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Senator Gillibrand Recaps Meetings in Israel

On December 7, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand virtually briefed the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY) on her recent Congressional Delegation’s meetings with Israel’s new government leadership, reviewing the status of the U.S.-Israel relationship and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The online event was hosted by JCRC Executive Vice President/CEO Gideon Taylor. Gillibrand began: “I left Israel feeling extremely hopeful—actually one of my best visits to Israel over the last 10 years. I saw complementary strengths work together to have a strong, forward-looking government. Each leader had something different to bring to the table. I thought Prime Minister Naftali Bennett offered a vision for creating a stronger economy, entrepreneurialism, innovation, bilateralism, multilateralism and interest in creating regional security through joint efforts. He focused where he thought Israel could lead.”

Gillibrand continued: “I met Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. You would think as a TV star, he wouldn’t necessarily have a visionary, broad view, but he did. Lapid recalled one rocket-filled night with his terrified family during last May’s conflict. At that moment, he thought about a father in Ramallah looking at his young children, saying, ‘I need to protect you.’ That commonality of every parent’s greatest fear … was a place he wanted to … create common ground, and perhaps from there, figure out how to bring two very different peoples together because of that shared value of love for their families and their communities.

“I also enjoyed meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz,” she added. “Not only did he have a very effective PowerPoint presentation, but he was extremely knowledgeable about work I do in the Armed Services Committee in the U.S. Senate on defense, and how we make sure Israel maintains a qualitative military edge. He laid out many benefits of having been in the Iran deal.”

She listed slowed production, destruction of centrifuges, intel mapping of Iran’s nuclear weapons and nuclear capability, how fast Iran restarted production, and the time we have to create a resolution. “He’s very aware of what it takes to keep Israel safe and grateful for the work that the U.S. does to guarantee that qualitative military edge.”

Gillibrand declared, “The combination of those three leaders, despite their differences, represented a path forward that was quite optimistic.”

She also had opportunity to meet with Palestinian Authority leadership and civilians. Gillibrand described the PA Prime Minister as “quite sober in his assessment about what the path to peace would be, but very clear-eyed as to what America expected of him and the Palestinian Authority to get humanitarian aid. We were very direct that payments shouldn’t go to people who committed suicide bombings, and not to their families in excessive amounts more than anyone else; to reward them for terrorism.”

Gillibrand added: “We also had the chance to meet Palestinian university students. That was really terrific because we got to hear about their hopes, dreams and what they want to accomplish in their lives. You wouldn’t be surprised they were, of course, very upset they have to go through security checkpoints routinely. They feel it undermines their humanity. But I think they understand that they’re living in one of the most unstable and turmoil-ridden places in the world. Many of them realize if they want a normal life, they have to leave Palestine and the Palestinian Authority and seek education elsewhere.

“I think it’s somewhat traumatic to grow up under the Palestinian Authority,” Gillibrand noted, “but I think they also recognize that better leadership could make a difference. Hopefully, they realize elections matter. Electing better leaders who represent their values and hopes for their future might get them farther.”

Asked about the importance of Iron Dome, she responded: “I’ve had the privilege to see how Iron Dome works, watching it protect lives in real time. Its technology and hardware make a huge difference in the lives of Israelis. I lead … every year to make sure that Israel has the resources it needs to defend itself, to have the technology and defense funding it needs. Israel’s security is very important to me. I think, long-term, our national security is fundamentally intertwined. Helping one another really does make a difference.”

On Iran’s nuclear program, Gillibrand said: “Iran has restarted it quickly. Before any progress on a future deal, Iran has to come back into full compliance under the original JCPOA or we have no hope of subverting or stalling their nuclear ambitions. I think the Biden administration is right to look towards how we can re-engage the world community and Iran diplomatically. I think the goals and challenges that lie ahead are real; I don’t think it’s an easy lift.”

The call concluded with an offer from Gillibrand to make this a regular dialogue with JCRC-NY.

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