APRIL 17, 2016, Washington, D.C.
Thank you for that kind introduction, and thank you all for welcoming me here today.
In many ways, I am an unlikely person to be head of ADL…or to be head of a Jewish organization. See, I’ve spent most of my career in business or in government – creating companies, building brands, innovating business models, driving economic value and achieving social benefit, … all this took place far away from the organized Jewish community.
Yet, in reflecting on the opportunity to head the Anti-Defamation League, I realized something about myself.
My wife is a political refugee who fled the anti-Semitism of the Islamic Republic of Iran. My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor who fled Nazi Germany and came to America with nothing. He worked hard, and carved a middle class life out for himself.
And even during that struggle, he never forgot others. He had me and my brother and cousins as kids, marching in the streets of Bridgeport, Connecticut – where we lived – to help free Jewish refuseniks in the Soviet Union.
And you know what? It worked. In our time, we saw an entire community of our people freed.
And from that personal experience, as a young boy, I recognized that I could be part of something bigger…that I could make a difference…that I could change the world.
Looking out at all of you, I know that despite the years that separate us, that we share that basic commitment. After all, why else would you take the time on a nice Spring weekend to sit in a hotel ballroom? Why else would you organize and speak out on campus for Israel – even if that may not be the most popular position to take?
You too believe that you can be part of something bigger. You know that you can make a difference. And you can help both our community – the Jewish community – and our country, the United States.
I want to tell you that you are part of a long line of Americans, Jewish or otherwise, who have done that.
Think back a little over 50 years ago to the civil rights movement. The Supreme Court case of Brown v Board of Education. The march in Selma across the Edmund Pettis Bridge. The demonstrations across the South.
ADL was there. Literally. We filed the amicus briefs, we took the beatings, we stood up for justice.
In fact, half a century before the quest for equality for African-Americans, anti-Semitism was rampant across the US. Jews could not live or work where they wanted; they were denied entry to universities and businesses right here in America; Leo Frank had just been lynched in Atlanta. In this moment when the future of Jews in this country was uncertain, when our community lacked political power or economic resources, a small group of Jews came together and created ADL. These Jewish activists wrote a charter for this new organization – we would call it a mission statement – and they built into the founding creed of ADL a commitment both to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people AND to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”
These founders – these forerunners to all of you – believed that you could not have one without the other. To truly make America a place for Jews to thrive, all people needed to be treated fairly. And to have a country where all are equal, anti-Semitism and bigotry against Jews could not be tolerated.
So, I come to you today as the new head of an old organization that shares your commitment to change.
We also share your commitment to Israel.
For all the arguments and disagreements within the Jewish community, let’s not forget that we love Israel. We see it as the culmination of a two-thousand-year-old dream of rebuilding a Jewish home.
We want to see Israel as Jewish nation that supports religious pluralism and celebrates the practices of all members of our Jewish community just as we want to see Israel as a democratic country that acknowledge and protect the rights of all its citizens, Ashkenazi and Sephardic, Sabra and immigrant, Jew and Arab.
And we want to see Israel live in peace and security alongside its neighbors.
I remember being a part of the Clinton Administration 20 years ago, and seeing that historic handshake on the South Lawn between Rabin and Arafat. We had such hopes.
Looking back, some disagree about what happened or how we get to that two-state solution. We can – and should – have a robust debate. We can criticize and argue with our brothers and sisters in Israel, and with their government. I know I do. I know ADL does.
At the same time, we must be on guard for those who want to use that conversation to undermine the Jewish state; foment anti-Semitism here, on campus, and abroad; and who place blame on one side instead of putting forward solutions that acknowledge the role and responsibility of both sides. We cannot let ourselves be divided.
Perhaps in the past there has been a shortcoming of the Jewish establishment to allow for robust debate, to create a safe space for all of us to talk, a big tent that respects the views of all parties. I believe that healthy dialogue is a Jewish value and see you as part of that dialogue and, I am standing before you today, bearing witness to that value. But make no mistake, we should not – you should not – allow others to thrive by exploiting our commitment to debate and dissent to stoke division in our community.
You might want to support a particular policy, but you cannot do so and stand with those who look away when leaders demonize Jews or deny the rights of the Jewish people to self-determination just as we should not stand idly by when those in our community exhibit Islamophobia or deny the rights of the marginalized, Palestinian or otherwise.
So when it comes to striving for a two state solution, its critical for two parties to meet halfway. Both sides need to acknowledge the legitimacy of the other’s narrative. We need equal pressure for equality. Honestly, I wish there was a P Street along with a J Street.
I mean this with all sincerity. Both sides need more investment and less Intifada, more business and less boycott, more help and less hate. There is a need for mutual effort. It won't be easy but we can get there.
We can seek to support Palestinian self-determination but we also cannot be blind to how anti-Semitism is alive, and how those who traffic in it seek to undermine Zionism and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, the same principle that we aspire to grant to all other people. We need to stand up and speak out against those who look for opportunities to poison political debate, and, as one writer recently put it, clothe anti-Semitic invective in the language of human rights, or minimize it because of the supposed privilege of the Jewish community.
I know you see this on campus. Often I know you are the front line of defense against BDS and delegitimization. And my challenge to you is to hold that line even as you reach out, to stand up for ourselves and speak out against those who traffic in hate. When you do that, ADL has got your back. The community has got your back.
To be clear: that does not mean you should retrench, and not work with other communities and groups on campus…not care about the rights of refugees, equality for the LGBT community, or making sure that Black Lives Matter. Far from it. I am saying the exact opposite. These are the struggles of our time. These are the fights that we have waged for over a hundred years. So, again, ADL is already there, and we have got your back.
But that must be on our terms. And those terms are: no anti-Semitism, no anti-Zionism, no bigotry, no hate. You should feel empowered to tell your would-be allies: you must respect us just as we respect you.
Alright, I have talked for too long. And I want start this conversation.
But let me end with this: if you care about Israel, if you care about social justice, if you care about joining that long list of Jewish activists who did in fact change the world, then join us.