Israel@70: Creating Space for Context and Discussion

By Jonathan Greenblatt, David Myers and Itamar Rabinovich

In the Jewish organizational space, the impediments to collaboration are manifold: competition for “issue ownership,” attention, and donors, to name a few. Throw in the issue of Israel and potential conflicting agendas, priorities, and approaches, and it’s understandable why most organizations prefer to go it alone.

That’s what made our recent successful collaboration – a full-day conference examining Israel@70 – a model both for organizational cooperation and a thoughtful, open conversation about the arc of Israeli history.

Our three organizations view Israel issues through different disciplines:

  • ADL’s Israel work is focused on advocating for a secure, Jewish, and democratic state, at peace with its neighbors.
  • The Israel Institute is a non-advocacy educational nonprofit dedicated to advancing rigorous teaching, research, and discourse about modern Israel in partnership with academic, research, and cultural institutions.
  • The Center for Jewish History (CJH) is one of the world’s foremost research institutions that houses extensive archives and presents a wide array of exhibitions, symposia, conferences, and lectures.

Israel@70: Continuities, Changes, Challenges, held at the CJH in New York on June 10, was a project almost a year in the making. The idea was first suggested by the Israel Institute president, Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich, who thought it was important to have an apolitical, high-level public discussion about what Israel is at 70 – where it came from, what it is, and where it’s going.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt was eager to go deeper than most of the planned community events surrounding this milestone anniversary by providing the opportunity for context and discussion on the key current and historic dynamics. Center for Jewish History President Dr. David Myers saw this event as a natural choice, given that institution’s interest in enhancing CJH’s programming on Israel.

The conference reflected on Israel 70 years since its founding. It discussed the evolution of Israel from a nascent state in 1948 to its status as major military, economic, technological, and cultural player on the international stage today.

All three partner organizations felt that it was important to assess Israel’s history and current trajectory in an in-depth and sophisticated way, bringing experts to explore the nuances of the many shifts in its domestic and international politics, society, and zeitgeist. The conference included panels on dominant political sectors in Israeli society, including non-Zionist communities such as Haredim and Palestinian citizens of Israel, and a panel on Israeli geopolitics and U.S.-Israel relations. It featured a discussion on Israel’s place in Jewish writing and culture, led by authors Nicole Krauss and Ruby Namdar.

It concluded with a keynote discussion with Israel Prize laureate Prof. Anita Shapira and former Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Shlomo Ben-Ami, discussing Israeli historiography and recent historical trends in Israel.

The three organizations were able to bring together top-level academic experts and leading practitioners in a Jewish space, and ensure that the topics under discussion remained lay-accessible.

Our collaboration enabled us to stretch beyond our comfort zones and work with organizations from other arenas with which we rarely interact, ultimately creating an interdisciplinary product that was greater than the sum of its parts.

The result was enriching not just for our organizations but enabled an intellectual, respectful, and honest conversation about Israel to the benefit of our audience and the wider community.

We look forward to future events with an expanded range of collaborators and topics.

Jonathan Greenblatt is CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. Dr. David Myers is President and CEO of the Center for Jewish History. Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich is President of the Israel Institute.