As the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder has a finger on the pulse of political, civic and philanthropic activities that affect the Jewish people and Israel. Lauder has met in the past few years with numerous heads of state and government, including Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah II of Jordan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Hungary’s President Janos Ader and Pope Benedict XVI.
A former US ambassador to Austria, Lauder manages investments in real estate and media, both in the US and Israel. He has been instrumental in a number of cases in recovering “lost” art from the Nazi period.
Ahead of this year’s Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, Lauder took time to discuss some of the pressing events taking place around the world.
You met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently. Do you believe he is a partner for peace?
I have met with Palestinian Authority President Abbas a number of times in the past several years. Our conversations have always been constructive. Now is the time for President Abbas to show the courage I know he is capable of, the courage to wage peace. We should continue to call on President Abbas to rein in the extremists who are fanning the fire of violence and urge him to come out strongly about the unconscionable violent attacks against Jewish people by the Palestinians.
President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu should take steps to immediately re-launch a meaningful peace process that would lead to a two-state solution. Now more than ever it is critical that the two parties reset the agenda for a long-term peace.
Looking at the signed Iran nuclear deal - did Israel and Jewish organizations do enough to stop it?
Israel and prominent Jewish organizations were extraordinarily vocal in opposing the Iran deal, both in public and behind closed doors with policymakers. There is no question that there was a loud Jewish voice standing against the agreement and that it was taken seriously in the American halls of power.
I think it is important to understand what was achievable, though. The truth is that no amount of pressure on US lawmakers could “stop” the Iran deal. Even if Congress voted to oppose the deal and prevent the necessary US sanctions from being lifted, the other P5+1 were not going to abandon the deal that they worked for years to negotiate.
International sanctions would still be lifted and the deal would advance without America.
So the deal is moving forward. At this stage, the most important thing for Israel and Jewish groups to do is examine the serious consequences facing the United States, Israel and the rest of the world, and to take immediate steps to address them. Specifically, with Iran receiving an influx of funds with which they can fund terror, Israel and the United States need to talk frankly about Israel’s security needs, even as the United States continues to engage with Iran.
As a Jewish-American, I care deeply about the vitality of the relationship between the United States and Israel.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama on November 9 was a critical opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to one another and our resolve to do more than ever before and to combat the shared threats we face in the region. Specifically, we need enhanced strategic cooperation, increased intelligence sharing, and a renewed guarantee of Israel’s qualitative military edge.
Are you concerned at all about the changing demographics in Europe with all the Arab/Muslim immigration coming in?
First of all, my heart goes out to those men, women and children who are fleeing danger in Syria, who have lost their homes and, in many cases, loved ones. What is taking place there is a terrible human tragedy with no justification.
The forced movement of millions of refugees across borders and cultures brings with it certain risks. Surely it is a challenge for European countries who must figure out how to safely and effectively absorb a large influx of migrants, but it is also an opportunity for them. In Germany, for example, leading economists agree that Germany will profit from the influx of refugees.
Given Germany’s history, I am particularly proud of the bold actions they’ve taken in accepting so many in need. In the Talmud, it is written: “He who saves a single life saves the whole world.”
What really matters is what happens next: can we address the underlying cause of this flow? Can we provide the substantial support that nations like Jordan and Turkey desperately need and deserve to continue supporting the large refugee populations they have been harboring for years already? The majority of refugees are courageous and peaceful people, looking for a safe home for their families and an opportunity to contribute. I think we should praise Europe for taking in those fleeing from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere to give them sanctuary. As Jews, no one understands better than we do the importance of sheltering those in need. No one knows better than we do how communities with different views can enrich and enhance societies. We are living proof.
What else can be done to fight the surge in anti-Semitism?
It shocks the conscience that in this day and age we are still dealing with this old vestige of human hate.
There is so much more that can and should be done to combat global anti- Semitism, from countries where it is surging to world institutions like the United Nations to college campuses.
Some of the anti-Semitism we face is deliberate and calculated, and some is born out of habit or ignorance. Regardless of where it manifests itself, we must expose it. We must shine light on it. We must call it what it is.
Jewish communities cannot do it alone. We need to educate our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and classmates about how often anti-Jewish sentiments are dressed up as criticism of Israeli policy. We need to educate them about how BDS is not really about economics, but rather about creating divisiveness that does not effect any real change.
The global Jewish community must come together with our friends of other faiths and focus our collective energy on inspiring people to be uniters – those who choose the power to heal over the call to hate.
You have focused so much in your career on diplomacy and politics; what drives you?
I am deeply inspired by the ancient Jewish principle Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lezeh – all Jews are responsible for one another. I have been overwhelmingly blessed to have resources that I can use to make a difference and I feel obligated to use my time and leadership to positively impact Jewish communities in the United States, in Israel and around the world. This desire became most vivid when I served as the US ambassador to Austria in the 1980s and was able to meet with Jewish communities devastated by the Holocaust and stifled by decades of Communism.
Likewise, I am driven by the concept of tikkun olam, to repair the world. I am working to create a world in which Jews are free to embrace their cultural identities; a world of interreligious dialogue and peace among nations; and a world of next-generation uniters.
Are you working on any behind-the- scenes Jewish affairs not so well known that you think people should know about?
I wake up every day thinking about how I can do something meaningful on behalf of Jewish people around the world.
Much of my work is very public, speaking on behalf of global Jewish communities as the President of the World Jewish Congress. I also devote time to leading the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in its work to establish Jewish schools, camps and community centers in countries in Eastern and Central Europe that help young Jewish people rediscover their Jewish identity and encourage them to practice tolerance with those of other faiths. Additionally, I created the Committee for Art Recovery to fight for the return of art stolen by the Nazis to its rightful owners.
But much of my work is quiet, meeting with senior US government officials and other leaders around the world to push them to fight anti-Semitism and support a two-state peace process. For example, during the recent UN General Assembly in September, I met with nearly 40 world leaders to seek their input and discuss the way forward. And in late October, I traveled to Rome to meet with the pope [Francis] to confer on how we can find interfaith solutions to the world’s challenges.
What more can the WJC do to improve the status of Israel in the world?
The World Jewish Congress represents Jewish communities in 100 countries around the world, and I believe that our collective community around the globe is strongest when it stands together as one people for the betterment of humankind. Under my leadership, the WJC connects Jewish communities to speak with unity about the issues that affect us and that affect Israel, including anti-Semitism, interfaith tolerance and the two-state solution. Israel and the Jewish Diaspora together create a voice that cannot be ignored by governments, religions and peoples around the world.
I appreciate the work that so many individuals and organizations are doing every day on behalf of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. But so much more can be done and must be done. As the president of the WJC, I will continue to use every tool at my disposal to try to motivate a new and invigorated diplomacy in support of Israel, in which we have discussions based on mutual respect, where we focus on hope instead of threats, and through which we build alliances and partnerships in support of peace.
The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference
, a prestigious forum where some 400 ambassadors, ambassadorial spokespeople and military attachés from around the world will convene, takes place at the Waldorf, Astoria Hotel in Jerusalem on Wednesday, November 18. The conference, featuring an array of speeches from Israeli newsmakers, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will be broadcast live on Jpost.com.