My Vision for 2048: Israel as an 'Impact Nation'

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October 24, 2017

The following is the full text of ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt's opening remarks, as delivered, on October 24, 2017 to the inaugural Social Cohesion Summit, "Israel 2048" in Tel Aviv.

Jonathan Greenblatt - ADL Israel 2048 Social Cohesion Summit

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt addresses the Israel 2048 Social Cohesion Summit in Tel Aviv. October 24, 2017.

Boker Tov and Beruchim Ha-baim. Good morning and welcome! It is a pleasure for me to stand here this morning and look out at this wonderful crowd and this amazing room.

Today marks the launch of an ADL initiative designed to help both Israel and American-Jewry thrive: Israel 2048.

Let me explain.

First, this is the launch of an annual conference to bolster existing Israeli efforts to build a more unified society. We hope this conference will be THE conference on social cohesion.

Second, it is the platform for ADL to support the Israeli policymakers, innovators, and social entrepreneurs promoting cohesion across this country, from from Tayib to Jerusalem; from Bnei Brak to Tel Aviv. We can help the Start Up Nation as it develops innovative solutions, not just to businesses and technology challenges but to pressing social issues. We hope to help bring Israelis together at a time when every issue seems to divide our people around the world.

Third, in the face of friction that threatens to hamper the Israel/Diaspora relationship, it is call to action. This conference should be a catalyst to work together to realize the aspirations that we all share for the Jewish state as it approaches its centennial.

But why should ADL, an American Jewish organization, launch Israel 2048 and an annual conference?

ADL has fought for the protection of Jews in the U.S. and around the world since 1913 because we are driven a simple mission: “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment to all.” Simply put, our founders believed America would be good for its Jews when it was good for all its minorities, and that it would be good for all minorities when it was good to its Jews.

Most NGOs focus on a tightly defined mission – limited by a particular issue, demographic, or geography. But ADL’s philosophy of fighting anti-Semitism by standing up for ourselves and others is actually more normal than novel in a Jewish context.

Think about it.

We are the heirs of the legacy of Rabbi Akiva, who said ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ This is the most important rule in the Torah.”

And we are the descendants of the sages who asked, “If I am only for myself, who am I?”

Since the state was founded, an integral part of our work has been to support for the State of Israel. And it continues today - from international conferences to the court of public opinion, from university campuses to small town America, from those who don’t just criticize Israeli policies but who engage in anti-Semitism because, to paraphrase Natan Sharansky, they delegitimize, demonize and hold the Jewish State to double standards not applied to any other country.

And our work, this dual focus on Jews and others, is not limited to the U.S. Indeed, I am proud to say that we are celebrating 40 years of operating on the ground as an amutah here in Eretz Yisrael.

Since it’s creation, our Jerusalem office has been staffed with Israelis, many of whom are here today, working on issues for Israel. This has enabled us to bring to Israel the three pronged strategy of fighting hate that we pioneered in America – (1) advocacy on issues; (2) education in schools; and (3) collaboration with law enforcement.

ADL Israel has been a voice against intolerance and incitement. Over the decades, our programs have convened and connected diverse Israeli communities – Arabs and Jews, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, Secular and Religious, Sabras and Olim, LGBTQ and straight.

So, why did we create Israel 2048? We have done so because promoting an agenda of unified living aligns with our core objectives. And our latest polling reveals it is a topic of concern to many Israelis.

In our latest poll, we found that, today, 64% of Israelis describe their society as ‘divided’ or even ‘very divided.’

And 57% of Israelis believe that Israel still will be ‘divided’ or ‘very divided’ 30 years from now. As you might imagine, if a critical mass of people believe that things are unlikely to change, a potential scenario can harden into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This should be a concern to Israelis, but it also is a concern to Jews who live in Diaspora but who are united with you by our shared Zionism. At the end of the day, this is an urgent issue that we must tackle together because we face it together.

I have been CEO at ADL for just over two years, and still consider myself a newcomer to organized Jewish life. But as someone who served in government in Washington, D.C., I have seen firsthand how such antagonism and a sense of powerlessness can paralyze a political system, how it can polarize a society, how it can pull apart a people.

And yet it seems at times that the Jewish people have contracted the same disease that has seized the American body politic. This is a dangerous development. Continuing down this path could jeopardize so much of the dynamism of Klal Yisrael.

I can testify to the fact that many American Jews are worried about trends in Israeli society. They may not live here but they are concerned about issues such as religious pluralism, shared society and democratic process. Many feel these developments have strained their connection to our homeland. And they often view these topics through a very American lens that only sees absolutes: right/left, right/wrong, black/white; my way or the highway.

Now, we share these concerns at ADL, but I believe we add value precisely because of our values-based perspective.

To clarify, we see these concerns, not through a two-dimensional lens but a three-dimensional prism, one that bends a single strand of light to reveal all the rich colors of Israeli society.

We cherish Israel, not as an abstraction, but as a reality to engage with and love both for its perfections and imperfections. We appreciate it for its assets and, yes, even for its liabilities. And we remain committed to helping it improve itself just as any of us would do for a family member.

Indeed, ADL is not a bystander that seeks to criticize the country from arm’s length. We approach this issue as a stakeholder on the ground, as a member of the family who seeks to listen, learn, engage and improve the Jewish state because we love this country.

Making progress on issues like religious pluralism or ethnic coexistence will not be easy. We will not tackle them, and others, without serious struggle. But we embrace the challenge.

We remember that the very name “Israel” comes from the idea of wrestling with God and winning! We do not consider even our most sacred text to be above analysis and review. Our tradition foregoes dogma in favor of debate and dissent. So here, too, we will wrestle, we will debate, we will dissent. But we will acquire insights and make progress along the way.

Many describe Israel as the Startup Nation, a country driven by the entrepreneurial instincts of a people who made the desert bloom. It’s a well-deserved nickname that concisely explains so much of the success of this start-up of a country.

And yet, my belief is that Israel can soon be seen as the Impact Nation.

By Impact Nation, I mean a country defined by its diversity and energized by change-makers who are responsible for one of the most raucous and robust civil societies in the world.

Look around this room. Many of these remarkable people are here among you today. They are not daunted by the impossible. Far from it. In the face of adversity, they don’t run away. They stand their ground, roll up their sleeves, and get to work. They invent new approaches and launch new organizations to solve the unsolvable.

ADL is ready to do its part. We are prepared to share our expertise and to transfer the effective programs that we have developed in the U.S. and translate them here in Israel.

We already have done some of this work. Back in the 1990s, we were invited to do so by the Ministry of Education. But in this moment more than ever, we are ready to serve as a resource, a support for Israeli civil society, local communities and the national government as together we build a more dynamic and pluralistic future.

To close, let me make a final point. In the face of the very real challenges of rising nationalism and increasing extremism, social cohesion both here and abroad can ensure that core ideals, essentially Jewish values, such as pluralism and tolerance, civility and respect continue to prevail. By promoting a shared society in Israel, we shine a light that will be seen around the world, an example that can serve as a model for others to follow.

I hope that ADL and this conference can play a small role in ensuring that the Impact Nation flourishes and that Israel 2048 remains a light burning bright unto the nations.

Thank you.