Podcast Playback

William Daroff joins the ‘Limited Liability Podcast’

Conference of Presidents CEO speaks from a tense Tel Aviv

Joining from Tel Aviv after over a week of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, Conference of Presidents CEO William Daroff joined Jewish Insider’s “Limited Liability Podcast” hosts Richard Goldberg and Jarrod Bernstein to talk about the atmosphere in Israel’s economic capital.

The following has been lightly edited for clarity.

Rich Goldberg  

William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is in Israel. Joining us now to talk more about what’s going on William, welcome to the podcast.

William Daroff  

Thank you very much. Rich, it is a pleasure to be here. I’m a longtime listener, first time guest.

Rich Goldberg  

William, first of all, obviously a lot going on, you’re in Israel. Can you tell us the mood on the ground this week as the rocket attacks have dragged on?

William Daroff  

Yeah, it’s been remarkable being here in Tel Aviv we flew in on Sunday. It was difficult to get here. Had three different flights canceled, but then came in on the old, reliable El Al and arrived. It’s sort of a mix. Israel is amazingly resilient. Israelis have been through conflicts and crises on a monthly, daily, weekly basis, and they figure it out. When I cleared the quarantine — there’s a quarantine here upon arrival — and when I cleared the quarantine after my serology test came back showing that I had the vaccine, I went for a run along the beach here in Tel Aviv. And it was just like any other beach day in Tel Aviv, there were women wearing bathing suits you can barely see; men wearing bathing suits, you can barely see; playing that crazy game they play on the beach with those Boomerang type things that hit people; dogs running. It was just like a normal day on the beach. Notwithstanding the fact that 24 hours before you can see images of towels on the beach as people ran from the Tel Aviv beach to get into bomb shelters in the midst of it. So on the one hand, it’s business as usual. On the other hand, I know that many are on edge, particularly in the south in Ashkelon, Ashdod and then the communities that are on the sleeve surrounding Gaza, where there have been rocket attacks on a daily basis. Here in Tel Aviv, thank God, there has not been a rocket attack since Saturday. So it’s been five days or so since the last rocket attack. But I’ll tell you it’s affected me in a way that I have never been before. We have about four minutes from the time we hear a siren till we get to the bomb shelter in the basement of the building that we’re staying in. And so taking a shower is perilous. Every minute that you’re in there, every second that you’re in there, you know, wet, soap filled, is a minute or a second, that’s keeping you from getting down the steps. And it’s very scary. And it’s very nerve wracking. And it really connects me, I think, to a part of the Israeli mentality that I had just never been a part of before, which is just the sort of immediate realization and recognition that at any moment, rockets might be coming down on you, your life may be in danger, and you have to find a place to secure yourself. And it is unbelievable the way that Israelis are resilient around it, but also unbelievable that the international community looks on at this and is basically ignoring the fact that Hamas is indiscriminately firing upon civilians, or certainly to the extent they’re not ignoring it. They’re not giving up the right size concern that they should, nor the concern that they would have to happen to just about any other country in the world.

Jarrod Bernstein  

So William, speaking to that, and speaking that maybe a little bit closer to home, we’ve seen more conversation this go around within the United States, about how people feel about this conflict. Particularly there are elements of the Democratic Party. Maybe you could talk about some of the reasons why we’re seeing this conversation like we’ve never seen it before and what should the pro-Israel community be doing about it?

William Daroff  

So absolutely, there is a lot of noise out there. I think that a lot of it is amplified by social media. The social media atmosphere in 2014, the last time there was a big Gaza event, was not as robust as it is now. And so we see on social media, a great deal of attacks on Israel, total distortions of the facts by celebrities and other influencers and certainly by the news media, who are pushing one narrative out there without really in large respect taking account of Israel’s narrative. I think as a pro-Israel community, we should be grateful for the support of President Biden, who has been steadfast in recognizing and stating over and over again that Israel has a right to defend herself, that these indiscriminate attacks by a terrorist organization should not be countenanced. And to date has given pushback on the United Nations Security Council, I think four times now on statements and resolutions that would be condemning Israel, and continues to give support at a time when there are very, very few world leaders who are doing so and so I give a big thumbs up to President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken for standing with Israel despite the pressures from the international community, the human rights community, as you implied, or inferred, Jarrod, from a parts of the progressive community in the left wing of the Democratic Party.

Rich Goldberg  

So we have headlines from this past week US House speeches on Gaza, exposing growing rifts in the Democratic Party on Israel. We obviously saw the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, maybe even more concerningly, make an announcement originally that he was going to try to hold up an arms sale from the administration in Israel, he’s since reversed that position under some backlash. Are you worried, from an organized Jewish community perspective, that this is not just fringe anymore, that it is getting some legs in mainstream offices on Capitol Hill?

William Daroff  

I am certainly worried, I get paid to worry, on a daily basis about American support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. And for sure, a number of the statements that have come out from friends of Israel, who are a little bit more edgy than they would otherwise be, are concerning. But I’m reminded of the fact that just a couple months ago, three quarters of Congress came out opposed to any sort of conditioned aid for Israel, including, well more than half of the Democratic members of Congress. Two summers ago, almost 400 of the 435 members of the House voted to condemn the BDS movement. So I think the fundamentals of support for the U.S.-Israel relationship are there on a bipartisan basis. I think for sure — call it the fringes, I would call it the edges — there are loud folks and there is concern. I go back to Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader’s comments at AIPAC’s policy conference a few years ago, where he said ‘There aren’t four freshmen, there’s 64 freshmen,’ talking about the squad and their influence and their impact. I think that it’s certainly concerning, but I don’t think it’s the lead. I think it is a paragraph or two down. I do believe that when there is a hot war, a hot conflict like the one we have now, with the images that we’re seeing on television, from Gaza, that that certainly exasperates those tensions and causes — I think a technical term is tsuris — as it relates to these issues. But the bottom line is that the leader of the Democratic Party is Joe Biden, and, to date, Joe Biden has been precisely where, where the pro-Israel community the United States would want him to be. And from all I can tell where the government of Israel would want the United States to be.

Rich Goldberg  

With the caveat perhaps being that at the same time, his negotiators are in Vienna negotiating massive sanctions relief for the Islamic Republic of Iran to subsidize the terrorism we see conducted against Israel. You could respond to that, you don’t have to. But I would just point that out.

William Daroff  

You’re switching ledger’s on me, Rich.

Rich Goldberg  

It’s all one ledger in the Middle East.

William Daroff  

I’ll let Jarrod get me out of this. But I would, I would say it’s definitely a consideration that as the administration is standing firm for Israel and has Israel’s back, that that will definitively be a talking point that the administration will use to assuage fears by the pro-Israel community and by Israel, should there be some sort of deal about the extent to which the United States will continue to have Israel’s back, should the a new Iran deal go bad. I think that that is a definite consideration and something that’s in the mix, to the extent that that has the Biden administration standing stronger and firmer, I think that’s a good thing. That as it relates to an Iran deal, you know, we cross that bridge, when we come to it, we have expressed concerns about going right back into the JCPOA 1.0. But I think until there’s more there, you know, at this point, it remains it’s a separate ledger.

Jarrod Bernstein  

So William, I am gonna change topics on you a little bit here. But Rich, I’m sure we’ll find a way to come back to the JCPOA momentarily.

William Daroff  

I’m always happy to talk about veganism. Jarrod, you want to talk about that plant base,

Rich Goldberg  

The rockets raining down in Israel get paid by somebody from somewhere else, that’s all I’m saying.

William Daroff  

And you know, Rich I don’t want to dismiss that. It is a fact that but for Iran, Hamas would not have the wherewithal to do what they do. And that absolutely should be front and center. I absolutely add that to the parade of horribles of Iran, period.

Jarrod Bernstein  

We’ve been told for a long time, the balance of a presidency, in fact, that the Trump administration had this grand bargain and was was able to do, to give them credit, what nobody else had been able to do for a long time and achieving peace between Israel and many of the Gulf, many of the Arab states around it, and and start commercial ties, and really begin to usher in what we all thought was gonna be a era of prosperity. I guess my question is, what’s the end game here for Israel? They’re fighting this war with Hamas. You can already see cracks in the Abraham Accords starting to show up. Are they worth the paper they’re written on? And is this continuing conflict with the Palestinians and the inability to have any closure there going to compromise long term peace that we all thought was on the way.

William Daroff  

Excellent questions all. My sense is from talking to folks in the region, and talking to folks in the Gulf and talking to folks here in Israel, who engage with the Gulfis on a daily basis, that what we’re hearing from the Gulf is much more muted than what we would have heard two years ago. That the few statements that have come out…

Jarrod Bernstein  

I agree with that. But the question is, can conflict like this coexist with the accords and what they were supposed to produce?

William Daroff  

Yeah, I mean, I think one of the bottom lines of the accords was that not everything in the Middle East must run through Ramallah, that giving Abu Mazen the power and authority to dictate those issues was not something that was productive towards peace, not something was productive towards any sort of regional harmony. I think that is maintained today. I think, perhaps, the extent to which the UAE, the Saudis, Bahrain and others have influence over Israeli action. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. To some extent. They give a hescher, they make kosher, Israel’s activities and actions. And my understanding is they’ve been a productive player over this last 10 days of conflict. I don’t think that there were many of us who thought that it would be the end of the Palestinian conflict, or issues with Israeli Arabs and others because of the Abraham Accords, but I think it does set a template and a sort of a better view from that 20,000 feet of the possibilities here in the region. Despite the road bumps and clearly the critical issues that this conflict over the last 10 days has brought to the fore.

Rich Goldberg  

William, if I’m a listener at home, anywhere in the United States, and I’m thinking to myself, I’m worried about family and friends in Israel. I’m worried about William in Israel right now. But no, I’m very worried about this conflict. I’m worried for Israel’s safety. I am shaken by the social media feeds I’m seeing from people I was following last summer during Black Lives Matter. I was very supportive and now I’m getting whiplashed and seeing all kinds of anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian propaganda thrown my way. What can people do? What’s your message to the Jewish community out there of the three, four things people can do to be proactive, so they don’t feel like they’re just sitting around being victims?

William Daroff  

I think the first thing to do is to contact your member of Congress and your senators and the White House. And let them know that you are a voter and an activist and someone who is supportive of a strong U.S. relationship and recognizes the importance of the ability for Israel to defend herself against these terror attacks. That would be, I think, issue number one, and something that we can all do to ensure that our members of Congress are in the right place and that the administration stays focused, as they have over the last week plus of this conflict. I think secondly, is to engage on social media as well. Everybody started out with just one Twitter follower. My dog Miss Snuggles has, I think, over 700 followers on Twitter. I opened an account for her to sort of show that anybody can get followers and even a six pound Yorkshire Terrier, feel free to follow her @MissSnugs. And so you can tomorrow, get on Twitter, get on Tik Tok, get on Facebook, and express yourself to your universe of friends. Just looking on Facebook, as I’ve been doing a bit over the last few days, there are real conversations going among friends. The people who are Facebook friends, you know, not from our Jewish universe, are people who see us as a reliable source of information and someone who is a friend. If they’re a barber, or a neighbor, or PTA president and not engaged in the pro-Israel world, they need to hear from us and to hear our narrative as distinct from what they may be hearing on BBC or CNN or Al Jazeera, or reading in the mainstream press. So I think those are clear things they can do. And I think, thirdly, is to really express unqualified support for a strong Israel. There are many, many issues here in Israel that people are arguing about and disagree about. At Shabbat tables here and across the world you’ll hear more criticism of the Israeli government than you hear just about anywhere, including the Knesset. We all have issues that we work on, but right now is not the time to be piling on. Right now is the time to be hugging an Israeli. To be holding them in solidarity. To show that we, in the diaspora, we in American Jewry, understand the pain that they are going through. The fact that they are being attacked for one reason, and frankly, that one reason is because they’re Jewish. That is something we need to stand arm in arm with our Israeli brothers and sisters so they know that there is a wall of support, not just with the American government with American Jewry, from left to right from top to bottom.

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