Daroff: Don’t believe the hype, U.S.-Israel ties are strong

Wrapping up a five-day solidarity mission, the Conference of Presidents CEO said Israelis stressed gratitude to the White House

The reports of divisions between the United States and Israel over the war in Gaza are grossly exaggerated, according to William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations, following weeks of discussions with Israeli and American officials, capped off by the conference’s mission to Israel, which concluded on Thursday.

“The amount of daylight and the amount of disagreement is not as substantial as it is reported in anonymously sourced pieces in news media,” Daroff told eJewishPhilanthropy on the final day of the mission.

Daroff has been in Israel for several weeks, meeting with Israeli politicians, officials and analysts ahead of the Conference of Presidents mission, which began on Sunday.

“I’ve been, both individually and with the group, with the prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu], the defense minister [Yoav Gallant], the foreign minister [Israel Katz], the strategic affairs minister [Ron Dermer], the opposition leader and the Benny Gantz minister,” Daroff said, referring to the fact that while Gantz holds the title of minister and is a key member of the war cabinet, he does not preside over a specific ministry.

The trip was the 49th Conference of Presidents leadership mission to Israel, with members of the 49 member organizations attending the five-day visit.

The mission also met with Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Ayish, the deputy director of the Israeli government’s Tekuma Authority, which is tasked with overseeing reconstruction efforts for southern Israel. During the meeting, Ayish discussed the role that philanthropic support would play in that.

He acknowledged that there are differences of opinion both within and between the United States and Israel regarding the “day after” in Gaza. But he said that anyway it was “premature… to get into the nuts and bolts of Gaza 2.0 while Hamas still rules.”

According to Daroff, the Israeli leaders and officials primarily expressed to the Conference of Presidents mission a feeling of gratitude toward President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken for their support and efforts on behalf of Israel.

“[They asked us] to thank President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken for their support for Israel, both as it relates to moral support — Secretary Blinken has been here seven times; the president made his historic first trip by an American president into an Israeli war zone in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack — and to the continuing support in international organizations, including the president’s veto [in the United Nations Security Council] on Monday,” Daroff said.

The Conference of Presidents CEO said one of the other clear messages from Israeli leaders was the need to convince Congress to maintain its bipartisan support for Israel, an apparent reference to recent difficulties in Congress to pass an Israeli aid bill.

He also reiterated remarks made by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew this week refuting reports that the United States planned to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state.

“Ambassador Lew said that’s absolutely not U.S. policy,” Daroff said. “There are people out there who want to make space between the U.S. government and the Israeli government.”

Daroff said the American Jewish leaders maintained their faith in Israeli leadership as it relates to Israeli national security policies and domestic politics, even as the government’s failures in preventing the Oct. 7 attacks and responding to them, which is widely seen as having been slow and insufficient, have caused Israelis to question their faith in the country’s political leaders and top civil servants.

“We opine all the time on issues, whether it’s the judicial reform or the Kotel,” Daroff said. “But I haven’t heard any second-guessing [on security issues].”

He added, however, that American Jewish leaders did want answers on how the Israeli military failed to prevent the mass border breach and ensuing rampage through southern Israel by thousands of terrorists.

“The entire American Jewish community — like all Jews and all Israel — wants to know what happened on Oct. 7, how this incredible security failure could happen. But beyond that, I have not heard any second-guessing of Israel’s war policies, security policies or how they’re conducting the war at all,” he said.

In general, Daroff described the mission as being a cathartic experience for both the participants and for the Israelis who spoke with the group.

“It’s been just a universally positive response from the Israelis. [They would say,] ’We’re so thankful that you’re here,’” Daroff said. “But it’s just incredibly fulfilling to have this circular response where Israelis feel isolated from the world from Oct. 7, and American Jews feel isolated because of the response in America and elsewhere to Oct. 7. So together we can cure that isolation.”