Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, told a packed house at the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) annual gala on Oct. 18 that they no longer need to worry so much about the nation’s future.
“As Jews, we like to see the glass as being one-sixteenth empty,” Dermer said. “We have a hard time being optimistic about the future we face.
“But the glass is full, and it’s overflowing. There’s so many reasons to be optimistic about Israel’s future. So for those of you who worry — and that’s our national sport — I hope you remember [that] your grandparents and their parents and their parents going back three generations would’ve given anything to trade their problems with us.”
Because of efforts to support the troops, along with Israeli advancement in fields like high-technology and cybersecurity, he said the country may be stronger now than ever.
Before he stepped to the podium, FIDF supporters of all generations expressed what the organization means to them.
“When I was a lone soldier in the IDF, it meant a ticket home to see my family,” said Adam Klazmer, an Akiba Hebrew Academy (now Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy) grad who served from 2010 to 2012. “Since I got help when I was in the Israeli army, I want to make sure I give back as well.”
Supporting Israel and the troops is something that goes way back for Steve Stadlin, who’s been involved with the FIDF since its inception.
“My father, Charles, from the day he was discharged from the Navy after World War II until the day he couldn’t walk, would take care of vets,” Stadlin said. “I grew up going to Phillies games at Connie Mack Stadium with disabled vets. And I always had a strong identification with Israel and wanted to help because without the IDF everything is secondary.”
Dermer used a football analogy to emphasize that point.
“The Eagles have a very good team, but tonight you’re supporting an even better team,” said Dermer, who became ambassador in 2013 after four years as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s senior adviser. “It’s a team that doesn’t lose because it cannot afford to lose. It doesn’t lose because of the brave men and women who don the uniform of the IDF.”
Dermer spoke about the many challenges Israel still faces, its greatest being Iran’s “diabolical mission of a radical regime, which openly calls for Israel’s destruction.”
“No one should doubt Israel will defend itself with its full force militarily and with the full power of its convictions,” Dermer said. “People have warned that an Iranian curtain is descending upon the Middle East spreading death and destruction. Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it clear Israel will not allow that to happen.”
Dermer pointed out that Israel is now considered the eighth-most powerful nation in the world, factoring in its military, economy and technology. He indicated that 20 percent of all private cyber investments worldwide are with Israel and that even some of its usually hostile Arab neighbors may finally be beginning to see the light.
“One of the biggest changes in the Arab world is the leading powers are starting to understand that we are not the enemy,” he said. “We are a potential ally to help them in a very dangerous region.”
Addressing the crowd here was meaningful for the 46-year-old Miami native because he said Philadelphia played a significant role in his life.
“I feel a special attachment to Philadelphia,” Dermer, a graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said. “I have very fond memories of my time at Penn. It’s a very warm community — one of the warmest cities in America. It was like that when I lived here, and I can see it’s like that today.”
The last time Dermer was in Philadelphia — participating in a panel discussion which coincided with the Democratic National Convention in 2016 — a Palestinian sympathizer burst into the room. He said such fervor demonstrates the degree of passion Americans hold on such a volatile issue.
“Support for Israel in the U.S. is pretty broad,” he said, “but we think it’s important that we’re more progressive thinking.
“We respect the rights of women and minorities, which is something that should be admired by progressive individuals everywhere. The best thing they can do to understand the situation is go there and see the country itself.”
Dermer said Israel will soon celebrate its 70th birthday because of the courage and dedication of the soldiers the FIDF supported.
“Generations of Jews have dreamed of the privilege of living in a sovereign Jewish state,” Dermer said. “With that privilege comes a great responsibility to secure that dream for future generations.”