June 3, 2019 — Washington, D.C.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a conversation with AJC CEO David Harris, presented today to the AJC Global Forum his views on U.S.-Israel relations, Israel-Diaspora relations, the Iranian threat, the peace process, antisemitism, and new diplomatic opportunities for the Jewish state.
Netanyahu, who personally delivered a powerful address a year ago to the AJC Global Forum, when the organization’s signature annual event convened for the first time in Jerusalem, recorded a conversation with Harris in his Jerusalem office on key issues for world Jewry in advance of the 2019 Global Forum, taking place this week in Washington, D.C. The interview took place before the dramatic news on May 29 that Israelis would go back to the voting booths in September.
“On the whole, I think that it’s a very good time in U.S.-Israel relations,” said Netanyahu. He cited the Trump Administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, the decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, new diplomatic opportunities for Israel in the Muslim world, and prospects for moving the peace process forward in tandem with a new American peace plan.
The prime minister addressed the issue of traditional bipartisan support for Israel, amid indications that Israel may become an issue of division between American political parties. “I don’t think there’s a big difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party as I have known it over the years on these issues,” said Netanyahu. On the Democratic Party, specifically, “the people that I know there are staunch supporters of Israel, and I hope it will remain the same,” he said. “If it changes that obviously will concern us. I think it should concern everyone.”
To illustrate the bipartisan U.S. support for Israel, Netanyahu pointed out that while he had “differences with President Obama, at the same time the two of us signed a memorandum of understanding that enabled Israel to get very generous American military assistance over the next decade. And I’m very appreciative of that.”
On Iran, Netanyahu said emphatically that the regime “is very dangerous,” even more so after reaping monetary benefits from the easing of sanctions after the Iranian nuclear agreement was signed in 2015. “They took the money and then proceeded to build an empire, from Iran to Iraq to Syria, where they’re trying to move their army, through Lebanon, through Gaza, Islamic Jihad, which is their direct proxy, through Yemen,” he said. “They’re just enveloping the Middle East in tentacles of aggression.”
Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Netanyahu emphasized the necessity for Israel to remain in charge of security in all the area west of the Jordan River. “It’s about 40 miles at its widest point, about the size of the Beltway of Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Israel cannot allow what happened in Gaza to “happen in the center of the country in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). That will spell the end to Israel,” said Netanyahu. “That is the main issue. It’s not the only issue, but it’s the main issue that I raise continuously with successive administrations, including this one.”
“Israel will have to have the overriding security responsibility, both for our sake, the security of Israel, but paradoxically also for the security of the Palestinians,” said the prime minister. “If we don’t maintain that responsibility, the Palestinian Authority will be overthrown in two seconds by militant Islam.”
Netanyahu spoke optimistically about “Israel’s expanding diplomatic horizons,” notably with Muslim countries. “Israel used to be this tiny country as a sort of dead end in the Middle East. And now, it’s becoming a world hub of technology, of innovation, of tremendous success,” he said.
Arab countries, he said, are “moving faster to a different appreciation of Israel. First, they don’t see Israel any longer as their enemy, but as their indispensable ally in standing up to Iranian aggression and even, I would say, beyond that, to joining to achieve technological progress in their respective countries.”
Netanyahu praised “AJC for the work that you did, making a lot of connections that we needed when we didn’t have the kind of open channels that we have today.” As but one example, he noted that “AJC may well have been the pioneers in creating ties to Azerbaijan.”
On an issue of heightened concern to many American Jews, the state of Israel-Diaspora relations, the prime minister was sympathetic. “Our whole purpose is to be a home for all the Jews who want to see Israel as their home,” he said.
“Israel should be connected to the Jewish people around the world. It should be a place where they can come and live if they so choose, to be a place that welcomes them in any case because we have a great common history and a common destiny in many ways. The more we can keep this bond, the better it is both for Israel and Diaspora Jews.”
But the prime minister also called on Jews living in the Diaspora to maintain that connection, too. “If you want to maintain your Jewish identity, then you have a stake in the State of Israel because Israel is the great guarantor of Jewish identity,” said Netanyahu. “If you’re interested in Jewish identity, support Israel.”
Turning to the issue of rising antisemitism, the prime minister acknowledged its “enduring resilience” after nearly 3,000 years. “The way to deal with antisemitism is to fight it. Will you eradicate it? No. We haven’t eradicated antisemitism in the Middle East, but we’re here thriving, growing. That’s something that we have to do for Jews worldwide,” said Netanyahu.
The AJC Global Forum, taking place June 2-4 in Washington, D.C., is the advocacy organization’s signature annual event, bringing together nearly 2,500 civic, political, and Jewish leaders from across the United States and 50 countries around the world.