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“Part of what makes Robin Hood and Tipping Point so hot is that they don’t just fund-raise,” he says. “They recruit the best corporate talent to help with the agencies that are fighting poverty. I believe that if we have at least a major branch of Shatil in Tel Aviv, the business community will say: ‘My God, look at the good work they’re doing.’ And we will tell them that we need their professional help and savvy to make these organizations stronger. Relationships can be built, and I think that’s also a way of answering the question: Do you have allies? Do you have an army out there of Israelis who really understand the same values? And I believe the answer is yes. I know the power of one, and this is many. And the only way that many can lose is when they give up.”
You said in a public speech that you want to go back to the halcyon days of the Rabin era. But those days are over, you know, and there’s no going back.
“That’s not true. Things ebb and flow. You can say the Russians are all right-wingers. That’s not true. They are becoming much more like any other Israeli as they integrate into society. There’s an opportunity to educate and change and to mature. So I think that a galvanized minority can achieve enormous change in Israeli society.”
Lurie says that despite the criticism, or perhaps because of it, the NIF in America has “more donors, more money, more understanding and more concern.” He and Sokatch have agreed, he says, that the NIF will apply for the first time for membership in the Conference of Presidents umbrella group of Jewish organizations in the United States, which, along with AIPAC, is the epitome of the American Jewish establishment. Conference CEO Hoenlein, who has known Lurie for many years, says that if the NIF meets the criteria of the umbrella group, its application will be put to a vote and is likely to be accepted.
Finally I remind Lurie of his saying “I don’t want to sound like Beinart.” I ask him, “What’s wrong with Beinart?”
“Nothing. He’s terrific. And there are some things he says that I agree with. The NIF position is for two states and is totally against the occupation, and so am I. To me, the occupation is like a cancer. It’s eating us. Forget about them [the Palestinians]: It’s about what it’s doing to us.”
And is this causing young liberal American Jews to distance themselves from Israel?
“Here’s where I don’t agree with Beinart: Birthright has made a difference, and he doesn’t factor that in enough. There are surveys showing that young American Jews are closer to Israel than a generation up, and I believe that. That’s why I wanted that to begin with, because relationships change things. You get people involved, it changes things. Interestingly enough, the problem is in my generation, where there are people who were so committed to Israel but are bewildered now; they don’t know what to do. They love Israel but this isn’t the Israel they fell in love with. But in life, the person you fall in love with is not the person you’re married to; she changes too. And you gotta go with the change.”
As we wrap up the interview, after this domestic analogy, and after I tell him that many Israelis seem to have given up, Lurie looks at me and asks a question - and it’s not clear whether it is rhetorical or not: “Am I crazy”?
“We’ll see,” I reply.
For more, go to Haaretz.com