Israeli political reporter sees reasons for hope

Israeli political reporter sees reasons for hope

‘Sanctions are serious,’ Gil Hoffman informs merging federations

Although he has been called the “most optimistic man in Israel,” Gil Hoffman can be less than cheerful about the politicians he covers as an Israeli journalist.

“I have two full-time jobs: following them, and following my two sons, who are five and three,” said Hoffman, speaking to supporters of the soon-to-merge Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey and United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ. “Basically, it’s the same job: cleaning up what they leave behind — and my kids leave less of a mess.”

The American-born, Israel-based journalist, the chief political correspondent and analyst for The Jerusalem Post, was the keynote speaker at a joint event — the first of its kind — at Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield on April 29.

On the guest list were people who have supported the United Jewish Appeal for 25 years or more — called the Golden Givers Circle in Central and the Ner Tamid Society at MetroWest. The event was sponsored by the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest NJ.

As a correspondent for NJ Jewish News, Hoffman has met many members of both communities on missions to Israel. He urged them luck in forming what he called “a greater and greater and greater” Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.

Hoffman was similarly optimistic in discussing Israel, despite dire threats that range from Iran’s potential nuclearization to Hizbullah’s growing arsenal of rockets.

“The sanctions against Iran are having a really serious effect,” he said. Media chatter earlier this year suggesting that Israel was on the verge of taking military action seemed to galvanize efforts by the international community to add “teeth” to diplomatic and economic pressures on the Ahmadinejad regime, he said.

“We just had to pretend we’re nuts, and we got the world taking the nuclear threat posed by Iran much more seriously,” he said. What’s more, that threat had helped unify Israelis.

In answer to a question from the audience, Hoffman said the Arab countries — other than those aligned with Iran — were more impatient than Israel for the sanctions to take effect. Fearing they too would be targeted by Iran’s weapons, they had urged the West “to cut off the head of the snake.” Meanwhile, they have been purchasing anti-missile systems from the United States, and — through third parties — from Israel.

He suggested that with the fallout from the Arab Spring and now the Syrian debacle, “with our enemies fighting our enemies,” there is a perception that Americans are seeing more clearly than before what Israel is up against. Israelis are heartened too, he said, by a February Gallup survey ranking Israel as the eighth “most favored” country among Americans.

While keeping a close eye on elections in Egypt, France, and the United States, Israelis expect little change when their own elections are held, perhaps as early as this summer. Polls predict a landslide victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party, but that support from the electorate should lead to a more “dovish Knesset,” which will be freed of the need to appease the more extreme right-wingers, said Hoffman. He described Netanyahu as having moved closer and closer to President Shimon Peres, usually regarded as way to his left.

‘Coming home’

Though Israel has come through the global economic crisis better than just about any other country, the youth-led demonstrations of the past year have shown just how important economic justice is to the country, and how great the concern that it maintain its democratic nature, Hoffman said.

Israelis, he said, are “so divided, and yet so united” — an apt description, perhaps, for the latest event meant to merge the cultures of the two NJ federations.

Also delivering remarks were campaign chairs Paula Saginaw of MetroWest and Don Rosenthal of Central, as well as foundation president Kenneth Heyman, and federation executive vice presidents Stanley Stone of Central and Max Kleinman of MetroWest.

Donors from both federations could be seen gathered at mixed tables, while others gravitated to groups of old friends.

Richard Rosen of Randolph said his federation involvement goes back way before he and his wife, Joan, joined the MetroWest community. “I chaired Super Sunday in Buffalo in 1979,” he said. Replicating the close camaraderie he had there hasn’t proved easy living in Morris County, he said, adding that he remains guarded about the impending merger.

On the other hand, retired teacher Jan Kulik of Basking Ridge, a Central community, said she is excited at the prospect of meeting and working with new people.

When one person suggested that the merger was a little like going to college — leaving the familiar and facing the challenge of meeting many strangers, Richard Perlmutter of Elizabeth added a note of encouragement. “With this move,” he said, “you’ve got all your old friends from home coming with you.”

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