Lauder: The Jewish Peo­ple Are Ready to Face any Chal­lenge

A Passover In­ter­view with Jewish Leader Ron­ald S. Lauder

The Jewish Voice - - NEW YORK -

JV: It’s a tu­mul­tuous time around the world—here in the U.S., in Europe, across the Mid­dle East, even in Is­rael. What should Jews be thank­ful for this Passover?

RSL: We should cel­e­brate not just our free­dom from slav­ery, but our strength as a peo­ple. Yes, there are some wor­ry­ing signs of di­ver­gence and dis­agree­ment, but there are even more signs of unity. Jewish com­mu­ni­ties flour­ish­ing across the globe. The two-thou­sand-year-old dream of a sov­er­eign Is­rael is a beau­ti­ful re­al­ity, from which Jews ev­ery­where draw strength and in­spi­ra­tion. The are of the quiet Jew is long be­hind us; the Jewish peo­ple are ready to face any chal­lenge.

JV:Think­ing about those chal­lenges, what are the most press­ing is­sues for world Jewry to­day?

RSL: Ris­ing anti-Semitism threat­ens Jews in Is­rael and around the world. We must be ever-vig­i­lant to con­front this age-old scourge wher­ever and how­ever it rears its ugly head, in­clud­ing on new fronts like so­cial me­dia. At the same time, we need to look within, and ask our­selves what can be done about the fact that so many young Jews lack the same sense of peo­ple­hood—amiyut—and a con­nec­tion to Is­rael that my gen­er­a­tion had. In­ter­mar­riage and as­sim­i­la­tion rates are ris­ing, and dif­fer­ent de­nom­i­na­tions are grow­ing fur­ther apart. We need to ed­u­cate the next gen­er­a­tion to em­brace their re­li­gion, their Jewish iden­tity, and their home­land, the State of Is­rael.

JV: Yes, ac­cord­ing to recent polls, sup­port for Is­rael among younger Amer­i­can Jews, es­pe­cially those who iden­tify as po­lit­i­cally lib­eral, is de­clin­ing. What do you make of this shift, and what can be done to re­verse it?

RSL: Amer­i­can sup­port for Is­rael has been strong­est and most resilient when it has been bi­par­ti­san. Un­for­tu­nately, gaps have emerged and there are forces—in­clud­ing some on the left—that want to drive a wedge into Jewish sol­i­dar­ity with Is­rael. The BDS move­ment is one of these forces, though so far it re­mains largely de­feated and marginal­ized.

It is our re­spon­si­bil­ity to ad­e­quately ex­plain to young Amer­i­can Jews the im­por­tance of back­ing Is­rael, in­clud­ing how Zion­ism fits into a lib­eral and pro­gres­sive out­look. We at the World Jewish Congress have con­ducted our own polling. We un­der­stand the chal­lenge, what needs to be done about it, and we’re go­ing af­ter the root causes to expose BDS’s lies. We need to do bet­ter to get our mes­sages out—the truth about Is­rael—to re­in­force and strengthen the sup­port the Jewish state needs and de­serves.

JV: Pharaoh is some­times called the world’s first anti-Semite. How threat­en­ing is anti-Semitism to the Jewish peo­ple to­day?

RSL:The story of Passover teaches us that the Jewish peo­ple are resilient, and it also re­minds us to be hum­ble and to ap­pre­ci­ate our mod­ern free­doms, for we know the bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence of bondage and slav­ery. Passover also be­stows a les­son of ac­tivism, of the im­por­tance of tak­ing fate into our own hands and to be fear­less in de­fend­ing our faith and our free­dom.

That’s a les­son that still res­onates to­day, when anti-Semitism re­mains a con­stant and evolv­ing threat. That’s why I’m work­ing with for­mer NYPD Com­mis­sioner Ray Kelly, one of the world’s most re­spected se­cu­rity ex­perts, on a project to assess the se­cu­rity re­quire­ments of cer­tain Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in Europe. I’m also trav­el­ing from coun­try to coun­try with the World Jewish Congress, meet­ing se­nior of­fi­cials and heads of government to work on so­lu­tions. In fight­ing anti-Semitism, we must be vig­i­lant and united.

JV: Poland’s se­nate re­cently passed a con­tro­ver­sial bill that out­laws blam­ing Poland for crimes com­mit­ted dur­ing the Shoah. You’ve force­fully con­demned the law. What do you think is the path for­ward there?

RSL:This bill brought a firestorm of ill-will and should have no bear­ing on the Jewish re­vival hap­pen­ing there. Jewish life in Cen­tral and East­ern Europe is fi­nally re­cov­er­ing from the Second World War, and, in Poland, bi­lat­eral re­la­tions with Is­rael have never been stronger. The en­tire con­tro­versy should be di­aled back, and I hope to see Pol­ish and Jewish lead­ers sit down to get back to where every­one be­longs—as friends, neigh­bors and fel­low cit­i­zens.

JV:Is­rael has his­tor­i­cally been a po­lit­i­cal punch­ing bag at the United Na­tions. Do you think that’s be­gin­ning to change un­der Nikki Ha­ley?

RSL: Am­bas­sador Ha­ley’s voice at the United Na­tions has been a breath of fresh air. Decades of deep-seated hos­til­ity and un­fair treat­ment of Is­rael can’t be changed overnight, but she has al­ready made in­cred­i­ble progress by reaf­firm­ing Amer­i­can strength and de­mand­ing jus­tice in the U.N.’s halls. I’m pleased to call Am­bas­sador Ha­ley my friend, I pray for her strength and suc­cess, and I know that our com­mu­nity is cheer­ing for her.

JV: Do you see other signs of hope for im­proved re­la­tions be­tween Is­rael and the global com­mu­nity?

RSL: Di­a­logue is key to im­prov­ing re­la­tions. That is why I am com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion, like Is­rael’s cut­ting-edge Tech­nion and the IDC in Her­zliya, and it’s why I es­tab­lished an em­ploy­ment cen­ter in the Negev, in co­op­er­a­tion with Ben-Gu­rion Univer­sity, in or­der to increase op­por­tu­ni­ties for Jews and Arabs. It is also why I started an “Olive Branch” project to fa­cil­i­tate discussions be­tween Mus­lims, Jews and Catholics. Di­a­logue hu­man­izes con­flict, and ed­u­ca­tion gives in­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties a stake in our shared fu­ture.

JV:From Saudi Ara­bia to Le­banon to Ye­men, the Mid­dle East’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape is un­der­go­ing tec­tonic changes. How would you char­ac­ter­ize Is­rael’s po­si­tion in this evolv­ing en­vi­ron­ment?

RSL: Is­rael has shown it­self to be a strong and adap­tive geopo­lit­i­cal player, con­struct­ing strate­gic al­liances, coun­ter­ing the ex­is­ten­tial threat of a nu­clear Iran and col­lab­o­rat­ing in the fight against ter­ror­ism. For ex­am­ple, there’s been un­prece­dented in­tel­li­gence shar­ing on ISIS be­tween Is­rael, Egypt and Jor­dan. The rest of the Mid­dle East is start­ing to see that a strong Is­rael is a source of stability, and the world is fi­nally un­der­stand­ing that the prob­lems of the Mid­dle East can­not be pinned on Is­rael.

JV: What about the stalled peace process? Why do you be­lieve so strongly in the ne­ces­sity of a two-state so­lu­tion?

RSL: The pur­suit of peace is vi­tal to pre­serv­ing Is­rael’s char­ac­ter as a Jewish and demo­cratic state. A fun­da­men­tal tenet of Zion­ism is that the Jewish peo­ple should be free, sov­er­eign, safe, and se­cure in our own land. Although there have been set­backs and fail­ures, there are still ma­jori­ties on all sides that want peace. The two-state so­lu­tion re­mains a top pri­or­ity for me. I be­lieve that Prime Minister Ne­tanyahu, Pres­i­dent Ab­bas and Pres­i­dent Trump have a unique chance to achieve progress and en­able Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans to build bridges to­ward a more promis­ing fu­ture for both peo­ples.

JV: A theme of Passover is be­ing a stranger in an­other land. The Is­raeli government re­cently an­nounced that it would de­port tens of thou­sands of African mi­grants. Is that the right de­ci­sion?

RSL:Given the Jewish peo­ple’s own trou­bled past, I be­lieve that Is­rael must al­ways have open arms, es­pe­cially for any­one flee­ing mass atroc­i­ties and per­se­cu­tion. And it has: Is­rael has pro­vided refuge for up­wards of 60,000 Africans flee­ing war and strife over the past 10-15 years. As for the Is­raeli government’s lat­est de­ci­sions, I hope an al­ter­na­tive path for­ward can be found, and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity should also do more to as­sist Is­rael as it shoul­ders this unan­tic­i­pated bur­den.

Many of the African mi­grants es­caped grue­some con­di­tions, thou­sands fled per­se­cu­tion and atroc­i­ties in Su­dan, many were vic­tims of traf­fick­ing and tor­ture in Si­nai, and thou­sands more fled Eritrea’s gu­lag, where young men face the prospect of seem­ingly in­def­i­nite con­scrip­tion into a dic­ta­tor’s army. Natan Sha­ran­sky has spo­ken out, as has for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral and Supreme Court Jus­tice Elyakim Ru­bin­stein.

JV: Is­rael will soon cel­e­brate its 70th birth­day. What do you think the Jewish home­land will look like in an­other 70 years?

RSL: In the face of con­flict, we tend to lose our op­ti­mism. But I am con­fi­dent that in 70 years the fight­ing will be over. There will be peace and prosperity in Is­rael, with Jews and Arabs liv­ing to­gether in har­mony. I share Herzl’s dream and be­lieve his vi­sion of Zion­ism will con­tinue to be ful­filled.

Busi­ness­man and phi­lan­thropist, Ron­ald S Lauder speaks to The Jewish Voice about im­por­tant Jewish Is­sues and the im­por­tance of Passover / PHOTO CREDIT: NOA GRAYEVSKY /

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