Bennett Rebuts Lauder: ‘Assimilation in America Is Not a Result of Israel’s Policy’

At anti-Semitism conference, education minister says he doesn't believe settlement building is morally equivalent to Palestinian incitement

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at TheMarker's Economic Opportunities conference, February 26, 2018.
\ Moti Milrod

Education Minister Naftali Bennett rebuked an opinion piece by World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder. In the piece, which was published in The New York Times on Sunday, Lauder claimed that the demise of the two-state solution and a lack of religious pluralism was pushing Jews away from Israel.

"Ron, I read your piece in The New York Times. It was not a great piece," said Bennett at the Global Forum for Combatting Antisemitism, which is currently taking place in Jerusalem. "I very much respect you, but I disagree. Assimilation in America is not a result of Israel’s policy but a result of Jewish prosperity in America"

"[Assimilation is] an ongoing trend we have to fight back against," Bennett continued. "I don’t see moral equivalence of settlement building – what I call building communities in our homeland – and Palestinian incitement. It’s not the same thing."

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who was in attendance, clapped along with the audience after Bennett's statement.

"What keeps me up at night is not the enemy on our borders," said the education minister. "It is the future of the Jews abroad. We are seeing assimilation rates of 60 and 70 percent. If we don’t act and don’t act quickly, we will lose millions of Jews in one generation."

"We will continue to debate because that is what Israel is about," Bennett added.

Lauder, who spoke after Bennett at the conference, responded to the education minister's remarks: "Before I start, Nafatli, we may disagree on many things, but when it comes to Jewish life and fighting anti-Semitism and what it means to be a Jew, we are right there and the Jews of Diaspora are with you 100 percent."

In a video published on Twitter following the conference Bennett is seen talking with Lauder, asking him "What are you doing, what are you doing?" referring to his opinion piece. "You are my inspiration," Lauder retorted, when Bennett replied: "I'm your inspiration? When you say that I lose five seats in the Knesset."

Addressing the conference, Friedman said he was less worried about traditional discrimination of Jews than what he called a new kind of anti-Semitism. "It’s the irrational, insidious derision of Israel under the guise of political commentary. It is just the repackaged form of hatred against the Jewish people," he said.

He gave the example of being at a dinner party in New York. Saying disparaging things about Jews would result in being asked to leave, he remarked, but “if you said, 'Isn’t it a shame that after the Jews survived the Holocaust they turned themselves into Nazis against the Palestinians,' you might be offered another drink and offered to hold court on your interesting point of view."

He suggested that the remarks of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in which he called Friedman a "son of a dog," were anti-Semitic.

"Three young Israelis were murdered over the weekend ... in cold blood by Palestinian terrorist and a reaction from the Palestinian Authority was deafening. No condemnation," Friedman told the audience. "I saw his response on my iPhone. His response was to refer to me as son of a dog. Is that anti-Semitism or political discourse? I leave that up to you."

Friedman, who championed U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, said on the upcoming relocation: "President Trump has gone beyond words and taken action ... on the double standard that Israel all too often faces in proclaiming Jerusalem as its capital. ...  President Trump has leveled the field. It was a shot right through the heart of the new anti-Semitism and let’s hope it was just the beginning."

Other topics that the speakers discussed included the the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Bennett said its goal was to bully and shame Jews in America for being Jews. "I stand here and say we will always be proud to be Jews," he stated. He also addressed the Iranian threat: "Iran’s goal is not Israel, make no mistake ... those missile are for Europe, for the U.S. Whoever ignores anti-Semitism today will see beligerance tomorrow," he concluded.