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In nod to non-Orthodox, says 'Kotel is long enough for all'

Gantz: Iran is the biggest threat to global peace, and only then a threat to Israel

Addressing IAC Florida confab, defense minister seeks to combat narrative placing Israel at center of Iran issue; says Jews must never hide their identity amid antisemitism spike

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Defense Minister Benny Gantz addresses the Israeli American Council's national summit in Hollywood Beach, Florida on December 10, 2021. (Noam Galai)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz addresses the Israeli American Council's national summit in Hollywood Beach, Florida on December 10, 2021. (Noam Galai)

HOLLYWOOD BEACH, Florida — Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Friday that he told senior US officials in Washington this week that Iran is a global problem that requires a global solution, in an effort to combat a growing narrative that places Israel at the center of the Iranian problem.

“I used every occasion [during my trip to Washington] to emphasize: Iran is first and foremost the biggest threat to global and regional peace and stability, and only then is it a threat to Israel,” Gantz said in remarks before the Israeli American Council’s national summit in Florida.

Explaining the remark, the defense minister said that the chronology of his statement was purposeful.

“It should not be seen as Israel’s problem, nor one requiring a solution from Israel. The world is facing a problem and the world has to solve it,” he said while clarifying that Israel must also stall prepare any means necessary to act against Iran.

“The international community, with US leadership, must stand together and act forcefully against Iran’s hegemonic aspirations and nuclear program and restore stability for the sake of global peace,” he told the IAC.

It was unclear whether Gantz’s remarks represented the position of the entire government as there have been subtle, yet pointed differences in the defense minister’s comments regarding Iran, compared to those made by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meet at the Pentagon on December 9, 2021. (Defense Ministry)

Lapid, and particularly Bennett have been more forceful in their rhetoric against Iran and against ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the multilateral nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

After holding a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week, Bennett issued a fiery statement in which he said he told the top US diplomat that Iran was utilizing “nuclear blackmail” in the Vienna talks and that therefore Washington should initiate “an immediate cessation of negotiations.”

In the days after the call, Gantz began making public statements in which he asserted that Israel has no greater ally than the US and that he trusts that the Biden administration will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

He pushed a similar message Friday in his IAC address, saying both Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “expressed their ironclad commitment to the security of the Jewish state” when he met them in Washington earlier this week for meetings on Iran.

“Israel’s leadership, and myself within it, will never take that for granted or stop working to protect ongoing, bipartisan support for Israel,” Gantz said.

‘The Kotel is long enough for all of us’

Turning to Israel’s relations with Diaspora Jewry, the defense minister warned that “support for Israel can no longer be taken for granted.”

“I can assure you that Israel’s government is committed to strengthening relations with our Jewish brothers and sisters in the US and around the world. Israel is the home of all Jews and the Kotel is long enough for all of us,” he said, in a nod to demands from leaders of the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism who have called on the government to implement a long-frozen deal to formalize an egalitarian prayer pavilion at the Western Wall.

In 2016, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government approved a compromise deal to create the pavilion, with representatives of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism sharing an oversight role, after years of negotiations between Israel and Diaspora leaders. But a year later, Netanyahu capitulated to pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners and indefinitely froze the deal.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has not publicly endorsed the deal, but ministers of his government have pledged to see it through.

FILE: Minister Naftali Bennett unveils a temporary platform built for pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in August 2013. (Ezra Landau/Flash90)

While it was initially seen as an easier task given the lack of Haredi parties in the new unity government, but the ultra-Orthodox parties have launched an aggressive public campaign against the deal, posing it as a threat to Judaism, and some of the right-wing members of the government such as Ze’ev Elkin, Ayelet Shaked and Matan Kahana are reportedly balking in their support.

Government ministers initially assured the agreement’s supporters that the matter would be raised once the coalition passed a budget. But that took place early last month and no timetable has been set for when the compromise might be re-implemented.

Gantz went on to express concerns over the spike in antisemitic attacks in the US that followed the May Gaza war.

He noted the “new trend” of antisemitism presenting as anti-Zionism and said Israel “has an obligation to take action in a variety of ways “from helping to catch attackers to collaborating with social media platforms to remove antisemitic content.”

“But here again, the work of Israel’s government alone is not enough. We must stand united my friends, in facing this new wave of antisemitism,” he said. “Our Stars of David must never be hidden beneath our shirts, our Kippot [skullcaps] should never be removed for fear of physical or verbal attacks and our flags of Israel should always wave proudly.”

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators assault Jews at a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles on May 19, 2021. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Notably, Gantz’s latter message was in stark contrast to one made by the Biden administration’s acting antisemitism envoy Aaron Keyak.

Days after the Gaza war that spurred a rise in antisemitic attacks in the US and elsewhere, Keyak — who is Orthodox tweeted, “It pains me to say this, but if you fear for your life or physical safety take off your kippah and hide your Magen David (Star of David). (Obviously, if you can, ask your rabbi first.)”

“It’s important that those who wear kippot don’t feel more pressure to put our lives in unnecessary actual danger — especially when actions are attempting to be grounded in halacha. Given the rise in Jew-hatred and antisemitic attacks, we must stand with all Jews,” he added.

Keyak, who did not hold official office at the time of his remark, was appointed last month to serve as deputy antisemitism envoy and has effectively been heading the office since, amid the Republican holdup of US President Joe Biden’s nominee Deborah Lipstadt.

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