Jewish Media Summit Focused on “One Destiny”

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The Iranian threat, the new Israeli government, BDS, terrorism, and the challenges of Aliyah, were just some of the topics discussed at the fifth annual Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem this past December. The Summit was sponsored by Israel’s Government Press Office, with the cooperation of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which hosted the Christian Media Summit only a few days earlier.

The nearly one hundred attendees at the Jewish Media Summit hailed from Israel, across Europe, South Africa and South America, with a handful of participants from the Americas, including a representative from Community Magazine.

Most panels and keynotes consisted of official spokespeople, politicians (incoming and outgoing), journalists, and organizational heads.

Michael Oren’s Perspective

Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, tackled a few of the hot button issues facing Israel.

Oren urged participants to keep the latest Israeli election results in perspective.  He acknowledged that many Jews, both in Israel and the Diaspora, had concerns about the new government. “Let’s take a deep breath and appreciate democracy,” he said. He especially noted  that there was a peaceful transfer of power, “that should not be taken for granted today.”

Oren is the author of Six Days of War, and Ally: My Journey Across the Israel-American Divide (his memoir of his time as Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2009 to 2013), and is a former MK. He conceded that politicians will often say very different things prior to an election, as opposed to once they are in office. This was a veiled allusion to some of the controversial figures in the Netanyahu cabinet.

“Once they get into office, once they get into the driver’s seat, the world looks very different. Exhibit A would be Menachem Begin. Exhibit B would be Ariel Sharon,” Oren said. “They started off in very different places outside of government. Once they got inside of government, they found themselves doing things they hadn’t anticipated.”

Begin signed a peace agreement with Egypt. Sharon initiated the unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza. “So let us judge this government not on what it said before, but what it does while in government.”

“Israel 2048” Blueprint to Lead Israel to Its Centennial

Several years ago, Oren, then-Deputy Assistant to the Prime Minister,  proposed to Netanyahu that Israel have a blueprint to guide the  State as it approached its centennial. He told Netanyahu there was no guarantee Israel would thrive tomorrow as it does today, unless certain problems were addressed. The results will be published in April, in a document called “Israel 2048.”

Oren sought to investigate a significant number of different domains that will impact on Israel’s future: social policy, educational policy, health policy, foreign policy, Israel-Diaspora relations, and the situation regarding Palestinians and other Arabs. “We found experts in every field. It was a tremendous undertaking,” he said. Included in the discussions were rabbis from different streams, ambassadors, and thought leaders. “I would not shy away from any issue, controversial, even explosive.”

One of the first issues Oren addressed in his book Ally was the IDF’s future character and structure. He questioned whether it should remain a citizen army. He said it would be impossible for the army to maintain its innovative technological edge if it was to be professionalized by eliminating the mandatory draft.

“Because, if you don’t know, in America a 15-year-old whiz kid in computers isn’t going into the U.S. military. He or she is going off to Stanford or somewhere. But when we get that whiz kid, we get them for three to seven years in our military,” he noted.

Lesser known among Israeli society is the contention, “we don’t have sovereignty over large areas of our territory.” Oren was referring to the sixty percent of the country that is the Negev. For example, the Israeli law regarding illegal housing is not enforced concerning some 400,000 illegal Bedouin structures in the Negev.

“But,” Oren contends, “if I built a two-millimetre addition to my balcony in Tel Aviv, I have a police car there, within seconds, giving me a big ticket,” he lamented. Additionally, he notes the recent phenomenon that some  Bedouin are being influenced by Islamic extremism and the Palestinian narrative 

“It’s critical that the 2048 initiative is not the initiative of religious people, of secular people, of right wing, left wing, Ashkenazim, or Mizrahim. It’s everybody together,” Oren said. “If you want Israel to have a second great century … we have to work on it. And we have to work at it by talking to one another about real solutions.”

The Question of Aliya

Exclusive to Community, Oren responded to a question regarding how, or if, he thinks Israel will ease Diaspora challenges to Aliyah.

“What shocked me, is that large segments of the [Israeli] population are no longer interested in large scale Aliyah. I couldn’t get people in Israel and Israeli government to be very interested in encouraging Aliyah from France,” he noted.

“Anti-Semitism was rising rather sharply in France, and we got a historic opportunity. Most French students who left France did not come here. They went to Canada, London, elsewhere. And it was a historic opportunity that we missed. 

“This is going to play out now with Russia and Ukraine as well. So, while everyone’s focused on the grandfather clause (of the Right of Return), I asked a deeper question: To what degree is Aliyah still a central tenet of our raison-d’etre, of the Jewish people? Because from my perspective, if we are not encouraging large scale Aliyah, we’ve lost a big sense of why we are here. And I see this as a danger.” 

The largest section of Oren’s book, Ally, deals with the Palestinians. Oren said he himself was somehow involved with “every peace initiative since 1993.”

Benny Gantz on Iran

Meanwhile, Benny Gantz, then Minister of Defence from the Labor party, proposed that the best solution to the Iranian threat is to “force our international partners to face the biggest global tyrant, before he gains the power of deterrents of the nuclear umbrella. The timing is critical. We must get military intelligence and diplomatic cooperation. The nuclear threat cannot fall off the global agenda. If this should fail, the time has come for a powerful reaction to Iran’s aggression. Our actions must be preventative, before it is too late.”

General Bentzi Gruber on the Ethics of Combat

On a tour of the Tz’elim IDF base, a ten-minute drive from the Gaza border, General Bentzi Gruber spoke about the ethics of combat, reinforcing the fact that the Israeli army goes to great lengths to minimize civilian casualties.

In contrast, when Hamas shot rockets near the Tz’elim base, only two hit the army base, but thousands hit civilian areas. Gruber added that he fights a psychological battle, too.

“I fight all my previous wars every night in my sleep. My wife wakes me up when I’m yelling. I carry everyone I killed on my shoulders,” said the Deputy Commander of the IDF Armored Division. “Every soldier that fought in a war carries the scars with them. If you killed a terrorist or a civilian, that never leaves you.”

In the Shadow of Gaza

The Jewish Media Summit tour included a mini-Gaza mock-up city, as a training area for IDF, including a facsimile Hamas tunnel.

Kibbutz Nirim, located only a few hundred meters from Gaza, has been hit by Gaza rocket fire in recent years. Its spokeswoman, Adele Raemer, who addressed the UN Security Council in 2018, said the kibbutz had to build safe rooms, because when the air-raid sirens begin to wail residents have just a few seconds to get out of harm’s way.

One terror tunnel discovered nearby was 75 feet deep, 1.1 miles long, and was built with up 500 tons of cement. 

Still, Raemer said, she “has nothing against ordinary Gazans.” Israelis in the area participate in Project Road to Recovery, where Jews shuttle Arab patients to local hospitals, “because we care about our neighbors,” Raemer said.

President Isaac Herzog – A Message for Diaspora Jewry 

President Isaac Herzog encouraged Jews around the world to fight BDS, whether from foreign governments, the media, or at college campuses. He added his thoughts to those who disagreed with the new government.

“It’s no secret that the outcome of the recent elections in Israel has raised many real questions from people around the world, and for Jewish communities,” he said.

“I’d like to assure you that Israeli democracy is vibrant and strong. The many voices that compose us do not point to the weakness of our democracy, but our strength. The rule of law, freedom of speech, human and civil rights, these have been, and always will be, the wall of our democratic state.”