Greetings from South Florida and the 6th annual national meeting of the Israeli American Council. The IAC is the fastest growing Jewish group in North America; and its national summit attracted 4,000 attendees to the Diplomat Hotel, about 15% more than last year. The group has grown to having an active presence in 74 cities and towns in the United States.
About 70% of the attendees were Israeli-Americans and their families or Israelis who flew in for the events. Over 400 attendees were active college students (many from the 104 active IAC Mishelanu campuses), and about 20% were plain old Jewish Americans. The average age of the attendees was 42, and if you don’t count Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, major benefactors of the group, the average age is … 41.5
I knew I was in for some partisan non-partisan fun as soon as I arrived at the hotel, where we were greeted by a sports car decked out in a LUV IDF license plate and a wrap featuring MAGA, Trump and Netanyahu.
Among the most interesting events were interviews and panels with Netta Barzilai (entertainer), Yonatan Winetraub (Space IL), David Zalik (Greensky LLC), Dr. Jeffrey A. Hoffman (past astronaut), Israel Maimon (Israel Bonds), Dr. Marcelle Machluf (Technion), Jack Cohen (MIT), Naty Saidoff, Yochi Brandes (author), Ido Grinberg (@mismas), Gidi Mark (Birthright Israel), Gil Galanos (iTrek), MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz party), Elan Carr (US Special ENvoy on Antisemitism), Steve Rakitt (Genesis Prize), Dr. Shula Recanati, Bat-Galim Shaer, Dr. Stanley Fischer (Federal Reserve), Dr. Yossi Shain (T.A. Univ), Janice Weinman (Hadassah CEO), Prof. Uriel Reichman (Founder, IDC Herzliya), Nadav Kidron (CEO, Oramed Pharma), Dr. Ariel Porat (President Tel Aviv University), Leah Soibel (Fuenta Latina), UC Davis alum Tyler Gregory (A Wider Bridge), Adam Lehman (CEO, Hillel Intnl), Rivka Ravitz (Chief, Office of President Revi Rivlin), Eric Fingerhut (JFNA), Israel’s Consul General to NY Ambassador Dani Dayan, former Ambassador Dr. Dore Gold, Dr. Michal Perminger (J&J), Elen Rubin (Clearsky Data), Dr. Osnat Levtzion-Korach (Shamir Medical Center), and Zeev Rotstein (Hadassah Medical). There were performances by the Shalva band and Gidi Gov, Danny Sanderson and their friends (Poogy/Kaveret, Gazoz).
Among the journalists present were Dr. Hila Korach, Omri Nahmias (Jerusalem Post, DC Bureau), Yoav Limor, Yuna Leibzon, Yaakov Katz (EIC, Jerusalem Post), David Suissa (EIC, Tribe Media/Jewish Journal of Los Angeles), Alon Ben-David (Ch 13), Geula Even Sa’ar (Kan 11), Razi Barcay, Omri Asssenheim (Ch 12), Yair Shreki (Ch 12), Niv Shtendel, Siggy Flicker, Amit Segal, Alon Ben David, Boaz Bismith, and Ayala Hasson.
And of course, the keynote was by Donald J. Trump, the current, sitting president of the United States.
I found his address to be similar to his standard arena stump speech and formula, the ones seen many times on C-SPAN. After over an hour wait to pass through security (but I got to chat with a former member of Poogy, and a fund raiser for Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva), and to the sounds of Jerry Ragovoy’s “Time is on My Side” and Lionel Richie’s “Hello…. I Haven’t Got a Clue”… we awaited the keynote. (Even more bizarre is Trump’s theme song: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”)
President Trump was greeted with cheers and calls for “four more years” from many of the true believers in the audience. He countered with the possibility for “12 more years.” (It was much nicer than some boos that greeted U.S. Member of Congress Debbie Wasserman-Schultz on Sunday)
Trump made references to “Crooked Hillary” and “Pocahantas,” his vile and racist term for Senator Elizabeth Warren.
He brought two people to the podium to let them praise him and pitch their accomplishments (the U.S. Special Envoy to combat anti-Semitism; an NYU alumnus who filed a questionable lawsuit against her school after it gave an award to a BDS anti-Israel student group).
Trump regaled the audience with his process of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and how it was accomplshed for closer to $200,000 than the initial $2 Billion estimate. He joked about the use of Jerusalem Stone, and discussed Iran and the Golan Heights, but made no mention of PM Binyamin Netanyahu or the Jordan Valley annexation as some had hinted he would.
Many non-partisan and wholly partisan groups, and major media sites, criticized Trump for his reliance and reinforcement of anti-Semitic tropes during his speech to the IAC. They wrote that he said the crowd had “no choice” but to vote for him.
“You have to vote for me, you have no choice. You’re not going to vote for Pocahontas, I can tell you that,” Trump said. “Even if you don’t like me … you’re going to be my biggest supporters because you’re going to be out of business in about 15 minutes if [the Democrats] get it.”
Some groups were enraged that he told the IAC audience that,
“…You’re brutal killers, not nice people at all.”
He told them that they would never accept a candidate with a wealth tax.
But from where I sat (close to the back row)… I thought he was specifically speaking to the Florida real estate developers who were sitting near Jared Kushner in the front, center rows…. and NOT to Jewish voters as a whole, or those Israeli Americans who have citizenship and can vote.
There was plenty to be outraged about during his speech. But the brutal killers and wealth tax portions were benign in comparison. Namely, he alluded to dual loyalty of Jewish voters.
He referred to American Jews who do not love Israel as much as he and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman do. He joked that Friedman gave up a lucrative real estate practice to NYC to serve as an Ambassador.
“So many of you voted for the people in the last administration. Some day you will have to explain that to me because I don’t think they like Israel too much.”
He touted the economic success and job growth in America, and criticized those Jews who voted for Democratic Party candidates who were not as nice to Israel as he is. He thanked the Republican Congressmen in attendence who defended him “against oppression” on Capitol Hill and thanked his son in law Jared Kushner for his work towards peace in The Middle East.
Jewish defense organizations, democratic groups, and other Jewish groups were quick to criticize trump for his use of those anti-Jewish “Jews and Money” tropes. Republican Jewish groups downplayed the issue and tried to reframe the issue (when in doubt, “reframe”). Machers who depend on funding from pro-Trump philanthropists declined to comment. In The New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman penned an essay titled “Donald Trump is Bad for the Jews,” in which he wrote that the president was “peddling an anti-Semitic stereotype, portraying Jews as money-grubbing types who care only about their wealth,” which is actually empirically counter-factual since American-born, non Israeli-American Jews are much more liberal than you might expect given their economic situation (only 17 percent of them voted Republican last year.) To Krugamn, Trump had chutzpah and contempt to say, in effect, “Ignore the bigotry and look at the taxes you’re saving!”
But for me, the Trump Address was just a diversion from the real story.
The real story happened in the panel discussions, where leaders discussed the growing gap between American Jews and Israeli Jews.
Yes, both communities live with different histories, in differing cultures, and have diverse lifestyles and goals, so it is normal to be different. Nevertheless, it was concerning that a growing number of American Jews do not consider Israel or its security among their top five political priorities.
And while several Israelis said that diaspora Jewry is a top issue for them, and American Jewish leaders talked of how they plan to integrate the vibrancy and needs of Israeli-Americans into their memberships and programs… it appeared that these were just words that are repeated each year, without effect.
Some panelists were a tad too honest for my ears, like an editor who said he suppressed news of the actions of progressive Jews in their community; a historian who decided not to publish his findings on events that would have not looked good for the State of Israel; or some outreach groups that shared their tactics for developing close intersectional relationships with non-Jewish groups so that they could influence them – when needed – to support Israel.