Rabbi Shmuel Goldin has a message from King Abdullah II of Jordan.
“He wanted us to know that he’s very positive about the peace treaty with Israel and considers it to be a lynchpin in his current foreign policy,” said Goldin, describing a recent meeting between Abdullah and a mission from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Since last spring, Goldin, rabbi of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, has served as president of the Rabbinical Council of America. In that capacity, he was part of the Presidents Conference delegation that recently visited Israel and Jordan.
The meeting with Abdullah took place shortly after a series of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians – talks that went nowhere and resulted in mutual recriminations.
Goldin and his colleagues were somewhat taken by surprise when Abdullah praised Israel in that context. “He was very forthcoming in his praise of Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu,” said Goldin.
“He said that Netanyahu had been extremely forthcoming and had gone the extra mile” with the Palestinians, Goldin added. “By implication, he was saying that the Palestinians had not.”
“He said, ‘You tell my friend Prime Minister Netanyahu that he went the extra mile and it was very appreciated by me,'” said Goldin.
Abdullah’s demeanor was relaxed and friendly, said Goldin. “He was extremely elegant. Very charming, very knowledgeable. He speaks English flawlessly.”
Goldin came away with the sense that the king “really values his relationship with Israel and considers it very important. The strength with which he spoke about the peace treaty with Israel was something that really impacted us.”
While this was Goldin’s first time on a Presidents Conference mission, it was obvious to him that more frequent travelers had established personal relationships with the monarch over the years. Before addressing the entire Presidents Conference group, the king greeted each participant individually in a receiving line.
The royal palace itself “was beautiful. The parts that we saw of it were elegant rather than ostentatious. It was very understated, very pretty.”
The Presidents Conference meetings in Jordan were arranged “at the encouragement of the Israeli government, because they’re doing whatever they can to cement the alliance at this point between Israel and Jordan, and trying to shore up the monarchy and give them strength. The two countries are the only ones now standing in the face of the Islamic fundamentalist wave sweeping the region. These countries really need each other,” he said.
While in Jordan, Goldin and the Jewish organizational leaders also met with the Jordanian foreign minister, and the Israeli and American ambassadors.
In Israel, the group met with Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and MK Tzipi Livni, leader of the opposition in the Knesset, as well as various chiefs of staff, heads of Tzahal (the Israeli Defense Forces), and the minister of foreign affairs.
“It was a very powerfully full two days,” said Goldin.
Goldin said that “there are really two major areas of concern capturing the attention of Israel right now.”
One is the foreign and military concerns. Israel’s relationship with Jordan is part of that ambit, as were sessions on military concerns, the upheavals in the Arab world, particularly neighboring Syria, and developments in Iran.
“What’s interesting is that in the daily life of the average Israeli, that is not the major area of concern. They’ve lived through so many crises.
“Instead, it is the secondary concern that has captured the attention of the Israelis much more on the daily basis, which is the nature of the social fabric. We were at a number of panels discussing how Israel is stepping back now and taking a look at its own social fabric, and asking, is the Zionist enterprise succeeding,” he said.
This Israeli conversation is dealing with “very powerful issues,” such as how to deal with the charedi and Arab communities.
“How do you deal with populations that are not buying into the Zionist dream? These are turbulent times,” Goldin said.
So what did the Israelis want the leaders of the major American Jewish organizations to do in response to the external and internal crises?
“On the first set of issues, one of the key areas that they spoke to us about is hasbarah [public relations], the role that we have to play in better explaining and selling the Israeli perspective in our communities and on campus. It means bolstering those organizations doing hasbarah and creating more organizations. We are ambassadors of good will and information in the [United] States and that’s a very important role.
“In terms of the second of the two concerns, it’s hard to determine what kind of active role we have to play, other than to understand that there are no simple solutions. These are very complex issues that need to be addressed by the Jewish state, and we have a role in understanding what they do. It’s easy to simplify, and that’s a mistake.
“When we talk about these issues, we can again point to the fact that Israel is the only democracy in the area, a vital democracy that allows for individual liberty. That’s why it faces these issues. If it were a different kind of a state, it could just be this is how it is. That’s not how Israel operates, and that’s something to be proud of,” he said.