It was Philip Murphy’s first trip to Israel, and when he returned to Middletown on Aug. 9, he said, “My love for Israel was intensified,” while his concern for its security was made even more acute.
But the trip also left him convinced that it is time to begin a “final push” toward a two-state solution, as he wrote in a post-trip op-ed for the Bergen Record.
Speaking to NJJN after his return, Murphy said that Arab countries that share Israel’s concern about radical Islamist organizations offer a chance for a breakthrough.
“It is becoming for many wrong reasons less and less about Israelis and Arabs than about those who want to live in stable societies versus these who want anarchy,” said Murphy. “I look at Egypt. I look at Jordan. I even look at Saudi Arabia and Tunisia and Morocco. They are starting to line up as a potential network of countries that I think can work together with the enormous assistance of the United States and European allies.”
Murphy, who served as United States ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013, visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem during a 72-hour cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. As a guest of Yoram Ben-Zeev, former Israeli ambassador to Germany, Murphy met with former Israeli President Shimon Peres and visited the Holocaust museum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Murphy said he believes the recent warfare has provided “tremendous opportunities, but partly for the wrong reasons. Hamas has become so vile that they have alienated most of these [Arab] countries, and there is a collection of interests among these nations. Let’s take advantage of that.”
A Roman Catholic, he described himself as “an optimist, and I know it won’t get any easier if more time goes by. I think Israel’s leadership sees that and will do something about it.”
His tenure in Germany, which came after he served as finance chair for the Democratic National Committee, heightened his appreciation for Israel, its history, and its fears.
He said he became “strikingly close to the Israeli ambassador,” Ben-Zeev. “That triumvirate of relationships” — the United States, Israel, and Germany — “is in the center of an enormous amount of the things you do. I spent a vast amount of time on issues relating to Israel,” he said.
Although his wife, Tammy, had already traveled there before, he said that for him, visiting Israel “had been an open item for many years. I never expected there would be a war on when I got there.”
Ben-Zeev suggested rescheduling the visit, but, Murphy said, he recalled that “my old man told me, ‘If there is a sickness or a death, you go to your friends.’ And I said, ‘You know what? I’m going. Period.’”
He and Peres met in Jaffa. The former president — who served from 2007 to 2014 — “is one of my heroes, and I had always wanted to meet him. It was one of the highlights of my life.”
Murphy also attended a dinner party “with a mix of people that included journalists, people from think tanks, business people — and we had great a discussion,” he said.
Back in the private sector, Murphy, 57, is contemplating a life devoted to domestic politics.
A former top executive at Goldman Sachs, he is in the early stages of forming a policy shop called “New Start New Jersey,” which he said is aimed at advocating for “fixes for the state’s economy.”
Murphy is also “looking very seriously at running for governor as a Democrat” after Chris Christie’s term expires in 2016.
He and Tammy plan on a longer trip to Israel, intending to visit Christian sites and to travel deeper into the north and south.
In regard to his Aug. 4-8 trip, he said, “The toughest part for me was that there are so many people you want to sit with and so many places you want to see and so many things you want to understand. My time there was limited.”
He was able to compare Yad Vashem to Berlin’s museum and memorial to the Jews murdered by the Nazis that is located beside the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. “I have walked through it and contemplated the horror, but there is nothing like” a tour of Yad Vashem. “When you come out after having gone through those dark halls you realize how far and how hard the climb has been.”
In his Record op-ed, he wrote sympathetically of the post-Holocaust ethic of “Never Again.” “It means they cannot allow a regime whose entire existence is based on the destruction of a Jewish state to take root next door,” he wrote.
However, he added, the “status quo — in Gaza, in the West Bank, in the elusive pursuit of a two-state solution — cannot go on. It is not in anyone’s interest. Most of all, it is not in Israel’s interest.
“If the dream of a Jewish state alongside a peaceful Palestinian state is to be achieved, the time is now to begin the final push.”