Tuesday, June 2, 2020 -
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Perhaps, Netanyahu’s absence from the GA was a blessing in disguise

We certainly mean no disrespect to the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. If anything, the untrue, demeaning, inappropriate, unprofessional, undiplomatic, unpresidential, small-minded words of French President Nicolas Sarkozy about Netanyahu require a greater effort to show the Israeli prime minister the respect he deserves. He is the leader of the Jewish state and, in a sense, the leader of the Jewish people.

Netanyahu was scheduled to appear at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America last Monday, in Denver. No doubt, it would have been an exciting and important moment had he come. No doubt, his cancellation was disappointing to all those who worked so hard to make the GA happen.

In retrospect, however, perhaps Netanyahu’s absence was a blessing in disguise. This GA had an incredible energy — a focus on the issues at hand, and a focus on the attendees by the attendees. The appearance of the Prime Minister of Israel, or of the President of the US, or of the Secretary of State of the US, tends to shift the focus outward, and to bestow the thinking from the top down.

Not to mention, the appearance of “star power” cuts a major time slot out of the already very short and crammed business schedule of the GA. Make no mistake, that time slot is a lot longer than the actual speech of the “star.” There is the anticipation, and the security, and the warm-ups, and finally the speech — and then all the time spent dissecting it afterwards.

What happened this week, at this GA in Denver, instead? More focus on the workshops and the panels, more time to discuss and analyze in between the official meetings, more time to meet people, to network, to peruse the booths — a microcosm of the creativity of the Jewish people at this point in time.

Read the IJN’s complete coverage of the GA

People from around North America and people from Denver commented spontaneously on the “energy” of this GA. Would it have been the same with a major speech by a “star”? We cannot know for sure. We do know what did happen in the absence of star power: a lot of thoughtful debate, a lot of important facts and perspectives shared by experts, a lot of practical ideas, a lot of new friendships, a big dose of inspiration to young and future Jewish leaders — not to mention, a tremendous boost to Denver Jewry and a significant boost to the Denver economy.

We are not suggesting that no future Prime Minister of Israel be invited to the GA, nor that, when he is invited, he stay home. It is important for the leader of Israel to meet the leaders of the largest Diaspora, that of North America.

However, the way things turned out this week, Netanyahu had critical business to take care of in Israel and, as fate would have it, his father-in-law died during the GA. It was fortuitous for him that he remained in Israel during a time of family loss — and, it was very positive for the 3,000 Jewish leaders who came to Denver to have a different GA, a unique one, built from the ground up, totally focused on what we can do, with more time to pursue the business of the Jewish people.

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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Rabbi Hillel Goldberg
Editor & Publisher

Shana R. Goldberg
Assistant Publisher