Memorable evenings do not come along every day, and when they do, they consist of over 500 guests—among them diplomats, future generations of young leaders from the best universities in southern California, and some of the largest and most prominent sponsors and supporters of the American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA) organization—at the Four Season’s Hotel in Beverly Hills.
Just a few weeks ago, Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley—previously completing her term for the year—was granted the “Iron Dome of Israel” award in honor of her unwavering commitment to the State of Israel, in addition to her ongoing efforts and involvement in the disengagement of the U.S. nuclear agreement with Iran in President Donald Trump’s campaign.
In recent years, Israel, as we know, has not received much support or recognition from the international community—especially from the UN, who is committed to obsessively bashing and condemning the Jewish state. Haley, while serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN under President Trump, was one of the very few key political figures who cared to defend Israel in the UN when responding to the media.
This year, Israel’s vast network of global supporters were surprised by Haley’s decision to resign from her impactful position at the UN.
AFMDA’s special evening consisted of an opening reception followed by a festive dinner. The evening commenced with a number of opening remarks featuring some of Israel’s strongest proponents. Among the speakers were Deputy Chief of Mission at the Consulate General of Israel in LA, Eitan Weiss, Pastor Jeff Osborne, Assistant United States Attorney at The United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, Lawrence Middleton, and Philanthropists Michael Milken and Fred Leeds.
Dina Leeds, AFMDA Western Region President and the host for the evening, reviewed in detail the activities and achievements of Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley that took place throughout her tenure. Nikki Haley’s important work was presented and featured in an inspiring video. Following this commemoration, Leeds invited Haley to the stage and presented her with the humanitarian award.
The crowd stood and applauded relentlessly as Haley elegantly accepted the award and commented, “It is an absolute honor to receive this humanitarian award, but we can all be humanitarian if we live life the right way. The goal is to appreciate G-d’s gift to the world, and give back. Uplift those who cannot uplift themselves, and put a ladder under those who are trying to catch up.”
As the on stage interview unfolded, there was no doubt that the crowd was extremely enthusiastic towards Haley, with their chanting of “We love you,” amidst the simultaneous loud and cheerful applause. The crowd’s reaction reminded me of the kind of excitement and energy found at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speeches at the American Congress or previous AIPAC conferences.
The conversation revolved around Haley’s childhood and upbringing in South Carolina as the daughter of immigrants from India, and the different periods in her life—her entry into politics, her experience as the first woman elected to be governor of a state, and her appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the UN by President Donald Trump. Dina and Haley went on to discuss Israel’s relationship with the UN, exploring Haley’s support of the Jewish state in greater depth.
Dina: So, Ambassador Haley, what are you doing these days?
“I’m enjoying living life as a private individual. It’s nice to take a break from it all and lower the level of pressure and stress. The past eight years have been really intense with no time for breaks. I believe that one of the things that represents strength in a person is the ability to know when it’s time to pick up and leave—and open space for someone else to take over. I completed my duty at the UN after a period in which I really gave it my all. I dedicated every bit of emotion, energy, and determination that I had into the work, and into my role as Ambassador—and I think that the United States is stronger as a result.
Today, I live a routine lifestyle and spend a lot of time with my family. I have kids who are in high school and kids in college, so I get to share their experience as students. In fact, I recently attended the graduation ceremony of my daughter from the Clemson School of Nursing.
I am married to a combat officer who makes me proud every day, and for those who don’t know—I take care of my parents—it’s nice to spend time with them and make sure that they are okay. In addition to all of that, I am in the process of writing a book, but don’t be fooled—I’m not finished yet—I’m still here, loud and proud, and have a lot of plans for the future.”
Ambassador Haley is the daughter of Indian Sikh parents who immigrated to the U.S. from the state of Punjab in northern India. It was interesting to listen to her speak about her experience being the first generation of immigrants in a lower class neighborhood in South Carolina, and how it shaped her character.
Haley: “I think of all the great sacrifices my parents made when I was a child, and the fact that I was the first generation in the United States, are what shaped me. To this day, my parents remind my brothers, sisters, and I just how lucky we are to live here. My parents left India, even though they were stable and had a good life, in order to provide us with a better future. They arrived to the U.S. with very little money in their pockets, but with lots of big hopes and dreams.
My father received his doctorate degree from British Columbia University, and my mother was a lawyer and had also wanted to become a judge—but at that time in India, it was unacceptable for women to get that kind of position. This is the reason why I made her extremely proud when I became the first female governor of South Carolina.
Our acclimation process in the U.S. was not easy. We came to this country with a different mentality and had to learn how to adapt and integrate into society. I recall that our parents never allowed us to come home and complain about being different or about the challenges in our lives. My mother always told me: ‘your job is not to show how you’re different, but rather to show how you are the same.’”
Dina brought up an old memory from Haley’s past as a young girl attending a beauty contest in South Carolina. Back then, the competition was divided into two parts: girls of white American descent and girls of African American descent. Haley, of course, did not fit into either category and was therefore disqualified from participating.
Haley: “I remember them explaining to my mother that if they put me in the category with the white girls, then the white community would be mad, and if they put me in the African-American category, then that community would be mad. My mother said to them: ‘So maybe just let her perform as a singer in the competition since she prepared a song and has been practicing for so long.’
This experience definitely taught me a lot about labels. It was at this point where I first understood that labels are real and they do exist. That said, I also learned that we do not have to live by them. They will always be there, but we define who we are. We define how we’re received. We’re defined by everything we choose to put out there.”
In 2016, even before she was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley was selected by TIME magazine as one of the most influential people in the world. Dina asked her how she decided to get into politics, in a field so dominated by men.
Haley: “We all have to make decisions in life. A lot of people want to talk to me about the significance of being a leader. So, we all have certain battles and struggles to face in life. I’m sure everyone in this room has a story like that to share. But there comes a point where a decision needs to be made. The easiest way to do this is to lean back and let someone else do the job. The hard way is to push through the fears—and when you overcome them, you may be surprised by the strength you have on the other side.
In fact, throughout my childhood and during my college days, I was politically inactive and was not a member of any council or organization—until I realized that if I wanted to see things change, I needed to get out there and start influencing politically.
“I remember on the campaign trail, driving in the car with both of my children in the back seat and knocking on the doors of people in my city to tell them about my agenda. I never spoke poorly of my opponents—I told everyone that I respected my opponents but wanted to do things differently. And then, when people chose me to lead—I kept pushing forward. There’s always going to be some fear, but you just have to keep pushing forward. And even when I was elected to be the Governor of South Carolina, that fear returned—but I kept persevering and pushing forward. Being an American Ambassador to the United Nations was not a simple role, but I continued to push forward. When you push through your fears, you open the door to living life in a way you never imagined possible.
At the end of the day, I am a mother of children from South Carolina who has faced all her challenges and fears and has not given up. I haven’t done anything someone else hasn’t done before or cannot do today. We must never doubt ourselves, but simply believe that we are destined to do greater things”.
Dina: And the challenge of being a woman in a man’s world?
“At no point throughout my career, did I have an easy ladder to climb. I was the first woman governor, the only woman on the National Security council, and I always played in the men’s court. I did not want to be labeled. The only thing that distinguished me from the men in my mind, were my high heeled shoes—and I knew that I could handle authority as well as them. Truth is power, and when you tell the truth in simple terms—they know that you are right—and they may not like you, but they respect you.”
Dina: Recently, Hamas fired rockets again into Israel, Tel Aviv and beyond. We saw all the wounded people on television and watched as the attack harmed innocent people. In response to this, we received nothing but silence and disregard from the UN. We know that if you were there, you would have said something.
“Honestly, I thought I would appear there last week anyway [she joked]. But if I were still on duty, I would have told them that if these missiles were launched at their countries, it would have turned into a major international emergency. I would look them directly in their eyes and ask, ‘if this was your country, would you want us to sit quietly and accept it, or would you expect condemnation and help? Because if so, then we should condemn and help in this case as well.’ I always say I do not ask favors for Israel, I just want the country to be treated like any other country in the world.”
In addition to her views on the matter, Haley went on to discuss the relationship between the United States and Israel—and Obama’s two resolutions against Israel that were passed just before Haley took office as UN Ambassador.
Haley: “It really impacted me because I could not believe that the United States would turn its back on its best friend. I did not understand the message our government thought it was sending to the rest of the world. If you do not support your friends, no one will ever trust you.
The United States supports Israel because the countries share the same values, but aside from that, when you look at the Middle East, Israel is the only ray of light that we really have on matters pertaining to values, human rights, democracy, and the like. It is impossible to talk about the Middle East without understanding the blessing that Israel shines on it. The Arab nations would only be so happy to have what Israel has—but they are still so bound by their cultures and traditions. But some day it will happen.
Israel will continue to be the military superpower that it is today, and the United States should always be there for them. We must not let you down again.”
She was also questioned about the United States’ detachment from the nuclear agreement with Iran, and the next steps of the free world power in its attempts to combat the terrorist regime in the Middle East.
Haley: “The biggest move that the United States made during my tenure was to break its deal with Iran. Almost everyone on the National Security Council advised the President not to withdraw from the deal—me and one other person gave him all the reasons why he should break away from it. I told the President, ‘Do not leave yet. Let me do the field work. I want to tell the American people and the International community why the deal with Iran is a threat.’ When we ran our publicity campaign, it gave the President the confidence to cancel the deal—and it’s one of the biggest things we accomplished.”
Iran is a huge threat—but today they are not the threat they were a year ago. In the past, we were worried about the possibility of an Iran with nuclear weapons. Today, the matters of concern are different. Back then, Iran literally received a plane full of money, and what did they do with it? They used this money to gain influence in the Middle East, with countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. Iran builds its outposts there because it has the resources to do so. When we disengaged from the agreement, we managed to reduce these resources. The Europeans resisted but it was only their ego that made them resist—they do not want to admit that they were wrong and that the deal with Iran was bad.
One of the most humble things you can do when looking back and reflecting on a deal that it isn’t working, is to be modest and say ‘I failed.’ We told the Europeans that we screwed up and have to get out of this deal. They were determined that it would continue on, but in reality, it was collapsing. Now, the European countries are trying to somehow preserve it, but it will never work. The most important thing we can do is to isolate Iran. If we continue with the country’s isolation, we will get the idea of a nuclear Iran out of their heads.”
Haley: “When I was little, I had a babysitter that always said: ‘No one can destroy what G-d has blessed.’ Standing by Israel was one of the easiest decisions I ever made.
The U.S. is now testing its allies—the previous administration just wanted everyone to love us and did everything for that to happen.
We had reached a situation where the UN Secretariat attempted to condemn us and led a decision against us when we supported the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. They all went against us, and then took it to the General Assembly in front of all 193 countries. I told the assembly I would take a look at the list and find those countries that receive and ask us for large military aid.
At that time, my staff created a book with all the voting countries. I took it to the President and told him, ‘I just want you to look at it. These are all the UN member states, and that is the money we give the countries each year,’ together with a summary of the percentage of time they support us in the UN.
Now, I do not think their support has to be the main factor for our assistance, but the President looked at the data book and just lost his mind—he couldn’t believe what he saw.
The point is that we are a very generous country. We are always there to help those in need and offer humanitarian aid because it’s just a matter of who we are as a nation. However, when it comes to uplifting and promoting other countries, we have to do it with, and for, the countries that are readily there to support us back. The most obvious example is Pakistan—we gave them a billion dollars in aid, and they turned around and armed terrorists who attempted to kill our soldiers! It did not make any sense, so we decided to stop the aid to Pakistan. It has nothing to do with the UN—it’s all about asking whether or not the countries are our friends. If so, they had to prove it. If they proved it, we would always be by their side—and I think there’s nothing wrong with demanding that. We have a lot of resources, and if we decide to give them to another country, we have to make sure that they are on our side.”
To conclude, Haley was asked about American politics and her future political ambitions—and no, she is not planning on running for presidency anytime soon. However, she had something to say about the political environment in the U.S. in general, and not only during the elections.
Haley: “We have to take a moment and see how toxic our political environment has become. On both ends of the political spectrum, there are no angels. It all starts with social media—they attack each other and before we know it, everyone becomes hostile and calling each other evil. Here I think we should stop. I saw evil in its worst form in South Sudan where rape was used as a weapon of war. I was at the Democratic Republic of the Congo and spoke to women whose children were kidnapped by the army and thrown into fire. I was in Venezuela and saw families dragging their children by foot for hours in terrible heat just to get a meal that would be their only one for that day. I saw Assad killing innocent children with chemical weapons. That’s evil.
Our political system consists mainly of different opinions and ideas. To a certain extent, it’s okay to disagree with the person in front of you, but you can do so in a way that encourages growth.
I went to see a play last week with my husband and in-laws and when I got up from my seat, a woman came up to me and said, ‘Ambassador Haley?’ I answered, ‘Yes?’ And she called out to me, ‘Shame on you.’ I hope that made her feel better, but I do not understand what she was talking about, and before I could even do anything about it, she was gone. If I managed to make her feel better about herself when she tried to insult me, then I’ll live with that. All I am saying is don’t try to insult each other and create hatred amongst one another. Even on our worst day, we are all lucky to be Americans.”
Haley received a massive round of applause and cheering from the audience who stood and parted from one of the great supporters Israel had known in recent years.
The question that remains is, did we witness a conversation with a future president of the United States once the Trump era ends? Only time will tell.
- Translated by Yael Sasonov
- Photos by Abraham Joseph Pal, Orly Halevy & Anthony RG
ELAD MASSURI IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.