ZOA’s Extraordinary June 2023 Israel Mission, By Glenn Taubman, Esq.
June 28, 2023

Meeting PM Netanyahu & Top Ministers – Visiting Holy & Beautiful Jewish Places, Including Judea/Samaria

How do you turn “regular” Zionists into unafraid, passionate, knowledgeable, energized, outspoken and fervent Zionists? Send them on ZOA’s Leadership Mission to Israel.

In 1972, at the age of 16, I spent a summer in Israel. That was a magical experience that turned me into a lifelong Zionist. Since then, my family and I have traveled to Israel 12 times. I have long supported pro-Israel organizations, but in the past decade gravitated to the ZOA because of its strong, consistent and unambiguous pro-Israel stances. I attended several ZOA advocacy missions in Washington, D.C., always considering myself a “regular” supporter.

Then came the 2023 ZOA Leadership Mission. I have long admired Mort Klein, having heard him speak on several occasions. When my wife and I saw that he was personally leading the 2023 Mission, we knew we had to go and signed up immediately. Mort led an amazing trip, due in part to his encyclopedic knowledge of the issues and direct access to the key players.

You can probably figure out the end of the story before I even begin. The 2023 ZOA Leadership Mission transformed us from “regular” Zionists into passionate, educated and energized Zionists. In just one week, we heard from a remarkable array of speakers who are on the front pages every day, people who shape the fate and destiny of Israel.

Our accommodations at the David Citadel Hotel were first-class in every way, remarkable and refined, and many speakers came to the hotel to speak with our group. They included: MK Simcha Rothman, the architect of the judicial reform movement who spoke in depth about why reform is so critical for the future of Israel and Zionism; Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem and outreach ambassador to the Abraham Accords nations, who spoke about many current topics, including the way the Palestinian Authority (PA) educates Arabs to hate Jews and not learn Hebrew, which contributes to their social isolation and immiseration; and Khaled Abu Toameh, the brilliant journalist for the Jerusalem Post who discussed the media’s extreme anti-Israel bias and the failings and fraud of the PA and its army. Mort Klein gave two talks describing in detail the problems with the Biden administration’s hostile appointments and policies toward Israel, and the serious flaws in the Biden/Lipstadt Antisemitism Strategy.  

Most touching of all, we were visited by Rabbi Leo Dee, who lost his dear wife and two daughters to a vicious terrorist murderer. He spoke about their murders, his wishes for a more hopeful future of coexistence, and his potential lawsuit against CNN and CNN anchor and host Christiane Amanpour for falsely stating that his wife and daughters were engaged in a “shootout,” rather than truthfully stating that they were unarmed and murdered in cold blood by a vicious Arab terrorist who shot them in their car. We discussed this and other Palestinian Arab terrorist issues at our special luncheon with six of Israel’s brave “lone soldiers,” who came from all over the world to join Israel’s IDF and fight our enemies.

Outside of the hotel, our ZOA group ventured to the Knesset to meet several MKs and government ministers, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich who spoke about liberalizing Israel’s sometime creaky and semi-socialist economy; MK May Golan who gave a rousing speech about Israeli policies and about the Israelis in south Tel Aviv suffering from the wave of illegal Somali immigration; and Ofir Akunis, Minister of Innovation, Science and Technology, who spoke about the miracle of the “Start-Up Nation” and Israel’s export of high technology to other countries. We also had the pleasure of a powerfully informative and insightful lecture from MK Dan Illouz, who was formerly ZOA’s own fabulous Israel representative. We were thrilled and gratified to hear all of them express heartfelt thanks for ZOA’s courageous and effective work on behalf of the Jewish State and the Jewish people, recognizing that ZOA’s work is unique and so needed in these difficult times. 

Fmr. ZOA Israel Representative, MK Dan Illouz

Minister of Innovation, Science and Technology Ofir Akunis

We were escorted to the Jordan River Valley by Brigadier General (res.) Amir Avivi to see firsthand the strategic importance of Israel safely controlling the area by the river and the interior heights bordering Jordan. General Avivi, founder and chairman of Habitchonistim (the Israel Defense and Security Forum), also spoke about the importance of Israel’s deterrence against Iran and even some semi-allies, like Egypt. We visited Caliber 3, one of the world’s premier anti-terrorist training organizations. Police and special forces officers from all over the world come to train there, and we were inspired by the story of its founder, Colonel Sharon Gat. We viewed actual training exercises, which were reminiscent of a James Bond film. 

While keeping us on a busy and varied agenda, ZOA also kept us well fed and well hydrated throughout. One day we visited the beautiful Psagot Winery and had a wonderful lunch and wine tasting with Daniella Weiss, Director of the Nachala Settlement Movement – Jews who live in Judea and Samaria and lobby the government to expand Jewish towns and villages in those areas. We spent a special morning with the irrepressible Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katsover of the Sovereignty Movement, to learn more about their efforts to fulfill Abraham Accords policies to declare sovereignty over 30% of Judea/Samaria and the Jordan Valley. And who can forget our time in ancient Jerusalem’s City of David learning of the numerous irrefutable archaeological proofs that Jews have been here in Jerusalem for thousands of years. We also painfully witnessed first-hand the large number of illegal Palestinian Arab homes being built in Israeli-controlled Area C in Judea/Samaria, and discussed with experts what should be done about this.

Brigadier General (res.) Amir Avivi

We spent an afternoon with members of a group called Yatar, specially trained citizen-volunteers who, using a fleet of All-Terrain Vehicles, work 24/7 alongside the IDF and the Israel Border Police to protect Israel and its citizens from terrorist attacks. We visited residents of the Gush Etzion bloc and then made our way to Hebron to visit the Cave of Machpelah/Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs with Noam Arnon, spokesman for the Hebron Jewish Community. We also spent an inspiring spiritual morning on Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, and learned of its history and issues surrounding it.

ZOA Leadership Mission participants touring Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount

A Magen David (Jewish star) spotted above a door on the Temple Mount

On top of all of this, we made several new lifelong friends, who have also become passionate and educated Zionists. At the headquarters of Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael-JNF and the World Zionist Organization (WZO), we met with WZO Chairman Yaakov Hagoel. We were shown the historic room where the Declaration of Independence was issued in 1948. Then, we went around the table with each participant explaining his or her Zionist background and what brought them to cast their lot with Israel and the ZOA. Many of the participants shared interesting and inspiring personal stories about how their love of Israel began and evolved. We learned how all the other participants’ lives had also been transformed by Israel, Zionism and the ZOA trip.

And there is more! As if all this were not enough, our group had an in-person meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the conference room adjacent to his office. This was an almost surreal experience that Mort was able to arrange. After going through the strictest security checks of our lives, we were ushered into the Prime Minister’s private conference room, where he and two top advisors spent almost an hour with us, talking and answering substantive questions about everything from Iran, judicial reform, European NGOs, relations with the Saudis and more. It was the thrill of a lifetime for just about all of us. We were expecting a five-minute photo op at most, and instead got 45 minutes of substantive time with an inspiring Jewish world leader. A truly amazing experience for a group of 24 “regular” Americans! Mort also had a remarkable two-hour private meeting with Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer discussing Israel’s challenges – from hasbara to Palestinian Arab terrorism to Iran to the important need to further expand Israel’s incredible high-tech industry, the envy of the world which regularly knocks on Israel’s door.

ZOA Leadership Mission participants at private meeting with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu

ZOA Leadership Mission participants at private meeting with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu

So now, we are an exhilarated group of knowledgeable and passionate Zionists, ready, willing and prepared to fight for Israel and defend its sovereignty and morality before the entire world. We ended this extraordinary experience with a standing ovation after breakfast, properly reflecting our powerful emotions. We extend our grateful thanks to ZOA for rolling out the red carpet for us in Israel and giving us the trip of a lifetime. L’hitraot.

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