amario's Art Academy, which was a sneaker ball to help this, this program that helps young kids connect with arts and art opportunities that they wouldn't normally have, because they don't have the access to afford expensive art programs. And to have Gabby and her husband show up and have such a great time, and other people from other programs that were associated. So it's great to see how much the community building how it blends across everything that helps the community grow and be more diverse. And she even mentioned the the team program, through Project Understanding, it's the Black Jewish Teen Initiative is what it's called. So applications are open for this great program where the teens get to participate, they're high school juniors and seniors from across Greater Atlanta, coming together to learn about, black Jewish relationships, to learn about, like the impact of racism, antisemitism, to learn about diversity within the black and Jewish communities. So I mean, I'm just super excited about some of the things that have come from these programs. And, and the fact that we're more forward thinking. So the idea of the book is a way to get in front of young minds, the idea of this program is to get in front of teen minds, the Project Understanding traditional program is for those emerging leaders. And now the new programs that are for people who maybe weren't around when these programs existed to instill, learn and build communities as they get older. We're looking at the whole life of people, how do you build relationships your whole life, so that those communities when you need them already there, you already know someone you can pick up the phone and say, Hey, how do I do this? What's the best way to do this? Or I made a mistake? How do I improve? How do I correct this? By having these relationships, there's more opportunity for grace. So, you know, gaps may happen, mistakes can happen. But if you have relationships, you have something that you can, dip into and say, Hey, how do we do things better? How do we do things differently? Gabby Leon Spatt: I think it's also, you know, special to point out, we're one story, we're one outcome, right? There have been other individuals who have participated in Project understanding, who have started a barbecue team at the Atlanta Kosher BBQ Festival, which happens to be the largest kosher barbecue festival in the entire country. And that, you know, became a learning experience, just for themselves to be on the team, you had to go through Project Understanding, you know, and there's this cultural experience of explaining what kosher meat is. And you don't want to put extra salt in the rub, because it's already salted right. And when you like, the, you know, the barbecue, that has to be after Shabbat on sundown on Saturday, and the mashgiach has to light it. And then it's like, Who is that, right? And so the stuff that's happening in our community is so authentic, it just is happening, and it's so nice to see people just wanting to learn and continue the conversation past just the retreat. Dov Wilker: I can also share that as an attendee of the BBQ Festival. It's not just that they're there together,they're grilling good meat. It's a very tasty experience to attend. Alright, so one final question. What are ways that we can highlight the positive worker interactions between our two communities? Candace Bazemore: Well, that's a great question. I always say the best way to highlight it is to ask people to share their individual stories. And me being a digital person, definitely utilize social media in order to get the word out about the ways that you know you're working together. If you're in a room with someone who doesn't look like you, and you're working on these tough problems and coming up with great solutions. share a post about that, encourage someone else to do that, too. If you have an event coming up, invite someone else out to come with it, that normally wouldn't be in the room. So I don't know how many times me and Gabby have been the only ones of us in a room before. A great example. I was in town during the great challah bake. And 300 Jewish women at the-was it at the Bernie Marcus center? Gabby Leon Spatt: Yes, the Jewish Community Center. Candace Bazemore: Jewish Community Center. Yeah. And so I was the only black woman or maybe one or two in the whole room? Gabby Leon Spatt: It was just you. Candace Bazemore: It was just me, okay. And was having a good old time making some challah bread. Because challah's my thing. Obviously, Gabby has shown me how to make challah bread. So I'm actually pretty good at it. She's getting good at deep fried cornbread as a matter of fact as well. Gabby Leon Spatt: Oh it's so good. I think it's opportunities like this, being able to be invited to share your story. And I think the caucus is really going to highlight a lot of what is happening across the country already, and give, you know, local advocates on the ground doing the work the opportunity to shine and to tell their story, because I think more than anything, storytelling is impactful, and it hits, at people's hearts and people's minds, and in our case, people's stomachs. Dov Wilker: Well, thank you, Gabby, and Candice, Candice and Gabby, we are so grateful for the book that you've written for the delicious food, that you're helping to inspire being made across this beautiful country, and to your participation in the relaunch of the Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish relations. Candace Bazemore: Thank you. Dov. Gabby Leon Spatt: Thanks. Manya Brachear Pashman: If you missed last week's episode, tune in for an exclusive conversation between three women leading transformation in the Middle East and AJC Abu Dhabi Program Director Reva Gorelick onstage at AJC Global Forum 2023 in Tel Aviv.
Join us for an exclusive conversation featuring three women leading transformation in the Middle East. Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, Chairperson of the Israeli Export Institute, speaks to promoting Israeli exports and fostering economic growth; Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh, a Senior Envoy at The Jewish Agency for Israel, discusses fostering connections and supporting Jewish communities in the region; and Aviva Steinberger, Director of Innovation Diplomacy at Start-Up Nation Central, touches on harnessing innovation and technology for positive change. Led by AJC Abu Dhabi Program Director Reva Gorelick onstage at AJC Global Forum 2023 in Tel Aviv, this conversation offers valuable insights into the transformative efforts shaping the Middle East today. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Reva Gorelick, Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh, Aviva Steinberger ___ Show Notes: Listen: People of the Pod: 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered?': Exploring Israel's Declaration of Independence with People of the Pod and Israel Story Watch: AJC Global Forum: Women Driving Change in the Middle East - video of the full session, as heard on this week's episode. More sessions from AJC Global Forum 2023 Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod You can reach us at: email@example.com If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh, Aviva Steinberger: Manya Brachear Pashman: The role women play in pursuing peace and progress in the Middle East is too often overlooked. But my colleague AJC Abu Dhabi Program Director Reva Gorelick is not one to leave such an important stone unturned. At AJC Global Forum 2023 in Tel Aviv she led a fascinating conversation on "Women Driving Change in the Middle East." This week's podcast brings you a portion of that conversation with Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, Chairperson of the Israeli Export Institute, Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh, a Senior Envoy at The Jewish Agency for Israel, and Aviva Steinberger, the Director of Innovation Diplomacy at Start-Up Nation Central. We open with Reva posing a question to Gadeer. Reva Gorelick: Gadeer, in your career, you have broken barriers in many ways. And I'm going to read because there's so many ways that I want to make sure that I get them right, as the first non Jewish broadcast anchorwoman here, both in Hebrew and Arabic, and then as the first Druze woman to serve as a member of Knesset, what have you learned about the appetite for change and for representation of historically marginalized communities in this part of the world specifically? And how did these trends track with what you're now seeing as an emissary for the Jewish Agency in America? Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh: Good morning. So long story short, so much, I learned so much. I'm still learning, I'm still growing, I'm still listening. And I'm still amazed to see the social impact of simply our existence, simply of being or living or achieving or talking to each other. And look at us today, this morning. The first of us, each one of us, based in different countries, speaking different language, different religion, different fields, but we are social agents. And this is what my father told me, always, as a child, you are a social agent. You are not privileged to live your life in a way that you are consuming reality, you have to shape reality. And I did social activism even without knowing that I'm doing social activism. I broadcasted my first TV show when I was 12 years old. I believe in people, I believe that we have the ability to change reality. And then being in those positions as first, as firs, as first, when you are how I always introduce myself by saying hello, my name is Gadeer. I am an Israeli but not a Jew, I am an Arab but not a Muslim, I am a minority within the Arab minority, my mother tongue is Arabic, married religion is Druze. I'm a proud Israeli citizen..good luck. So having such a unique identity, and being the first in those positions is something that a stranger would not understand the complexity and the beauty that you have. And so I started to write my book because I'm afraid that we cannot have, we don't have enough time to talk about it. But I learned so much the most important thing that I learned is engage, engage, engage. It doesn't matter where it doesn't matter how it doesn't matter with whom. Engage as a social agent and activate your role in shaping public opinion. I had so many stories in my life, Reva, in which I was amazed and telling myself, Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Being the only woman in so many rooms, I'm sure that Ayelet and Aviva also understand what does that mean to be the only woman. Nobody asked you if you want to represent women, you are a representative of women. So talk, represent, share their stories. And two weeks ago, we were in DC and we initiated some of the prestigious forum that you will hear about, and we were 18 successful leaders in Washington DC, but guess what? I was the only woman. And I told them guys, I got used to this in my villages in the Druze community, we are still a conservative community. Okay, but in DC in the 21st century, I am the only woman? Hey, wake up. Then I understood that okay, we did so much, we achieved so much in the last decades, last century, but we are not there yet. You know, like reminding ourselves in some countries we have no ability to vote, we have no ability to even, no right to be elected. Okay, we did, we promoted, we leverage our skills we went, we learned, we achieved. But even now today, we are not there. We don't have yet absolute gender equality. Look at the numbers. In our current government, there are zero CEOs of ministries, five of 33 ministers are women. 25% of MK members of parliament today are women. We are talking about 30 from 120. So the up-bottom policy is also, you know, reflecting the atmosphere. There are huge ramifications of who we are, who is working with me, who are my colleagues. So we are trying to lead. We are the head, the CEO, the founder, but we need to work much more hard to achieve. And this is our role. So the most important advice, in my opinion, that I can share here is lead. Don't wait for opportunity, take the opportunity, and I am really trying to target here, women, especially young women, excuse me, men, you have your exclusive club, you take care of each other. I believe that behind every woman, there is no man. There is a circle of women to support her, to give her the chances, to help her, to leverage her skills, to teach her. And I believe that it is our role as leaders at first, to empower women to be there for each other and to take the number much higher. Because so many researchers found that and it's proven that our ability to read reality is much better than men. We see the macro perspective, the empathy, the way of dealing things, the multitask. And all those things affect the atmosphere in our companies, in our organizations, in politics, in the Knesset. So do it, engage and lead and don't wait for the opportunity. Take the opportunity and lead. Reva Gorelick: Thank you. I want to just follow up on one point that you brought up, Ayelet, I'm gonna go off script a little bit and just ask, you brought up a question about representation in government. And we're not there in most parts of the world, we're not nearly anywhere where we where we need to be and where we should be at this point. When we're looking at government representation and gender parity in government, what should we be striving for? And how do you see that gender parity and representation as a barometer for social change and policy change? Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin: I think it is a little bit frustrating to admit the truth. We felt that we were going forward, and then we were kind of pulled back. And it's really up to us. I've got to say something, and I've got to be very frank about it. Politics is a shitty business. I worked with Yitzchak Rabin when I was 20 years old. And at 25, I had so much political power, I couldn't believe it. And I still didn't run for the Knesset, because of the men around me, you know, for them. I was 25 years old. Why should I run for the Knesset? Nowadays, it's much more reasonable to do so, to make such a crazy decision. But then I decided to go to the Knesset only after I already had three kids, a full career, a lawyer and board member and owner of a company, everything, that's when I decided, okay, now I'm gonna bring everything into the home, you know, and run to the Knesset. And it's a very, very difficult and non rewarding life. Even today, I tell people, I'm a politician, because I don't want people to think that politics is such a bad thing, you know, it's so important to understand, Gadeer, forgive me, she's also a politician, you know, this is not a bad thing. You know, this is, you know, the kind of my IP, you know, that's what I bring to the, to the table, my ability to speak to people and my ability to solve problems to, to do a lot of things, you know, that probably people with, with different skills, other people will be scientists and doctors, I really, really wanted to be an MD, but that's for another session. But what we need to do is make sure that from the very, very start at kindergarten, I'm not educating my daughter, I'm educating her brothers. Her brothers need to know that she can be Prime Minister, if she would like. That she could do anything that she could want. That's the idea. Because we used to say, once upon a time for socialization, okay, so let's take care of the girls. Nuh-uh. We need to take care of all of them, of both genders, because this is what we need to do. Because till today, and especially in a very, very complex society, like Israel, where we have both very, very strong liberalism, alongside in spite of you know, in spite of the situation in the Knesset, still very, very strong Bible values that, you know, the values that we share, and conservatism, that is not only Jewish, okay. I mean, there's no, no doubt there is, you know, is there a strong draft of conservatism from the Jewish part, but also we know well from the non Jewish parts. So the idea is, you know, people like Gadeer, I never heard you speak about what your father told you, that you should change reality. But that's exactly it. It's up to us to shape reality and shaping reality, from Facebook, from Meta, that Sheryl Sandberg used to say, speak at the table. You know, when you go through board minutes, you see that the women don't speak as much as the men. It's not only Okay, so we got to the table, but do we speak there? And I noticed once you know that Shabbat dinners, my daughter doesn't speak as much as her brothers. She's kind of reluctant. Maybe she'll make a mistake. Maybe she'll make it out and I'll correct her. God forbid I'm a terrible mom in these things. You know, I never have patience. So I say to the boys, I say, now you sush. And I give her the front seat. And this is so important to do. And up until, you know, we'll realize that and act on it, we will unfortunately, especially in such a divided society, like our own, we'll stay in the same situation. As long as people for instance, in primary parties, people still vote for one woman, you know this like, that's like the one token woman that we vote for. Now, on the other side, on the left wing, it's not as much as that. But again, we don't see as many women. I think in Yesh Atid actually, Yair [Lapid] made a huge effort. Also, Benny [Gantz] made a huge effort to bring more women on board. But these are different. You know, these are different kinds of parties. By the way, if you ask me, what's better for women? Nowadays, primaries or non primaries, you'd be surprised to hear: non primaries. Non primaries. Primaries are not necessarily the best way to bring women to the front seat. Reva Gorelick: Thank you for sharing that. And bringing that into the conversation of you, I want to come back to you. Aviva, you hold the role of Director of Innovation Diplomacy. It's not a phrase that I had heard much before we started having these conversations. And I'd love for other people to hear about it some more. From your experience in Israel's tech and startup world. Can you talk to us about the cascading effects of empowering women to be agents for change in their respective fields? Aviva Steinberger: Yeah, so innovation diplomacy is a made up term. And you know, if you think about science, diplomacy, or economic diplomacy, that's generally diplomacy that's meant to further goals around science and economics. And in this case, you're looking at focusing on innovation to further diplomacy. The idea is leveraging what's coming out of Israel in the tech sector, leveraging this brand that we have as the startup nation, to build ties. So with the signing of the Abraham Accords, really created the opportunity for normalization, as we know, and countries in the region are investing a lot of money, billions of dollars, to create their own innovation ecosystems. And they're looking at their neighbor, Israel, and Israel as a now welcome citizen of the region that everybody can play with. And saying, How can we learn from the Israel journey, Israel's journey over the last 30 years going from a resource economy where our main export was oranges, to a knowledge based economy where our main export is anyone know? Tech. Yep. So digital, we call it digital oranges, right? The drones flying over the citrus fields and around the world, measuring the health of the fruit in the trees, etc. So really this journey and what went into building an ecosystem? What did the government do 30 years ago that enabled and incentivized foreign investment, where's the academia, where is tech transfer happening both at the university level, also in hospital levels, where what is the role of incubators and accelerators and investors. So looking at the whole ecosystem, sharing that knowledge and using that, as what I call a frictionless tool to engage with our neighbors in the region, because if you're talking about some of our shared challenges, I mentioned before, water security, and energy security and the impacts of extreme weather. Those issues don't know geographic boundaries. And so we are all dealing, especially in the region, one of the most vulnerable to climate change, for example. By the way, in America, climate change is very politicized. In the region, it is not at all because if you don't pay attention to the impacts of climate change in the region, your people aren't going to have clean water, they're not going to have food, they're not going to have energy, electricity. And so these are not political issues. These are what I call frictionless issues, that we can sit around the table and say, we must collaborate in order to find solutions. So innovation diplomacy is really about focusing on the role that innovation plays to create these relationships. As it relates to women. I think women play, can play and do play a unique role into driving this forward. First of all, you know, we spoke about it a little bit and Gadeer, you mentioned this idea of women being social change agents. There's something I mean, I don't think this is unique and exclusive to women, but it's definitely emphasized in women and when we walk into a room, as professionals, we are wearing a lot of hats. You might not see them, but I think everybody on this stage is wearing a number of hats. Some of us are politicians, we're leaders in our communities, in our societies, in our companies, on boards. But we're also daughters and sisters potentially and mothers, some of us and friends, and maybe the head of a kindergarten parent group that has to worry about making sure everybody has the cake for the end of the year party. I mean, these are all things happening at once in our heads. And that's just my own. I'm sorry. I don't mean to project. Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh: The Sarah Jessica Parker cloud. Aviva Steinberger: Yeah, exactly. And I think the invitation that we're putting out to women and the engagements that we have is, bring all of those hats with you into a room. I mean, sometimes they're not necessarily relevant but the engagement at the personal level, at the business level, at the values level, sharing ideas for the vision of what the future, the region could look like. That's really where the connection I mean, I witnessed and sorry, I'm going to share I witnessed and embrace between these two friends who hadn't seen each other in a long time. And I overheard Gadeer say this is the hug of two strong women. That's something unique to women. And, I think if we create the space where that happens, those ties, then feed into trusting networks, where I know that my friend, who I just met last month and spent two and a half days with, who is running a business in Nigeria, and is looking for funding. And I'm connecting with a funder in the UAE who's looking for women-led ag-tech businesses, I'm suddenly making that connection and putting them in touch. And you create these networks of trust that create opportunity. And so it's an opportunity that leads to more women sitting around the table making decisions on investments, more women sitting around the table making decisions around what kind of solutions to pursue, and where these cross regional, cross border synergies could happen. And that I believe in my heart of hearts, is where we're charting a path to a new future for the region. I don't think it's naive to say, we are on the cusp of a new dynamic in the Middle East. Because of these opportunities, and because of these opportunities to engage. I will also say just in terms of numbers-wise. Globally, women representation we spoke about in politics, but women representation, as CEOs and founders of companies, is an abysmal 8% cap, no matter where you go, you're gonna hit that 8-9% number. When I first heard this, I immediately started checking our stats in Israel, because I was like, that's, that can't be in Israel. Israel is just hovering around 10. And we are a global leader. This is an improvement. And you're talking about after seeing efforts. And if you look at the numbers coming out of the universities, women are very well represented today at the academic level and computer sciences. You're talking about graduates that are hovering around 50%, if not more at some university. So you think, okay, you know, we're charting a path for a better future. But that doesn't translate. The reality doesn't translate into seeing more women, founding companies, leading companies. And that is a gap that needs to be addressed. And the jury's still out on what's the silver bullet to get there. But I think it is in creating opportunities. And Ayelet also spoke about this, this mentoring, I think, in particular in the region. I mean, from the United States, I'm American, living in Israel, for the last 25 years, I have not had a challenge finding women to model, women to reach out to and say, you know, I can track this path. And this is where I can see myself being as a future leader. But women in the region don't necessarily have that network, and creating these networks where you can access a vision for what future female leadership looks like and see it and get there and not be the only woman in the room, that has tremendous power. And that's really what we're driving to see in the business and tech community. Manya Brachear Pashman: If you missed last week's episode, be sure to tune in for our live recording from Tel Aviv with one of Israel's top podcasts, Israel Story. Host Mishy Harman and I joined the grandson of Moshe Kol, one of the 37 signers of Israel's Declaration of Independence as part of Israel Story's latest series, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered?” Don't miss it.
Two of the Jewish world's leading podcasts, People of the Pod and Israel Story, are teaming up to bring you inside the making of ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered?' – the latest series from Israel Story that explores the lives of the signatories of Israel's Declaration of Independence and their descendants. Recorded live at AJC Global Forum 2023 in Tel Aviv, the episode features Mishy Harman, host of Israel Story, and Eran Peleg, the grandson of signatory Moshe Kol (born Moshe Kolodny). Tune in to hear Eran's lasting memories of his grandfather, the strong Zionist values he instilled in his family, and why the Declaration of Independence matters 75 years later. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. ___ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Mishy Harman and Eran Peleg (42:35) Yehudit Kol Inbar and Mishy Harman ___ Show Notes: Listen: People of the Pod: Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Conversation with AJC CEO Ted Deutch People of the Pod: Two Ukrainian Refugees Reflect on Escaping War, and Life in Israel– Live from AJC Global Forum 2023 Israel Story: Episode 89 - Moshe Kol Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod You can reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of Interview with Mishy Harman and Eran Peleg: Manya Brachear Pashman: As many of our listeners know, People of the Pod recorded not just one but two episodes in front of a live audience at AJC Global Forum 2023 in Tel Aviv. We also took the show on the road and did a few more interviews in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem. You'll hear those episodes in the months to come. This week, we bring you our second live show in partnership with one of Israel's most popular podcasts: Israel Story. Welcome to the second live podcast recording here at AJC Global Forum 2023 in Tel Aviv. So on Monday, you heard two very different perspectives from two women who fled war torn Ukraine and landed here in Israel, their new home. Today, you will hear the story of Israeli Moshe Kol, born Moshe Kolodny, in 1911, in what is now Belarus. He was one of the 37 founders of the State of Israel, who signed Israel's Declaration of Independence. We're bringing you this live show together with another podcast that you might enjoy, Israel Story. Think This American Life except it's This Israeli Life. Broadcasting in English since 2014, each episode introduces us to the wide array of characters who make up this diverse and dynamic democratic nation. In honor of Israel's 75th year of independence, the team at Israel Story set out to find the closest living relative of all 37, who signed Megilat Ha'atzmaut. In March, they began rolling out what I would call audio portraits of those 37 people. Portraits about who they met, what they could tell us about the 37 people who signed that founding document. They call the series, 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered?' And since March, we have met eight of Israel's founding mothers and fathers. Over the next several months we will meet the other 29 including Moshe Kol, through the lens of his daughter. Today, you get a special preview through the lens of his grandson. With me to talk about 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered?' is the host of Israel Story, Mishy Harman, and the grandson of Moshe Kol, Eran Peleg. Mishy, Eran, welcome to People of the Pod, live in Tel Aviv. So Mishy, I will start with you. The title is not 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered,' it's 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered?' What's with the question mark? Mishy Harman: Well, first of all, that's a good question. I mean, it's always difficult to adjust with your intonation to indicate a question mark. But I think that this is a real question. When we began this series, it was actually before the last elections which took place in November, and before this unprecedented wave of democratic, cry for democratic values in this country in light of the government's judicial reform. And we set out to ask, there is this founding document, its status, its legal status is unclear. It's the best way I think, to think of it is, it's some sort of moral compass for our country. And, you know, interestingly, the only action item that actually exists within the Declaration of Independence is to formalize the Constitution, which of course, never happened. So we want to say, to ask the question of what this document actually is in Israeli society, whether we live up to the promise of the words and the ideas that were described within it, whether we haven't. In which ways we have or we haven't, and we wanted to do this through the prism. I'm sure every citizen of Israel has something to say about this and we wanted to do it through the prism of the descendants of the people who signed this document who you know with, with strike of their pen birthed, this country. Actually Moshe Kol call was in Jerusalem at the, on the day of the declaration. There were 11 out of members from Moetzet Ha'am who were who were stuck in Jerusalem, that was besieged and didn't participate in the, in the ceremony, which was here in Tel Aviv. So I think your grandfather signed something like a month later, during the first ceasefire, the different members of Moetzet Ha'am were brought to Tel Aviv by plane actually, to sign. But we wanted to ask, well, here we have this group of people. And it's an interesting group, because the first thing to say about it is that there are no non Jews who signed Megillat Ha'atzmaut, and that's, I think, a very important thing to keep in mind. But when you look at the group of these 37 signatories, it's a little bit like a pointillist painting. So when you look from afar, it looks like a pretty monolithic group of Polish and Ukrainian and Russian Labor Party operatives. But when you come closer, you actually see that there was a dazzling diversity among the signatories. There were ultra-orthodox Jews, and there were atheists, and there were revisionists. And there were communists. And there were people who were born in the middle of the 19th century, and there were people like Moshe Kol, who was the second youngest signatory who was born in 1911, I think. And they represented very different ideologies. And we want to see if a generation and a half or two afterwards whether that diversity had expanded, or shrunken. And to what extent these people who are closest to the ones who imagines the state, how they think about the place we live in today. Manya Brachear Pashman: So 25 signed in Independence Hall, just a little ways from here, actually, here in Tel Aviv, 11, we're in Jerusalem under siege, including your grandfather, two women. Hm. But there was a lot of diversity in the group. That said, I know that they–oh, one in America, I forgot about one in America. They organized it alphabetically. When they signed it, though, even though they signed it at different times? Mishy Harman: With the exception of David Ben-Gurion, who signed first. Everyone else signed alphabetically, and they left little spaces for them. Some of them signed terribly. Like, even though it was the founding document of the state, they couldn't sign on the right line. And actually right underneath Ben-Gurion is the signature of Daniel Auster who was the mayor of Jerusalem. His surname is Auster, which begins with an aleph. So he was the first to sign. And he recalled how Ben-Gurion berated him because his signature was just like some sort of scribble and Ben-Gurion said, don't you understand the importance, the historical importance of the document you're signing. I think your grandfather's signature actually is sort of legible, right? Eran Peleg: Yeah, you can read it. Mishy Harman: I don't know if you sort of, when you were a boy, when you went up to the Declaration of Independence and sort of pointed to your grandfather's signature with pride or something. Manya Brachear Pashman: One of the women you interviewed said that her father or grandfather, I don't recall, but she remembers practicing and practicing the signature beforehand. It was an exciting, it was such an exciting moment. So going back to the organization, how did you organize the episodes? And how did you decide the sequence of how you would release the episodes? Mishy Harman: So we decided not to follow the order in which they appear on the scroll. We did start with David Ben-Gurion. An episode in which his grandson who was really his, the closest person, I would say to him in the family, including his own children, talked about Ben-Gurion. And interestingly, Yariv Ben-Eliezer, Ben-Gurion's grandson, has quite radical views about Israel today. And he thinks of Israel as an apartheid state and says that his grandfather would be very, very upset, and that the whole dream sort of went down the drain. So it was important to us in the next episode to present a pretty different view. So the next episode was the son of Zerach Warhaftig, who was one of the leaders of the Religious Zionist movement. And is a sort of mainstream right winger today. We do try to take into account, you know, gender. So even though there were only two female signatories, we obviously tried to interview as many women as we could who are descendants. Some sort of political variation, we also do try to have episodes have a theme, so whether it's economy or socialism, or tourism or you know, Yemenite Jewelry, or women's rights. So it's not just about the, about the signatory himself or herself, but also sort of about the things that were most important to that person. Manya Brachear Pashman: I tried to as we were, as we were planning this and planning this episode, I tried my hand at tracking someone down from Israeli history and tracking down descendants. And I told your producer that it just made me even more impressed by the work that went into this project, because it was damn near impossible to find who I was looking for. Tell us how you tracked everyone down? Or are there some really good stories about how you connected the dots and landed the right, right person. Mishy Harman: So all of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence are dead. The last one, who was the only one who was younger than your grandfather, Meir Vilner, died about 20 years ago. 14 of the 37 have children who are still alive. In fact, your grandfather, you were just telling me that all of his three daughters are still alive. So that was quite straightforward to find the children. When you start getting into grandchildren and great grandchildren, it becomes quite messy, there are 1000s of descendants. There were only three ultra orthodox Haredi signatories, but they have many, many descendants. And there becomes an interesting question of who you choose, right? Because depending on who you choose, you can tell a very, very different story. And we always tried to prefer people who knew their ancestor, and had firsthand experiences with them. But also to try and maybe we'll get into this a little bit later, but to try to demonstrate a variety of opinions today, too. So it is an interesting fact that the vast, and maybe maybe you'll talk about this, but it is an interesting fact that the vast majority of the descendants of the signatories of the declaration are in what you might call today, the sort of center and center left camp in in Israel, who are concerned about assaults on Israeli democracy. And in fact, the Declaration of Independence has, in recent months, become a rallying cry for the demonstrations. Suddenly the Declaration of Independence, you can't you can't escape it. It's everywhere. The municipality of Tel Aviv, hunger, massive replica, on the building. In demonstrations. There's sort of resigning of the Declaration of Independence, it's really, it's really become an icon, basically. And it was important for us to also show that there are descendants who think otherwise. And so for example, in episodes that haven't yet come out, their descendants who wonder why we even talk about Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, they say democracy is an important concept. It's some sort of Hellenistic fossil. It's not a Jewish value. We don't think that that should even be something that we aspire to. Manya Brachear Pashman: Interesting. Interesting. Eran, how did you get the call that Israel Story was putting this together? Do you recall that day? Eran Peleg: The truth is, I don't remember exactly. Because I've had numerous conversations with them. I think it was probably towards the end of last year at some point. And again, as Mishy said, it was before kind of all these events happened here in Israel. Very happy because I thought, you know, it's, as you say, now it's like the declaration is everywhere. Yeah, people talk about it all of a sudden people, you know, it's, we see it everywhere. But for many years, I mean, hasn't been much discussed, actually. So I was kind of saying, Ah, yeah, it was the 75th anniversary, the State of Israel is coming up. Some chance that we'll get something about it, but that wasn't expecting much. And I was quite happy, to have the opportunity to talk about the declaration, my grandfather, obviously. Manya Brachear Pashman: Tell us a little bit about your own upbringing and what Moshe Kol was like as a grandfather. Eran Peleg: Well, I was just telling Mishy, I mean, quite a small family. My grandfather Moshe or as we called him, Saba Misha, grandfather Misha. You know, he had three daughters. Elisa, Sari, who's my mother and Yehudit, who is the younger one. And altogether, you know, a bunch of grandchildren, seven grandchildren. But that's, that's pretty much it. And so we're a very close family. Every Friday night, for example, we would all gather at my grandparents house and have Shabbat dinner there that was like, you know, you had to be there was no discussion about it or negotiation. So even like, my friends always know that if we want to go out on Friday nights, always after dinner at Saba Misha and my grandmother Keta's house. So we spent a lot of time together. At the point when I was growing up already, my grandfather was obviously getting less involved with state affairs. When I was seven years old, he kind of retired essentially, in 1977. So I had the opportunity to spend time with him actually, both here and also they took me abroad on a couple of trips with them. So it was very interesting. He was a very kind man, very interesting man. I thought he was very smart. The Zionist project was kind of his life mission, if you like. So he was always talking in some way about it. He was always involved even after he retired he was involved in various different projects. Some of them had to do with coexistence within Israel, between Arabs and Jews, Druze, he was very involved with the Druze community, actually, he made good friends there. So even after his retirement, he continued to be active. And so I had the great privilege of kind of knowing him until I was 19 years old when he passed away. And really learned a lot from him. Manya Brachear Pashman: When did you learn that he had signed the Declaration of Independence? Eran Peleg: I don't remember exactly, frankly. And this is one of the interesting things is that I don't remember much discussion at home about the Declaration of Independence. And I think my mother and aunt as well, I don't think, I think they'll probably agree with that even at an earlier stage. And it's quite interesting that he never made a big deal about it, definitely. And I think that in a way, he, although obviously, in hindsight, it was, and maybe at the time, it was a big event, but to him it was I think, and look at here, I'm kind of interpreting, this is my perspective on it. I think to him, it was one necessary and important, obviously, but you know, one necessary step in the big project, and the big project was, you know, establishing and building the Jewish state, the state of Israel. But I don't think if you asked him probably what was the highlight of kind of what was the most important thing you did in your life? I'm not sure if he would have said signing the Declaration of Independence. For example, I think— Mishy Harman: He would have said bringing over 100,000 kids from the Diaspora. Eran Peleg: Exactly yeah, so he was head of youth Aliyah for 18 years after the Holocaust and after the establishment of the State of Israel. To him, I think that was his kind of big, the big thing he you know, he accomplished more than anything else, and he was even later a minister, a cabinet minister, and so he did you know, many other things, but I think that was probably to him, the highlight of his career, Zionist, you know, and the declaration was kind of, you know, one step, kind of a necessary step, but just, you know, one step along the way. Manya Brachear Pashman: So why was he invited to sign that day? Eran Peleg: So, and maybe Mishy, who's more of a historian can, perhaps, can you shed more light on this? But what I know is that, you know, the signatories were invited, it was based on kind of a, it was a party basis, or there were different movements, as Mishy mentioned, within, you know, Zionism or wasn't specific Zionism, because it really, it was supposed to represent the people who were living here actually ex the non Jews, right? Mishy Harman: Though interestingly, there probably would have been non Jews who would have agreed to have been part of this effort, I mean, your grandfather was involved in, in the cause of Christian Arabs from the North, who were, who were removed from their villages, Iqrit and Biram and stuff like that. Those kinds of people were actually allies of the Zionist movement in those days. And it's, it's possible, although Druze leaders- Eran Peleg: It's possible, although, I mean, it's difficult, I think, for us sitting here now to know, because we have to remember this was like, it was a very tense time and, you know, we just had the War of Independence, kind of breaking out and all that. So it's difficult to say, I think. So he was representative of one of the movements, one of the factions within the Zionist movement, he was part of the, what they called, at the time, the General Zionists, Tzionim Haklaliym. And I think he was one of six representatives, I think of the General Zionists. And already at the time, he was a prominent leader within, you know, the kind of centrist Zionism. He was very early on in his life, he was already head of the, what was called the Noar Hatzioni, the movement, the global leader of the Noar Hatzioni. From there, so he kind of knew, he attended several of the Zionist congressional,l the conferences along the years, he was already a member of the executive committee of the Jewish Agency at that point. So he already had a certain position or statue within the kind of Zionist Movement. And as one of the leaders of the General Zionist, he was invited to participate in Moetzet Ha'am, which were the signatories of the declaration. Manya Brachear Pashman: You said, I'm sorry, the first thing you said, he was the global leader of, and I didn't quite hear what you said. Eran Peleg: The Noar Hatzioni movement. Manya Brachear Pashman: What is that? Eran Peleg: It was a youth movement. One of the, at time it still exists, actually. Interestingly, less so in Israel, actually. But in some countries in South America, I know it still exists. Today it's quite small, then it was a decent youth movement. That's actually how we met my grandmother. Because my grandmother was involved in the Noar Hatzioni in Belgium in Brussels. She was one of the heads of the Noar Hatzioni there, and and he has kind of part of his job as the Global Head, whatever of the movement, he was traveling and went to see all these different, all these different places. And that's how he ended up in Brussels where he met my grandmother. Manya Brachear Pashman: You mentioned earlier that some of the descendants had evolved, drifted away from their ancestors, ideologies, political perspectives or philosophies. I'm curious, what your team found was it was did that account for most of the interviews that you did? Or a minority? I mean, did you find that in most of the interviews, the philosophies were kind of embedded in the family DNA? Mishy Harman: It's interesting. Most people are quite similar to their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, mothers, and so on, so forth. But, and, of course, I mean, the important thing to remember is that we're talking in a completely different worlds now, right? If you think about Israeli society today, and you think about our chances of ever agreeing on a single document or a single vision of this state, that's you have to be crazy, basically, to think that that's possible. I mean, we live in such a fragmented and fractured society today, that getting a group that is in some way representative of the country to agree on what this country actually is, what this project that we call Israel, really is, today seems almost unimaginable. And I think, honestly, that it was pretty unimaginable at the time too. I think that they had other things going for them that in the background that allowed them to reach this moment of agreement. Which, you know, there were, as Eran just said, that we were in the middle of a war and it was, seemed like an existential war, right. We were gonna live or die. This all came together very, very quickly. You know, people understood that this was this opportunity, the British Mandate was about to end, there was going to be a power vacuum, the Zionist movement had an opportunity to declare statehood, which was something that, you know, in the Jewish psyche, had been a dream for 2000 years, 1900 years. And they weren't going to, there was some sense of sort of, I would say, communal responsibility, which, you know, there's this word in Hebrew that is difficult to translate, really, which is Mamlachtiut, it's really some sort of sense of, of being part of a larger state collective, that that wasn't going to allow them even if they disagreed with a specific phrasing or a specific idea to be the one saying, No, I'm going to I'm going to be the sole naysayer in this otherwise historic opportunity. And that's what got a lot of people on board, right. I mean, otherwise, how, and I know, they're all these stories about sort of vague phrasings whether they refer to God or don't refer to God or whether they can be interpreted in other ways, and so on and so forth. Today, we're a much more blunt society today. People would want things to be said very, very clearly. And we just unfortunately, and then I'd be interested to hear what you think. But I don't think that as a collective we share any clear understanding of what we can agree on. At least it doesn't seem that way today. Eran Peleg: It's definitely, I agree. But I still remain optimistic, maybe it's my nature. But I do think that, you know, we've seen, you know, the huge amount we've achieved here in such a short period of time. And I do think that, you know, in some ways the values and political views are more clear now than they were back then. As you say, because of everything that was going on at the time, and they, and they were really occupied with kind of let's build this state more than anything else. You know, they put a lot of other things aside, frankly, it's not that they didn't have views about the economy about, you know, they had views about other other things about education, economy, it's just that they said, let's put this aside for now. And let's focus on the main project or the main mission. And they hope to get to the other stuff. Well, they actually promised to put together a constitution, which I guess, but the truth is, it was, frankly, with historical perspective, I think it was very difficult because they were actually set a date. I think. They said that until the, you know, the declaration was signed in May. And they said by October 1st, something like that, I think it's a very short period of time after they already want to have a constitution. And I think that probably wasn't realistic. Also because there was a war going on. And they were occupied with, you know, just existence, or survival. But also, because, you know, views were not, you know, really clear on many different issues, and they didn't have the opportunity to discuss them really yet. United States, for example, putting together a constitution, the Constitution came really only I think, like more than 150 years after people landed, with the Mayflower. So there was a long time where they were already living together. And also then, there was a very serious job around putting together the American Constitution here, they, they were trying to put it together a middle of a war and just wasn't realistic. Mishy Harman: I think that this is particularly interesting for American listeners, because 75 years is a long time, but it's also almost no time at all. And what we feel lucky about with this project is that we're able to still touch these people, who, before they sort of drift into the realm of becoming historical figures in in books and research papers and stuff like that, and we can, we can talk to two sons and daughters, who remember these people as real as real people. And I think, you know, that's unimaginable, obviously, in the American context. And we tend to, we tend to attribute so much importance to phrasings and to wordings, of these kinds of declarations of, and we forget that at the end of the day, these are people who are writing writing these words within within specific historical context and bringing themselves and you know, Moshe Kol, for example, is signing, signing his name on on this scroll of independence. You know, a few years, four years, I don't know, after, after his parents and sister are murdered in the Holocaust, and that was the story of many of the signatories. And as it was saying, it was in the middle of the war and 1% of the population was killed in this war. I mean, they're writing these words, both without sort of knowing what we know today that 75 years hence, Israel is going to be around and Israel is going to be this thriving country with a cantankerous democracy. It was, I think, in many ways, sort of a prayer or a wish, of what, of what this place could be. Many of them came from, you know, socialist backgrounds or from small villages and stuff like that, and suddenly found themselves here in this radically different environment than anything that they had known previously. And they were trying to imagine, well, what can we imagine a just society being? And another interesting thing is that, sort of patriotic symbols like the flag and like the Declaration of Independence, which for years had been essentially owned by the right in this country have in the last year. Eran Peleg: Less so the Declaration. Mishy Harman: The declaration was a little more in the right. But have been completely appropriated by the protest movement, right? I mean, if you go here to Kaplan on Saturday night, which I strongly recommend everyone to do, whether you agree with the protests, or not just because it's a really, it's an incredible, incredible sight for anyone who cares about democracy, to see what these protests are like. You'll see basically a sea of flags, of Israeli flag. So that's, for me, that's a fascinating development. Manya Brachear Pashman: But doesn't it belong to both? I mean– Eran Peleg: I mean, it definitely does. But, you know, the flag was, you know, is always perceived as a bit kind of nationalistic kind of, has this kind of flavor to it. But yeah, but you're right, it obviously belongs to both. Manya Brachear Pashman: They're just embracing it in different ways. Mishy Harman: One question that I would have to you about who things belong to is whether, sorry, I don't know if you– is whether being the grandson of one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence, makes you feel different about your own ownership of this place? Whether it sort of casts a shadow of responsibility. Eran Peleg: I don't think I'm in a position of privilege or entitlement different from anyone else. I happen to be his grand, yeah, grand grandson. But, but what I think I do have, which maybe some other people don't, I do have, I think, a good sense of history, at least, kind of understanding where we've come from, you know, etc. And I think that's something that sometimes I see missing with other people, maybe that gives me a slightly different perspective on things. So, for example, I see, you know, because we're the generation that was already born into the state of Israel. For us, it was like a given that, right? Self-evident, it's given. And I see especially with people who, like us, some people. It does make me angry when some people might say, I don't like what's going on, I'm just gonna go elsewhere. And to me, like, that makes me angry. But I don't think it makes me angry. Because I'm the son of Moshe Kol, I think it makes me angry, because at least I have an understanding of, you know, what's been put into this project already. And the efforts that have been made, and obviously, you know, people have given their lives as well, I mean, soldiers, for us to be where we are today as well. So, just kind of thinking that, Oh, you know, Israel will always be there for us, even if we go elsewhere, then we decide to come back, right. If we want, we can always come back. But no, that's not the case. Israel wasn't always here. I mean, you have to understand that we have a very, very special situation or position where we have the State of Israel, it's such a valuable thing. We can't just give it up, you know, just like that, okay. And you can't just take it for granted that we'll be here or that it's here, that we'll be here when you decide one day to come back from wherever you're going. Manya Brachear Pashman: Maybe you don't feel that Israel belongs to you. But do you belong to Israel? Eran Peleg: Definitely. Yeah. It's definitely the case. Manya Brachear Pashman: Do you ever, and I actually, I address this question to both of you. Wouldn't it be great if we could make plans. But if you had complete control over the universe, and your future, do you foresee ever leaving Israel? Mishy Harman: Eran? Eran Peleg: Again, it's very difficult to know what the future holds. But I see Israel as my home, I've actually had the opportunity to go abroad and come back. And part of the decision to come back was because this is my home. And my home also consists of the fact that my family's here, obviously. So it's a family, family reasons as well. But also, definitely, also Zionism played a role in my decision. I've lived 12 years outside of Israel, but my assumption was always that I'm there for a limited period of time, and I'm going to come back at some point. And that's actually what happened. And so, to me, Israel is where it's place for me. Mishy Harman: So I don't totally know what the word Zionism really means. Today, and something I think about a lot. My grandparents, who were of the same generation of Eran's grandparents, and also very active in the Zionist movement and in building the state. So not quite the blue-bloodedness of signing the Declaration, but they met in the early 30s. They were both students, they were both British, and they met because my grandfather, who was later on Israel's ambassador to the US for many, many years and the president of the Hebrew University, he was the he was the head of the student of design a student union at Oxford, and they met at a debate in which he debated my grandmother who was the head of the anti Zionist Student Union at the London School of Economics and she was an anti Zionist not because she had any particular beef with the Zionist movement but because she was an internationalist and she didn't believe as many others in the in the years between the wars, but leave she did believed in the concept of nation states and, of course, then spent the remainder of her life in the service of this particular nation state. But she was a tremendous presence in my life, she lived to be almost 100 and lived across the street from us. So I'll just share with you very quickly, one of the sort of formative memories of my life is that in 2006, she was already a very elderly woman in her mid 90s. She, we were and not totally with it all the time. At that point, we were watching television together and it was the Second Lebanon War. And she sort of perked up out of nowhere. And she said, Look what a strange thing we're talking about, there are hills to the north of here, that have vegetation, and have wildlife, and have flowers. And we've drawn a line in the middle of those hills. And we call one side of that line, Israel and the other side of that line Lebanon. And there are people living on both sides of that line. And what the TV is saying is that when Moti Cohen's life is destructed, or he's injured, because a Katyusha missile fell on his building, or something, we need to be deeply, deeply sad. And Ahmad Salman''s life is destructed because the Israeli Air Force bombed his village or something, no one's saying that we need to be happy, but we can basically be kind of indifferent. And she said, I don't know Moti Cohen. And I don't know Ahmad Salaman, but I'm equally saddened by the hurt that both of them are feeling. And that was that statement that stayed with me and stays with me, till today. So my connection to this place, I would say, is less from an idealistic point of Zionism, in sort of the classic sense of Jewish self determination. And more from the fact that I was born here, and I grew up here. And the park in which I played soccer, growing up still exists, and the streets, in which I, you know, walked hand in hand with my first girlfriend still exist, and my family are here, and my friends are here. And I like the food that I am accustomed to eating my entire life. And in some fundamental way, this is my home. So, you know, Madison, Wisconsin, or London are not my home in the same way. So that's what makes me want to be here and in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, try to make our country live up to the lofty and beautiful ideals that that set out to achieve. Manya Brachear Pashman: That's beautiful, both of you. Both beautiful answers. Before we go, I do want to talk about, you've mentioned that a couple times, maybe the absence of God and democracy, those words from the declaration, and I'm just curious if you could both share your thoughts on: does that matter? And is it mattering today? If those words were embedded in the document, would anything be different today, possibly? Mishy Harman: I think the absence of the word God was very intentional. And there's a lot of historical documentation about that. And I think the absence of the word democracy was less intentional in that. I mean, I don't want to bore you with a lot of technicalities. But democracy did appear in previous drafts of of the Declaration of Independence, and was ultimately taken out but not because I think that anyone had any sense that they wanted to be less…yeah, the the intent of Israel being a democracy, I think it's very clearly stated that Israel will come into existence based on the guidelines of the United Nations and the Partition Plan that called for the creation two democratic entities here. I think the Declaration of Independence talks about equality and about freedom of religion and, and in all the main tenets of democracy. So, I think that the Declaration of Independence does, as a document does appeal to a wide variety of people even today. I think that you know, it would be more difficult Today to write a founding document, that in the current makeup of Israeli society that doesn't refer to God and doesn't refer more clearly to the divine. Eran Peleg: But there is some implicit- God is implicity present. I think there's a- Mishy Harman: Tzur yisrael (rock of Israel). Eran Peleg: Exactly, right. Mishy Harman: Which was sort of a very famous kind of pie style compromise, of saying things and not saying them at the same time. Mishy Harman: And maybe as the last thing to say, which opens up a whole other conversation with you, if you maybe want to invite us again, to the podcast, we can discuss, is that, you know, the Declaration of Independence set in place, a notion which I think to most signatories did not seem like a contradictory notion of a Jewish and democratic state. And I think we're grappling till this day with whether those terms are contradictory whether a democracy can be a Jewish state, whether a Jewish state can be a democracy, I think all of them signed the Declaration thinking that this was a possible outcome. And I don't think that they thought that these terms would come to clash in the ways that they have. And I think till today, we're dealing with that legacy of this sort of impossibly simple and yet impossibly difficult coupling of terms, which we're now living in a moment in which we're trying to understand whether the signatories were right, whether this is a possibility. Manya Brachear Pashman: Mishy, I hope you don't mind me asking you a personal question to close us out. And that is, I know you lost your father shortly before the debut of this series. It is dedicated in his memory. And you just shared a story about his mother, I believe that was your paternal grandmother. I'm curious as your team was having all of these conversations, you and your team were having these conversations with children and grandchildren, about the people they love their legacies, did that shape any of the conversations you had with your father in his final days, because you were working on it kind of simultaneously. Mishy Harman: Sure. My father would have loved this series very much because it represented his Israel. It's also Eran's Israel, which is an optimistic Israel, which sees the good in people and the potential and the dream of this project that we began here. I think he would have been very interested, he knew many of these characters who we're talking about. I think he would have also been saddened to hear that a lot of them are dismayed by where things have gone. And I think he was as well. He was the greatest Zionist that I could imagine. And that he really believed. Zionism is a sort of catchphrase in which you can insert almost anything that you want into it. But I think his most fundamental belief, which he attributed to the heart of Zionism was a belief and the quality and a belief that people are people and the belief in education, and the belief in the spirit of the Jewish people. And in this really miraculous entity that we've created that allows us to ask these fundamental, difficult questions about our past. And for me, it's very, very meaningful to be able to dedicate this series to his memory. Manya Brachear Pashman: Thank you so much to both of you for joining us. Thank you for the series. I encourage everyone here to listen to episodes of- Mishy Harman: And the next episode that's coming out on Monday is about Moshe Kol. Manya Brachear Pashman: Oh, perfect timing. Wonderful. And thank you both for joining us. Mishy Harman: Thank you. Eran Peleg: Thank you very much. Manya Brachear Pashman: Thank you, audience. Manya Brachear Pashman: To listen to Israel Story's special series on the Declaration of Independence or any other regular episode, you can subscribe to Israel Story wherever you get your podcasts. Just don't forget to also subscribe to People of the Pod and our award-winning series, The Forgotten Exodus. To learn more about Moshe Kol, here's a sneak peek of Israel Story's interview with his daughter, Yehudit Kol Inbar, the former director of the Museums Division of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Excerpt from Israel Story - Episode 89 - Moshe Kol: Yehudit Kol Inbar: He was eating grapefruit and he was crying, because for him it represented, ‘wow, we are in Israel and we have a grapefruit that we ourself grew it.' He was very proud and happy with the feeling that they're building a place for the Jewish people. Mishy Harman: That's Yehudit Kol Inbar, the daughter of Moshe Kolodny, who - for nineteen years - headed the Jewish Agency's Youth Immigration Division, and was responsible for bringing more than 100,000 unaccompanied minors to Israel from eighty-five different countries. Despite being among the founders of at least seven kibbutzim and five youth villages, and later on holding senior cabinet posts, he considered that immigration effort to be his greatest public achievement. It was, he once said, a project that had no equivalent in the annals of human history. Manya Brachear Pashman: To listen to the rest of the episode, head to the link in our show notes. Our thanks once again to host Mishy Harman and the staff at Israel Story for sharing these incredible stories with us at AJC Global Forum 2023 in Tel Aviv.
Since his election by the Knesset in 2021, Israeli President Isaac Herzog has used his position as a platform to try to mend the social fabric of the Jewish state. At AJC Global Forum 2023 in Tel Aviv, Herzog sat down with AJC CEO Ted Deutch to discuss key issues, including judicial reform, Israel-Diaspora relations, and the importance of the Abraham Accords. Herzog ends his discussion with an important message for today's youth. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC.
Margo Vdovichenko and Diana Buchman, both refugees of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have found new lives in Israel. Margo, a student from Kyiv, now plans to attend medical school, while Diana, a single mother, bravely shielded her sons during their escape from Odessa. Recorded live at AJC Global Forum 2023, this moving conversation captures their journey and adjustment to life in Israel. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. ____ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Margo Vdovichenko and Diana Buchman ____ Show Notes: Watch: This conversation from AJC Global Forum 2023 Listen: Hakeem Jeffries on Israel, Ghana, and Representing Brooklyn Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod You can reach us at: email@example.com If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us.
This week, guest host Julie Fishman Rayman, AJC's Senior Director of Policy and Political Affairs, had the honor of connecting with Hakeem Jeffries, the leader of the House Democratic Caucus, after he led a congressional delegation to Israel and Ghana. As we approach the AJC Global Forum 2023 in Tel Aviv, we have the opportunity to listen to the Democratic leader's insights on the trip, the crucial nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and the historical and contemporary significance of Black-Jewish relations. *The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. ____ Episode Lineup: (0:40) Hakeem Jeffries ____ Show Notes: Learn more about AJC Global Forum 2023 in Tel Aviv: AJC.org/GlobalForum Listen: 8 of the Best Jewish Podcasts Right Now From Roots to Harmony: Nefesh Mountain's Fusion of Jewish American Culture and Bluegrass Follow People of the Pod on your favorite podcast app, and learn more at AJC.org/PeopleofthePod You can reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org If you've enjoyed this episode, please be sure to tell your friends, tag us on social media with #PeopleofthePod, and hop onto Apple Podcasts to rate us and write a review, to help more listeners find us. __ Transcript of interview with Hakeem Jeffries: Manya Brachear Pashman: This week, Julie Fishman Rayman, AJC's Senior Director of Policy and Political Affairs, had the honor of connecting with leader of the House Democratic Caucus, Hakeem Jeffries, after he led a group of lawmakers on a recent trip to Israel. Julie, the mic is yours. Julie Fishman Rayman: Thanks, Manya. It's my pleasure to introduce Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who represents the very diverse 8th congressional district of New York, in Brooklyn, and also serves as the Democratic Leader. He was unanimously elected to that position in November 2022, and in that capacity he is the highest ranking democrat in the US house. He is also the former chair of the democratic caucus, the whip of the congressional black caucus, and previously co-chaired the Democratic Policy and Communications committee. Also, a great friend of AJC and the Jewish community. Leader Jeffries, welcome to People of the Pod. Hakeem Jeffries: Wonderful to be on. Thanks so much for having me. Julie Fishman Rayman: I want to get started by asking you about Jewish American Heritage Month, which as you know, we celebrate in May. Many listeners may not realize that members in congressional leadership cosponsor very few bills – meaning cosign or add their name to endorse them . In this Congress–correct me if I'm wrong–you've cosponsored fewer than a dozen bills and only one resolution–the resolution commemorating Jewish American Heritage Month. Can you speak about this effort and why it was important to you to help lead it? Hakeem Jeffries: Well, thank you so much. And that is absolutely correct. The tradition has been that members and leadership sponsor very few bills and even fewer resolutions, just because the enormity of the request is large. And you want to make sure that you're being very discerning in terms of what you want to elevate as a priority. And for me, it was incredibly important to make sure that I co sponsored the resolution that commemorated Jewish American Heritage Month for a variety of reasons, including the fact that I'm privileged to represent a district that has one of the largest Jewish communities in the country. In fact, I represent the ninth most African American district in the country, and the 16th most Jewish. And so I represent. As a good friend of mine, Leon Goldenberg, once and I quote, you've got the best of both worlds. It's an honor, though, to represent the reformed Jewish community, the conservative Jewish community, the Orthodox Jewish community, the modern Orthodox Jewish community, the ultra orthodox Jewish community, and more Russian speaking Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union than any other member of Congress in the country. I mean, Hakeem Jeffries, who knew only in America, but that's Brooklyn, that's New York City and the Jewish community has meant so much to the country, which is why we honor and celebrate and elevate Jewish American Heritage month but particularly has meant so much to the district that I'm privileged to represent to Brooklyn and to the great city of New York. Julie Fishman Rayman: The United States has many heritage months that celebrate the various communities that form the mosaic of our country, including Black History Month, Women's History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, and more. By celebrating heritage months, we learn about one another, we honor the richness of our diverse nation, and we strengthen the fabric of American society. Some have described JAHM as going on the offensive against rising antisemitism, do you think that's an appropriate description? Amidst rising antisemitism and hate of all forms, does this change how we think about commemorative months? Hakeem Jeffries: Yes, it's a great question. I do think AJC's leadership and certainly the leadership of my former colleague, and good friend, Ted Deutsch has been phenomenally important in this area. And your leadership, Julie, of course, and this podcast and communicating information to the American people will continue to be critical. And the fact that the Jewish community is facing a shocking rise in anti semitism and hate crimes is a cause for alarm for all of us. And it does, I think, lead to the important conclusion that we need to rethink how we lean into the celebrations and acknowledgments, such as Jewish American Heritage Month. That is not just simply an opportunity to be able to communicate to the American people about the many accomplishments, the many ways in every field of human endeavor that Jewish Americans have contributed to the growth and development of America as we know it. And that is important, and that is appropriate. And that is a central part of what celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month should be all about. But it also provides a vehicle to make sure that the appropriate narrative is in the public domain in a compelling way, as a vehicle to push back against the rise in antisemitism and hate crimes. Because it's an all hands on deck approach. And it is going to require using every tool available to us. The rise in sort of hatred and extremism, and divisive, generally should trouble us all throughout America over the last several years, and particularly, the sharp and dramatic rise, particularly given the history of the Jewish community, over 1000s of years of persecutions, and pogroms and pain and suffering, should alarm us all. And it is exactly the reason why thinking about this month as one of the tools that we can use to push back aggressively against the rise and hatred is an important and appropriate approach. Julie Fishman Rayman: In April, during your first congressional delegation trip as Leader, you traveled to Israel. You have been a great supporter, supporting Israel's right to defense and speaking out against anti-Israel sentiment time and time again. What were your biggest takeaways from this mission? What are the major challenges and opportunities for the U.S.-Israel relationship? Hakeem Jeffries: Well, that was my sixth time traveling to Israel, fifth time as a member of Congress. And the first time that I traveled to Israel, I actually was a freshman member of the New York State Legislature as part of a trip sponsored by the JCRC of New York, a wonderful opportunity. Someone said to me recently, Julie, wait, wait. You've been to Israel six times. I said, Yes. That's more than any other country you've been to in the world. I said, That would be correct. Is it isn't that a lot? I said, No, not at all. First of all, I'm from New York City, where we consider Jerusalem to be the sixth borough. And I'm just trying to catch up to my constituents. Every time I go to Israel, it's a wonderful eye opening experience. This particular trip was meaningful to me in that I was able to actually lead a delegation for the first time in this position and choose where I would go to in the world as part of my first congressional trip on foreign soil, as the House Democratic Leader. And I chose to go to Israel and to Ghana, to incredibly meaningful countries to meet personally, to the people that I represent, and, of course, to the relationship that exists between the United States and Israel. And I wanted to do it so that it was timed to the anniversary of the 75th founding of the State of Israel, because I thought that will be meaningful for the members that agreed to travel with me and certainly meaningful to me to say to the world, that we're going to continue, as we've transitioned leadership in the House of Representatives, to stand behind the special relationship between the United States and Israel. And to make it clear that that's a special relationship that we as House Democrats believe, is anchored in our shared values and our shared strategic interests. And it was incredible because of the timing of we were there, both on the day of remembrance was incredibly moving. And I was able to participate in one of the ceremonies that we're held to acknowledge those who have been lost, both to acts of terror, and in the conflicts that Israel has been made to endure throughout the 75 year history. And then, of course, on the eve of the celebration connected to the 75th anniversary, and we had a very diverse group of members, several prominent Jewish American members of Congress, of course, like Josh Gottheimer and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Dean Phillips, Sarah Jacobs, who was a new and emerging leader, but also the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Steve Horsford, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Nanette Barragan, the first vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Yvette Clarke, as well as the top Democrat on the foreign affairs committee, Greg Meeks. And so it was a wonderful experience. We had important public policy discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Herzog, with the Speaker of the Knesset, as well as the opposition leader, Lapid, they were open, they were honest, there were candid discussions about the challenges that our two countries face. But it was all anchored in our clear affirmation of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, and our commitment as House Democrats to continue to lift up and elevate the special relationship between our two countries. Julie Fishman Rayman: So important. How's Israel doing at 75? Hakeem Jeffries: I think Israel, it's a miracle, as has been described, that we've gotten to 75 years. And it's a testament to the strength, and the resilience and the ability, the heart, the soul, the love the intellect, of the Jewish people, and the people of the State of Israel. And I'm confident that through the challenges that we all face in Israel, the best is yet to come. You had an interesting discussion, because of the judicial reform, issues that are underway. And we've got challenges that we're working through here in the United States of America, certainly, as it relates to the Supreme Court, and what is the right, you know, balance in terms of our three branches of government. And we've got to work through that here. Many of us have been troubled by recent developments coming out of the Supreme Court, and Israel's working through trying to figure out what that right balance is, in terms of the rule of law, and the independence of the judiciary, and how that works together. I think what has been clear to me, in terms of Israel as a robust democracy, that will continue to be a robust democracy is not the challenge is that it's working through to find common ground. And those talks are being led, of course, by President Herzog. But most significantly, the fact that hundreds of 1000s of Israelis have been in the streets, exercising their right, their freedom of expression, their freedom of speech, their freedom of assembly, the right to peaceably gather and petition your government that is at the hallmark of a democratic society. And that's what we've seen, and not a single shot fired, probably nowhere else in the Middle East, would that have occurred other than in Israel, and it's an affirmation of Israel's democratic character. Julie Fishman Rayman: In just a few weeks, AJC will hold our annual Global Forum in Tel Aviv. What is one piece of advice you'd give the 1000 or so people coming from around the world to Israel at this time? Hakeem Jeffries: Well, I do think that every time I've gone to Israel, what has been a wonderful aspect of the trip was talking to the full range of people in Israeli society, to get the perspectives on the ground in terms of their views related to the challenges that Israel confront, and the opportunities that exists to continue to thrive into the future. And those are particularly relevant conversations to have now that Israel has hit this incredible milestone of 75 years in what still remains one of the toughest, if not the toughest neighborhoods in the world. And one of the reasons why sustained dialogue, sustained opportunity to engage in wonderful that AJC is hosting this forum in the next month, is that the challenges are always unique whenever one arrives in Israel. You know, it could be Hamas, it could be Hezbollah, it could be uncertainty in terms of the Iranian malign activity in Syria. It's always, you know, Iran's efforts to try to secure a nuclear weapon and we're gonna make sure that Iran never becomes nuclear capable in Gaza. There are different moments in time, where particular concern meets a level of urgency, but it's always consistently within the frame of Israel living in a very tough neighborhood, which is what I, you know, we reiterated as House Democrats directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu, our commitment to ensuring Israel maintains its qualitative military edge. My view on this thing has always been, and I grew up in central Brooklyn, came of age in the mid to late 80s, early 90s. I kind of know from tough neighborhoods. That was a tough neighborhood. I grew up in Israel, Hamas, Hezbollah, Gaza, chaos in Syria, in Iraq, Iran with nuclear aspirations, dangerous situation in the Sinai. That's a tough neighborhood. And in a tough neighborhood. The one constant, as I've consistently said, is strength. You can achieve peace, you can achieve stability, but you can only achieve it through the lens of strength. And I think, part of the dialogue that we all should continue to have and will be important for AJC to continue to have is, you know, what are the severe threats that Israel currently confronts? And how can we continue to ensure that Israel has the strength to defend itself and to provide a foundation for lasting peace moving forward building upon things like the Abraham accords? Julie Fishman Rayman: Prior to Israel, you and the members of congress who traveled with you to Israel went to Ghana, one of America's closest allies in West Africa and a nation that still bears the painful scars of the transatlantic slave trade. At AJC's 2019 Global Forum, you became the first member of the congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations, I think less than an hour after it was officially launched. Did your back to back trips to Ghana and then Israel spark any insights as we continue–collectively–to try to bring Blacks and Jews closer together? Especially because Blacks and Jews were really strongly represented in your delegation? Hakeem Jeffries: Yes, you know, AJC's effort in terms of forming the black Jewish caucus was a wonderful thing, a great foundation. And in many ways, the trip to Ghana and to Israel is in that same tradition. And as you pointed out, Julie, there were a lot of African American members of Congress who on the trip and a lot of Jewish men from the members of Congress who were on the trip who visited both countries. And, you know, we were able to involve Ghana, and in Israel and Ghana, visit the Cape Coast slave castles, which were central to the horrific transatlantic slave trade. And we also were able to visit Yad Vashem and I was able to lay a wreath and make it clear that we would never forget and never again, allow the Horus of what was seen during the Holocaust to occur. And it was important that in addition to, in Ghana, for instance, meeting with President Akufo Addo, to visit the site, for a lot of the activity of the transatlantic slave trade, and, of course, the ties that then connect to the African American community in the United States of America, and to visit the door of no return. But also to make sure that, in the time that we were in Israel, almost every time that I've been there, we've always made it a point to make sure that we visited Yad Vashem, it's always a very powerful, moving experience. And it was the same and to be able to do it together with black members of Congress and Jewish members of Congress, and leaders, who were not black and Jewish, but were on the trip with us, was really a powerful experience, I think, for everyone involved. And I think it's important for us to continue to try to lean in to strengthening the relationships between the black and Jewish community. It's something that because of the district that I represent, has always been central to my time and public service. And I do you know, I am moved by the fact that at least part of the district that I represent, and that told this story during the Democratic caucus celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month, but I tried to tell it whenever I get the opportunity that I do represent a district that was once represented in part by a manual seller. And a manual seller was the longest certain Congress person in the history of the country. He served for 50 years, first elected in 1922. And served through 1972. He was a staunch ally and advocate for the special relationship between the United States and Israel from the very beginning. He was there, I believe, with Truman, when the United States first recognized Israel, and was there to support the special relationship every step of the way throughout the time that he was in Congress. But what also is little known about Manny seller, as he was affectionately known in Brooklyn, is that during the 1960s, he was also the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which meant that he played an important role, legislatively, and making sure that the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, became the law of the land, to crush Jim Crow, and crushed the effort to oppress the ability of African Americans, particularly in the south to participate fully in our democracy. And then you go to civil rights museums across the country, and whenever there have been exhibits, even here in the Library of Congress, usually always an acknowledgement of the role that Manny Celler played. And I'm proud of the fact that I can represent a district that someone who was such an important link between the black and Jewish community and actually played a meaningful role in helping to advance legislation to change the course of America, in supporting the efforts and leadership of Dr. King and others, is an important thing. That's a tradition that I look forward to continuing to build upon and at the same time, to be able to represent a district as I mentioned earlier, where I serve more Russian speaking Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union than anyone else. And to know that Dr. King took time out from his days of leading the civil rights movement, to speak to Jewish leaders and rabbinical leaders across the country famously anchored in his guiding principle, that injustice anywhere is a justice everywhere, and it was great injustice, being directed at the Jewish community that was behind the Iron Curtain during the days of the Soviet Union, and to use his voice to speak up on behalf of what he appropriately viewed as his Jewish brothers and sisters who are facing oppression. That example that was set by Dr. King, that example that was set by Congressman Judiciary Committee Chair Manny Celler, who wasn't just focused on strengthening the relationship between the United States and Israel, but also dealt with the injustices directed at African Americans throughout the United States. That's a powerful heritage for us in Congress, or us as leaders, as AJC has promoted, to continue to build upon. Julie Fishman Rayman: Thank you so much, you've provided us with such a sweeping understanding not just of the history-everything from Manny Celler to Dr. King to Yad Vashem. But also a vision for where we can all go collectively. Whether it's in May, during Jewish American Heritage Month, or Black History Month, or every day, trying to honor the legacy of Americans from all facets who lift up our great nation and make it what it is today. Leader Jeffries, thank you for your leadership and thank you for being with us. Hakeem Jeffries: Thank you so much, what an honor Julie to be on and all the best to you and look forward to continuing to work closely with Ted, with AJC, on behalf of the issues that we all care about, particularly as it relates to the well being of the Jewish community here in the United States of America and throughout the world. Manya Brachear Pashman: If you missed last week's episode, be sure to tune in for my conversation with the Jewish bluegrass duo Nefesh Mountain, featuring not one but two live musical performances, a wonderful way to wrap up our month-long series of shows honoring Jewish American Heritage.