May 19, 2021
Israel continues to be under attack, with thousands of rockets having been fired from Hamas-ruled Gaza. Now is the time for moral clarity, not moral fog. Now is the time for solidarity. Join American Jewish Committee for an update from the ground with AJC Jerusalem Director (and IDF reserve officer) Lt. Col. (res.) Avital Leibovich, and a briefing with AJC CEO David Harris, who has been on the front line in explaining Israel’s immense challenges and confronting widespread misinformation.
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CLAIRE BAILEY: Good day. Welcome to Advocacy Anywhere, powered by American Jewish Committee. Advocacy Anywhere is AJC’s digital platform that enables you to engage with AJC’s global expertise, content, and advocacy from wherever you are.
Over the past nine days, we've watched as thousands of rockets have been fired at Israeli civilians, the latest development in a series of rising tensions and escalations from Hamas. Joining us today is AJC CEO David Harris who will dive into Israel's immense challenges, and confront the widespread misinformation. Moderating this conversation is AJC Chief of Staff to the CEO Jillian Laskowitz.
After we hear from our guests, time permitting, we will take your questions. You may email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org, questions is plural, or use the Q&A feature in Zoom. Before we turn the floor over to David and Jillian, I'd like to first welcome AJC Jerusalem director Lieutenant Colonel Reserve Avital Leibovich for a live update from Israel. Avital, the floor is yours.
AVITAL LEIBOVICH: Thank you so much and thank you everyone for joining us here today. I'm sitting with you here in my kitchen, the shelter in my house is just really meters away. And in the next couple of minutes I'll try to somehow reflect the atmosphere here in Israel, of what we the civilians who live here are undergoing. So there's a name here in Israel that only Israelis know. It doesn't apply anywhere else and that name is the Home Front Command. This is a security body, which actually communicates on the daily and even hourly basis with the civilians with us, providing information, when to go to shelter, how long to stay there, what happens if you live on the fourth floor of a building and it's an old building and there is no shelter. So every single Israeli has an app, which exactly gives him or her these directions.
A little bit about what you will find in Israel today: most of the streets are empty. You hardly hear any cars driving, it's almost some kind of creeping kind of silence if I would use that term. There's no schools, the schools are closed because the shelters aren't big enough to have so many children in them. My son for example today had his SAT in math, and since there are a few hundreds of kids who need to take in my city this test, they had to be divided into a few schools all over the city, in order to divide them into different shelters so they would be able to take the test, but most of the schools are closed completely.
Any attempt to leave the house is very calculated. I can tell you that if I were to go to the supermarket to buy my weekly groceries, I would number one calculate my way driving to the supermarket, thinking exactly where I could stop along the way if the siren, which of course will indicate the rocket attack will be activated, where will I stop along the way. And the second thing is once I enter the supermarket I would always look immediately for the location of the shelter so I would be able to run to the shelter. When I say run to the shelter, there's different times, different times for different areas in Israel. So I'm one of the lucky ones, I live next to Tel Aviv, and I have a lot of time to go to the shelter.
What's a lot of time you're asking? It's a minute and a half. When it's in the middle of the night, and you have to wake up your children, and run with them to the shelter and make sure they're awake it doesn't seems like such a long time, but to those Israelis that are living on the outskirts of the Gaza Strip, it's less than 10 seconds. So many of the families actually choose to sleep the entire night, parents and children in the shelter at the same time because they don't want to just take that risk. Everybody in my house, my kids, my husband, we all have apps who are constantly beeping and letting us know when there is some kind of a siren activated anywhere in Israel.
Even before we take a shower, you know, we think twice whether now would be a good time to take a shower because maybe Islamic Jihad or Hamas have just actually sent a public message threatening to fire Tel Aviv in a certain hour, which they did, and executed.
When going into the shelter, it's, I'm telling you, it's a different kind of experience which of course I don't wish any of you will experience, but it's a small room and crowded. We have two dogs so we take the dogs with us and believe me they're not happy about it, but it's not about that you're sitting in the shelter and you're hearing the sounds of explosions.
Many times the sounds are very very close to you, sometimes even above your head. Thank God we have the Iron Dome system which keeps us protected but unfortunately, as you know, since the beginning of this operation, 12 Israelis have lost their lives as a direct result of the rocket fire.
So, I know it's not easy to try and convey to you what it's like to live in a country which for the past 10 days received 3700 rockets. That's an average of 370 rockets a day. It's very difficult.
I hope I succeeded somewhat in sharing with you the overall atmosphere here. Thank you for your support for standing by Israel. And now I'd like to turn it over to you, Jillian.
JILLIAN LASKOWITZ: Thank you so much, Avital, for that on the ground update. Please stay strong, all of our hearts are with you and we stand with you and we stand with Israel. I'd like to welcome our global audience. David, as always, it's good to be with you. And there's a lot to cover so I'd like to jump right in.
David, as Avital mentioned, we've seen a record number of rockets launched from Hamas controlled Gaza and Israel. There's been a lot of misinformation out there as to how this recent Hamas triggered escalation began. Can you start by explaining how we got here, how we got to this recent violence and this recent Hamas triggered flare up? And do you see a way out of this as things stand?
DAVID HARRIS: Jillian, thank you. First of all, I just want to say how much all of us, certainly I, feel for Avital and her family and all the Israelis who on the one hand are enduring what she just described. And I think she related the story in a very personal way with her children, her husband, her dogs, and her shopping. It brings it even closer, if you will, to home, pun intended.
And at the same time, in Avital’s voice, I think people heard courage, resilience, and determination that they will not be cowed. I think it's an extraordinary, extraordinary story here.
How did we get to this point, Jillian? Well, we have many starting points.
I could begin in 1947. Don't worry, audience, I don't plan a long history lesson, but in 1947, as many of you know, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181, which proposed a two state settlement to what had been British administered Palestine. That was rejected.
How do we get to this point, Jillian? Well, from 1948 until 1967 Gaza was not in Israel's hands. The world seems to want to forget that point. Let me say it again, Gaza was not in Israel's hands, nor was Eastern Jerusalem, nor was the West Bank. There could have been a Palestinian state if the Arab world wanted a Palestinian state or states at any moment in time. Gaza was under Egyptian military rule.
And I would invite anyone watching the show to go back and find even a single reference to an effort in the Arab world to give independence to Gaza, or to create a Palestinian state.
We can begin in 1967, when Israel, in a war of self defense, after Egyptian and Syrian leaders publicly and repeatedly called for the extermination of the State of Israel, won the war in six days and seized Gaza in the process.
We can start the story in the months after, when Israel offered a land for peace formula to the Arab world, to return those seized lands, with only one exception: the Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem, but to return the lands in exchange for one word: peace.
And the response from the Arab League, meeting in Khartoum Sudan, on September 1, 1967 was the three no’s: no peace, no negotiation, no recognition.
Or, Jillian, we could start the story in 2005, when Israel, seeing no partner in Gaza chose to exit unilaterally. And for those who were watching at the time, there were extraordinarily powerful scenes of Israeli soldiers forcibly removing Israeli settlers from Gaza, of removing the tombstones from Jewish cemeteries, oh and by the way of leaving greenhouses, that were built by the Israelis, as a gesture of friendship to the people of Gaza, and as a way of helping to kickstart the economy after Israel left.
But what happened after 2005? Well by 2007, the Palestinian Authority had been violently ousted from Gaza. Hamas took full control. And for the last 14 years, Hamas has ruled Gaza.
So how do we get to this point? We got to this point, because Hamas is in charge, and the Hamas covenant says as explicitly as day and night: the goal of Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood jihadist terror organization. The goal of Hamas is to eliminate the State of Israel.
So, were there specific precipitating factors in 2021, as opposed to 2020 or 2019? Sure, we can point to them. But the real story line here, the real storyline, and the storyline that too many people want to overlook, to neglect, is that at many points along the way, Gaza could have had its freedom, its independence, its statehood, and the pathway to prosperity. But when Hamas took over, the chances for turning Gaza into say Singapore were defeated by the pathway to becoming Somalia, or Syria.
JILLIAN LASKOWITZ: Thank you, David. I think it's really important to go back and look at the history. There's been somewhat of a cognitive dissonance happening during this round and it seems like history and historical context has just been thrown out the window. I've heard you use the term reverse causality often applied to this conflict. Can you elaborate on that for our audience?
DAVID HARRIS: Sure. Well, first of all, on the cognitive dissonance, just to underscore for the audience, the cognitive dissonance here is that there could have been a settlement. There could have been a peace deal, there could have been a two state arrangement at several points along the historical continuum. And there wasn't. And each and every time it came down to the same reason that the Arab side chose either to reject the proposal on the table, or not to come back with its own alternative and negotiate a final outcome with the Israelis.
So the cognitive dissonance is to here in 2021 “end the occupation, where’s the Palestinian state?” as if none of this history ever happened because it's inconvenient history. I'm not here Jillian, much as I'm a friend of Israel to say that Israel has made no mistakes in its history, any more than I would say that the United States or any other democratic country has made no mistakes.
But the fact of the matter is, we could have had a deal. And it's in Israel's interest to have a deal. It's not in Israel's interest to have permanent conflict with groups like Hamas, which brings us to reverse causality, another really relevant term in this conversation.
Hamas triggers this conflict, just as it did the previous conflicts. And just as Avital said a few moments ago, they have fired nearly 4000 missiles and rockets from Gaza indiscriminately across Israel. So, having triggered the war they are now calling attention to their own suffering, as a consequence, can you imagine Israel's chutzpah in defending itself and trying to destroy the terrorist operations in Gaza.
So the reverse causality means, let's forget how this conflict began with Hamas, firing rockets. Let's only look at the consequences of Israel trying to defend itself and show images in Gaza of buildings that had been damaged or destroyed, or, or other scenes.
Again, let me, let me underline, in any war, there are tragically innocents who are killed on both sides. And no one, no one in Israel that I know celebrates or takes joy in the loss of life of any innocent. But that cannot obscure the clarity of what’s happening. Again, Hamas is designated not by AJC but by the United States government under Bill Clinton and since, and is designated by the 27 member European Union as a terrorist organization terrorist jihadist Muslim Brotherhood anti semitic homophobic misogynist. This is who Hamas is. This is who triggered the war. And yet too often we see this kind of moral fog as if people don't want to truly understand the nature of the two sides.
And we at AJC have been spending day and night for the last 10 days and by the way for the last 10 years and 20 years trying to sort of explain and clarify what's really going on here.
And why are we doing this? Not just as talking points to defend Israel, although we do so proudly. Because if we're ever going to get to peace, people have to be clear eyed and understand, Hamas represents a dead end. It represents a roadblock to any prospect for peace, not just for Israel, but no less importantly for the Palestinian people.
JILLIAN LASKOWITZ: Thank you, David. And, you know, it's interesting that with all the discourse happening on social media and elsewhere, the word Hamas seems to be missing from the conversation. Can you comment on this and what you're seeing and maybe also explain the competing factions of the Palestinian community. And you also touched on, Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization. So if you could comment on where's Hezbollah throughout all of this as well.
DAVID HARRIS: Okay, a lot of there's a lot to unpack there but the first point you made for me was especially important that I'm glad you raised Jillian. It's really interesting for people who were following the, the, the reporting on this conflict. For example, for those who live in the swamp land of social media, and I'm one of those who unavoidably is in that swamp land, it's really interesting to see how the defenders of the Palestinian side in this conflict, the assailants against Israel, almost to a person studiously avoid ever using the word Hamas. Take a look.
And it's not just on social media. It's the Secretary General of the United Nations, the UN Security Council was meeting in a special session just a couple of days ago. He's a good person. We've had the privilege of meeting him. But when he made his statement to open the session of the Security Council on this conflict, he never once mentioned the word Hamas. Or his counterpart in Geneva. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for human rights, and her comments somehow never mentioned the word Hamas.
Now I ask: how can we discuss the conflict if people for a variety of reasons which we can all guess at are not even willing to name the key protagonists. Again, Hamas triggered this current 10 day war and the head of the United Nations, the person charged with protecting human rights at the United Nations in Geneva, I'm not even talking about the squad, and their kind of their noise on social media. I don't expect that from them. But we have two sides of this conflict right now. We have Hamas, joined by Islamic Jihad, kissing cousins, and we have Israel.
You can't name the other side, well why can't you name the other side. Well, maybe because the other side is designated a terrorist group by the United States government, and by the European Union. So let's pretend let's create a facade. It's not really about Hamas, or Islamic Jihad another terror group, it's really about the Palestinian cause, the Palestinian struggle.
Well, if that's the case, getting to your other question, then those who want to talk about peace. And we want to talk about peace. Those who want to talk about a two state settlement. And we, AJC, want to talk about a two states settlement might as well go out of business because if they can, if they can correlate the Palestinian world with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, then what chance is there anytime soon for any breakthrough. What's there to negotiate on the demise of the State of Israel?
So, that brings us to the Palestinian Authority. I mean the other major sort of voice in the Palestinian world. And here again I think much of the media over the last 10 days has lost the storyline. They want to explore it endlessly, what happened in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem where four families, four families, are entangled in a long legal issue in the Israeli court system, about the rights to live there, whether they pay rent or not, who’s the proper owner.
I'm not minimizing the issue for those four families. And thank god there's an Israeli court system that’s transparent and independent. But please don't tell me that this issue of four families warrants firing nearly 4000 rockets and missiles and sending people like Avital Leibovich and her family, and members of my family, members of my wife's family, and members of my daughter in law's family into shelter. They spend time in shelters day and night. The other proximate cause we're told is that Israel wanted essentially to seize Al-Aqsa, the holiest Muslim site in Israel. And one of the holiest Muslim sites in the world. Well, it would be laughable if it weren't so tragic. Here is Israel, since 1967, which has gone to lengths, I'd say rarely seen in the entire region to protect the rights of Muslim worshippers and their access to Al-Aqsa. By the way, even submerging the rights of Jews to go to what we call the Temple Mount, which is exactly, guess what, where Al-Aqsa was built. So we've submerged our own religious needs for the needs of the worshippers at Al-Aqsa. And now after 54 years we’re told that Israel suddenly one day decided to reverse that policy? And what, judaicize Al-Aqsa? Ridiculous, the bigger question here is internal Palestinian warfare. The Palestinian Authority cancelled scheduled elections for May 22. Why? They were afraid Hamas might do well so they canceled the elections. Of course they didn't say that was the reason, the easier explanation is always pointing the finger at the Israelis, and it'll work for some on the street. So, Hamas saw an opening here to exploit the Sheikh Jarrah story, and the Al-Aqsa story, and take the lead in the intra-Palestinian competition.
Now Mahmoud Abbas who was in the 17th year of his four year term. 17th year, and who was perhaps caught napping, is kind of coming back, and he's inciting, and he's inflaming Palestinians in eastern Jerusalem in the West Bank and citizens of Israel as well in a kind of competition with Hamas, to show once again, who can be the tougher bad guy against the evil oppressive Israelis, but those stories you rarely see in the media today I'm sorry to say.
JILLIAN LASKOWITZ: Absolutely. And, you know, you David have been really active this past week, writing op eds in the media and on the news and radio. You recently wrote an op ed on the situation, titled “Israel and Gaza Moral Clarity, Moral Fog.” You've also responded to Trevor Noah’s monologue on the conflict and responded to Bernie Sanders’ piece in The New York Times. What are some of the common threads you're seeing from prominent voices and celebrities that are taking such a harsh stance against Israel, what are they missing?
DAVID HARRIS: It would be hard to generalize because you've mentioned several people and I don't think they're all the same, so in a way it would be inappropriate. There are quite a few people and if there were enough hours in the day, which there aren't, there would be a lot more AJC op eds as well because Trevor Noah and Bernie Sanders, and others that we've mentioned so far, are the beginning, not the end of the story.
But I think if I had to, if I had to try and sort of generalize, I would say that there are two different categories here, one category are called the malicious: those are the people who for whatever reasons hate, detest, despise Israel. It didn't begin 10 days ago. It didn't begin a year ago. For many they wish Israel would vanish. For others, they might wish Israel would shrink into something indefensible.
But what holds them together is this obsessive relentless hatred of Israel. So, the slightest pretext, Jillian, if they have the slightest opportunity they're off and running. And we've seen that the last 10 days, the facts be damned.
And remember, by the way, sadly, and I say this not just about, you know, the current conflict, but more generally, increasingly we're living in a post-truth society.
It was just a couple of years ago that the Oxford English Dictionary chose it's word of the year, its new word of the year (they do it every year). And a couple of years ago the word they chose was post-truth. And here we are right now in a post-truth world, where you can say anything and there's going to be a universe of people: your admirers, your fan base who are simply going to nod their head and go along with you because you said it, and they believe you.
So that's one, the malicious. The others, I think, are the naive and the uninformed. And they bring to this conversation I think maybe good intentions, but a kind of lack of understanding of the complexity of it all. My goodness. If this were a simple conflict, we wouldn't be talking about it since 1948. This has so many shades of grey one doesn't know where to begin. So to go in with a kind of, you know, good hearted American or European mindset that says, “Well, if two sides are fighting the solution must be on the 50 yard line, so let me try and define that for the world.” Well, you know what, sometimes, that may be true. Sometimes in life, you need an arbitrator or a judge and they may say, as in the case of the story in the Bible, both mothers claim the child. Let's cut the child in half. And of course, that revealed something about who the real mother was.
But on other occasions, there is no 50 yard line. If I were to say to this audience, the way some of the media do, and I'm speaking now about the second group Jillian, you know, the well-intentioned-but-uninformed. If I were to propose a headline in a newspaper that said, “Japanese Americans clashes erupted on December, 7 1941.” Am I wrong technically? One could argue, yeah, a clash erupted. But that would remove all agency, all responsibility from the conversation. So, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. That began World War II for the United States. So it wasn't just about “clashes erupted.” Or if I were to say: “On September, 1 1939, Poland and Germany went to war” as the headline of my article and leading newspaper. Technically, am I wrong? No, I mean technically they went to war. But what’s removed? The precipitator or the instigator. Poland did not launch a war against Germany and march its troops across the border, in order to invade and occupy Germany. It was the opposite.
So the good hearted Americans and Europeans and others who simply say, you know, it's just another Hatfield McCoy dispute? Oh, can't we just come together at the table, break bread, and find the solution? I don't doubt their intentions, but they're playing with fire here. A nation hangs in the balance, it's called Israel.
9 million plus people are living with the kind of a daily situation that Avital described. And I think those on the outside who may have good intentions not malicious intentions, but good intentions need to think twice before wading into this and doing more damage than they certainly intend.
And the last thing I would say Jillian on this because it's a big issue is then we have a third phenomena. So we have the malign actors, we have the well intentioned but I would argue ill informed actors. And then what we have is a word that we have to introduce into this conversation. And that's called intersectionality.
So, take the malign actors. Let's leave out the middle group. The second group. The malign actors now are playing out the kind of intersectionality which we at AJC and the world first saw, I would argue, 20 years ago, at the UN sponsored conference in Durban, which was meant to combat racism, but at the end of the day, became synonymous with antisemitism and antizionism.
And what happened there? The Pro Palestinian groups came and other groups who had come for entirely different reasons: to protect the indigenous people's rights, environmental rights, whatever the case may be, kind of all made an informal pact- we will support each other. And therefore we will strengthen our numbers and we will leverage each other's reach and power. That was 20 years ago. And then we began to see a little bit more of this intersectionality here in the United States on college campuses and in American politics and now we're seeing the culmination of it, because there were those people who had no understanding of the Middle East, who had never even traveled to the Middle East, who wouldn’t know their way from Haifa to Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, who are now weighing in blindly simply because their partners in the movement, the larger political movements are acting out maliciously, and they need support. So we're seeing this amongst some members of Congress. We're seeing this on college campuses. We're seeing this on the street. This kind of convergence of different groups that are essentially circling the political wagons to defend and support each other even though they have no immediate stake in the conflict.
JILLIAN LASKOWITZ: David, I'm glad you brought intersectionality into the conversation. And why, why are people comparing this situation to Black Lives Matter in particular and why is that problematic? And I've also heard you use the term racialization to discuss how people are approaching this conflict. So could you please explain to the audience what you mean by that and is it also a larger reflection on intersectionality?
DAVID HARRIS: Well yes, it is a larger reflection on intersectionality. And yes, I began using the term racialization of the conflict a while ago because it's what I began to see. And it emerged in part from the Black Lives Matter movement and from other sources. Again, the circling of the wagons, you know that, “let’s reframe this conflict.” So the Israeli Arab conflict, and now, more specifically the Israeli Palestinian conflict, depending on when you want to date it began 100 years ago, or it began in the 1940s, but it was never, never, about race. It was rather about politics, it was about geography, and maybe some argued about religion, although a lot of folks try to keep religion out of it, but there it was hovering. But now, given the kind of racialization of so much in the United States and it's exportation to Europe and elsewhere, people are putting on a new pair of glasses. And through those new lenses, they're determining that, hey, this is really not at its essence about politics or geography or for that matter, even about religion, rather it's about that charged word- race.
And we've seen a few members of Congress begin to talk about the struggle of black and brown people against, the implication being, the white people of Israel. I mean, not only is that toxic and incendiary, it's wrong. From start to finish.
And why do I say this because it's never been about that. And, for starters, it completely ignores or sidelines, one essential moment: Jews are indigenous to the region. Period. Full stop. You don't have to believe David Harris and the American Jewish Committee. I invite people to read, perhaps the most widely read book in the history of the world: the Bible.
Read the Hebrew Bible. Read the Christian Bible, that's, that's our birth as indigenous people in the region, and to somehow try to reframe this as white colonial settlers coming with their blond hair and blue eyes from Poland, or from the United States or from Argentina is a complete distortion and revision of history. We can't allow it. If you walk on the streets of Israel, it's one of the most multicultural multiracial countries in the world. But remember a lot of these folks talking today, a lot of the folks you mentioned, have never even been to Israel so how would they know, why would they know, would they care to know that there’s a huge community of Ethiopian Jews, Jews from Africa? Would they care to know that more than half of the population of Israel comes from, yes, Arab countries who were forced to flee, who fled because of threats to their lives but are returning to Israel, because they are returning to the ancestral home of the Jewish people, which was explained, and defined 3000 plus years ago?
And you can take someone very specific. I'll follow Avital’s example, very personal, take someone like my wonderful wife. My wife, as some may have heard me say before, was born and raised in Libya. According to her family on her father's side, they have lived in Libya since Roman times, when the Romans took the Jews and distributed them as a workforce around the Mediterranean through the Roman Empire, and her mother’s family has lived there for many centuries and I can assure you, neither came from Brooklyn nor Poland. Not even close.
So, when a Rashida Tlaib or a Linda Sarsour, two of the outspoken people here, talk about the community of color and the sisterhood, does that include my wife? My wife is as much a member of the community of color as they are. Same language, same region. My wife had never in her life set foot in the United States until we came here actually to get married. But all of that's missing. By the way, let me add, because it needs to be mentioned again and again because it's also part of that, what term do we use before, cognitive dissonance.
Where are the Jews of Libya today? We want to talk about the four families of Sheikh Jarrah? Absolutely. They want to go into the court system because they feel that their rights have been violated? Absolutely. My wife and her family and thousands of Jews were evicted overnight from Libya. Evicted. That's what we're talking about, evicted overnight, never to return.
Where are the Jews of Algeria, where are the Jews of Sudan, where are the Jews of Egypt, where are the Jews of Syria, where are the Jews of Yemen, where are the Jews of Iraq, where are the Jews of Lebanon? I can keep going. No one wants to talk about them. But where are they? They were kicked out. And where was the natural place for them to go in large numbers? Back to their ancestral home, which fortunately opened its doors and welcomed them.
JILLIAN LASKOWITZ: Thank you David and thanks for sharing the personal side of that as well. It helps illustrate the point. Other blatantly false terms that keep emerging in these conversations regarding the conflict are apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Israel is falsely labeled by some as an apartheid state and is accused of ethnically cleansing the Palestinian people. We've seen this play out on social media. It feels worse this time around, and it's spreading widely. Can you speak to what these terms mean, why they're completely misapplied here, and how you and how AJC counter these accusations?
DAVID HARRIS: You know the tragic irony of the story is that while all these accusations are being bandied about, they know, those who are leveling them, they know that Israel does have an Achilles heel and the Achilles heel is its moral compass. Now some are going to rush and say, “Ha! Harris is talking about a moral compass for Israel? You’ve got to be kidding.” I'm not kidding.
In 1967, Jillian, when Israel entered Gaza, in a war of self defense, there were 350,000 residents of Gaza. Read the media today as they described Gaza. They describe it as having close to 2 million residents. If that's ethnic cleansing. I gotta tell you, Israel gets an F for the class. Look at the West Bank. Look at population trends. So we're talking about ethnic cleansing? Give me a break.
You want to know what ethnic cleansing is? You've got to look elsewhere. You've got to look at what happened in the wake of the Second World War, as borders changed and populations by the millions were forced to escape from one part of Europe to another. Look at the millions of Greeks who were forced out of Turkey in the 1920s- millions. Look at what happened by the way in the same year as the partition for Israel and the Palestinian state was posed, 1947, look at what happened on the subcontinent in Asia, when Pakistan emerged as a state, East and West Pakistan, East now being Bangladesh, and millions upon millions of people are moving in every direction, and I invite anyone on this call to show anything remotely similar to what I've described.
I'm a huge fan, and a grateful fan for the Allied nations during the Second World War, because the good guys won, at enormous costs the good guys one. But in order to win, what did they do? They carpet bombed Germany. They dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. And I'm not here now to criticize or challenge those decisions, but they determined that in order for them to win and win decisively and convince the belligerent nations never to consider a war again, that's the extent they were prepared to go.
So people now use these terms today on social media and elsewhere, knowing, knowing that these are charged words. If I accuse someone today of ethnic cleansing, there is going to be a whole universe out there that's ready to support me without examining a single fact, Jillian. Because if that celebrity says it, or that politician says it, and they've got millions of followers on Instagram or Facebook or YouTube or TikTok or wherever, as they say, ipso facto on the spot it’s considered to be true that Israel's an ethnic cleanser, or Israel's an apartheid state. Ask anyone who went through apartheid in South Africa. Real apartheid systems--systematized ritualized legalized apartheid-- and ask them to compare it to what's going on in Israel. There's no comparison, not even close. For Arab citizens of Israel, 20% of the population, who sit on the Supreme Court. For heaven's sake. One Israeli Arab Supreme Court Justice ruled that an Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, had to go to jail for corruption. And he went to jail.
Can you tell me an apartheid state where the member of the so-called oppressed minority was able to judge, and sentence the Prime Minister of the country to spend years in jail? Go to cities like Haifa and Jerusalem. Go to Hadassah hospital, go to Israeli medical schools. Look and see for yourself. Don't believe me. Go and see for yourself. But that's the problem. For most people, they don't want to go, they don't feel they have to go. It's enough that so and so said it on Instagram- I don't need to know more. The fact that Israeli doctors and nurses, Arab, Jewish, Christian, have been working together hand in glove through COVID for the last 14 months.
Distraction David, whataboutism David, don't bore me with the facts David, because the celeb told me. And for me the celeb is my gospel, so sure in today's world you want to mention racism, you want to mention oppression, you want to mention white colonialism, you want to mention ethnic cleansing, you want to mention apartheid, you have that whole vocabulary that all you have to do is pull out of your pocket, type it into Twitter, and you're going to have millions of people who slavishly follow you.
And sometimes it's tough, in the post-truth world, to try and distill fact from fiction, but we at AJC and other good folks out there, have no choice because if we yield to this, Jillian, sure we're hurt, but the larger world’s gonna be hurt too if fiction replaces fact as the new reality.
JILLIAN LASKOWITZ: Thank you. Thank you, David. Absolutely. I see that we're racing here towards the end of our hour, so I want to get through some more.
DAVID HARRIS: I'm just getting warmed up.
JILLIAN LASKOWITZ: You know, we've seen what you just described play out. And we've also seen protests over the past 10 days and rampant antisemitism following this Hamas-triggered flare up. Can you elaborate on the connection between the antisemitism and anti Zionism that's been on display here?
DAVID HARRIS: I can, but I realize now that you warn me time is running out that there is one other thing I want to mention, so Jillian with your permission: We've been talking about Hamas, to a lesser extent, Islamic Jihad. We've mentioned the Palestinian Authority but there's one more actor we have to mention here. It's Iran. Iran has a profound interest in Hamas’ success. Iran has a profound interest in undermining the Palestinian Authority. Iran has a big stake in trying to get the four Arab countries that struck deals with Israel in the last year to back away. Iran wants to destabilize the region even further and this plays right into their hands and Hamas is a surrogate and proxy for Iran, and let's remember Iran is just not just another country. Iran is a country that calls for the elimination of Israel and Iran is a country with which the US and the Europeans are currently negotiating to see if we can either return to a deal or create a new deal. And this should be another reminder, a very sobering and telling reminder of what we're dealing with, and Iran has another player in the story called Hezbollah and Hezbollah which is entrenched in Lebanon just to the north of Israel has stockpiled well over 100,000 missiles of its own. And in recent days Hezbollah has been beginning to activate.
And I would like to turn to our European friends on this call and ask, why has the European Union still refused to list Hezbollah, in its entirety, as a terrorist organization? Six European countries acting on their own have done so. The European Union has not. And as Hezbollah now gets into this missile game with Israel up in the north, it’s another reminder: Europe, do the right thing. Show political strength, show moral courage and to your question about antisemitism and antizionism and Jillian again, you know I hear the arguments because I've been so immersed in them for so many years, “AJC is trying to shut us down, trying to shut us down by accusing us of antisemitism because we don’t think Israel has the right to exist.” They’re saying, hey, you're trying to stifle my speech. First of all, no one is trying to stifle speech. And the last I checked, no one was ever sent to jail in the United States for suggesting that Israel has no right to exist. So, you know that's a straw man argument. It’s a straw man argument, the bigger issue here is, why for these people, among the 193 members of the United Nations, which is about one mile from where I'm sitting right now here in New York City, why is the right to exist questioned among only one of those 193 nations. Why, and is it just by chance, that this one nation happens to be the only Jewish majority nation on the planet. Could that be connected?
After all, if we're talking about legitimacy, sovereign political legitimacy, so we start going down the list of countries in the world, and how they derive their political legitimacy. So we look across the Middle East, including some of Israel's neighbors and ask: British and French colonial mapmakers created them, so what's the basis for their historical legitimacy, other than the back of an envelope, which after the First World War, these arrogant political leaders drew maps on to serve their own particular interest.? Should we ask why in my wife's Libya, there is Arab rule, by Arabs and their descendants who came from Arabia. How did they get from Arabia to Libya? Well, they invaded, they conquered, they occupied. They settled. So when people say, hey, I don't have a Jewish problem, I just have Israel problems, my question is- Do you have a problem with Israeli policy? Fine. Lots of Israelis do, too. You don't like this or that leader? I get it, I don't like this or that leader in the United States. You don't like settlement policy? Fine. You don't want people to be evicted in eastern Jerusalem? Fine, I get it. But when you tell me that of all the nations on Earth, this one has no right to exist and has to be dismantled…then something else is going on here, Jillian. And that's something else, I'm sorry to say, has a word for it, and the word for it is antisemitism.
JILLIAN LASKOWITZ: Absolutely. David, in our final minutes here, I'm going to slip in two questions for you. So what have been some of the strongest government responses that you've seen in this past week in support of Israel defending itself against Hamas, and were there any countries you'd like to applaud or any disappointments that you've seen, and then a final question, you know, what are some of your final takeaways that you'd like to leave our viewers with at this moment if share the outrage, what would you urge them to do?
DAVID HARRIS: Sure. So on the first question, the answer thankfully is yes. And I want to begin with the United States. I want to begin specifically with President Joe Biden. And again for everyone who knows American Jewish Committee, we are fiercely nonpartisan and, and I am in my personal life as well. But President Biden has stood by Israel these last 10 days and I have to assume it's not been easy for him, not been easy for him because the left wing of his own party-- this is no secret, I mean we see it reported in the Washington Post, we see it on social media-- the left wing of his own party is putting enormous pressure on him to back away. And he has stood by Israel’s side for the last 10 days, and that needs to be shouted from the rooftops. Canada and Australia, as we've come to expect, have been very supportive. There were six countries in Latin America that had been strongly supportive. There are 10 European Union member countries that have been strongly supportive. I would particularly like to give a shout out in Europe to Austria, to the Czech Republic, who have really gone out of their way to kind of nationalize and publicize the support for Israel. And there are other countries as well there. So I can keep going with the countries that have been supportive. I would include countries that that have a significant Muslim population, Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina. I would include some former Soviet countries like Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia. Lots and lots of countries and apologies to those I haven't had the time to mention, and I will also want to note Greece. Yesterday, the Greek Foreign Minister became the first EU leader to travel to Israel to express solidarity and to confer with Israeli leaders. So, Greece deserves a special shout out. On the other side, predictably, countries like Turkey have been outrageously and maliciously critical of Israel. Turkey is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas fits right in. Turkey has given haven and home to the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey in particular needs to be called out. And there are I have to add one or two very prominent members of the squad in the US Congress, who have been Turkey's biggest defenders, even when Turkey has been accused of Armenian Genocide. Are those squad members that I'm referring to going to reconsider their blind support for Turkey? And last thing, Jillian, what can people do? First of all, don't overthink this issue. Israel is at war, and whether you like a particular prime minister or not, the fact of the matter is, if you care about Israel, and you care about people like Avital Leibovich and her family, and the other members of our staff and and others, this is not a time to sit, to cogitate, to debate.
This is a time to stand up and be defined. This is a time to advocate, and all of us become more effective advocates, not when we stand alone, but when we stand shoulder-to-shoulder, arm-in-arm. When we leverage our collective voice, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts, Jillian. That's what American Jewish Committee, which is in so many ways leading the public campaign here in the United States and around the world, is doing to explain Israel not as a perfect country, but as a good and democratic country that was attacked. It was attacked and has already absorbed nearly 4000 missiles and rockets. A country that has a right to live in peace and security just as its neighbors do, but its neighbors will never do so as long as Hamas rules, and as long as President Abbas now decides to go into competition with Hamas for incitement.
Peace with Egypt, peace with Jordan, with the UAE, with Bahrain, with Morocco, with Sudan proves that peace is possible. And it proves that Israel is keen to achieve peace. We must unite our voices, stand tall, stand proud, and be heard.
JILLIAN LASKOWITZ: David, thank you so much, what an inspiring way to end this conversation. I know we at AJC will continue to stand up for Israel, especially in this moment when Israel is under attack. And then with that Claire I'd like to pass it off to you to close this out.
CLAIRE BAILEY: Thank you, Jillian. Thank you David and thank you Jillian for that important update and apologies to the hundreds of viewers who sent in questions that we didn't have time to get to today. For those of you who'd like to take action, please visit ajc.org/stophamas to urge your U.S. Representative to support a bipartisan bill that helps ensure that Hamas cannot access funds or materials that might be used for activities related to terror.