Leader of the Opposition and Head of the Zionist Union Party, Isaac Herzog, declared in an address to the 42nd annual Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Leadership Mission to Israel delegation on Feb. 16 that “the true reality is that we are in the midst of the Third Intifada, which clearly has the support of various groups and schools of thought in the Muslim world.” Herzog noted that eight attempted terrorist attacks occurred just yesterday. B’nai B’rith International President Gary P. Saltzman and Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin are taking part in the mission.
Reiterating his ultimate support of a two-state solution, he said “under the current leadership of both sides, there is no way we can progress even one iota,” and added that he couldn’t promise that he would be able to reach an agreement with the Palestinians at this time. Herzog also made it clear that any final status agreement would be subject to a national referendum.
He outlined his three-point plan endorsed last week by the Labor Party, which consisted of: completing the security barrier around the settlement blocs and placing barriers around the 28 Arab villages in the Jerusalem area. “We are not telling the truth when we say they are a part of the Jerusalem municipality,” he said; Transfer civilian control to the Palestinian Authority and implement confidence-building steps that will enable the Palestinians to start building a state, including in the fields of agriculture and transportation; and initiate a multi-national ‘regional conference’ to address the host of problems in the Middle East.
Herzog communicated his demand for a construction freeze outside the established settlement blocs and said, “In a way, the borders have already been drawn.” When asked about Ariel specifically, he said that it was one of the established blocs and would remain. He also said that Gaza must be part of the solution and called for simultaneous measures to relieve some pressure on the Palestinians there and to ensure the safety of Israel.
The delegation was briefed by the senior staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on a range of pressing issues. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely delivered comments that outlined some critical challenges for the future. Among them, she cited the ‘Jewish challenge’ saying that although Taglit-Birthright has brought more than 500,000 young Jews to Israel for 10-day visits, it has not managed to equip participants with the intellectual basis required to enrich the pro-Israel side of the international debate. She said, “It is the task of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to find the next birthright.” The Deputy Foreign Minister also called for pressuring international donors, who fund 30 percent of the Palestinian Authority’s budget, to do more to guarantee that their contributions are not used to support incitement.
Minister of Education and Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett spoke to the delegation this afternoon exclusively about education in Israel, and how he is using education as an agent for change. He cited the recent “massive investment” in Israeli-Arab schools, for new teachers in particular, as well as hiring, for the first time, a head of Haredi education. He said “we need to teach the Haredim English and math, but on their terms.”
The minister said that in the next three years he intends to more than double the number of high school students learning highest-level math, from 8,500 per year currently to more than 18,000. “That is the real future of the ‘start-up nation,’” he said.
On a positive note, the minister expressed delight that in the past two months 253,000 Israeli kids have been playing Code Monkey, an interactive game that teaches computer programming. He also shared that for the first time every Arab student from kindergarten on is now learning Hebrew, which greatly increases their future job prospects.
The proven and effective voice of organized American Jewry for six decades, the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations, of which B’nai B’rith is a member, advances the interests of the American Jewish Community, promotes broad-based support for Israel, and addresses critical concerns facing Israel and world Jewry.
The delegation will be in Israel through Feb. 18 and will be meeting with high-level Israeli leaders, academics, diplomats and opinion makers across the political spectrum.
(This statement is being shared, with permission, from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.)