Sallai Meridor, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, came to Bergen County last week, with a message that was part festive, part frightening. At the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades last Wednesday, he spoke at length about Iran and terror and called for action against the threat posed by Iran.
Yet despite a speech marked by the domestic and external challenges Israel faces, he offered celebratory statements for Israel’s 60th anniversary, and commendations to North Jersey for maintaining the community’s strength through the ‘004 merger of the UJA Federation of Bergen County & North Hudson and the Jewish Federation of North Jersey.
From left are Dan Silna, president of UJA-NNJ; Leo Gans, a member of the UJA-NNJ board of trustees who introduced Ambassador Sallai Meridor; Meridor; and Barbara and Phillip Moss, who hosted a leadership briefing before Meridor’s talk. Howard Charish, executive vice president of UJA-NNJ, is in back. UJA-NNJ
"The message is that sometimes unity can work, even for the Jews," Meridor said.
It was his first visit to Bergen as ambassador, although he was acquainted with the community when he was the head of the Jewish Agency.
About ’00 people attended his speech, which was cosponsored by the federation, its Jewish Community Relations Council, and the JCC.
The threat of an Iranian nuclear capability was Meridor’s dominant theme. "There isn’t a more serious threat facing Israel and the world than the threat of Iran becoming nuclear," he said, warning of "a fanatic, religious regime using terror with the potential of a nuclear bomb that makes the threat lethal."
He offered nightmare scenarios of nuclear proliferation, in which Arab states, fearing a nuclear Iran, will follow the same path. "These genies are that close to getting out of the bottle," Meridor said, echoing France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has warned that the world could face the catastrophic choice of an Iranian bomb or bombing Iran.
"Can any Jew in the world turn a blind eye or close their ears when a leader says Israel should be wiped off the map and has the means to realize that vision?" Meridor asked. "Iran cannot be allowed to get a bomb."
He also assailed the multibillion-dollar Swiss-Iranian deal in which a Zurich company, Elektrizit?ts-Gesellschaft Laufenburg, will export natural gas from Iran to Europe. "The Swiss should be reminded that in the conflict between good and evil, being neutral is being evil," he said.
He called for divestment by governments, unions, businesses, and pension funds from companies that do business in Iran, and commended New Jersey for its divestment law, which also prohibits the state pension funds from buying stock in foreign companies doing business in Iran.
"Every individual should ask: ‘What have I done today to stop the threat?’" Meridor said, noting that with one call and the right query to his Israeli pension fund, his fund learned that one its investments had links to Iran. The firm dropped the Iranian-linked company and substituted an American one.
(Joy Kurland, director of the JCRC, subsequently told The Jewish Standard in an e-mail that the federation’s "endowment foundation has divested all investments in companies that conduct non-humanitarian business in Iran and Sudan." Also, she wrote, the "JCRC is in the process of developing a community-wide program for synagogues, institutions, and organizations to replicate this divestment effort.")
From the Iranian threat, Meridor moved to the one in the south of Israel, calling the situation "unbearable." There had been firing against civilian targets an average of 10 times a day in the last month.
How, he asked, can people live with the threat of a bomb every hour, waiting for the siren? "Then you have 15 seconds, 15 seconds before it hits. You live in cycles of 15 seconds."
Israel "will not accept double standards," but will act as any nation would if its citizens are attacked. Nonetheless, it is pursuing peace, Meridor said. "We are trying to advance with the Palestinians for peace with those who see it as a national conflict rather than a religious conflict."
Acknowledging that Israelis are frustrated, he said, "Frustration is not a recipe for policy….For the security of the Jewish state, we have no choice but to protect it demographically by going to a two-state solution."
From that gloomy assessment, he segued to the celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. "Compare where we were 60 years ago, coming out of the ashes of the Holocaust, hopeless, helpless, and defenseless," he said.
The state has a strong army and peace with Egypt and Jordan. Israel’s economy saw more than 5 percent growth in the last four years, and it boasts stunning achievements in medicine and biotech and high-tech sectors.
Meridor proudly cited a recent headline in the magazine The Economist, which referred to Israel’s "technology cluster" as the "land of milk and start-ups."
"Israel is not an Israeli product, made only by Israelis." Borrowing the honored American creed, the ambassador said, "It is of, by, and for the Jewish people."