Sam Lewis was the United States Ambassador to Israel under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Regan. In his epic opus, “The Prime Ministers”, the late Ambassador Yehuda Avner describes Lewis as having “a great deal of experience, self-confidence, a sense of humor and an open mind”.
Lewis and his wife Sally were also religiously inclined and studied the Bible. For those who knew Ambassador Avner (full confession he was my close friend and Father-In-Law…in that order) it was obvious why he and Lewis were close friends for life…with Sam and Sally participating in family weddings (mine included), Passover Seders, Friday Night Dinners and my Father-In-Laws legendary Shabbat Kiddushes were you never who would show up from author Herman Wouk to Jewish Revivalist Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis to Producer Arthur Cohn to name just a few.
They spoke regularly and met when they could after both retired. Lewis active in the United Institute of Peace and Avner writing and speaking for Israel across the United States to audiences of Jews and non-Jews alike.
“It’s a Sad Day For Israel When I’m Called An Anti-Semite”
I remained close to Sam and he brought me into his orbit at the Institute. In the last conversation that Ambassador Avner and I had with him (they passed away exactly one year apart to the month) right before he died….Sam actually cried on the phone….he had been tarred as an Anti-Israel/Anti-Semite by so-called Pro-Israel lobbyists and advocates because of his activities with the Institute and J-Street. How could that be he lamented? He had spent his life supporting and promoting Israel. He was the Ambassador as Avner writes “in whom Begin placed much trust”. This same Sam Lewis at the end of his life was attacked and his lifetime of achievements was denigrated by vicious and hurtful and yes false rhetoric.
Who Is The Enemy?
I have told this story, many times, as I have watched this same dynamic playing out time and time again. Criticize Israel? You are an Anti-Semite…obviously Anti-Israel. Makes no difference if the same criticism can be found in Israeli news sources every day. To a vocally loud but actually small population of American Jews, you are the enemy.
This played out with President Barak Obama as he writes in his new book “Promised Land”. While he won the vast majority of Jewish American votes he laments: “But as far as many AIPAC board members were concerned, I remained suspect, a man of divided loyalties”.
A Personal View
I saw a different side. During the Gaza War, my wife and I were invited to a small dinner at the White House with the Board of The Special Olympics that I have the honor to be on. We were told that we would have an opportunity to have a private conversation with the President and his wife. I had no idea what that meant, assuming it was no more than the traditional handshake picture facing the photographer. However, I decided to prepare. Calling my friend Ambassador Ido Aharoni, I told him the story and asked what might I say that was positive if I had the opportunity. He, without hesitation, told me to thank the President for keeping the flow of Intelligence information open and for facilitating military and monetary support.
Came the dinner and we quickly realized that the time you got was commensurate with your conversation. Either way, you got the picture but one was quick and the other a few minutes of animated talk.
Then it was our turn and Debbie quickly engaged with Michelle in a discussion of fitness for children and they were off. I took a deep breath and said…I have something to share with you that I’m not sure you hear much from our community. I could see the wariness in his eyes…here we go…and then I thanked him. He was still for a moment and then hugged me saying why do they not listen? I’m a friend of Israel.
Avner’s Ten Commandments
Let’s be clear…and with this, I issue a Knee Jerk Alert…there are Anti-Semites out there. There are Anti-Israel Members of Congress…some are both in fact. And as my late Father-In-Law used to say in his own, personal Ten Commandments “When an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him” .
Not everyone who criticizes the government of Israel is an enemy…not to Israel and not Jews in general. And to paint all as such diminishes our power and uses up our powder to actually blunt the true enemies of our State and our People.
Obama writes “Politicians who criticized Israel policy too loudly risked being tagged as anti-Israel and possibly Anti-Semitic”. And we know how that worked for us.
On To Georgia USA
I write this, with concern, as I watch the Georgia Senate special election slated for January 5th 2021 between the incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler and Reverend Raphael Warnock.
Second KNEE JERK ALERT…I am not taking sides…not for this article. My focus is on the insanity of attacking candidates or sitting Members, who are neither Anti-Israel or Anti-Semitic and then gleefully pointing to their negative attitudes, after such attacks, as validation.
Read The Letters
No doubt many have heard that Rev Warnock supports Palestinians and called Israel an Apartheid State. But I doubt many have actually read his letters in full or taken the time to think about his comments or listen to his other statements.
A letter he signed, with other clergy members, after a trip to Israel and the West bank in 2019 is very clear in its wording for “a Palestinian and an Israeli State at peace with one another”. And while it does criticize the occupation and shows sympathy for Palestinians (so do many Jews. Myself included) the letter is also very clear in its criticism of Palestinian leadership for their failure in pursuing “a common position and vision of the way to justice, peace and security for all”.
The same letter also states “the heavy militarization of the West Bank is reminiscent (italics mine) of the military occupation of Nambia by apartheid South Africa”. Needless to say, this line is featured prominently in the attacks on Rev Warnock by Jewish groups opposed to his election.
Israeli Prime Ministers Have Said The Same
Yet, as Andrew Silow-Carroll, the Editor of the New York Jewish Week points out in his Editorial, this week, “Warnock’s sermon would not sound out of place in many liberal synagogues in America where many, if not most, Jews say they support a two-state solution……At least three former Israeli prime ministers – Rabin, Olmert and Barak have warned that without a two-state solution Israel will one day resemble apartheid South Africa; that is, a regime with separate treatment and justice systems for people living under its sovereignty.”
And all the while the Reverend has made it clear that he is a supporter of Israel and aid to Israel; he doesn’t believe it is today an apartheid state and he does not support BDS.
A Cautionary Tale
To me, this race says it all and is the ultimate cautionary example I can share. Vote for whom you want. Judge each candidate on the issues that are important to Georgia and the country. Hold them accountable for what they have said and done and for what they currently say and do.
But don’t use Israel and Anti-Semitism as a wedge issue when it’s just not true. Don’t let us be used…because here is the truth. If she loses and he wins there is nothing worse than the sour taste in the mouth of a friend betrayed.
Crying Wolf Has A Limited Shelf Life
We have true enemies out there. We can only cry WOLF so often. And then no one will believe us when we say their words are true.