More than 2,700 Jews from 70 countries packed the Washington Hilton earlier this week for the American Jewish Committee’s annual Global Forum, which brings together leaders from around the world to discuss major issues of concern for the Jewish community.
Highlighting the three-day conference was a “world leader’s plenary” session on Monday night that featured an address from National Security Advisor Susan Rice. The bulk of Rice’s 30-minute speech focused on the United States-Israel relationship, which she called an “ironclad bond.” Rice received cordial applause throughout the speech while repeating the refrain “Israel is not alone” in describing attacks from Hamas and other groups toward Israel’s existence. While most of Rice’s speech was aimed at Jews, she also included a line aimed at reaching out to another party.
“When Palestinians are attacked by mobs shouting death to Arabs, and Palestinian homes or mosques are vandalized, the Palestinian people are not alone,” she said.
Rice used her remarks to tout the efforts of President Barack Obama’s administration in securing the “largest military assistance package with any country in American history,” which is estimated to provide Israel with about $40 billion in aid over 10 years.
“Israel’s security isn’t a Democratic interest or a Republican interest, it’s an American interest,” she said.
Rice also addressed last year’s controversial Iran nuclear deal, which she praised by saying that the country’s breakout time for a nuclear weapon is now one year; it was just a few months prior to the agreement.
“Whether or not you supported this deal, the results are undeniable,” she said. “Iran has disassembled two-thirds of its centrifuges. They’ve shipped out 98 percent of their enriched Uranium stockpile.”
Rice also mentioned Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent trip to Paris for a Middle East Peace summit — one that neither the Israelis nor Palestinians attended. She said the basic message of the conference was an affirmation of the two-state solution as the only path toward a peaceful future in the region but that it cannot be “imposed on the parties.” Rice did not shy away from condemning Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, just as Vice President Joe Biden did at the AIPAC Policy Conference in March.
“Settlement activity corrodes the prospects for two states,” she said. “It moves us toward a one-state reality. Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state is at stake.”
Rice’s views on the West Bank were echoed earlier that day by Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog who said that the Israel’s lack of progress in separating from the Palestinians presents a “serious demographic threat to its future.”
“In the meanwhile, violence continues to flourish, the delegitimization of Israel gathers steam, and the international community grows increasingly irritated by the reality in the West Bank,” he said.
Absent from the conference’s sessions was any sense of political division. Despite Rice’s high-ranking position in the administration, she has stayed largely out of commenting on the current presidential race. She told The Forward in an interview that it would be “inappropriate and likely illegal” for her to do so in response to a question about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s foreign policy credentials. She closed her speech on a unifying note by condemning anti-Semitism that has popped up around the globe.
“When Iran holds an abhorrent Holocaust cartoon contest, when violence and violent words lead Jews to take down mezuzahs in Europe. When more than half of college students say they have experienced anti-Semitism on campus, we must call out and confront that ancient hatred for what it is: an absolute outrage.”
The speakers at this year’s conference were a departure from past years, which have included big names such as Kerry and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the latter of whom has spoken at the conference multiple times. But it did include the presence of three mayors out of more than 300 from across the country who have signed a pledge that states they are committed to fighting anti-Semitism on a global level.
One of those presents was Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who said suggestion of her involvement came from a constituent in Northwest Baltimore who is an AJC member. He called Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, who in turn convinced Rawlings-Blake to sign on. It also inspired the mayor to reach out to other mayors in Maryland and around the country.
“From that one constituent making that one phone call to his city councilwoman, this initiative now counts over 300 mayors signing on collectively over 80 million people in this country. You see, he thought globally by acting locally,” she said.
Rawlings-Blake said activism like the fight against anti-Semitism comes from the bottom up as opposed to the top down, and initiatives such as this one are most likely to happen within a city as opposed to at the national level.
“My job at its core is to make sure my community is safer, that it’s better and stronger,” she said. “And if I can do that and my colleagues can do that, then what a difference we can make.”