For the second year in a row, the Gush Katif Museum attracted top Jewish leaders, both political and spiritual, as well as a celebrated keynote speaker, to its gala fundraiser, held at Brooklyn's glamorous Razag Ballroom on Saturday night, March 9.
Former governor of Arkansas, best-selling author, and Fox News talk show host Mike Huckabee, was passionate in his defense of the people of Israel, particularly those who were expelled from their homes as part of the Israeli government's withdrawal from Gaza in August of 2005.
The residents of Gush Katif were expelled from their homes as part of a unilateral peace overture towards the Palestinian Authority. Terror group Hamas responded to the gesture by immediately using their newly acquired territory as a launching pad for rocket and missile attacks against civilian population centers within the Jewish state.
Guests at Saturday night's gala represented a diverse cross-section of Jewish life. Distinguished Sephardic rabbi David Algaze put the evacuation of Gush Katif in perspective, saying, “The fundamental lesson of Gush Katif is that when the Land of Israel is given over to the enemy, it becomes a source of weakness for the Jewish people, for the State of Israel, and ultimately for the world.
“The creation of terrorist (sovereignty) anywhere in the world, be it Afghanistan or Iraq or Gaza , these are sources of destruction for the world,” he added. With President Barack Obama's impending visit to the region, Rabbi Algaze explained, the U.S. Government may soon be calling for the destruction of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. By aiding the Gush Katif Museum in its mission to raise public awareness, this tragedy can be averted, he added.
Attending the gathering on behalf of the National Council of Young Israel, the organization's First Vice President Yosef Poplack spoke of the ways in which Young Israel has been lending a hand to those Israelis who found themselves betrayed by their own government.
“Young Israel has been very supportive of the evacuees from Gush Katif,” he told reporters, noting that the NCYI has raised over $700,000 on behalf of the displaced residents.
Prior to dinner itself, a press conference was held, during which Huckabee, museum founder Rabbi Sholom Dov Wolpo, and numerous local leaders, addressed members of the press. For his part, Huckabee decried efforts by the current administration to force more unilateral concessions upon the Israelis as “ridiculous.”
Although the Israel supporters in attendance came from both sides of the aisle, playful teasing could be heard, most of jokes at the expense of the Democrats. In a casual repartee with the former governor, dinner chairman Dr. Joseph Frager, who praised Huckabee as one of Israel's best friends on the U.S. political scene, commented skeptically about how Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has presented himself as a “guardian” of Israel, telling constituents that the name Schumer “is the same as 'shomer,'” the Hebrew word for “guardian.”
“If (Schumer) is the guardian of Israel, they're in a big trouble,” quipped Huckabee, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Exposing the inherent hypocrisy of demanding that Judea, Samaria and Gaza be Jew-free as a prerequisite to peace, former New York State Assemblyman Rory Lancman declared, “There is no part of this earth, let alone any part of the Land of Israel that needs to be free of Jews … I know that when I want to go to the Land of Israel, I don't want to be told that certain areas are off limits to me because I am a Jew.”
Fellow Democrat and current assembly member from Queens, Michael Simanowitz, expressed similar sentiments, noting that “Democrat or Republican, tonight we're all here as supporters of Israel.”
Speaking to reporters, Rabbi Wolpo stressed the importance of the Museum and its mission. In a moving response to the international influence being exerted on Israel, he declared, “The Land of Israel cannot be run by America or by Europe—only by Israel itself. But … the land of Israel (also) cannot be run by the government of Israel ... but (rather,) only by the Jewish people.”
Rabbi Wolpo affirmed the Land of Israel as the eternal inheritance of the Jewish nation, and expressed his fervent hope for long-awaited arrival of the Messiah.
Following the press conference, a highly distinguished line-up of public figures shared with the audience their personal ties to the dream that was Gush Katif, and urged support for the Gush Katif Museum. Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) spoke of the time he spent there, and lamented what he saw as a lack of support among the greater Jewish community that failed to prevent the destruction of Gush Katif. He noted how his fear, that if the Jews were forced out of Gush Katif, it wouldn't be long before Katyusha rockets would fall on the (southern Israeli town of) Ashkelon, became all too real.
Mark Langfan, a New York attorney, major real estate investor and dedicated Zionist, discussed Gush Katif as it relates to Israel's national security. Using one of the topographical maps for which he has become known, he pointed one of the Jewish state's vulnerable coastal plane, which, at only eight miles wide according to the pre-'67 borders, is commonly referred to as the country's “narrow waistline.”
Langfan described to the region more aptly, and more ominously, as Israel's “neck.”
Former Gush Katif resident Rivka Goldschmidt spoke of her life there, and of the pride she and her fellow residents took in transforming the previously barren land into a lush garden (indeed, later in the evening Rabbi Algaze dubbed it “another Garden of Eden”).
“It was as if [the land had been] waiting for 2,000 years, for the Jews to come back to Gush Katif...” she said.
It is ironic that arguably the most emotionally-charged presentation of the evening came from the one non-Jewish presenter, Mike Huckabee, who delivered the keynote address.
Huckabee, who has been visiting Israel off and on for 40 years and toured the Gush Katif Museum in 2009 at the urging of Odeleya Jacobs, Dr. Paul Brody, the evening's Dinner Committee Chairman and Dr. Frager and the invitation of the Jewish organization Ateret Cohanim, spoke of his deeply-felt connection to the land and people of Israel as a devout Christian.
“[E]very Christian believes, and every Christian understands, that Israel is G-d's chosen land,” he said. “And we understand that the nations who bless Israel will be blessed, and those who curse Israel will be cursed.”
The former GOP presidential contender demonstrated a clear understanding of the Israeli disengagement from Gaza and its historical ramifications. Recalling his trip to the Museum, he referred to it as a “brutal reminder of what happens when politicians make decisions that don't involve their brains.”
“When you demand that people abandon their homes, and you do it because you somehow believe that you can trust radical Islamic fascists to keep their word and make nice if you make nice, then it shows a level of naïveté that makes Chamberlain look like Churchill.”
Throughout a speech marked by gravitas and a powerful moral clarity, Huckabee received several standing ovations. He emphasized the futility of coercing Israel into negotiating with people who do not even recognize their right to exist.
Huckabee also took the opportunity to share his views on U.S. foreign policy in the greater Middle East.
“I cannot understand why the Secretary of State visited Egypt and handed over a check for 250 million dollars, but we're closing the White House to tours … Why do we give F-16s and (M-1) Abrams tanks to a country whose elected president is associated with a terrorist organization, who has openly and publicly called Jews 'bloodsuckers' and 'the descendants of apes and pigs'? Why would we reward someone for that kind of behavior?”
During the recently-appointed Secretary of State John Kerry's recent Senate confirmation hearings, said Huckabee, Kerry claimed that the Egyptians “will be held accountable. And I'm wondering, is accountability being given F-16s, tanks, and $250 million?”
Showing a sardonic sense of humor, Huckabee mock-pleaded, “Mr. Secretary, Please hold me accountable!” noting that, if such is the recompense for making such “inexcusable statements,” that “we should all share in the spoils.”
Shifting his focus to the President's trip to Israel later this month, Huckabee commented on the reports that, during the visit, President Obama will ask “not the Israeli leaders … but the Israeli people to make sacrifices for peace.”
“If that is the case, I would love to escort him personally to the Gush Katif Museum and say, 'Mr. President, the Israelis have made many sacrifices for peace. Can you show me one sacrifice that the Palestinians have made for peace?'”
“The Israelis have given and given and given, and received nothing in return,” lamented Huckabee. He asked the audience if, hypothetically, missiles were being launched indiscriminately from Canada into New York, how many such attacks would be necessary before there was a massive outcry among the American populace for the government to respond? “One Katyusha rocket, and we would demand that it stop! (Yet) the Israelis have been asked to let it go after thousands of them,” he said.
“I say no!” the governor added. “One is enough; thousands are too many! And it is time for the Israelis to quit apologizing to the world, and to say that we have the right to a secure and safe homeland, not just for us, but for our grandchildren and great grandchildren … a safe haven.”
By way of explaining the necessity for a robust Israeli defense, Huckabee told of a trip he and his wife took in January to Poland, during which they toured Oskar Schindler's factory, and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp.
“I stood in the place where 1.1 million of your relatives, and your friends, and your ancestors were marched into that very room and murdered in cold blood,” he said. “And I stood there and chills came over me as I realized that what happened in that room, and I prayed that the world never forget what happened. Because if we forget what did happen, it could happen yet again.”
Drawing a haunting parallel to his previous comments vis-à-vis the Gush Katif Musseum, Huckabee said, “When people ask why is it important for Israel to have secure borders and safety, I would love to take them to Auschwitz, stand them in that room, and ask them, ‘Do you think for one moment, that if these had been your parents and your grandparents, that you would be a bit uneasy about being told that it would be alright for people who had vowed to exterminate and kill every one of you to live as close as nine miles? I think not.’
“That's why I believe with all my heart that when the President goes to Israel, it's important that the American people give him a message, rather than him giving the Israelis a message. And that message is, ‘Mr. President, we stand with Israel because they are a mirror image of our freedom and our democracy in this country. And we suggest that before you make any demands of the Israelis to give up anything, that you sit down and look the Palestinians in the face and ask them what have they given up?' And tell them, as I would love to do if I were making that trip as chief executive, rather than saying to the Israelis stop building in Judea and Samaria, I would suggest building as rapidly as you can, as much as you can, as many towns as you can!
“If the Palestinians don't like that, the way to fix it is to sit at the peace table and sign an agreement that they recognize Israel's right to exist within the borders that G-d gave them, in safety and security. That, my friend, will probably never happen, so I say pour the concrete, build houses, and let Israel be strong!”
Readers can learn more about the work of the Gush Katif Museum, founded in 2008, by visiting www.GushKatifMuseum.org.