While voicing concern about rising antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment around the globe, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder stresses that Israel is still the only thriving democracy in the Middle East and the US-Israel relationship remains strong despite recent tension. In this exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, Lauder – the preeminent leader of global Jewry – says last year’s Iran deal put an unfortunate strain on US-Israel ties, “but I am confident that President- elect Donald Trump, who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for nearly 50 years, will be a strong and resolute advocate for the Jewish state.”
What do you see as the main challenges facing the world today?
There’s no denying that we face tumultuous times and consequential challenges, from the spread of ISIS and radical Islam, to the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history in Syria. The loss of life and suffering is staggering, and unrest in the Middle East is unsettling for all of us who care deeply about a secure Jewish homeland.
These are just some of the concerns that I spend a great deal of time focusing on.
How concerned are you about rising antisemitism, BDS and anti-Israel sentiment around the world?
I can’t overstate my concern about the rising tide of antisemitic and anti-Israel sentiment around the world. This level of antisemitism is unprecedented since the 1920s and 1930s in Europe. I’ve seen it myself in the streets of Paris, and on college campuses in the United States in the form of Students for Justice in Palestine and the BDS movement. It’s deeply unsettling that Jews are being harassed, attacked, and made to feel unsafe in their own communities.
However, I’m heartened that leaders in Europe and around the country are taking decisive action to combat BDS; most recently legislation was passed in New York and California, and it’s imperative that similar legislation is passed at the federal level.
What can be done to bridge what appears to be a growing rift between Israel and Diaspora communities over such religious issues such as the egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall?
It saddens me that the divide between ultra-Orthodox sects in Israel and non-Orthodox Diaspora Jews is growing, at a time when the Jewish people should be coming together to stand united and strong against rising antisemitism around the world.
The best way to bridge this divide is to continue an open dialogue, and for as many Jews as possible to travel to Israel, whether through programs like Birthright or Masa or with their families or congregations. I don’t expect an agreement to be reached easily on the Kotel or mikvaot. However, I encourage Jews to continue to engage in these tough conversations and to actively engage with their culture.
How do you view the US-Israel relationship?
The US and Israel have always been allies. We share bedrock values, like our commitment to democratic governance and the rule of law. Lately, our long-standing relationship has been tested. The Iran deal, in particular, put an unfortunate strain on our ties with Israel, but I am confident that President-elect Donald Trump, who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for nearly 50 years, will be a strong and resolute advocate for the Jewish state.
How do you see the future of Israel and the Jewish people?
As my friend, the great Shimon Peres, once said, “The Jews’ greatest contribution to history is dissatisfaction.
We’re a nation born to be discontented. Whatever exists we believe can be changed for the better.”
Even as antisemitism and anti-Zionism are on the rise, we, as a people, whether in the Diaspora or living in the Jewish state, will always strive to make the world a better place, which is why I remain optimistic about the future of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
Israel is the only thriving democracy in the Middle East that promotes Western values and serves as a safe haven to people of diverse backgrounds and cultures. Israel will continue to be a liberal beacon in the Middle East and the world, and I envision a strong and vibrant future for the Jewish state and for its people.