Shimon Peres, 78-strong World Jewish Congress delegation pay joint solidarity visit to Israel’s battered south - World Jewish Congress

Shimon Peres, 78-strong World Jewish Congress delegation pay joint solidarity visit to Israel’s battered south

Shimon Peres, 78-strong World Jewish Congress delegation pay joint solidarity visit to Israel’s battered south

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NEW YORK - A solidarity mission of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) got underway on Wednesday as 57 international Jewish community leaders arrived in Jerusalem for meetings. A further 21 Israeli leaders and WJC staff also took part in the mission, which was organized at very short notice.



On its second day, the solidarity mission of the World Jewish Congress traveled to the south of Israel to meet with Israelis affected by the rocket attacks from Gaza.

Meeting with Shimon Peres at Kibbutz Zikim

President Shimon Peres, WJC President Ronald Lauder and the other members the 78-strong WJC delegation paid a visit to Kibbutz Zikim, which borders the Gaza Strip. A few days ago, a terror attack against the kibbutz by Hamas fighters was narrowly prevent by the Israel Defense Forces after a Hamas commando tried to land on Zikim Beach, and earlier on Thursday, the IDF prevented an armed assault by Palestinian fighters on Kibbutz Sufa who entered through a secret attack tunnel from the southern Gaza Strip.

President Shimon Peres (c) with Ronald Lauder (l), WJC CEO Robert Singer and Regional Council Chairman Yair Farjoun at Kibbutz ZikimLauder told Peres and the kibbutz members that he had been "overwhelmed by the response of the heads of Jewish communities in coming on this mission on such short notice” and that “world Jewry is united in its desire to stand side-by-side with Israel during this dangerous period." 

Presidents Peres, Lauder and the chairman of the Hof Ashkelon district, Yair Farjoun, addressed the kibbutz residents.

Children badly affected by the incessant rocket attacks were given vouchers for a day off at a water park.

Peres welcomed the WJC delegation and declared: “Coincidentally, we just marked the 110th anniversary of Theodor Herzl's death. We know that his first dream, for the creation of a Jewish state has been fulfilled. I hope his second dream will come true as well, and that is to live in peace. Tonight, I will head to Herzl's tomb where I will tell him, ‘"If you will it, it is no dream.’”

The outgoing Israeli president went on to say: “We will gladly share with our neighbors what we have learned in order to help them build a better, prosperous future.”

Sha'ar HaNegev: Israeli area worst hit by rocket attacks from Gaza

The mission then traveled to Sha’ar HaHegev, an area which has been one of the worst-hit by the rockets from Gaza, and visited an ORT school there. Students at the school have no more than 15 seconds to reach a shelter room in the case of a missile alarm.

Ronald Lauder declared: “You are not alone. We believe in you and stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Israel. When you have difficulties, we stand with you.

In the town of Sderot, the delegation was regaled with songs by local students. Greetings were delivered by the school principal and then by Mayor Alon Davidi, who thanked Lauder for his contribution to the city and said: "Hamas wants to bring death to this area, while we bring life. My seven children pray that the army will do its job and we pray for the safety of the soldiers.”

Knesset speaker: 'We're here to fight to live for our ideals, not die for them'

Speaker of Knesset Yuli Edelstein was present as well. Addressing the delegation, Edelstein said: “We will prevail only with unity and courage. Your being here reflects that perfectly. I know you don't need my advice. Sderot needs your partnership and leadership. We are here not to die for our ideals but to live for them and to see Sderot flourish. For that we need partnership with our friends around the world.”

The mission also visited an Iron Dome battery of the IDF near Ashdod, where a briefing was given. Since 2012, Israel's south has faced rocket fire every few months. A few weeks ago, there was a very big increase in the frequency of these attacks. The Iron Dome system calculates the trajectory of the incoming rocket and calculates whether it is headed for a populated or open area. If it is the latter, it is left to explode. If not, it is intercepted mid-air. The system saves lives, according to the IDF.

In Tel Aviv, the mission met with Shaul Mofaz of the Kadima Party, a former Israeli defense minister and ex-IDF chief of staff, and in Jerusalem, the Israeli capital's Mayor Nir Barkat addressed the WJC delegation.


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The mission was briefed by former IDF Spokesman MK Nachman Shai and Col. Gili Shinar of the IDF Homefront Command (pictured below with Ronald Lauder). It then  proceeded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a briefing. A dinner was addressed by Israel's Minister of Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz. Also in Jerusalem, Lauder met with Italy's Foreign Minister Federica Mogherin to discuss the recent events.

Shai: Opposition supports government on Gaza operation - IDF praises public's resilience

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (second from left) met with the WJC delegation in SderotShai said the Iron Dome had so far been a "big success", but the real story was the way the Israeli public was conducting itself. The Knesset member for the opposition Labor Party said there was unity between the government and the opposition to end Hamas' capability of firing rockets into Israel. The goal was to bring tranquility back to Israel and to deter Hamas from firing into the country.

Col. Shinar from the IDF Home Front Command said the resilience of the Israeli public in the South and elsewhere enabled the IDF to achieve its goals. Both Shai and Gili praised local authorities in the most affected areas.

Lieberman: Objective is prevention of future attacks

Israel's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, expressed appreciation to the delegation for their commitment and strong ties to the Jewish State.

Israel’s objective during the current round of hostilities was not only to achieve a temporary cease-fire with Hamas, but to eliminate the need for Israel to mount another operation against Hamas in the future, he said. Outside of Israel, Jewish communities should strive to mold public opinion in Israel’s favor.

Alon Ushpiz, deputy director-general for diplomacy at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the mission that “your presence here is the most important expression of support,” and that “when all is said and done, you are left with your family, and you are our family.” He said that Israel was very grateful to America for the assistance it has provided with Iron Dome, because without it, “we would have hundreds of causalities.” Canada also was a great friend of Israel, he said.

Steinitz: Iron Dome a life saver

At dinner on Wednesday, the mission participants were addressed by Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister of international and strategic affairs and intelligence, who told the mission that Israel had managed to surprise Hamas operationally. Hamas “thought with barrages they would be able to overcome Iron Dome system, but it proved able to intercept a barrage of rockets at once,” Steinitz said. “They also thought they could paralyze life in Israel with these barrages, but life is going on.” Iron Dome is literally a life saver, Steinitz said, having performed far beyond anyone’s expectations.

On Thursday afternoon, the mission will be in Tel Aviv for briefings on the security situation by former Head of IDF Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin; former Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz; and the minister of Science, Culture & Sport Yaakov Perry. In the evening, the group will dine with ambassadors to Israel, including Canadian Ambassador Vivian Bercovici and also plans to meet with Minister of Economy and Diaspora Naftali Bennett.

Lauder 'overwhelmed' at communities' response

WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said he was "overwhelmed by the response of the heads of the communities in coming on this mission on such short notice, especially as rockets are falling." Hamas’ refusal to sign up to an Egyptian cease-fire plan once again revealed the organization’s true colors: “If anyone was still in doubt about the nature this terrorist group, here’s proof again: Hamas wants more war, wants more civilian casualties, wants more rockets fired at Israel, and its plan still is to destroy the Jewish state. Here’s the difference for the world to see: Hamas’ leaders are not interested in peace, Israel’s are.”

The impression that Israel’s enemies are trying to create that there was falling international support for the Israeli campaign to protect itself from Hamas rockets was “plain wrong”, Lauder said. "I am hearing much more sympathy and understanding for Israel's right to defend itself from foreign leaders than what is being registered in the press," added the WJC president, who has worked the phones in an intensive campaign of personal diplomacy with WJC’s many contacts since the rocket crisis with Hamas erupted. "I am also hearing many, many denunciations of Hamas for its targeting of Israeli civilians and wishes that Israel eliminate the Hamas threat once and for all.”

'Message of solidarity'

Lauder said that he intends to bring a full report of these messages of international solidarity to government officials during WJC’s mission to Israel. “We have seen an outpouring of support for WJC’s solidarity mission from the top leadership of Jewish communities around the world,” Lauder said. "World Jewry is united in its desire to stand side-by-side with Israel during this dangerous period." The mission will comprise representatives from all WJC regions: North America, South America, Europe, Euro-Asia, and Africa.

Italian FM Mogherini with Ronald LauderLast week, Lauder wrote a letter to UN ambassadors, EU foreign ministers, and others, telling them: “If it were your cities under attack, we know you would agree that a sovereign government has a duty to defend its citizens.”

The WJC president also criticized the UN Security Council statement on the conflict, saying: “Once again, the council failed to name the cause of this conflict, or to condemn Hamas’ actions. The UN, instead of defending the values on which the organization was founded seven decades ago, continues to blame Israel for everything and is largely silent on terror groups such as Hamas.” Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Hamas has used the territory as a staging ground for rocket attacks, launching more than 14,000 rockets and mortar bombs.


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