Speaking in Princeton, the top executive of the American Jewish Committee praised the Obama administration and eight other countries who rejected a United Nations vote to declare Palestine a non-member observer state.
“Each of us who cares about Israel should commit to memory the nine who voted ‘no’ and the 41 who abstained, along with the 33 in 1947 who voted to support the creation of a Jewish state,” AJC national executive director David Harris said Nov. 29, speaking at The Jewish Center of Princeton. “Obama was a leader among the nine in today’s vote. In a crunch, we need to know who our friends are and who they’re not and consider them in our travel plans. Canada and the Czech Republic need to know that we know of their support; France and Italy, who voted yes to the resolution, need to know how we feel about them as well.”
Harris also praised Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) for quickly responding to the UN’s vote and ensuring the administration’s opposition.
Harris’s talk to a packed sanctuary of over 250 attendees came on the same day as the General Assembly vote and — as he noted in his talk — 65 years to the day after a General Assembly vote paved the way for the establishment of both a Jewish and an Arab state in the area.
Of the UN’s 193 member nations, 138 delegates, including France’s, voted in favor of upgrading Palestine’s status. Germany, Great Britain, and 39 other countries abstained.
Echoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Harris said the vote “doesn’t advance peace; it pushes it backward.”
“I wait for far-sighted Arab leaders like Anwar Sadat, who overcame his own anti-Semitism to recognize that he cared more about strengthening Egyptian children than targeting Israeli ones,” Harris said, “and King Hussein of Jordan, who ultimately worked to put war behind the Jordanians, and peace, growth, and development before them.
“I want to believe there are other Sadats and Husseins out there who will put the interests of peace” above other personal or political motivations, he said.
Harris’s talk was billed as an AJC Central New Jersey-Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks Community Forum.
Harris criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for “being absent from the peace table with Netanyahu” since succeeding Yasser Arafat in 2005.
“The core issue remains the legitimacy of Jewish self-determination and whether Palestinians will accept the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty. If yes, peace isn’t only possible but inevitable,” he said. “If no, we’re negotiating with ourselves.”
Harris said he and the AJC support a two-state agreement as “the only viable political solution to an extraordinarily complex conflict,” adding “Israelis are not consigned to an endless history of conflict.”
However, he cited “real threats to Israel today” from Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas, and radical Islam and urged attendees to be “sober” about the reality of the situation in Israel.
Following Harris’s hour-long talk and follow-up question-and-answer session, audience members gave their assessment. “Harris’s comments were extremely informative, powerful, and emotionally stirring,” Richard Anderson of Lawrenceville said.
“When he’s not here speaking to us, he’s out there speaking for us around the world,” said The Jewish Center’s Rabbi Adam Feldman. He praised the AJC for its efforts to “build bridges with a diversity of people and issues critical to the Jewish future.”
Harris’s presentation was preceded by introductory comments from Feldman and Central NJ AJC president Michael Feldstein and was followed by pleas from Mark Merkovitz, president of the Jewish Federation of PMB, and Gil Gordon, Central NJ AJC board member, for financial support for the people of Israel. The need for such support is particular critical now, they said, in light of the recent Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel’s response to Hamas’s firing of hundreds of rockets into the country’s south.
The federation recently established a “Fund for Victims of Terror” and will forward 100 percent of all contributions “to relief services to recognize what has happened to Israeli neighborhoods in the last few weeks,” Merkovitz said.
PMB federation executive director Andy Frank said, “In light of the recent crisis, we’re pleased to partner with AJC and offer the community an opportunity to show their solidarity for Israel.”
To contribute to the special Fund for Victims of Terror, contact the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks at 609-219-0555 or visit www.jewishpmb.org.