‘Who Needs So Many Arabs?’ Meet the Man Tasked With Improving Israel’s Ties With the Jewish Diaspora

Jacques Kupfer has called for the annexation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and often refers to the former U.S. president as ‘Hussein’ Obama. He’s about to be confirmed to a key position at the World Zionist Organization

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jacques Kupfer
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jacques KupferCredit: AP, Jacques Kupfer's profile picture
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

He’s denounced Arab members of the Knesset as “terrorists” and “enemies of the state.” He denies the existence of a Palestinian people and has warned that “Palestinianism” – that is, support for Palestinian rights – is a virus more dangerous than COVID-19. Addressing a demonstration this summer in support of Israeli annexation of the West Bank, he said he was “not sure we need so many Arabs in the Land of Israel.”

He’s been widely quoted in the French press as saying he regretted that was assassinated because he should have been tried in a military court for signing the (which were meant to pave the way for the establishment of a Palestinian state).

Amid the chaos  over what was widely seen as an attempted Orthodox takeover, his appointment to a key position in one of the most important institutions in the Jewish world was hardly noticed. But as of next week, World Likud movement co-chairman Jacques Kupfer will assume control of the Department for Diaspora Affairs at the World Zionist Organization.

Its mission, as defined on the WZO website, includes “building bridges between Jews everywhere in the world,” “talking about Israel from all angles,” “making connections between Jewish communities and Israel on five continents,” and “strengthening Zionist identity among young Jews.”

A Facebook post published several days ago by a far-right organization founded and run by Kupfer described his appointment to this distinguished position as a “revolution,” noting that he was determined “to carry out big projects to generate, with the help of God, a renewal of the Zionist spirit in the Diaspora and Israel.”

As part of the deal struck last week among the various factions of the World Zionist Congress, many important positions in the WZO and its affiliate organization, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, were handed over to Likud. These include director of the WZO’s Department for Diaspora Affairs – a position that for the past five years had been filled by Gusti Yehoshua Braverman, a representative of the Reform movement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-U.S. President Barack Obama in 2014. Jacques Kupfer has referred to Obama as "Hussein" and anti-Netanyahu protesters as "useful idiots."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-U.S. President Barack Obama in 2014. Jacques Kupfer has referred to Obama as "Hussein" and anti-Netanyahu protesters as "useful idiots."Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Until now, this department’s responsibilities had included outreach to the Zionist federations around the world. In order to avert a major crisis in the Jewish world, the Reform movement was allowed – among several last-minute concessions made to the progressive Zionist parties and the non-Orthodox movements – to retain this small part of the portfolio. , in exchange, was granted a brand new subdivision in the department focused on outreach to French-speaking Jews.

‘Racist and violent’

A former head of Likud in France, Kupfer is known even within Likud circles as an extremist whose views are not necessarily representative of Israel’s ruling party. A staunch advocate of the settlement enterprise, he has taken Netanyahu to task for abandoning his plans to extend Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank. He has also organized fundraisers and solidarity marches for the Jewish settlement in Hebron.

He supports not only the annexation of the entire West Bank but also the reconquest of the Gaza Strip, evacuated by Israel 15 years ago. He often refers to  as “Hussein” Obama. He calls Israeli democracy a form of “idolatry” that threatens the Jewish character of the state, and in recent months has denounced the tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrating against Prime Minister  as “anarchists” and “useful idiots.”

Kupfer’s appointment still requires the official approval of the WZO executive board, which is scheduled to meet next week to approve all the new appointments at the Zionist institutions. However, WZO sources said it was a “done deal,” since the executive board had never before rejected an appointment. Kupfer will earn about $160,000 a year in his new position.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel, said that 10 years ago at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, Kupfer physically attacked left-wing activists. “I had to stand between them,” he recounted.

Commenting on Kupfer’s appointment, he said: “The problem with it is not his blatantly right-wing positions, but the fact he is a racist and violent person whose statements undermine the most fundamental values of the WZO and its affiliate organizations.

giladkariv
Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Reform Movement in IsraelCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

“Many Jewish communities around the world will have a difficult time working in cooperation with a department headed by him,” Kariv said. “Likud has a long list of impressive leaders, which makes its decision to put up for this position a man whose racist and extreme views are well known extremely regretful. Even a pluralistic organization like the WZO, which serves as a roundtable for different communities and groups, must have some red lines. Racism and violence are among them.”

A WZO spokesman said that Kupfer was not at liberty to comment at the moment. Instead, the spokesman issued the following statement when asked about Kupfer’s suitability for the job: “The WZO includes under its wings all the parties and movements in the Jewish world and in Israel. All the appointments to positions in the national institutions are made democratically by delegates to the World Zionist Congress, reflecting a wide consensus in both Israel and the Diaspora. The WZO does not condone extremist statements, and we will work together to achieve harmony in the Zionist project that faces some difficult challenges today.

“It’s important to stress that the executive board operates on the basis of nonpartisanship, reflecting the consensus among representatives of the different movement and parties, and all are committed to this policy regardless of their personal views,” he added.

David Breakstone, the outgoing vice chairman of the Jewish Agency and the Conservative movement’s representative in the Zionist institutions, said he wasn’t prepared to comment on a specific candidate. However, he made clear he didn’t believe Kupfer was a suitable choice.

“More than half of Jewish millennials in the United States are uncomfortable with the very idea of a Jewish state, and they’re also seven times more likely to feel alienated from it than those over the age of 65, largely because of their perception of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians,” he said.

“Under these circumstances, it’s vital that the head of the Department for Diaspora Affairs be able to enter into a nuanced dialogue with them – and with young liberal Jews everywhere around the world. The capacity to embrace those who criticize Israel out of a love for the country – J Street activists, for example – is essential. Those of our people abroad who express concern over the fate of the Palestinians, or unease regarding the prejudice that still exists toward our Arab citizens, must continue to feel welcome and at home within the Zionist tent.”  

French-born, Kupfer immigrated to Israel about 20 years ago but travels back and forth regularly. He is the founder and director of a far-right organization called Israel is Forever, which targets the French-speaking community. It lists among its key objectives “to assert our inalienable rights throughout the Land of Israel and campaign against any further partition plans for the benefit of a nonexistent people and a future terrorist state.”

Other objectives include putting an end to affirmative action programs directed at members of Israel’s Arab community.

Its main goals outside of Israel include promoting the sale of merchandise produced in the West Bank settlements.

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