MK Avi Gabbay, chairman of Israel’s Labor Party, addressed the AJC Global Forum last night.

The head of the opposition in the Knesset announced that, if elected Prime Minister, he would reinstate a compromise reached earlier regarding pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall. He also affirmed the critical importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship, proposed increased humanitarian aid for Gaza, demanded that Palestinians end incitement against Israel, and criticized support for remote Israeli settlements.

In June 2017, the Israeli government froze an agreement to create a pluralistic prayer area near the Western Wall. In his speech, Gabbay implicitly attacked this decision. “All of you are brothers and sisters, ultra-Orthodox or Orthodox, Conservative or Reform – affiliated or unaffiliated – you are all our brothers and sisters! The Kotel (Western Wall) belongs to all of us equally, and I will implement the Kotel compromise as it was signed!”

On U.S.-Israel ties, Gabbay said, “a core foundation of our security is the alliance with the United States of America. This is, of course, defined by our shared values, by the incredible bipartisan voice for Israel in Congress. We must keep support for Israel in Congress and throughout America bipartisan.”

Gabbay took a hard line against recent violence in Gaza, which he blamed on Hamas. “What we have seen over the past few weeks is a well-organized Hamas military operation that mixes civilians among Hamas terrorists. Our soldiers are acting with courage and restraint to ensure that Hamas cannot send Gazans to cross our border and kill our innocent civilians,” he said.

He also expressed support for the current military policies against Hamas, but declared that new thinking is needed to break the current impasse. “While I support an aggressive military response to every attack made on us, we must focus on long-term policy to prevent the next round of fighting,” said Gabbay. “We must also acknowledge the fact that, for 11 years, we failed to change the fundamentals in Gaza, and it’s time for a new strategy. We believe in humanitarian relief directed to the Gazans and not for Hamas – exactly as our military recommends.”

He did, however, link new policies toward Gaza to the desired return of Israeli hostages being held by Hamas, including the remains of Israeli soldiers killed in action. The family of one of these soldiers, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, addressed the session afterwards.

Gabbay also demanded that the Palestinian Authority take a much harder stance against anti-Israel incitement. “The Palestinian incitement must end immediately, because it has antisemitic parts, because it leads to terror attacks, and because it moves the Israeli public away from peace. And part of ending the incitement is ending the incentives. The Palestinian Authority must stop paying their terrorists.”

But he also called on the Israeli government to stop supporting remote settlements in the West Bank. “On our side, we must stop building these caravans on hilltops and glorifying these remote settlements – because they do not provide any security value to Israel.”

The AJC Global Forum is the premier global Jewish advocacy organization’s signature annual event. More than 2,400 people, from 56 countries on six continents, are attending the conference in Jerusalem, the first time it has been held outside the United States in AJC’s 112-year history.

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