Israel and War
After a two-year hiatus, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (COP) returned to Israel this week for its 47th leadership mission. The Conference was established as a gathering place for America’s Jewish leaders—and to create a single point of contact for those seeking to engage them. Today, the COP comprises 53 organizations that represent the full breadth of Jewish communal, service, and religious institutions and agencies. The mission provides a forum through which senior lay and professional leaders engage and interact with Israel’s most prominent political, military, business, and media personalities, as well as a host of leading thinkers and analysts with unique perspectives on world events. (You can read my daily dispatches from the leadership mission, which are linked at the bottom of this message.)
Over the course of five intense days, we met with the prime minister, the foreign and defense ministers, and a dozen other members of the cabinet in what is the country’s broadest and most diverse governing coalition in its history and accurately reflects Israel’s varied citizenry. The coalition includes Ra’am, the first Arab party to serve in Israel’s government; other firsts include an openly gay minister, a minister with physical disabilities, and one who is a Reform rabbi. Two Arab ministers and nine women are also firsts.
We were joined by the ambassadors of Bahrain, Morocco, and Kosovo as we reflected upon the extraordinary developments in the aftermath of the Abraham Accords and by the new U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides. We toured the Gaza border, visited the new headquarters of the IDF’s Homefront Command, and spent time with President Isaac Herzog on the eve of his trip to Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey.
The list of luminary leaders with whom we conferred about Israel and Israeli society and the evolving nature of the wider Jewish world goes on and on, but over the course of our week together, several major themes emerged:
- Iran and the increasingly likely resumption of U.S. participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
- The Abraham Accords and their revolutionary impact across the Middle East
- The dynamic government coalition led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid
- Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine
Ukraine is home to one of the world’s largest Jewish communities, which numbers more than 200,000 and includes the country’s first Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Spanning more than a thousand years, Ukrainian Jewish history includes periods in which Jews flourished and others in which they were victims, including during some of the bloodiest, most antisemitic times in history.
We spoke a great deal about the state of the community today and about the extraordinary risks to which it is now exposed in the face of war. More than 1,280 miles separate Israel from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, and yet the implications of Russia’s war lie much closer to home. Putin’s Russia is now firmly entrenched in military bases in Syria and Lebanon, resulting in the need for close coordination around Israel’s actions against Iran and its proxies on Israel’s northern borders. Russia is once again a major factor in the geopolitics of the region.
War continues in Yemen and Syria as Iran and its malevolent proxies—which include the Houthis, Hezbollah, and Hamas—continue to destabilize the region, even as it moves inexorably closer to developing an arsenal of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, should its enrichment program be allowed to run its course.
It is hard to come to the end of this extraordinary week—a week in which a sovereign, democratic Eastern European country was invaded by a neighboring dictatorship—and not feel somewhat ill at ease about a growing lack of certainty in the global order.
Nevertheless, in the midst of this uncertainty, Israel enjoys both economic prosperity (its economy grew by more than 8% last year, making it the fastest-growing economy in the developed world), and political stability. Its military is among the world’s most formidable, and it has proven itself capable of protecting and defending its citizenry.
The COP mission makes clear that Israel’s leaders view the North American Jewish community as a critical partner and ally—and our community is fortunate to count among its leadership ranks individuals with both great talent and a tireless commitment to the pursuit of a brighter Jewish future with ever stronger ties to the miraculous State of Israel.
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America