If you’re looking for a strong, new American Jewish leader to defend Israel and
US Jewry, Richard B. Stone may be the man.
When it’s necessary, he knows
how to pack a punch.
“There’s a very important lesson that we would
really like to be able to communicate to the world, and that is that the Israel-Palestinian conflict, if it were resolved tomorrow, would not remotely resolve
the problems of the Middle East,” he told The Jerusalem Post
in an exclusive
interview. “I think a lot of people really don’t understand that, and think that
if Israel made certain concessions and peace broke out, the Middle East would be
a stable and nonthreatening region.”
Stone looks like a law professor
from the film The Paper Chase
, and speaks like one too.
Actually, he is a
professor of law at Columbia University, where he has held the Wilbur Friedman
Chair in Tax Law since 1991.
He took over as chairman of the Conference
of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (an umbrella body
representing some 50 Jewish groups in the US) on June 1, 2011, from Alan
Next week (February 19-23), he will be at the helm of the
Conference of Presidents’ 38th Israel Leadership Mission at Jerusalem’s Inbal
Hotel, which is bringing together more than 100 American Jewish
He will address them on the challenges ahead, together with his
veteran executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, who has been serving since
They will also hear from Israeli leaders, including President
Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat
as well as top security officials and academics.
Throughout the five-day
conference, speakers and panels will address issues ranging from the
international community’s response to the Iranian nuclear threat and
Iranian-sponsored terrorism, regional developments and the delegitimization of
Israel, to social trends here, anti-Semitism and Jewish
Following the twin terrorist attacks on Monday targeting the
Israeli diplomatic missions in India and Georgia, Stone and Hoenlein issued a
harsh statement pointing a finger at Iran and its agents, Hezbollah and
“Evidence from earlier instances of terrorist attacks points to
the involvement of Iranian agents, and certainly their support for Hamas and
Hezbollah and other terrorists around the world put them at the forefront of
likely perpetrators,” they said in the joint statement. “Iran and its
agents must be held to account by the international community.”
Hoenlein, who is a master of the media and could teach a class on how to talk to
reporters and politicians with authority and clarity, Stone is more
down-to-earth and matter- of-fact, but comes across as a natural leader with
inner strength and conviction.
Stone has said that his goals as chairman
include prioritizing the fight against the delegitimization of Israel,
strengthening ties with Israel and promoting unity among the American Jewish
He, like Hoenlein, is convinced that American Jewish leaders –
and Israel – should be conveying an image of strength to the
“Malcolm made the point that it’s very important to not show
weakness, and perceptions in this part of the world of weakness come very, very
easily,” he argued. “There was no more eloquent statement of this that I’ve ever
heard than when we met with Arab leaders for the first time as the Arab Spring
was in its infancy and [Hosni] Mubarak had been deposed. The first thing
they raised was that America would pay a price for a long time in terms of the
trust allies would have in the United States because of the way it had not stood
up for Mubarak.
“I’m not saying what we should have done or not have done
about Mubarak, but that was a very important statement on their part about the
way things are perceived.”
When it comes to fighting the delegitimization
of Israel around the globe, Stone is especially tough: “It’s very important to
understand, contrary to what some scholars and even well-meaning people have
said, that delegitimization is not simply criticism of Israeli policies or
disagreement with Israeli policies.
“It’s a whole new way of attack that
is based on pounding away at repeating large lies, that if you don’t counter
them, and they’re said by enough people over time, they’re very difficult to
“There’s a double standard that really is today’s form of
respectable anti-Semitism. And you have to recognize it for that. It’s a
tremendous amount of the effort that we are exerting now as a Conference... and
we need to do much more.”
Asked about the role of US Jewry in this year’s
presidential elections, Stone stressed that the US-Israel relationship should
remain strong, no matter what the result.
“I don’t know how the Jewish
vote is going to come out in this election. Before every election, there seems
to be a prediction that the Jewish vote is going to be more heavily Republican
than in the last election, and a lot of times it doesn’t happen, although I
agree that the demography of the Jewish community in a number of ways – Orthodox
Jews, Russians, younger people etc. – is moving, probably, so that it will be
more evenly divided,” he said. “I think two things are important.
it’s good that no party can take the Jewish vote for granted. That’s as
simple a statement as you can make. If Jews are to have influence over issues,
particularly international issues, it’s very important that it’s not discounted
beforehand as an 80- 20 percent Democratic vote.
“Second, I think this
discussion should always take place with the understanding that though we may
have disagreements, and it depends who the candidate is and what the
conversation during the election is, the suggestion that the Jewish vote might
be more heavily Republican than it normally is ought not to obscure the fact
that the America-Israel relationship has remained – with quibbles here and there
– extremely strong throughout this administration.”
Stone is a strong
advocate for the release of Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in
an American jail for spying on behalf of Israel.
“I want to make one
comment, with the perspective now of 27 years,” he said. “Some of the
intelligence people, and some people involved in the prosecution who were
opposed to his release on humanitarian grounds earlier, have come back and
explicitly said that it’s time now to let him go, one of whom is James Woolsey,
who was head of the CIA.
“We were very upset and made a statement on
behalf of the Conference when he was not allowed in his 27th year in jail to
attend his father’s funeral.
It was a dreadful moment, and I hope at this
point that people can come to understand that neither Pollard nor his supporters
are suggesting that this be an exoneration of what he did, but simply a release
on humanitarian grounds for someone who is quite sick and who has been there far
longer than anyone else convicted of a similar crime.”
New Orleans, Stone now lives in New York City and has four children. He is,
inter alia, a member of the Executive Committee of the New York JCRC, is on the
board of NCSJ, which advocates for the Jewish communities in the 15 republics
that emerged from the Soviet Union, and served under mayor Rudolph Giuliani on
the board of CUNY, the City University of New York.
incidentally, that his middle initial stands for Berenson.
the name of my Litvak grandfather who settled in a town on the Louisiana-
Mississippi called Bogalusa,” he said.
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