A report from the Jerusalem Post conference

A report from the Jerusalem Post conference

Speakers discuss the challenges Israel and the diaspora confront after October 7 and beyond

Max Kleinman of Fairfield is the CEO emeritus of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest and president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation.

Ronald Lauder, Eric Fingerhut, Ofir Akunis
Ronald Lauder, Eric Fingerhut, Ofir Akunis

Max Kleinman of Fairfield, a frequent columnist for the paper, was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014. He is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation and consultant for the Jewish Community Legacy Project. A fervent Zionist, he went to the Jerusalem Post conference in Manhattan this week and reports on it here.

The 13th annual Jerusalem Post Conference, held on June 2, featured an all-day rapid-fire series of speakers and panelists. It covered a gamut of topics, including the war in Gaza, the toll on Israelis, antisemitism on college campuses, philanthropy, science and innovation, and the economy.

The opening speaker, Israel’s consul general in New York, Ofir Akunis, showed placards that pro-Hamas demonstrators at Columbia and the New School held, proclaiming “Death to Israel,” “Death to America,” “Glory to Palestine.”

He emphasized that Israel’s just war is also America’s and the West’s war to protect Western civilization.

Akunis strongly supported Israel’s need to vanquish Hamas in Rafah so it could never again pose a military threat to Israel or be able to govern Gaza. Military pressure is the only way to exert pressure on Hamas to free the hostages, he said, and any talk of a Palestinian state would only reward terrorism.

The only genocide that took place during this war was on October 7, he continued. The United States and the rest of the West must wake up to the axis of evil led by Iran and its proxies.

A later panel featured Dr. Jonathan Dekel-Chen, an American oleh who is the Rabbi Edward Sandrow Chair in Soviet & East European Jewry at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and also the father of Sagui Dekel-Chen, who has been held hostage in Gaza since October 7. Dr. Dekel-Chen condemned the Israeli government’s inaction in freeing the hostages. There’s no military way to free them, he said. The only pathway is through negotiations. Calls for total victory are being used strictly for domestic political purposes.

These contrary viewpoints highlight the tensions within Israeli society. Some people are calling for a permanent ceasefire in order to free the hostages, at the expense of allowing Hamas’s remnant to remain alive. Others want Hamas’s total defeat, perhaps at the expense of the remaining hostages. This tension was on full display as well, with dueling interpretations of the latest Israeli proposal for a ceasefire in return for freeing the hostages, with the United States backing away from the total defeat of Hamas and Israel insisting on it.

Turning to domestic issues, Marc Rowan, head of Apollo Management and chair of the board of UJA-Federation of New York, took solace in the fact that the great majority of Americans were “normal,” as he put it. “They know the difference between right and wrong and are patriotic,” he said. “They don’t seek to rewrite history to reflect the evils of the West. They believe in the possibility of the American dream and are working hard to achieve it.”

This contrasts with the moral rot displayed in recent days on college campuses, where everything is categorized in binaries — whites and people of color, colonizers and the colonized — he said. As the chair of the board of advisers of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Rowan leveraged his philanthropic dollars to force the ouster of Penn’s president after her disgraceful testimony in the House regarding calls for genocide of Jews on the campus. He called for building alliances with like-minded groups outside the Jewish community. “But it starts with us,” he said.

“After October 7, we must speak the truth loudly — and that is a liberating force,” Rowan continued. “Don’t be seduced by serving on so-called prestigious boards. Use your wallets as a tool. Hold people accountable for their actions in your hiring practices. Just exhibit common sense.”

Rowan was followed by Eric Fingerhut, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, who announced that the JFNA had raised more than $830 million from tens of thousands of donors for its Israel Emergency Fund. Much of that has been distributed quickly to address the dire human services needs in Israel.

As a former head of Hillel, Fingerhut was keenly aware of the extreme Jew-hatred on campus. We must use a multipronged approach to address it, he said, highlighting the need to include the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism as a tool to combat Jew-hatred. Legislation accepting IHRA’s definition passed in the House of Representatives, and we have to advocate for its passage in the Senate, he said. He explained that JFNA and other groups pushed successfully to pass legislation forcing the sale of TikTok to an American company from Chinese Communist control within 12 months, because the social media platform spews anti-Zionist and anti-West propaganda. Fingerhut also announced plans for another massive demonstration in support of Israel in mid-November in Washington.

In his keynote speech, Ronald Lauder, the former ambassador to Austria and now chair of the World Jewish Congress, lamented the fact that sympathy for Israel declined rapidly within a week of October 7. This change in public opinion was not spontaneous but precipitated by a premeditated social media campaign against Israel and its just war, he said.

Unfortunately, Hamas and its allies controlled the narrative; 97 percent of social media’s content about Israel is negative, and most young people get their news from social media.

Israel and the American Jewish community must be galvanized to address this social media virus, Fingerhut said. “We must take our campuses back from the far-left radicals using whatever legitimate tools we have at our disposal.”

He called for the unity of the Jewish people as we navigate these difficult challenges.

A poignant moment came with the discussion from a panel of widows of fallen IDF soldiers. One described the agony of compressing her husband’s life into the 48 letters allowed on his headstone. Speakers on other panels addressed the resilience of the Israeli economy, investment opportunities, and other ways to help Israel philanthropically.

While the time allotted for speakers and panelists was perhaps too limited, the scope of the topics covered was very impressive. The Jerusalem Post Conference is an invaluable source of information for concerned citizens who care about Israel and the Jewish community.

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