Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations calls it a place of “hypocrisy and doublespeak,” where there’s a gap between what delegates say in the corridors and the angry accusations they spout in the General Assembly and the Security Council.
“It’s a hostile environment,” said Gabriela Shalev, a law professor appointed ambassador to the world body in September of last year. “We’re back to hard times” because of Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza.
To Israel’s opponents, she said, “the facts don’t matter – that Israel has the right and duty to defend its citizens. It bothers me a lot. Eight years of bombardments (onto Israel) was enough.
“I sometimes feel that almost the only friend of Israel is the United States.”
She added that when she repeated that to the U.S. ambassador and his deputy, they told her, “Sometimes we feel that Israel is our only friend.”
|From top, Gabriela Shalev, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, addresses a crowd at UJA-NNJ headquarters on Monday. Yair Shiran, Israel’s economics minister to North America, tells the gathering that Israel’s economy is ‘in good shape.’ Clifford Goldstein, whose mutual fund invests in Israeli companies, urges the gathering to follow his example. PHOTOS BY MIRIAM ALLENSON|
A slender woman with gray-flecked hair and a wry sense of humor, Shalev spoke before more than 200 people in Paramus on Monday. The meeting was coordinated by the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Jewish Community Relations Council and Israel Programs Center and held at UJA-NNJ headquarters. Other speakers were Yair Shiran, Israel economic minister to North America, and Clifford Goldstein, chairman of AMIDEX, the only mutual fund that invests exclusively in Israeli companies.
The new U.S. administration, Shalev went on, may play a different role in the Middle East, “as more of an honest broker,” whereas the Arab countries felt that President Bush was overly favorable to Israel. “Now they are looking for more equality.”
Israel enjoys a special role with the United States, she continued, because it’s the only democracy in the region and because the countries share values – like encouraging freedom of speech and treasuring human dignity. They also face the same threats, she said, including terrorism – especially from Iran. “Iran wants to wipe Israel off the map,” she said, “and they are not just words.”
Still, she said, quoting Prime Minister Golda Meir, the Jewish people “are not allowed the privilege of being pessimistic. Hope is the word, the ‘audacity of hope,’ as the [U.S.] president has put it.”
A member of the audience asked whether the Israeli incursion into Gaza had defeated Hamas, which Shalev had said was its goal. The word “defeat” was too strong, she acknowledged, because it’s a difficult job. “But we gave Hamas a powerful blow, and they lost most of their power.”
She called Hamas a “cruel and cynical enemy,” mentioning its allowing children to be put in harm’s way during the fighting. “That is not our way,” she said. “Everyone is a human being to the Jewish people. No other army has been as concerned with human life and dignity as the Jewish army.”
But in a war, she said, mistakes are made – and innocent people may be injured, the way a number of Israeli soldiers were killed by “friendly fire.”
Shalev went on to say that the factions in Gaza must make peace among themselves – because Israel must know “whom do we talk to.”
Shiran, the economics minister, said that the Israeli economy had come through the past five years “in good shape.” In fact, he said, the country’s economy is more affected by what happens on Wall Street than what happens in Gaza or Iraq.
Talking about Benjamin Netanyahu, who is working on forming a government, Shiran said he had been a “powerful and good” minister of finance, implying that as prime minister he would help the economy.
Shiran heaped praise on the Israel technology sector, saying it ranks with Silicon Valley in California and Route 128 in Boston. Whereas China is known for its manufacturing and India for its service (“Call a 1-800 number and you get New Delhi”), Israel’s claim to fame is its high-tech. On the Nasdaq, the home of smaller companies, he noted, Israeli companies rank second only to the United States and ahead of countries like Germany and Canada.
One threat to the Israeli economy, he went on, is the brain drain: Some Israeli scientists are visiting the United States and remaining here.
Goldstein, who runs the AMIDEX Funds, said that the U.S. stock market, as represented by the Standard & Poor’s 500 Stock Index, had lost money over the past 10 years, but the Tel Aviv index has risen 78 percent.
Israel bonds were wonderful as the nation was beginning to build its infrastructure, he went on, but they are loans, and the time has come not just to lend money to Israel but to invest in Israeli companies.
His AMIDEX35 Fund invests in conservative stocks (banks, construction) on the Tel Aviv exchange and in less conservative Israeli companies listed on Nasdaq. It’s an index fund, just buying the largest companies.
Ten years ago, Goldstein said, he tried to persuade a finance company to bankroll his new fund. People there said investing in Israel was “too risky.” These were, he said, people at Lehman Brothers – which recently went belly-up. “Now,” he said with a laugh, “we see where the true danger was.”
More information about the AMIDEX35 fund is available by phone at (888) 876-3566.
The seminar was sponsored by the Israel Economic Mission to North America, Oppenheimer, and StandWithUs.