by Sherrie Saag, Communications, Jewish Federation of Omaha
2015 Annual Campaign co-chairs Norm and Suzy Sheldon and host Zoë Riekes welcomed our community’s major donors Tuesday evening, Jan. 13 for a special briefing with counter terrorism expert Dr. Howard Stoffer.
The following morning, he participated in the Federation campus leadership meeting, discussing current events and providing his national security perspective to the professional staff.
Currently a professor at the University of New Haven, Stoffer was an administrative director of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee of the Security Council and spent 25 years with the State Department’s Senior Foreign Service at posts around the world.
The Sheldons began the evening remarking, “The events of the past week (Paris terror attacks) illustrate, perhaps better than anything else, our need to come together in solidarity and support of one another, Jewish Omaha and our global Jewish community.”
Stoffer discussed global hot zones ranging from Egypt and Syria to Indonesia, Russia and, of course, Paris.
As a staunch supporter of Israel, Stoffer described the current “allies” Israel has in the Middle East. “Egyptian President el-Sisi and his military dictatorship is clearing out Sinai neighborhoods filled with tunnels and sharing military and intelligence information with Israel. So, for now, Israel has a friend to the west and, I would say, a stable neighbor to the East in Jordan. King Abdullah and his wife, Queen Rania are pragmatic, peace-seeking and have established good stable relations with Israel.”
As with any explanation of current events, historical context is necessary. Attendees listened to a very brief overview of recent Syrian social and political conflict, after which Stoffer noted that the Shia/Sunni Muslim divide dates back to Mohammed. “The call for a third caliphate refers to their desire for a ‘state in the medieval sense’,” he said, and “those currently fighting have no sense of justifiable engagements or rules of war. Basically, anything goes.”
“Syria is extraordinarily unstable and extraordinarily complex.”
“What Israel is most concerned with now is the question, ‘What happens if we succeed in defeating ISIS – what comes next?’ What is happening in Syria is of utmost concern to the entire world.”
He continued, “Without a doubt, Iran is the greatest threat to Israel. It is the only country to get away with standing in front of the United Nations and calling for the total destruction of a member nation.” It remains an unprecedented act of verbal aggression within the confines of this governing body.
Turning to Paris and the recent terror attacks at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher market, Stoffer pointed out that the planning, precision and execution exhibited were what made the events so worrisome. Most of the inquiries during the question and answer session had to do with the recent Paris attacks.
“Paris opened up the minds of Europeans. There is no going back. They once thought we were crazy for altering our security methods and privacy laws but, as a whole, America has been safer because of it,” said Stoffer.
“Just this week, Prime Minister Cameron in the UK is considering revoking the passports of British citizens on their watch list and re-entering the country from Jihadist hot spots. This is unprecedented and will no doubt shape the events of the near future.”
Dr. Stoffer’s visit was well received and the Federation’s Campaign Department received great feedback for his briefing. The 2015 Annual Campaign currently stands at just under $2.7 million with a respectful 4% gift-for-gift increase.
Take a moment to review our ad in this edition of the Jewish Press. We are grateful to everyone who became a donor to the 2015 Annual campaign. It’s not too late to join the list! To make your gift and support the programs and services that sustain Jewish life in Omaha and around the world, contact Steve Levinger, Senior Development Director at 402.334.6433, firstname.lastname@example.org or Sharon Kirshenbaum, Campaign Director at 334-6485, email@example.com. The Federation will print a second list at the conclusion of the 2015 Annual Campaign.