Happy New Year. 2017 is off to a pretty bleak start, for those of who care deeply about the state of civil society and liberal democracy in Israel and here at home in America. But as our Board President, Talia Sasson, says in this terrific interview, despair is not a game plan. As long-time readers of this column know, I’m a big fan of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – a man who escaped fascist Europe, found refuge in the US, and then marched with Rev. King against segregation, racism, and bigotry here – who said that for the Jewish people (and, I would add, for all of us in the business of building a better Israel and a better United States), despair is a luxury we cannot afford.
Over the past months, as always, you have seen NIF speaking out and standing up for our values in Israel. And we will always continue to do so, especially now, when our Israeli brothers and sisters face a new host of challenges. But you have also seen us lean in to the dramatically changing landscape here in the US as well. We were vocal in our opposition to the appointment of Steve Bannon – a leader of the so-called “alt-right,” the new American face of white supremacy, racism, and anti-Semitism – to a senior role in the White House, and to the appointment of David Friedman – President-elect Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer, a man with no diplomatic experience, an opponent of the two-state solution and supporter of the settlement enterprise, a man who called Jews who support J Street “worse than kapos” – to be the United States Ambassador to Israel. We opposed these moves – and we will stand against future similar moves – not only because we believe they are a real and present threat to the vision of Israel we believe in, but also because they are, quite simply, wrong. Wrong for Israel, wrong for the American Jewish community, and wrong for the United States of America. We will not abandon our values for political expediency, and we will continue to speak up for the things we believe in on both sides of the ocean.
And so while we should be under no illusions about the challenges we face and the threats we will have to contend with in the coming years, let’s not for a minute lose our resolve, our sense of purpose and mission, or our commitment to the vision and values we stand for and defend. And let’s remember that we are not alone. I was reminded of this the other day by my friend (and long-time NIF supporter) Dick Gunter. Dick is 92, and he’s seen a lot. Through it all he maintains his cheerful, resolute optimism. He’s always inspired me, especially during tough times, and he left me a voice mail the other day that reminded me, once again, of the inherent truth and hope in the notion that the arc is long, but that it bends toward justice. He said: “We have to fight for the things we believe in, and in spite of all the difficulties and in spite of how black it is out there, we must just stay the course.” Thank you Dick, and on behalf of the entire NIF community in Israel, America and around the world, I can you promise you that we will continue to do just that.