More than one dozen top-level members of the Israeli Knesset, including ministerial advisers, government officials and Israeli journalists, were in in Baltimore last Wednesday. The visit, arranged through the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), was meant to foster increased understanding by the delegation of communities in North America. This is the second mission of its kind in the last two years.
In Baltimore, the delegation met with executives from THE ASSOCIATED and some of its key agencies, including those from Jewish Community Services, Baltimore Jewish Council and the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education. They also took a tour and met with students at the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.
While taking a “break” at the Jewish Community Services building, THE ASSOCIATED caught up with a couple of members of the delegation: Albert Sachrovitz, Chief of Staff for Yuli Edelstein, Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs and Irit Levi, Senior Advisor to Sofa Lander, Minister of Immigrant Absorption. The pair talked about their roles, their opinions about Israel-U.S. relations and politics.
ASSOCIATED: At our recent Keynote Event, two political commentators offered their take on relations between the current American president and U.S. President Obama. Comments were made that Obama has treated Benjamin Netanyahu disrespectfully. How are the personal relations between the two leaders?
Sachrovitz: It is no secret that there is a feeling that Obama is less pro-Israel than those before him. We all know about what happened with Obama and the French President. [The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, described the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, as a ‘liar’ in a private exchange with Barack Obama that was inadvertently broadcast to journalists.] But no one thinks Obama is anti-Israel; he has just made a lot of mistakes. I think everyone in Israel still believes that America is our strongest ally. We know there is no one closer to us than the U.S. and that this won’t change no matter who the holds the role of President or Prime Minister.
Netanyahu is the first PM in decades to hold his office till term. Why do you think that is?
Sachrovitz: He has had many successes. Most recently, of course, was the release of Gilad Shalit. Next is economics. Israel made it past the economic tsunami, so to speak, and Netanyahu has always known his economics. Then there is security. I live in Ashdod, so it has not been as quiet for me, but for most of the country, security is good and our people feel secure. When people feel good, they don’t want a change.
Would he likely be re-elected?
Sachrovitz: Right now, Kadima is a weak party … Labor is divided. … In general, the Nationalist parties are leading and will most likely succeed over the left. It would be dramatic if Likud was not re-elected.
Does Netanyahu put Diaspora relations on his list of priorities?
Sachrovitz: Netanyahu is the first Prime Minister to open an entire office dedicated to public diplomacy/Diaspora relations. He has spent a lot of money on this position because he understands how important the larger Jewish world is to Israel.
Let’s talk about aliya [Jews moving to Israel]. Can you talk about the challenges and benefits of aliya for Jews from North America?
Levi: I work with the Minister of Absorption and I want the maximum number of Jews to return to Israel. I don’t look at any disadvantages; any Jew that will come will add to the country and we will be there to help them adjust.
Is aliya increasing?
Levi: There were 40,000 new immigrants last year. Since we started the campaign for Israelis to return to Israel, a campaign that had a strong reaction, we had over 150,000 visitors to our immigration website. [In an effort to remind Israeli emigrants of the unique qualities of their homeland, the Ministry launched a series of television and billboard ads meant to remind Israeli expatriates that no matter where they currently reside, there’s no place like home.] We don’t know for sure was sparks aliya, but we do know that today we have a lot of successful people here in the States, people with good finances, that are coming and that there is a rise in aliya.
Do you think every Jew should live in Israel?
Levi: Eight million residents of Israel wanted to bring Gilad Shalit, one person, home. How could we not want for every other Jew to return home, too. Israel is the natural home of the Jewish people.
If one is not planning to move, what can one do in Baltimore to show support of Israel?
Sachrovitz: Go out and vote. The citizens of Israel would like someone else elected. It is not that Obama is bad it is just that we believe that someone else could be better.
You have been to the States a handful of times, but never to Baltimore. What are your impressions?
Sachrovitz: At [Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School] it was the first time I had ever really met with the people, with lay leaders, not officials, or seen a Jewish day school. It was very interesting. You heard some of the other members saying things like, “OK, I am coming here, too!”
Levi: The school was amazing. I would love to send my kids to learn in a school like that. But it is also very expensive – more than $1,000 a month. In Israel, that could be one person’s salary. The question I had is what happens to those who don’t attend a Jewish day school?
What were your impressions of the local Federation?
Levi: They give of their time and their money and all of their heart for Israel and the Jewish people.
Do you think the delegation has accomplished its goals?
Sachrovitz: I think so, because the delegation is meant to help us understand what is going on in America firsthand. I see how important it is for both sides to do this, to come and see and meet each other. There are very important people on this delegation and it is important they have these communications and remember that the U.S. is and must always be our natural partners. When we are here, we also feel good; we feel we are not alone.
I know in Baltimore you talk a lot about people-to-people relations. In Israel, we don’t understand what it is like in America. Many of us would think that all Jews in America or rich or whatever stereotypes there are. But when we are here, we see that is not the case. There are struggles in America, too.
And we can bring you Israel beyond the conflict. This is very important, too.
For more information about how you can get involved with Israel (while still living in Baltimore!) visit our Global Impact website at www.baltglobalimpact.org.
Take Action: Join the Baltimore Israel Coalition for a conference call to understand the Iran Certification Act and see what you can do. Visit www.baltglobalimpact.org/israelcall.