Israel’s very existence was on every speaker’s mind at the America-Israel Friendship League’s awards dinner in mid-November at the Plaza Hotel.
“As long as the Middle East conflict is about Israel’s existence and no existence, there can be no peace,” said historian Bernard Lewis, who received a Partners for Democracy Award.
League chairman Kenneth Bialkin presented the award also to industrialist Sami Sagol, chairman of the Keter Group, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens called Sderot “a disgrace” for Israel. “It demonstrates that the state is not effective in protecting its citizens. This is unacceptable. The purpose is not to showcase Jewish victimization. The purpose is to end victimization.”
Israeli Consul General Ido Aharoni set the Gaza campaign in historical perspective. He said Israel operated on the assumption that there was a simple bargain on the table: You give them land and they’ll give you peace. If Gaza is an example, this policy obviously failed.
In 2005 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon handed over the keys to Gaza to the Palestinians, hoping they’ll turn it into a tourism destination and a thriving industrial zone, for the future of their people. “Instead,” Aharoni said, “they turned it into one big weapons depot. We had to endure 12,000 rockets. What country would allow that?”
He noted that the Israelis tried a two-state solution when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered to give up 100 percent of the territories acquired in the 1967 Six Day War. But the Arabs turned him down.
“I fear,” Aharoni concluded, “that the conflict is not about the 1967 war, about land. The conflict is about the 1948 war, about existence.”
Hoenlein maintained that the current Gaza campaign is really about who will rule over the Middle East. “Will it be Turkey and a revived Ottoman empire, Iran and a Shiite empire, or Egypt and the Moslem Brotherhood?”
Immediately after the dinner Hoenlein led a group of 30 heads of major Jewish organizations on a solidarity mission to Israel during the Thanksgiving weekend. “I assured them there are lots of turkeys in Israel—of all kinds,” he said. After 16-hour days of high level government briefings, military meetings and tours of the south, the exhausted group gathered for a Thanksgiving turkey dinner at the Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv.
Aharoni called Malcolm Hoenlein a legend early in his life. “Do you know the difference between a pit bull and Malcolm? A pit bull eventually lets go.”