Benjamin Gantz, Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister in Israel’s new national unity government, addressed the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Global Forum today at the Inaugural Harriette Levine Memorial Program.

In a conversation with Avital Leibovich, Director of AJC Jerusalem, Gantz discussed threats from Iran and its terrorist proxies, U.S.-Israel relations, EU-Israel ties, and his vision for Israel and relations with the Diaspora.

“Iran is practicing regional aggressiveness all the time. It is the cornerstone of any negative activity and instability that we see around the region,” especially with Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, said Gantz.

He delivered a stern warning to Hezbollah, as well as to Lebanon and Syria, that they would “pay a huge price” for any action the Iranian-sponsored terrorist organization takes against Israel. “We demand from Lebanon, as much as we demand from Syria, statehood responsibility. If something happens to Israel from the soil of Lebanon or Syria, the hosting countries will have to pay the price,” Gantz declared.

Gantz hailed the strong, “unique” U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship that is “based on shared values, shared interests, and the fact that we are two democratic countries.”

“The United States is the biggest, strongest, and most reliable ally of the State of Israel, said Gantz, adding that “bipartisan support from the U.S. to Israel should be strengthened and we should not take it for granted.”

On the U.S. peace proposal, Gantz, who met with President Donald Trump before its public release, said the plan “gives us a realistic approach” to achieving a stable future, and that he intends to promote it.

“It’s a great plan,” he said. “We have to work on the basis of it and move forward with regional partners, with local partners, of course with consensus within the Israeli society, and with full coordination and backup with the United States.”

Turning to Europe, Gantz said EU-Israel relations are “very important,” not only in trade – the EU is Israel’s largest trading partner – but also in “the international support we should get there.” Europeans and Israelis are facing “the same threats and challenges,” for example, from Iran. “We should work together,” said Gantz, who already has had meetings and phone calls with European representatives. “I am sure we can find a way to promote Israel-EU relations.”

Regarding Israel’s all-important relations with American and other Jewish communities in the Diaspora, Gantz said he would like “the Diaspora to see us as their home and for us to see them as partners.”

“From my perspective,” Gantz continued, “ultra-Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or secular, they are Jewish. And as I’ve declared before, the Western Wall is long enough to have a place for everybody.”

“AJC,” he told the audience, “is an important strategic partner of the State of Israel. Its activities around the globe are very important. It was important in the past, it’s important in the present, and it will continue to be important in the future, so never stop!”

Gantz’s vision of the state of Israel is based on four foundational pillars: “A Jewish country, a secure country, a prosperous country, and a fair and noble society.” Combining those four elements, he said, forms “a national home for the entire Jewish people”

He went on to share his desire to create a new national service framework for Israel, including both military and civilian service options, in which “all Israelis, Jews and non-Jews, religious and secular” would participate. “Every citizen should give something for the country,” he said.

The AJC Global Forum is the global Jewish advocacy organization’s signature annual event. Originally scheduled to take place this week in Berlin, Germany, the venue was changed to an online meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 6,500 people are attending the Virtual Global Forum, June 14-18.