Malcolm Hoenlein mixed good news and dire warnings about Israel in a May 6 speech to Jewish federation leaders in Scotch Plains.
On the one hand, said the executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Israel has never been less isolated.
The country is more welcome in the international community “than any time in its past, so there is hope,” he told members of the Builders & Allied Trades Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
On the other hand, Hoenlein warned the audience to heed the lessons of the past, especially when dealing with threats from Iran to North Korea.
The greatest threat to Israel, Hoenlein said, is still posed by Iran, which, in addition to seeking a nuclear weapon, is using smuggling and the illicit drug trade to radicalize new fighters.
“They might not come in as jihadis, but they leave as jihadis,” he said.
Hoenlein, an influential voice in Jewish communal affairs for decades, acknowledged that he is often accused of being depressing.
“But knowledge isn’t depressing,” he said, speaking at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus. “What is depressing is not to know the facts. Once you know them, you’re empowered.”
Among those facts, Hoenlein said, was that the Arab Spring “has nothing to do with democracy.”
For the masses of people, faced with soaring food prices, it has been about “feeding their families.” For their leaders, however, it is about hegemony and a battle for control between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. In Egypt, he said, the Muslim Brotherhood is manipulating — and gaining from — most of the struggles.
“There are forces at play that will have vast consequences,” he said.
The event included a tribute to federation from Tim Perella, a resident of Union Beach, a Jersey shore community hit hard by Superstorm Sandy. The federation chose Union Beach as a focus of assistance, sending volunteers and donating materials and expertise for clean-up and rebuilding efforts.
Perella described the 150 volunteers dispatched by the federation as “God’s angels,” thanking them for bringing “strong backs, arms, and hope.”