Herbert Zweibon, founder and chairman of Americans for a Safe Israel/AFSI, died on Jan. 19 at the age of 84. It was Tu B’Shevat, holiday of the trees, which only seems fitting because Herb was someone who spread his branches wide, sheltering not only his beloved family but an array of people and causes, planting seeds of wisdom and truth.
Psalm 92 tells us, “A righteous man will flourish like a date palm, like a cedar he will grow tall . They will still be fruitful in old age, vigorous and fresh they will be “
How appropriate this is as a description of Herb Zweibon. He was not a tall man, but he was a giant among men who in his last year of life achieved what he felt was one of his greatest accomplishments – furthering the recognition of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Shmuel Katz as great Zionist heroes.
Herb was often accused of being a “right-wing extremist” because of his views on the preservation of the Jabotinsky ideal of a whole Israel. The national and international organization Herb had begun building in 1970 was seen by the mainstream media, and the liberal Jews who followed their guidelines, as being as far right as possible on the political spectrum.
What we’ve seen over the years is that Herb was indeed always Right – as in correct – because he was educating people about the biblical, historical, and legal entitlement of the Jews to the Holy Land.
I first met Herb in 1995 after receiving a call from him inviting me to his Manhattan office to be interviewed for the position of AFSI executive director. All I’d known about him prior to the meeting was that he opposed the Oslo “peace process” that had been all the rage among Jewish liberals since the famous signing and handshake on the White House lawn in September 1993.
It didn’t seem to matter to people that on the very day Arafat signed the treaty, he spoke to the Arab world in Arabic, boasting that there was no need to honor a treaty with infidels, which included all non-Muslims.
Herb Zweibon understood there could be no peace with an entity that refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. He saw it as his mission to expose the lies, myths and fallacies of the deceitful “peace process,” and to keep educating people with the truth.
Herb and I had our meeting. I was totally charmed by this man with sparkling blue eyes that reflected the keen intelligence, kindness and humor that were his outstanding characteristics. We liked each other immediately, and I agreed to take over as director at AFSI.
The guiding philosophy of the organization, learned by Herb from his mentors, Shmuel Katz and Ze’ev Jabotinsky, was easy to absorb. Shmuel Katz had been a disciple of Jabotinsky, who unhesitatingly proclaimed in 1925 that “the aim of Zionism is the establishment of a Jewish state.”
A Jewish state – a Jewish national home – must mean a Jewish majority, the right of Jews to live everywhere in that homeland, and political control in the hands of Jews. Unfortunately, even in Jabotinsky’s day there were “practical” Zionists who were afraid to deal with the British and the Arabs. Those were the days when euphemisms were adopted to soften the blow of what an “extremist” like Jabotinsky would express.
The appeasers and conciliators are still very much in our midst today. They are compelled to disguise the truth, to reflect an unrealistic optimism, to misguide and misinform Jews who are so eager to be misled into believing the Arab world really doesn’t want their destruction.
Perhaps it is because Jews have lived through so many expulsions, reigns of terror, pogroms and slaughters that they want to believe their enemies can become their friends. It takes a person who is impervious to attack, who has the strength of conviction about his Judaism and his purpose, to continue speaking the truth in the face of the mountain of lies.
Such a man was Herb Zweibon, and he taught me to do the same.
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While the world was pushing for the “two-state solution” and the quartet’s road map, Herb and I were working in the opposite direction. It was clear the Arabs were not interested only in Judea and Samaria, half of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Gush Katif. Their textbooks, their maps, and their rhetoric clearly teach their young children that the acquisition of all of Israel is their goal.
We kept pointing out that the Palestine Liberation Organization was formed in 1964, when Judea, Samaria, and east Jerusalem were in the hands of the Jordanians and the Golan was controlled by Syria.
What lands was Arafat “liberating”? When the Arabs rioted in 1920, 1921, 1929, and in the pogroms of 1936-1938, what were the land disputes then? After the miraculous victories of the 1967 defensive war against the Arabs, Israel regained Judea and Samaria, united Jerusalem, annexed the Golan, and encouraged the development of the communities in Gush Katif/Gaza.
But instead of celebrating these great victories with a declaration of a whole Israel once more in Jewish hands, the policies of appeasement and giveaway began once the immediate afterglow of victory began to wear off.
The lies about the “occupied territories” and the PA narrative about alleged ancient Palestinian Arab ties to the holy land were in full swing. Most of the Jewish establishment organizations began pushing for “solutions.” Herb and I, along with the national and international organization he had built, began working in every way possible to stem the tide.
Outpost, AFSI’s monthly publication edited by Rael Jean Isaac, one of the founders of AFSI, with the assistance of Ruth King, always featured Herb’s front-page editorial and served as our educational tool to enlighten and inform people. It became a hugely respected publication.
The educational track continued with the publication of Shmuel Katz’s Battleground, detailing the true history of the Jewish people in Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel. AFSI underwrote the publication and distribution of Katz’s definitive two-volume biography of Jabotinsky, Lone Wolf. And we are now distributing Katz’s book The Aaronsohn Saga, the fascinating and tragic biography of Sarah and Aaron Aaronsohn.
In 2010 Herb created the website www.shmuelkatz.comto promote the ideology of Shmuel Katz. In the same year, he began developing Zionism101, a new program of videos featuring the great Zionist leaders. Convinced that there was a dearth of knowledge among Israeli students about Israel’s heroes, in 2010 he sponsored the very successful Jabotinsky essay contest. Hundreds of Jabotinsky essays were submitted with the winners receiving cash prizes. Israel’s minister of education, Gideon Saar, participated in the project and agreed to include the study of Jabotinsky in the school curriculum.
Herb was thrilled with this success. His Israeli assistants on this project were former MK Michael Kleiner, a dear friend with whom Herb had almost daily conversations, and our Jerusalem AFSI chairman, Bill Mehlman, who has been with AFSI for over 15 years.
There was something otherworldly about the fact that Herb completed these projects involving his heroes just before his death. He seemed to know he had to get the job done before it was too late. Since it was Shmuel Katz who had been responsible for the founding of Americans for a Safe Israel, it was only fitting that Katz and Jabotinsky should have been with Herb at the end of his life.
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From the very beginning of our relationship, Herb and I agreed it wasn’t enough to “talk the talk;” we also had to “walk the walk.” And so it was that we embarked on an extremely activist-oriented program of press releases, demonstrations, lectures, conferences, TV appearances, radio interviews, visits to our elected officials, including senators and congressmen in Washington, press conferences, working with Knesset members, and the extremely popular and exciting semi-annual Chizuk (strength) missions to Israel, which remain a central focus of the AFSI program.
One example of our form of activism that stands out strongly in my memory occurred in the early winter of 2000. Then-President Bill Clinton and then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak were making plans to give the Golan to the brutal dictator Assad of Syria. It would cost American taxpayers close to $100 billion to have Assad agree to take the strategically vital Golan and it would mean expelling 18,000 Jews from their homes, farms, and communities. U.S. troops would become “peacekeepers” on the Golan, replacing Israeli soldiers.
Herb and I mobilized the AFSI troops and we took a long bus ride to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, to protest the “Leading the Sheep to the Slaughter.” Subsequently, we held a press conference in Washington on Feb. 8 of that year to which we had invited family members of the 242 U.S. Marines who had been murdered in the terrorist bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983. Other American lives had been lost in the earlier bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.
Following the bombings, President Reagan had withdrawn the remaining “peacekeepers” from Lebanon and the news of the terrible loss of lives disappeared from the front pages and from peoples’ memories. Of course, the families of those killed remained scarred forever. Debbie Peterson, the sister of Cpl. James Chandonnet Knipple, USMC, was one who agreed to speak out. She said, “Politics killed my brother; politics is driving the Golan giveaway – and by paying Assad with American dollars, we will be paying for our own destruction.”
Joining us in our efforts were Christian Congressional friends like Jim Saxton of New Jersey and Tom Davis of Virginia, along with Richard Hellman with members of his group Christians’ Israel Public Action Campaign (CIPAC). Fortunately, our efforts, helped along by so many others, contributed to keeping the Golan in Israeli hands.
Herb was long convinced that evangelical Christians – with their belief in the Bible and the need to preserve the biblical heritage in the land of Israel, the promised homeland of the Jewish people – would be better friends to Israel than many Jews.
Ed McAteer, president of the Religious Roundtable, Gary Bauer of American Values, and Pastor Bob Upton of the Apostolic Congress joined AFSI in June 2003 as we launched the “One State Solution Campaign,” underwritten by Herb and AFSI, to combat the quartet’s road map. Key swing states were targeted and billboards were put up in Colorado, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland.
“We are trying to explain,” Herb said in a May 2003 interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz, “[that the road map] would separate the Jews permanently from their entitlements to the Holy places, such as Hebron, Beit El, Shiloh, Shechem, and Ofra – all the places good Christian bible believers know.”
It is to these holy places that the semi-annual AFSI Chizuk missions travel. We just completed our 30th trip and are planning the next one for May 29-June 7. As always, many of the same members join us on the trips. Not only do they feel inspired by the places we visit, they have formed close attachments to the brave, selfless and devoted people in the disputed areas.
Herb often joined us on the missions. Because of our many visits to the former Gush Katif, and the close friendships formed with the people there, AFSI was in the forefront of protesting the expulsion. We sponsored the Orange Shabbat across America, ran conferences, and brought in delegations from Israel to speak at demonstrations.
It is now five and a half years since the expulsion and those who were cast out are still suffering and living in temporary homes. The Chizuk missions continue to visit the people in their temporary homes, offering as much encouragement as possible. We have taken up their motto: “We will never forget; we will never forgive.”
Sderot, Hebron, the Hebron hills, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, eastern Jerusalem, the Knesset, the Kotel, the communities of Judea and Samaria, the Galilee, the Golan, the Negev, Safed, the Jordan Valley, as well as the new communities that are just beginning to be constructed for the displaced refugees from the destroyed Gush Katif communities – all are on our itinerary at different times.
Renewing the friendships as we travel from place to place is one of the greatest joys of our travels. And it is through these trips that we have also come to know the Knesset members who are our friends and support our ideology. Herb bonded with these men and women, forming close relationships that continued through the years.
The demonstrations we conducted at Annapolis, at the UN, the Israeli embassy in New York, at City College, at the Jewish Museum, in Washington, at Hadassah Headquarters (when we protested the giving of the Henrietta Szold award to Hillary Clinton), against the construction freeze, against the Ground Zero mosque – these were just some of the events we organized in our fight for our beloved Israel.
Just before Herb’s death, he wrote what would be his last editorial for Outpost. There he celebrated the demolition of the Shepherd’s Hotel in Jerusalem, a hotel purchased in 1985 by dear friends of Herb’s, Dr. Irving and Cherna Moskowitz, which would finally be developed to provide housing for Jews. He concluded with a clarion call for strength and an assertion of the Jewish people’s legitimate rights to their homeland.
May Herb’s legacy inspire and energize others for generations to come. His memory will always be with us.
Helen Freedman is executive director of Americans for a Safe Israel/AFSI.