A strong memory for Nikki Haley from her childhood in Bamberg, S.C. (population: 3,700), in the 1970s is that she was often bullied by the other kids.
“We were the only Indian family in a small southern town, and we weren’t white enough to be white or black enough to be black,” said the former United States ambassador to the United Nations and South Carolina governor.
She spoke Oct. 10 at the Hilton Parsippany at “A Special Evening with Nikki Haley,” a Major Campaign fund-raising and donor recognition event sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. The 700 in attendance contributed $5,000 per household — and individuals under 40 a minimum of $3,600 per household — to the 2020 UJA annual campaign. The event raised $2.5 million.
Those unhappy childhood incidents — Haley said she remembers playing on the playground and coming home to tell her mother she was being bullied — were key factors in molding her character and developing her opposition to the bullying of Israel during her time as a UN ambassador.
“My mom would always say, ‘Your job is not to show them how you’re different, but to show them how you are similar,’” she said during the 40-minute discussion with Mark Wilf of Livingston, a major Jewish community philanthropist here and in Israel, longtime local federation leader, and chair of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America, who moderated the discussion.
Haley said the relationship the United States has with Israel must be defended in the UN.
“The Middle East is a really tough neighborhood, and it was for that reason that I felt it was so important to fight, because we do share values with Israel, and we share our need for democracy,” Haley said. “It was letting them know they weren’t going to push Israel around. They’d have to come through me.”
As both UN ambassador, a post she filled from January 2017 to December 2018, and South Carolina governor, 2011 to 2017, Haley said she recognized that just as she was bullied as a girl on a South Carolina playground, Israel was being bullied in the world forum. “I will not go to New York and abstain when the UN seeks to create an international environment that encourages boycotts of Israel,” she said during the opening statement of her Senate confirmation hearings in Washington on Jan. 18, 2017, prior to being confirmed by a 96-4 vote.
In Parsippany Haley told the crowd she wanted to “change the tone” of the Middle East debates, given what she was constantly hearing at the UN.
“Once a month, as they had for decades, they had a session which they called ‘the situation in the Middle East,’” she told the gathering. “But they might as well have called it the ‘Israel-bashing session,’ because that’s all it was. Every month, they’d just kick, kick, kick.
“But I came out and said this has nothing do with the Middle East, because if it did, you’d be talking about Syria, you’d be talking about Yemen, and what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, you’re talking about the one bright spot.”
Haley said she wanted to learn about Israel and the Palestinians face-to-face. So, in June 2017, she visited Israel and parts of the Palestinian territories, then went on a second journey with her family this past summer.
“It was just special,” she said of her visits. “You can’t go to Israel and not feel blessed. We went to the Palestinian community and to Jerusalem and really got a feel for it. What I immediately fell in love with was the spirit of the people.”
The Israelis are “so full of life and so warm and loving. That carried with me but also allowed me to see the threats. We went to every single corner [of Israel], and it’s surrounded by threats.”
She told her audience she is privy to the as yet unreleased Trump peace plan for the region and is in support of it.
“Neither side will love it; neither side will hate it,” Haley said. “If it’s given a chance, I really think we can finally see peace. Unfortunately, right now, the Palestinians are refusing to come to the table, which is amazing to me because they have no place to go without that. They deserve a better life, but they’re not going to get it with others saying no and depending on the UN, which just puts out resolutions to appease them.”
Haley said the UN must switch gears. “The UN really has to change with the times, be willing to leave the old arguments of the past and start talking about the things that are more uncomfortable to talk about.
“They must be willing to do that instead of bashing countries like Israel,” she went on, but acknowledged that the “biggest surprise” would be if the delegates were to come to her in private “and tell me they agreed with me.”