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Supporting Palestinian builders versus destroyers
DANIEL LUBETZKY: The last 10 days have been very, very, very hard. I’ve been sleeping four or five hours a day. As a son of a Holocaust survivor, to see people marching and saying, “Gas the jews,” I take that very personally.
My daughter came to me two days ago, and she said, “Daddy, I understand that you’re trying to help your friends in the Middle East, your Palestinian and Israeli colleagues, but you’re not smiling anymore.” And it just made me remember that I cannot let them diminish me. I’m going to choose to laugh. I’m going to choose to live. I’m going to choose to build. I’m going to choose to build bridges. And particularly now that there’s so much darkness, I’m going to choose to be a light.
And I want everybody that’s listening to you today to choose to be a light with me, to reach out to the other, and not allow the terrorists a victory because they want to divide us.
BOB SAFIAN: That’s Daniel Lubetzky, the founder of Kind Snacks and a longtime advocate of using business to foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
I’m Bob Safian, former editor of Fast Company, founder of The Flux Group, and host of Masters of Scale: Rapid Response.
I wanted to talk with Daniel because he has deep, longstanding relationships within both the Israeli and the Palestinian business communities. He’s been working to help colleagues evacuate from danger in Gaza, only to have their exit blocked by Hamas.
Daniel’s father was a Holocaust survivor, so he sees the conflict in Israel from a distinctive and personal perspective. He notes a stark delineation between Palestinians and those in Hamas, and he calls for a renewed focus on the builders in the Palestinian community who can forge a better future.
He also calls on business leaders in America and around the world to take a full-throated stand in these difficult times. It’s a passionate, heartfelt message, and one that any business person should think hard about in contemplating their priorities and the future they are trying to create. Let’s listen in.
SAFIAN: I’m Bob Safian. I’m here with Daniel Lubetsky, founder of Kind Snacks, who’s been working to bridge common ground between Israelis and Palestinians through the OneVoice movement and other initiatives. Daniel, thanks for joining us.
LUBETZKY: Thank you, Bob.
SAFIAN: So the last two weeks have seen a sequence of events in Israel and in Gaza threatened to spin out of control. You’ve dedicated many years to try soothing tensions in the region. It must be a challenging moment for you.
LUBETZKY: My father was in a concentration camp in Dachau. So even in spite of hearing of the atrocities that the Nazis did, other than with Isis and Al-Qaeda, I cannot think of people that did such horrible atrocities — stealing children and taking ’em to Gaza, entire family’s burned. The goal of terrorists is to divide, destroy, and diminish. They don’t just want to divide Israelis versus Palestinians. They aim to literally divide civilizations. The goal of Hamas is not to replace Israel with the Palestinian authority. Their goal is an Islamic caliphate all over the Middle East to replace Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and all other Arab countries with the most repressive of Islamic regimes. That is not the Islamic rule of all my Muslim friends, of which I have thousands. It’s the most repressive form that all of my Muslim friends would reject.
If you go to my channels, you can look at interviews of the Hamas people in their own words telling you that they don’t care about dying and they don’t care about killing and they don’t care if Palestinian people die because they’re all going to ascend to what they perceive as their form of heaven.
What Daniel Lubetzky is hearing from his colleagues in Israel
SAFIAN: You have colleagues in Israel, in Gaza, in the West Bank. What are you hearing from them?
LUBETZKY: I’ve been working in this space for over 30 years. People know me as the founder of Kind. I’m very proud of that, but well before Kind existed, I started a company, my first company called PeaceWorks right after law school to use business to bring neighbors together to use business to bring Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Turks, to trade with one another and use trade as a force for humanizing one another. And then to use vested economic interest to cement and deepen human relations between all peoples. And then I co-founded a movement called OneVoice with a friend of mine named Mohamed Darawshe, a Palestinian Muslim citizen of Israel, to amplify the voice of moderates that want to break the shackles of violent extremism and build a better future for all of the people of the region. And Bob Muhammad’s cousin, a Muslim nurse who was tending to the young people that were attending this peace music festival, was slaughtered by the terrorists.
The Israeli chairman of Daikenu, which is an offshoot of the OneVoice movement on the Israeli side — his son, Yaron, was also killed by terrorists. Johan, the nephew of our other prior chairman was also killed by terrorists. And here you have Muslims and Jews killed by terrorists — destroyers versus builders. The terrorists are the destroyers, and these are builders, Muslim and Jewish, Palestinian and Israeli that want to build a better future for their people.
We have staff in Gaza that are trying to escape Gaza, and we have ways to get them out. But Hamas has blocked all exits. They’ve bombed roads, they block roads. This is from our Palestinian staff in Gaza that are telling us they’re not able to get out because Hamas will not let them evacuate. And we’ve evacuated Palestinian staff from Gaza in the past when Hamas threatened their lives.
One of them is Al Mai, who now lives here in the United States and works with us. Hamas put rocket launches in his house — this in a prior conflict. When they put rocket launches in somebody’s home, what that means is that that home is going to be destroyed. They throw the rockets, then the Israeli defense forces try to destroy the rockets and then destroy the houses of these innocent civilians. Now after this massacre, they’re continuing to throw rockets at Israel. I cannot imagine how this conflict ends without dismantling the terrorist Hamas infrastructure.
I’m not an Israeli, I’m a confused Mexican Jew very passionate to be an American, and I’m very passionate to have countless friendships with Palestinians, with Muslims, with Arabs that I’ve built over the last 30 years. It’s going to be very painful, but I don’t think there’s a way to build without first dismantling the Hamas infrastructure.
SAFIAN: Your efforts have always been around supporting and encouraging moderates to have support. And it sounds like for you, for your colleagues in Israel and in Gaza, it’s harder to be moderate than it was. This has basically forced you into positions that maybe you didn’t want to take and they may be exactly the position Hamas wants you in.
LUBETZKY: When you see insensitivity of either side towards the humanity of the other, that’s literally what Hama wants. So a Palestinian kid in Chicago was killed by his landlord. It was horrible. And fortunately, the Jewish community in Chicago showed a lot of solidarity to the Muslim community and condemned the murder. But all of us, when our people are getting hurt, all of us become tribal. It’s a natural instinct, and that’s what Hamas wants. And it’s okay to show solidarity with your people, but it’s very important now more than ever to not play into their goals and to show humanity for all sides. And while we do need to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure that Hamas created, we need to minimize any suffering to any Israelis or Palestinians.
How business can foster peace
SAFIAN: You’re not a politician, you’re a business person, and your goals have advanced to sort of foster peace through business. In a moment like this, what can business do?
LUBETZKY: I think the most important thing is to speak with moral clarity. Any tolerance towards terrorists is disrespectful to humanity. I think there has to be very clear condemnation of terrorism, and we can add to that that we have empathy towards all of the people that are suffering as a consequence. We’ve personally donated $2.4 million to humanitarian efforts to help the victims of terror. And we’re deploying the Frontline Impact project to help both Israeli and Palestinian civilians that are impacted by the war. We have a hundred corporations in our network, and we’re inviting all of them to donate pallet size quantities of products that we’re flying into the region to help Palestinians and Israelis suffering as a result.
And I also have to say condemning antisemitism and condemning any discrimination against human beings. If anybody reacts with Islamophobia and attacks all Muslims, I condemn it without equivocation. And if anybody marches in the streets of Europe or the United States saying “death to Jews,” “gas the Jews” as they did in Australia, that stuff has to be condemned. Any corporation that chose not to speak up after 9/11, not to speak up after Russia’s attacks against Ukraine, not to speak up after the horrible murder of George Floyd can be excused for saying, “we don’t ever comment,” but if you’ve spoken in the past about any of these horrible things to be silent, when you’re facing people marching and saying “death to Jews” is morally repugnant. And frankly, it’s very, very scary because they burned the synagogue in Tunisia. Now more than ever, these things have consequences dehumanizing any people, whether it’s Jewish, Muslim, Christian or otherwise, we need to all stand against it.
SAFIAN: There are business leaders who I’ve heard from who want to say something but struggle with what the right thing to say is or how to say it to their people.
Why Daniel Lubetzky wants to build a movement of builders
LUBETZKY: What’s most striking is that the terrorists did all of this job. They filmed and documented all of this stuff and they posted it on their own channels. So only people that want to be blind and ignore it can ignore their heinous crimes. But you’re right, Bob, it’s always been very hard during times of war to trust sources and now it’s even worse than that because people live in echo chambers. All of my Jewish and pro-Israel friends are sharing content with each other and they think that they’re doing something constructive, but it’s just speaking to the group that is already convinced about their cause.
And then all of my Palestinian and Muslim friends are speaking again amongst themselves, and they’re not seeing each other, they’re not understanding each other. They’re not educating each other. They’re certainly not growing. They’re only showing hatred towards the other group because they are only being fed what they want to hear. And so it’s very problematic.
I think the only solution out of this is to transcend our silos and reframe this and build a movement of builders. We’ve been trying to do it for 30 years. We’re going to double down on doing that. We’re going to build a movement of builders versus destroyers that’s going to help show how Palestinian entrepreneurs, Israeli inventors, Muslim and Jewish teachers, are builders, and terrorists on either side, whether it’s Israeli or Palestinian, that deny the humanity of the other side is a destroyer.
And there are some amongst our Israeli friends, and they need to be isolated, and removed from power. We cannot continue allowing extremists to rule us. The extremists wake up in the morning and they’re like, “how can I advance my cause?” And the moderates wake up in the morning, they’re like, “what am I going to have for breakfast?” And this is the problem: One single monster can derail our efforts unless we all stand up with a voice. The evolution in my thinking is that it’s good to be a moderate, but a builder needs to act. So we need to take action.
SAFIAN: Daniel has insight into both the Israeli and Palestinian communities, and his stories show how accessing a diversity of perspectives can impact your view of a situation. After the break, he’ll share his ideas for the kinds of actions we need to take. We’ll be right back.
SAFIAN: Before the break, we heard Kind founder Daniel Lubetsky talk about his 30 years of building relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, and how the conflict with Hamas has altered that dynamic.
Now he talks about why the role of business is important in any solution, and how to build bridges in the region and beyond. Plus his proposed solution to help Palestinians in Gaza, which he admits is highly imperfect.
Your initial impulse that you can foster peace through business. You’re still as committed to that as ever, or has this turn of events sort of made you question to some extent what that kind of business collaboration can do?
LUBETZKY: Business collaboration can never be a sufficient solution. You need political resolution to the conflict. You need an educational element for people to be taught this humanity and empathy and respect for the other. But the business aspect cannot not be underestimated to build a better future for the people. And building includes building businesses that can provide people employment and opportunities.
Choosing to be a light during dark times
SAFIAN: You’ve worked for decades in this area, and now there’s been a major setback. That’s gotta be frustrating.
LUBETZKY: Look, the last 10 days have been very, very, very hard. I’ve been sleeping four or five hours a day. As a son of a Holocaust survivor to see people marching and saying, “gas the Jews,” I take that very personally. My daughter came to me two days ago and she said, “Daddy, I understand that you’re trying to help your friends in the Middle East, your Palestinian Israeli colleagues, but you’re not smiling anymore.” And it just made me remember that I cannot let them diminish me. I’m going to choose to laugh. I’m going to choose to live. I’m going to choose to build. I’m going to choose to build with others. And particularly now that there’s so much darkness, I’m going to choose to be a light.
And I want everybody that’s listening to you today to choose to be a light with me and to build bridges and to reach out to the other and to reach out with humanity and not allow the terrorists a victory because they want to divide us. So we need to deny them by uniting for a solution that’s going to deliver to Israelis, Palestinians, and all of the people of the region. And it’s not just an issue that stays in the Middle East. It’s going to impact all of us on our shores. Every single person that’s listening to your podcast is going to be impacted by this and their children.
It’s a civilizational effort of voices of light, Muslim, Jewish, and Christians, voices of light. The overwhelming majority of Imams and Muslim leaders condemn Hamas terror as inconsistent with Islamic values, but their voices don’t get out. We just need to join together. If we don’t, it’s going to end with Europe and the United States and all of the world being invaded by hatred. What’s happening in Ukraine is connected. There are rumors that Putin funded Hamas.
He certainly is happy to see the United States have to open another front defending and supporting Israel. And Iran sends drones to Russia to attack innocent Ukrainians. Forces of totalitarianism and hatred are aligned in trying to prevent liberal democracies. And so we need to stand up and defend democratic society, defend freedom, humanity, respect, kindness, and understand that we cannot just live in our cocoons.
How listeners can help
SAFIAN: If I’m inspired by this and I want to support the organization or send some money, where do I find the right places to do that?
LUBETZKY: Look up onevoicemovement.org, a movement of Israelis and Palestinians that are speaking one voice against extremism. If you go to the Lubetsky Family Foundation website, there’s resources of organizations you can support. If any corporate CEO wants to donate products or services, they should look at Frontline Impact. We started it during Covid because we wanted to donate kind bars to hospitals and first responders. And we have over a hundred corporations that donated, and after Covid, we repurposed it to help Ukraine. And now we’re also deploying it to help humanitarian relief efforts in the Middle East. But honestly, Bob, even more important than donating money is taking a stance in being a builder rather than destroyer. Please join me on my social media to start learning how you can be part of this solution.
SAFIAN: The imperative to destroy Hamas seems like it could sacrifice a lot of Palestinian lives in the process, and that repercussion is reprehensible in all kinds of ways. And I just wonder how you square those two things.
LUBETZKY: Yeah, I have an answer to that, and it’s a very imperfect answer, but I think you have to minimize any casualties to Palestinians, and the way you do it is you freed up some land in some neighborhoods, you invite Palestinians to come and have safe passage into those areas, and then you can start building with them. And you get the United States community, the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Palestinian entrepreneurs, the Israeli entrepreneurs, everybody to invest billions of dollars in building a Gaza that people can be proud of. Hamas has been in control of Gaza for over 15 years. They’ve had the chance and opportunity to build a society that they could be proud of. Instead, they use that to throw rocket attacks.
It is sadly not tenable for them to stay in power because it’s going to continue enslaving, not just the south of Israel and Israelis in general, but also the Palestinian victims. Now, Israel has to do a better job at resolving the Palestinian conflict. The Palestinian authority has to do a better job. Everybody has to do a better job, but Hamas cannot be part of the equation. The Palestinian authorities know it. It’s unpopular for them to say it because right now, Palestinians are upset at Israelis, but everybody that you see behind the scenes, the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, they all understand this.
My Israeli Palestinian friends or American friends say, “but look at the suffering this is going to be,” and I agree, but I do not know a way that we can ultimately help build a Palestinian state in peace with Israel without first dislodging Hamas from control of Gaza. I just logically cannot see how that happens. You need to give Palestinians hope. You need to invest in humanitarian aid to all the civilians. It’s horrible when they are in the line of fire. We need to do everything in our power to minimize Israeli and Palestinian casualties. But I have to imagine intellectually and legally and emotionally that you have to ultimately dislodge Hamas from power. They don’t have a moral right to exist after what they did.
SAFIAN: Well, these are very difficult times, and I appreciate your taking the time to talk with us about it.
LUBETZKY: Thank you, Bob.
SAFIAN: Listening to Daniel, you can hear him struggling to stay logical and calm in a situation that is highly emotional. We all carry preconceived notions, and that can be a barrier to true clarity. Only by engaging with those who seem different than us, and being open to learning, even when it makes us uncomfortable, can we grow as business people, as leaders, and as humans. I’m Bob Safian, thanks for listening.