US President Barack Obama (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had two goals on his trip to the US this past week, both of which are connected to the “Year of Iran” and the relationship between the two countries. Netanyahu’s main goal was to rehabilitate his relationship with US President Barack Obama and, if possible, to turn over a new leaf. The secondary goal of the trip was to get rid of the cloud that has been casting its shadow over Israel and the American Jewish community for the last 12 months due to the looming Iranian deal. The Israeli public followed the details of the Netanyahu trip with great interest, waiting for theatrical developments to take place, which never did.
The Israeli public was less interested, however, in how Netanyahu’s trip affected the American Jewish community. Israelis in general are pretty indifferent to goings on across the sea, and has not been paying much attention to the incredible drama that’s been unfolding there over the past year. In effort to rectify this situation, I’ve established in conjunction with the Ruderman Family Foundation a Knesset lobby for US-Israeli relations, which will actively work to do just that. In fact, on November 23, we will be hosting US Sen. Joe Lieberman and we will continue to make considerable efforts to educate Israeli legislators about the importance of the trilateral relationship between the US government, Israel, and the American Jewish community.
The day Netanyahu decided to openly attack the American administration and its leader Obama over the Iran deal, the American Jewish community was propelled into crisis mode. When he chose the US Congress as his battlefield in his effort to block the deal with Iran through the actions of American legislators, Netanyahu exacerbated the distress of the American Jewish community. And finally, by gaining AIPAC’s full public and political support in its effort to combat the Iran deal, Israel brought about tremendous internal strife within the organization itself, as well as between AIPAC and other American Jewish organizations. In military terms, the prime minister pulled out his heaviest guns and went to war and American Jews suddenly found themselves against their will in a battlefield they hadn’t even realized they’d entered.
For generations, American Jews have lived successfully and comfortably with a mixture of American patriotism and a love for Israel. This combination allowed them to feel proud to be Americans and also fulfilled their aspirations as Jews and Zionists. For generations, Zionist Americans have been working hard to forge a special relationship between the US and Israel, and this has turned out to be one of our most important strategic assets. The dual loyalty dilemma, which came up countless times over this past year, is a subject that every Jewish man and woman in America tries not to think much about.
In their minds, there is no question of divided loyalties. They are loyal to the US, but love Israel with all their heart and soul. They are incredibly concerned about their fellow Jews’ safety and so they take great efforts to help Israel politically and economically.
Therefore, the prime minister spoke this week at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, which as a bipartisan organization was the perfect venue for Netanyahu to appeal to the American Jewish community in its entirety and for him to express Israel and American Jews’ shared values and tight connection. The prime minister also decided that this was an appropriate occasion to proclaim that all American Jews have the right to feel at home in Israel, and so he promised that the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency would invest in the development and cultivation of the Reform and Conservative communities in Israel. This proclamation was, of course, loudly applauded, since most American Jews affiliate with these two streams of Judaism.
In Israel, the ratio is exactly reversed. The number of Israelis who identify with the Reform and Conservative communities is tiny, and these communities are terribly marginalized by the religious establishment, which controls all religion-related issues in Israel.
There have been numerous disputes between the liberal Jewish communities in Israel and the religious establishment, such as the Women of the Wall’s battle for the right to pray at the Kotel, which has aroused the anger of Orthodox men and women in Israel. Many Israelis were unhappy when they heard the things Netanyahu told the American Jewish community this week, especially Orthodox government coalition members who have no intention of changing their attitude toward the Israeli Reform and Conservative communities anytime soon.
The prime minister could soon find himself at odds with the American Jewish community if he doesn’t find a way to fulfill the promises he made.
Moreover, the fancy words the prime minister used this week in Washington have limited value, since just a few days ago Netanyahu ordered the Israeli consulates in Atlanta, Philadelphia and San Francisco be closed. This is a serious mistake. The closing of these consulates will have a direct impact on the Jewish communities in these areas and on the overall relations between Israel the general public in these regions. At times like the present, when Israel needs every friend it can get, Netanyahu is endangering the friendships we have instead of embracing them.
The prime minister must understand that the words that leave his mouth do not evaporate into the air. He must prove that he is carrying out every task he has committed himself to. It is essential that he carry out the promises he made to the Reform and Conservative communities in Israel. This is an opportunity he cannot miss. Moreover, he must deal immediately to repair the intolerable damage he is causing by ordering the closure of the Israeli consulates in the US, which will have a serious detrimental effect on the American Jewish community.
Many Israeli will be watching closely to ensure that Netanyahu can not only speak spectacularly fluent English, but that he can follow through on his promises. Remember: Actions speak louder than words.The author is a member of Knesset from the Zionist Union Party, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and the author of a book called Milhamedia.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.