More than 300 people packed the ballroom at Temple Israel Center in White Plains last week for JNF’s second annual Positively Israel Reception, featuring Bret Stephens, op-ed columnist for The New York Times.
JNF, together with the Five Synagogues of White Plains, consisting of Temple Israel Center, Bet Am Shalom Synagogue, Congregation Kol Ami, The Hebrew Institute of White Plains and Young Israel of White Plains, sponsored a community-wide dessert and wine reception as part of Westchester County’s “Israel @70” celebrations.
Bret Stephens, the former deputy editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal and the former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, spoke on the topic: “[email protected]: What Does the Future Hold for Israel and the Middle East?” Prior to the reception, Stephens commented, “I look forward to speaking to the Westchester community about how the media portrays Israel and what the future holds for the Jewish state.”
Reception attendees heard about the vision of JNF as it continues to provide a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land and people of Israel. JNF, the “blue box” organization, is “greening” the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks across Israel, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, while bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid agriculture techniques and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.
Stephens thanked President Trump for his clear-eyed view of the reality that exists in the Middle East and admired his insistence on moving the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. Saying that the U.S. fully recognizes the real aggressor in the regional conflict, Stephens emphasized that Israel has every right to defend its borders. He applauded the administration’s withdrawal from the Iran deal, saying that Iran has secretly continued to develop missiles and has been found to be cheating all along. It’s a good thing that we know who our allies are in the region, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, he noted, while clearly recognizing our enemies. In discussing the failure and frustrations of the Arab world, Stephens claimed that many are now beginning to acknowledge that Israel is not an enemy, but rather a model for what the Arab world wants to become.
Alluding to what he sees as the single greatest humanitarian disaster of the last seven years, Stephens spoke about the lack of any real U.S. policy toward Syria and the likely pull-out of over 2000 American troops in the area. Syria’s use of chemical weapons against civilian populations is an abomination that must be addressed, he said.
Stephens criticized the U.S. government’s insistence that “Jared” is busy working on the peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, saying, “What peace agreement?” Stephens favors a two-state solution, but questions the reality. “Is it possible to have a Palestinian state that would be worthy of its name?” His hypothesis is that there cannot be a state when Hamas calls for Israel’s destruction.
America’s aim should be to bring Europe on board in encouraging change in the Middle East, Stephens said. He believes that the U.S. must continue to have lasting support for Israel, not just from Trump and the Republicans, not just partisan support, but sound and strong bipartisan support for the Jewish state. “We need to ensure Zionism in itself will remain a big tent,” he said.
Stephanie Risa Balkin, director, Westchester & Southern Connecticut JNF, said, “What a wonderful way to celebrate [email protected] in our community! It was so exciting to bring Bret Stephens to our record-breaking second annual Positively Israel Reception to share his insights, and to see familiar faces and welcome new friends to JNF in Westchester. Along with our co-chairs and local leadership, I was extremely proud to showcase the transformative work of Jewish National Fund and all we have accomplished with our hundreds of guests.”
Co-chairs of the event included Lissy and Ben Carr, Linda and Jonathan Flaxer and Jessica and Andrew Levinson, as well as Five Synagogues of White Plans and Israel Action Committee.
By Yvette Finkelstein