Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, visits the offices of ‘The Jerusalem Post.’.
(photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
It behooves the different sectors of the Jewish world to unite against the common threats they face, Malcolm Hoenlein told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
The executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is in Israel ahead of the organization’s annual leadership mission, set to begin later this month.
“We have to focus on the issues we have in common, on the things we care about, and recognize that there are differences but we can deal with them with respect,” he said. “What unites us far outweighs what divides us and the threats we face require a unified response from the community. We need to have the people together.”
In an interview that covered antisemitism in the diaspora as well as regional threats faced by Israel and the US, Hoenlein said: “The security of future generations interests all Jews and rests on our being able to be united and work together, and trying to be more sensitive to one another so we can find those common areas.
“Klal Yisrael [the Jewish people] is a vital security issue. The leadership has to send the message that it’s the responsibility of all of us, whether it’s in communities, in schools, in other places, to stop just focusing on what divides us but to focus on what unites us and to talk about the issues honestly and openly,” he said, stressing that when differences are exaggerated, people are pitted against one another.
“Those who seek to divide have to be held to account,” he added passionately, saying that the achievement of unity is the responsibility of government leaders, religious leaders, community leaders, opinion molders and the media.
Hoenlein’s approach toward US-Israel relations is similar. “I think the US and Israel have so many common interests – overwhelming common interests – that I hope will be addressed in their discussions now,” he said in reference to the first meeting between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled for Wednesday.
Mentioning Syria, Russia and particularly Iran – which he still views as the biggest danger – Hoenlein said Israel and the US must try to understand each other’s needs and operate from the same page.
“There will inevitably be differences,” he said, “so they have to develop a working relationship that enables them to address differences as they arise, but also to work together and support the main interests of each other, because in fact in the region today, Israel and the US are really the key players.”
Addressing the controversy that has surrounded the Trump administration, Hoenlein’s said it is simply too early to judge the new government.
On one hand, he pointed out, many members of the administration are pro-Israel and the president has also professed to be so. On the other, Hoenlein acknowledged concerns expressed by the US Jewish community about some policies, for instance, on immigration.
“But we need to give them enough time to find out where the bathrooms are, to put their stance in place, to start really developing a policy and how they will work with one another.”
Turning to the subject of antisemitism, which surfaced during the US presidential campaigns, Hoenlein said it also remains to be seen how the administration will tackle that phenomenon.
Careful to note that he did not see antisemitism as having emerged directly from Trump or his campaign, Hoenlein said it was exposed by the general election process and now that it is in “clear daylight” it might be easier to fight.
“Those in authority must denounce it, they have to act against it, we have to work on our campuses and make sure that these groups are not able to continue to impact our campuses where antisemitism is manifest,” he said, emphasizing that it is incumbent on the political leaders, religious leaders, administrations, faculties, education systems, media and cyber media to mobilize against it. The latter, he said, must not become vehicles for the communication of hate, mobilizing people toward extremist positions.
“Everybody has a role to play to help educate the public so that these voices don’t become dominant,” Hoenlein said.