Jerusalem Post: Not just a ‘Jewish problem’: strategy for fighting antisemitism in the US

This article was originally published in the Jerusalem Post on May 10, 2021. Read this article in Hebrew.

Adam Milstein addresses the Israeli-American Council National Summit, which took place in Maimi, Florida, in December 2019 (photo credit: NOAM GALAI)
Adam Milstein addresses the Israeli-American Council National Summit, which took place in Maimi, Florida, in December 2019
(photo credit: NOAM GALAI)

Philanthropist and businessman Adam Milstein devotes most of his time to fighting rising antisemitism in the United States.

If you ask Adam Milstein, an Israeli philanthropist living in the United States, how we should fight rising antisemitism, he will say that we must move from defense to offense, join forces, and expose that the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people are first and utmost the enemies of America. “I characterize antisemitism as an American problem first and foremost,” he tells us from his Los Angeles home.

“If we insist that antisemitism is a problem only for the Jews, we will not solve the problem. We as Jews can’t solve it by ourselves, and others don’t want to fight for us when we position it solely as a Jewish problem. Hate movements like BDS, neo-Nazis, etc., attack Israel at every opportunity. But Americans need to understand that the end goal of these hate movements is to destroy America. That’s why we need to take the focus off the Jewish context and join other Americans in their fight against the enemies of the United States who are also antisemitic. We are talking about the same enemies, but we shouldn’t call them ‘enemies of the Jews’ but rather ‘America’s enemies.’ The discourse needs to change, and that’s what I’m trying to do, among other things.”Milstein, 69, an Israeli-American businessman, was born and raised in Haifa. He studied at the Technion and in the early 1980s moved to Los Angeles with his wife and daughters to pursue his MBA degree at the University of Southern California. The plan was to stay in America for two years, but since then 40 years have passed in which he has become one of the busiest and most significant philanthropists in the Jewish community. The real estate company he founded is engaged in development of real estate properties for businesses and residences, and his philanthropic work occupies about 80% of his time.

Milstein says he sees himself as an “active philanthropist.” “An active philanthropist doesn’t only write checks, but also invests time, provides guidance and vision, connects like-minded organizations, and facilitates partnerships,” he says. “This is a comprehensive strategy. Israelis are not very familiar with the concept of philanthropy, but 20 years ago I learned that whatever you give to charity, God will give back to you a few times more; not just in money, but in satisfaction, accomplishments, interesting connections, etc. I was fascinated by the field of philanthropy and decided: ‘we made money, now let’s do good.’ I now use my experience and connections to make an impact. Just as a businessman strives to succeed, the same in philanthropy; I’m preoccupied with how my capabilities can be routed to create a long-lasting impact. I can proudly say that I’ve made historic impact in the last couple of years through my philanthropy. ”

How did your fight against antisemitism begin?

“When I served in the IDF in the Yom Kippur war I crossed the Suez Canal with the brigade of Ariel Sharon. Our lives were in imminent danger. It toughened me; I learned not to be afraid of our enemies. Today I’m called an ‘Islamophobe,’ I’m being cyberbullied, various groups attack me because I’m an activist. They try to exhaust me and make me give up on my mission, but I don’t respond. For many years I have been talking about the rise of antisemitism in the United States and saying that America is sinking under the feet of the Jews here. Our enemies are laughing at or lack of response as hatred against us is increasing and becoming mainstream.”

Because of the Intifada

In 2006, Milstein, together with others, founded the Israeli-American Council (IAC) with the aim of connecting the Israeli-American community to fight antisemitism, among other things. The vision was to teach Israelis and Americans how to cooperate and build a strong community. We set up branches all over the United States with the goal of preserving our children’s identity as Americans of Israeli descent through elements such as: language, culture, religious, tradition, and instilling in them the courage to fight for ourselves. American Jews have the mentality of exiles. They are not apt to fight for themselves. But we, Jews from Israeli decent, served in the army and have a desire to fight back. We also wanted to teach the community to be philanthropic. We sent a message that philanthropy is worthwhile and educated Israelis about the benefits of giving. Another goal was to become Israel’s strategic advocacy asset in the United States. We are now the fastest growing Jewish organization in America while many other Jewish organizations are simply disappearing. ”

Milstein, who usually prefers to stay behind the scenes when it comes to his philanthropic activities, was also a member of the boards of organizations such as Taglit, AIPAC and StandWithUs (an organization that promotes education about the State of Israel in the world). He and his wife Gila are also co-founders of the “Sifriyat Pajama B’America” project, in which free children’s books are distributed to Israeli and Jewish families in the United States.

Milstein said he joined the Israeli advocacy efforts after the second intifada started in 2000: “I saw buses explode and my people suffer while here American media and the public blamed Israel and showed no sympathy for us. I realized that we need to engage in serious advocacy efforts. Extremist Muslims were calling ‘death to America’ and I realized that Israel and America have the same enemies. The chilling part is that this realization came to me after watching the Jihad in America movie on the evening of September 10, 2001. A few hours later, the attack on the World Trade Center took place.”

Milstein is also concerned about the role of the current Biden administration in the flourishing of antisemitic organizations. “A lot of senior appointees in the new administration have anti-Israel track records, which might harm us,” he says. “Just by looking at the issue of Iran we can see that Biden aspires to reach an immediate deal with Iran although this means an existential threat to Israel. It seems that Israel’s interests are not paramount to Biden. He is determined to revive the deal with Iran, and Israel will probably be put in danger in the process. I hear of many American Jews and Israelis who are buying apartments in Israel, so they’ll have a place to escape to if things get worse here. Hatred is rising, and Jews are the scapegoat of all the radical groups here. The United States is on the brink of civil war and the Jews don’t belong to either side. America is becoming more radicalized, and hatred is being freely spread in the media. Therefore, the danger to Jews is growing and my goal is to ins
pire the Jewish community to realize it and fight antisemitism.”

According to Milstein, despite his achievements, he has not yet succeeded in fully harnessing the Jewish community to fight against antisemitism. “We recognized that nonprofit organizations don’t like working with each other,” he says. “They want to raise money for themselves. “Hate movements are gaining power in America, but unfortunately the Jews here don’t want to see the truth and hope that someone else will fight for them,” he says. “Americans will not fight for us unless we take the Jews out of the equation and talk about fighting for America. If Americans believe it’s just a Jewish issue, it won’t interest them.”

In order to fight antisemitism effectively, Milstein facilitates a network of organizations: “I engage other philanthropists, create action plans, identify organizations who can be part of the network and provide them with actionable research which they pass on to think tanks, legal organizations, universities, etc.  For example, if we find that a particular group is linked to terror, we can file a legal action against it or expose it in the media. The boots-on-the-ground organizations work directly with the public. All of these groups together form a strong network that fights hatred which never existed before and produces tremendous results.”

What is your strategy?

“I prefer out of the box initiatives and believe in going on the offense rather than in advocacy. When someone attacks us, we immediately spur into action: research who they are, who funds them, what’s their agenda, are they doing anything illegal, and use what we found to expose them. Our goal is to put our enemies on the defense. Our work is based on information and research. When the IDF launches an operation, it collects a lot of intelligence about the enemy and knows exactly who they are and what to expect. This is not a typical strategy in the Jewish world so in recent years I have invested a lot of resources and thought to develop research, which is completely legal, to learn who the enemies are, who works with whom, who funds them, and why. This strategy allows us to go on the offensive against antisemites and radical organizations. ”

Does the Israeli government help you?

“The Israeli government used some of the research we funded and initiated. It helped the government a lot. In the past, BDS was not taken as a serious threat but we invested funds in researching the movement and finding out who is behind it. We exposed the antisemitic nature of BDS and shared our findings with the government and other authorities. People in Europe and the United States are funding BDS, and we are monitoring the funding and the illegal or immoral activities of BDS groups. We are using the information we collect against them. They are shaming Israel, and we are using it against them.”

Not a rosy forecast

These days, when the State of Israel is on the verge of an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Hague for alleged war crimes, Milstein’s activity is more significant than ever. “Our research of the ICC showed that the same people who filed the complaints against Israel have previously filed similar complaints against the United States. These people have a radical agenda” he says. “We released the findings to the press and as a result former president Trump imposed sanctions on ICC staff members, which unfortunately President Biden has now repealed. But we did manage to expose them as antisemites and radicals, and senior US officials now know who filed the complaint against them. Israel is standing alone in the ICC, but the anti-Israel prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is about to retire so I’m less worried. ”

What do you think about the State of Israel’s official actions in the fight against antisemitism?

“In my opinion, Israel is unaware of the tangible and immediate threat of antisemitism to its existence. Antisemitism is causing a change in public opinion of Israel, including within members of Congress and Senators.  Today there are more anti-Israel members of Congress than ever. Very strong powers are working against us and they are constantly growing. The State of Israel is unaware of this situation and does not invest resources to solve it. It trusts that ‘it will be okay,’ but if nothing is done against it, it will not be okay. The government must devote serious resources to the war against antisemitic organizations and expose them as enemies of the country in which they operate.”

Do you work with the Israeli government?

“I talk to people in government, but the problem is that there has been no Israeli government for two years and no one to talk to. We have worked with the Ministry of Strategic Affairs but since Gilad Erdan left the office, the ministry is disappearing. It’s sad. Unfortunately, the government didn’t understand the enormous importance of the ministry and let it fade away.”

What is your forecast about antisemitism?

“The outlook is not positive. America faces existential dangers. American values are disintegrating, America is crumbling, Americans are ashamed of themselves and what they have built and achieved, and I fear America is facing destruction. So, it is important to work together to strengthen America, and as a result we are strengthening Jews and fighting antisemitism. As for Israel, I expect to be increasingly involved in our research organizations there, and continue developing projects, and investing in new effective organization. We have a home in Israel, and I will be visiting it more often. It is more fun there than here in the United States.”