Jerusalem, Israel - Feb. 18, 2024  - Convening in Jerusalem, Israel, for the annual Conference of Presidents National Leadership Mission, February 18-22, 2024, are delegates from the Conference’s 50-member organizations and its National Leadership Council. In the aftermath of the October 7 attacks, the key U.S. Jewish leaders are planning trips south and north. 

In addition to meetings with Israel’s political and military leaders, during the Mission, the group will meet with the families of hostages, bereaved families, and soldiers and commanders of the IDF.

The opening Israeli speaker at the Inbal Hotel was Minister Benny Gantz.

His address to the Conference of Presidents follows:

"Honorable Guests, Friends – Esteemed Presidents.

Our home is under attack.
Today, and since October 7th - We have all come together to defend it.

I would like to open my remarks and the 2024 Conference of Presidents by expressing my deep appreciation to you – Jewish organizations from across the United States & North America.

I would like to thank Harriet Schleifer, Chair of the Conference, and William Daroff the CEO in particular, for bringing us together today.

You have joined us in defending our home – sharing the truth, embracing our communities, providing for our soldiers, and supporting the one and only Jewish State, your home. 

October 7th was a vile display of our enemy’s inhumanity.

What followed, were waves of antisemitism around the world, on the streets and campuses, leaving us with one clear takeaway. We must form a joint advocacy task force to make the case for Israel.

A ray of light during these hours of darkness has been the Israeli-American alliance, – that has proven itself stronger than ever.

Our alliance has been tested three times before – in 48’, 73’, and 2023. Never will we forget President Biden’s friendship during the days following October 7th – the military backing, the diplomatic support, and his clear message to our enemies - “Don’t”.

When we say “Together we will win” – we mean also together with our American partners – Republicans and Democrats alike, and together with other international leaders, supporting our moral duty to remove the threat of Hamas and bring our hostages home.

There has not been a more just war than the one we are fighting, and yet – there has not been one fought under more complex conditions.

Hamas terrorists hide in tunnels deep underground, they hide in hospitals and the headquarters of humanitarian organizations.

Contending with these war crimes, our forces have shown not only inspiring determination but creative innovation.

We are paying a heavy price, but we are winning - dismantling depot after depot, tunnel after tunnel.
We cannot afford a different outcome – We must win this war. For that to happen – we need time.

The world must know, and Hamas leaders must know – if by Ramadan our hostages are not home – the fighting will continue in the Rafah area.

We will do so in a coordinated manner, facilitating the evacuation of civilians in dialogue with our American and Egyptian partners to minimize civilian casualties.

But to those saying the price is too high – I say this very clearly: Hamas has a choice. They can surrender, and release the hostages, and this way the citizens of Gaza can celebrate the holy holiday of Ramadan.
Let me be clear, we are operating in Gaza not out of revenge for October 7th, but out of a clear conviction to secure our future – the future of Israel’s next generations.

We will continue fighting, in any scenario, until we achieve our goals.

On the northern front as well – we will fulfill our objectives and drive Hezbollah away from our towns. How does victory look like for us? It is made of four elements:

The First – A military victory. Removing the threat Hamas & Hezbollah pose to our communities.

The Second – is the return of our hostages.

The Third – A diplomatic victory. Replacing the Hamas regime completely.

A deep change in the Palestinian education system, the uncompromising removal of content preaching terror, and Israel-hate.The day the textbooks of Gaza and Judea & Samaria will look like those of our Emirati friends will be the day we’ll know we share a brighter future in the Middle East.

This victory goes hand in hand with our will to expand the circle of peace and form a united regional axis facing Iran. For that reason, the normalization process with Saudi Arabia is an important endeavor we must pursue - and I am personally working towards it.

I believe this step can be part of the solution, provided that Israel can maintain military superiority across the region.

I ask therefore to emphasize to our friends around the world – After the October 7th , the pathway to regional stability and peace is not through one-sided actions like recognition of a Palestinian State.

It is through facilitating long-term processes that will consolidate a regional architecture facing the Iranian axis of terror, and by advancing international arrangements that will improve the lives of people throughout the region and promote stability and peace.

The Fourth element – the restoration of our resilience. I bow my head for what happened on October 7th, but I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved since.

Having said that, I also recall what came before it. Division, arguments between religious and secular on Yom Kippur.

Conversations on The “State of Israel” & “State of Yehuda”. October 7th served as a painful wake-up call not just in terms of security, but socially between us.

All of us – citizens of Israel and the People of Israel must commit to not only learn to live together but embrace the togetherness. Not because of the threats our enemies pose, but out of commitment to our Zionist vision. Out of love and in solidarity for our Brothers and Sisters." 

Further Gantz concluded, "Friends, I visited last week a Haredi Hesder Yeshiva, "Hedvata" and spoke to young men who will soon enlist in the IDF.

I told them, as we entered the room above our heads read a sign from the book of Isaiah: “And nation shall not take up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.”

I hope the day comes when that vision can be a reality – but first let us honor our duty to make peace between us, within the nation – Am Israel.

Thank you."

Included in the photo essay are Rabbi Zvi Engel from the RCA, and  International Hillel President Adam Lehman from Maryland.