By Phil Jacobs/JNS.org
Three months ago, he retired as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), one of the world’s most prestigious military commands. But on a warm spring evening in Baltimore, Lt. Gen. (Res.) Benny Gantz joined another prestigious group.
On May 11, Gantz received one of the Baltimore Jewish community’s highest honors, the Justice Louis D. Brandeis Award, which was given by the Baltimore Zionist District (BZD) at its 69th Brandeis Gala before a packed Beth Tfiloh Congregation sanctuary.
Gantz is in good company. Since 1972, when BZD honored U.S. Supreme Court justice Arthur G. Goldberg, the list of Brandeis honorees has grown into a “who’s who” of accomplishment with names such as Israeli ambassador Abba Eban, William Randolph Hearst, Jr., then senator and now Vice President Joe Biden, Jewish activist and philanthropist Shoshana S. Cardin, famed refusenik and Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky, Archbishop William H. Keeler, then Israeli ambassador and now Member of Knesset Michael Oren, and many more.
The general shared the evening spotlight with Laurie and Kevin Luskin, who received BZD’s Humanitarian Award. A tall and gracious man of 55, Gantz spent the evening meeting with and speaking to many of the IDF’s supporters from Baltimore.
Prior to receiving the award named after former Supreme Court justice Louis D. Brandeis, the newly retired military leader gave an interview on the challenges faced not just by Israel, but by the entire world.
“We are going through major geopolitical changes,” Gantz said. “We see new kinds of threats. ISIS (Islamic State) and Hamas recognize nobody but themselves. The countries around Israel find themselves in a fragile situation, and all the while we cannot ignore a nuclear Iran.”
Gantz, who majored in history as an undergrad, saw little irony in how he’s participated in military history through the years. During his career, the general was:
• Appointed the IDF’s military attaché to the U.S., making him Israel’s highest-ranking security official in America.
• Commander in 1989 of the elite unit responsible for Operation Solomon, which brought thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
• Commander of Israel’s northern front during the second Lebanon war.
• Commander of Judea and Samaria during start of second Palestinian intifada.
• Named the 20th chief of staff in IDF history in 2011.
• Married with four children. Besides his history degree, he earned a master’s degree in political science and is only one of three Israeli officers to graduate from the prestigious U.S. Military Special Services Green Beret program.
“We don’t have two oceans separating us from our enemies,” Gantz said in the interview. “We have hardly a fence. At the end of last summer’s war, I visited 67 families [of the fallen IDF soldiers in Gaza]. We cannot afford to lose so many.”
Gantz said he doesn’t believe Gaza would explode into a war zone again in the near future.
“We have no interest in Gaza except for security,” he said. “But when Hamas begins trouble, it creates a price for its own people that is far too high.”
He used the name of the biblical enemy of the Jewish people, “Amalek,” when speaking about Islamic State.
“This is something nobody can accept,” said Gantz.
Regarding recent tension in the relationship between Israel and the Obama administration, Gantz said, “I think the U.S. can’t afford to lose Israel. For Israel, the U.S. has and will always be a strong friend, and it is important for both of us to maintain that trust.”
Before he left the interview for the speech he’d deliver that night, he turned around and said, “I’m proud. I’m proud that Israel is the strongest nation in the Middle East. And mostly I’m proud that we have become that way because we are a moral people.”
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