Seymour, thank you for your leadership and for your special and most meaningful words today. I am honored to be your friend and so pleased, on behalf of all of us, that you are with us here today both as a Past President of the AZM, Past President of B’nai B’rith International, Past Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, but also as our installing officer.
Karen, for four decades you have served American Zionism and put together a remarkable Assembly. You are a pillar of the AZM’s history and future, as last night showed us all. Your leadership will be missed.
Vernon, I pay tribute to you and your administration and look forward to our working together for many years.
To my wonderful wife, Phyllis, and our very special daughters, Stefanie, Elana and Ariana, our sons in law, Ben, Jano and Joseph; our grandchildren Max, Eytam, Noam, Ayelet, Theo and Jake, to Grandma Esther, Geri and our entire family, to my law partners Noel and Tracy and to the many friends who are with us here today, I have been blessed with your love and support and thank you for the life we have together. I thank all of you for being here today as we embark upon this new journey.
We gather today in the spirit of a renewal of Zionism to honor the outgoing leadership of the American Zionist Movement and to install the newly elected leadership. I am honored to accept the responsibility to serve as your President and look forward to working with each of you and each of the organizational members of the AZM as we strive, together, to establish a new and more unified path forward for Zionism in America particularly in this time of increasing attacks upon our community, and upon the good names of Israel, the Jewish people and Zionism itself. 2017 is indeed a year of multiple celebrations, commemorations and dates to remember, too numerous to mention but some of which are worthy of notation:
120 years ago, in 1897, Theodor Herzl gathered the Zionist leadership together in Basel at the First Zionist Congress and said
“At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.”
If you will it, it is no dream.
100 years ago, in 1917, the Balfour Declaration was issued by the British government, clearly stating:
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” This declaration was subsequently adopted by the international community at the League of Nations as its primary goal in establishing the British Mandate for Palestine.
70 years ago, in 1947, the United Nations General Assembly fulfilled Herzl’s vision and passed Resolution 181, known as the Partition Resolution, calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in the ancient, indigenous and ancestral homeland of the Jewish people.
A year later, in 1948, the State of Israel declared its independence as the nation-state of the Jewish people, proclaiming in the opening paragraph of Israel’s Declaration of Independence
“ERETZ-ISRAEL was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.”
But while the United States of America and other countries recognized Israel’s admission into the family of nations, Israel’s Arab neighbors rejected the hand of peace she extended. And Israel endured and prevailed in her War for Independence, while losing precious lives, many of whom had only narrowly escaped the Nazi gas chambers.
Fifty years ago, in 1967, Israel faced another war upon her sovereignty and another attempted annihilation. She secured one of the most stunning victories in modern warfare when, in six days, she defended the State and people of Israel against five Arab country armies again seeking to extinguish the Jewish State. The Six Day War brought about the reunification of Jerusalem, the home of the historic and biblical heartland, treasure and focus of the Jewish People for thousands of years.
Indeed, this year in coordination with the World Zionist Organization and under the banner of L’Chaim Yerushalayim, we celebrate fifty years of the unity of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Zion, the center of the Jewish world, the place where our hopes, tears and joy were centered for countless generations, reestablished as the capital of Israel.
In the land of milk and honey, the people of the book have built the State of Israel to great technological, scientific, cultural, democratic and human achievements. Her nation’s contributions in Chemistry, Literature, Peace and Economics, have been rewarded with Nobel Prizes. Advancements in medicine have helped those suffering from autism, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other infirmities. She has fueled the innovation age by introducing to the world the CPU, the central processing unit and the flash drive. Today, no one in the world who has access to a computer or smart phone does not utilize Israeli technology throughout their day.
In her enduring quest to provide safety and comfort for her people, she has created an arsenal of military defense systems that preserve life in the face of those who seek to destroy life. Many nations, including our own, are indebted to the defensive and intelligence innovation of the Israeli people.
Israel is the first to send aid and advanced medical teams to every corner of the globe…at least to those countries who will permit Israel to provide aid and assistance in times of tragedy.
Israel is by many indices a financial and economic success, committed to the betterment of life for all people.
However, since her reestablishment Israel has barely known peace. Time and time again, she is forced to respond to the demonization and both subversive and overt attempts to destroy her vibrancy, her passion, her commitment to good and her dedication to peace and security for all people in the region.
From the moment of Israel’s re-establishment, she has faced a constant barrage of military threats and she has responded to every occasion to defeat them on the battlefield.
Israel’s enemies have targeted her economy, with a series of Arab initiated boycotts aimed at financially crippling the Jewish State.
Today, Israel is a full member of the OECD, an organization of high-income economies. It has found economic success through a commitment to the betterment of life for all people. Today, many of the countries that have agreed to boycott Israel do so because they are controlled by dictators and haters who oppress people out of self-interest and see Israel as a part of the threat to their control and power.
Israel’s enemies, particularly the PLO, took to terrorism where they hijacked planes and cruise liners, murdered Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games and assassinated Israeli diplomats. The assault has continued unabated, and Israel and her people – our people – suffered multiple Intifadas, or civil uprisings over the past thirty years, with lives lost and families torn apart by terror attacks which courts have found to be sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran and Palestinian and foreign terror organizations.
Over the past decades, Israel’s enemies, and indeed our enemies, have moved from twhe battlefield to the terror field and into diplomatically and politically internationalizing the conflict, at the United Nations and other international institutions, in parliaments around the world, on campuses and in the court of public opinion.
This battle is markedly different from tank warfare, but just as potent.
The frontlines of this battle, the assaults on Israel’s legal right to exist as a nation-state, are ongoing in our schools and universities, online and in the court of public opinion. We, Zionists, supporters of Israel, are to a large extent the foot soldiers, and we must be the leaders, in this battle, this assault upon our people.
Indeed, here in America, we need to do better.
Today, the proud vision of Zionism and the good name of Israel and the Jewish people is largely today viewed in disrepute.
Focus groups would indeed tell us that the negatives far outweigh the positives. Anti-Semitism around the world, and here at home, is rampant. Our young people are intimidated and threatened. Speakers are barred or boycotted. Israeli businesses, particularly those from beyond the Green Line, are experiencing organized assaults upon their companies, their products, their reputations. Israel suffers not only at the UN, but in the court of public opinion, viewed by too many as a criminal state allegedly in violation of international law.
From the UN, itself, came in 1975, barely 42 years ago, the adoption of a resolution equating Zionism with Racism. It is truly difficult to imagine: the visionary dream and commitment of the Jewish people to reestablish national sovereignty in our ancestral and indigenous homeland was maligned by the world’s nations as racist. Israel is the target of countries in the Arab and Islamic bloc at the United Nations, where they hold an automatic majority in the General Assembly on the basis of one country one vote. I have seen and experienced first-hand how these nations, in their desire to promote an oppressive vision of social hierarchy, have manipulated the United Nations into a platform of shameful hypocrisy on issues of human rights.
As the American Zionist Movement, each of us is committed to our organizations, our communities and our families; and each committed to the safety and security of Israel and the Jewish people, it is time – it is necessary – it is incumbent, that we work together in a spirit of unity refocusing ourselves upon not just the dream, not just the words, but the reality of both our accomplishments and also our challenges.
We need to walk together, to speak together, to work together, on the same page as we strive to restore the good name of Zionism, the national movement of the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland, the State of Israel.
In our time, we are unlikely to repair all the difficult challenges in this world. But, to paraphrase a most famous saying: neither are we free to desist from the effort.
Indeed, let us, together, move Zionism Forward.
The theme ‘Zionism Forward’ is my vision as your AZM President. It is not about redefining Zionism, it is about reenergizing Zionism. We must return to the basics of Zionism, that which unites us all in this hall here today, and make it relevant to our families, our communities, our synagogues, our schools and beyond.
We need to reclaim the spark which drove a few visionaries to achieve the impossible and win the acclaim and support of the international community and sympathy of the world. The AZM Constitution lists as its purpose,
“to motivate American Jews to accept the Zionist principles that the Jews the world over are one people, united by a common history, heritage, and destiny, with Israel as the center of Jewish life everywhere.”
We must work together to teach our proud history to our next generation and to train leaders, teachers, and families to understand our rich history, to take pride in our rich contributions to the world and to humanity, to applaud and support our democratic way of life and to coalesce around those values we hold so dear – the study of the lessons of Jewish teachings and traditions, the love and respect of life and of each human being – children, women and men, and the dignity of all beings.
I call upon each of you and the organizations you lead – consisting of perhaps millions of people in the American Jewish community – in your way and through your leadership to join with me and your new officers, Cabinet and Board, to work together, hand in hand, in the spirit of unity, solidarity and pride, to accept the task of rebuilding the good name of Israel, the good name of the Jewish people and the good name of Zionism.
Our children must be proud to stand by the Israeli flag on their college campuses and must be equipped with the knowledge and confidence to defend Israel’s honor in the face of slander. While the Islamic Republic of Iran may fantasize over a World Without Zionism, as it has been suggested to me, we must strive for a World With Zionism, an ideology and cause to be celebrated. A conference by that name highlighting all the good that Israel and Zionism have contributed to the world is worthy of our support.
We must improve the dialogue here in America and participate in a new effort to guide the American Jewish people to speak in a unified voice of support for Israel.
The People of Israel have given us so much. They instill in us pride at their achievements against the odds and defend the Jewish homeland. They are counting on us to defend them, especially as they continue to repel enemies still obsessed with their destruction. Let us be positively proactive with the World Zionist Organization and in the Zionist congresses and councils with new levels of engagement. If we stand united for Israel, we will push Zionism Forward. There must be no doubt that here in the United States “Am Yisrael Chai!”
Let us work to strengthen Israel’s position in the global family of nations. The AZM Constitution calls on us “to collect and disseminate such information as may help safeguard the State of Israel and protect Jewish rights everywhere.”
On March 29, the AZM is cosponsoring Ambassador Danny Danon’s program “Ambassadors Against BDS,” here in New York at the United Nations. We hope that as many of you as possible will attend. The current US leadership acknowledges that the UN has been unfairly harsh to Israel for too long and will soon decide whether to continue funding programs like UNRWA, which has interfered with Israel’s efforts to build a safe and peaceful country for all of the people residing within her borders and her efforts towards regional development and security. We can shape our future by presenting truth, evidence and proposing solutions.
Zionism Forward is our plan to take back that which is dear to us. Zionism has become a misunderstood and maligned term. However, there has not been a movement in modern history which achieved so much with so little, which returned an oppressed and harassed people from the four corners of the earth to their ancient, ancestral and indigenous homeland after a two thousand year wait.
We must anchor ourselves in the past as we look to the future.
Let us build upon the proud tradition of the Jewish people, and let us do so with a vision for the future, a vision embodied in Zionism Forward.
Thank you for this honor, privilege and opportunity to make a difference in our time.