Amir Sagie has presented Israel’s case on nuclear arms control and the boycott movement before hostile NGOs and world leaders; on Sept. 3 he had a much friendlier audience: the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
The newly appointed deputy consul general of Israel in New York met with members of the group in Whippany after what CRC chair Gordon Haas called “a very stressful summer.”
“It was very hard to leave Israel behind” in the wake of the Gaza war, Sagie told the 40 audience members, representing synagogues and other community organizations. “It’s still a very sensitive time, but we have to look forward.”
He welcomed the chance to thank the American-Jewish community for its support. “The number of delegations from the United States, and specifically from the East Coast, was quite overwhelming. Israelis are very grateful for that,” he said.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions issue, which he formerly addressed as director of the Civil Society Affairs Department of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is on his agenda again, said Sagie. He said that the start of the academic year would present challenges on campuses that would be time-consuming both for Israeli authorities and the American-Jewish community.
“Opponents will be rallying against Israel, doing things like erecting mock checkpoints and security walls,” he said. “We know for sure they are prepared — and we are prepared.”
The consulate will also be watching here for the kind of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic demonstrations seen in Europe this summer.
“The rise in audacious anti-Israeli demonstrations there — and in New York City — should alert us,” he said. “We should stop it while it’s on a small scale. Sights like burning Israeli flags are not a common scene in the U.S. the way it is in Europe, but we have to be realistic: What happened this summer will follow us for a long time.”
In a question-and-answer period following his remarks, Sagie responded to an audience member who asked for a response to reports that President Barack Obama “was enraged” by Israeli criticism of Secretary of State John Kerry during the conflict with Gaza.
“In every time, people are tempted to describe it as ‘the darkest moment’ in U.S.-Israel relations,” he said. “People with perspective will remember that the first [President George] Bush and [Israeli President Yitzhak] Shamir had many points of disagreement. Generally speaking now, things are very good.”
On Aug. 3, Obama signed a measure providing $225 million in emergency aid to Israel for its Iron Dome missile defense system.
“The Iron Dome funding is not trivial at all, especially with budget difficulties in Washington, and we need the Iron Dome. It was the winning card in this war. Without it, everything would look different,” Sagie said.
In his new post, Sagie is coordinating the Israeli consulate’s political work in the tristate area and developing relations with national, state, and local officials. He’ll serve as Ministry of Foreign Affairs liaison to national and local Jewish leaders, in addition to coordinating interfaith dialogue and outreach.
Sagie’s other positions at the ministry included managing its on-line infrastructure and supervising the China, Korea, and Mongolia desk during a time when Israel’s relationship with Asia began to expand rapidly.
Sagie, his wife, and three children, age 15, 12, and seven, live in Bergen County. He has been getting to know Jewish life in New Jersey, but this was his first get-acquainted session with a local federation. He stayed after his talk to listen in as the committee reviewed the issues it is tackling, from “post-Operation Protective Edge” efforts on behalf of Israel, to a Food Stamp challenge it is cosponsoring with the Jewish Family Service organizations of Central New Jersey and MetroWest.
Haas said the CRC “did not take the summer off.” The committee advocated with lawmakers about Israel’s right to defend itself, requesting support for four congressional actions, including the funding of the Iron Dome. It mobilized community members to engage their policymakers and to thank them for their support. It organized three rallies, and it set up education and advocacy training for college students.
Also attending the meeting was Dov Ben-Shimon, who had taken up his own new post as executive vice president and CEO of the Greater MetroWest federation, just two days earlier. Ben-Shimon recalled a visit he had made to the Daughters of Israel skilled nursing facility in West Orange, a federation beneficiary agency, when the Red Alert app on his smart phone sounded, indicating another rocket attack in Israel.
“We don’t place borders on our physical and spiritual caring,” he said.