It was Yogi Berra, the great New York Yankee catcher, who said: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Our prime minister has resurrected his persona as an obstructionist, who can consistently conjure up a lie faster than he can acknowledge the truth. Interior Minister Eli Yishai authorizes the construction of 1,600 housing units in east Jerusalem, and Netanyahu claims he knew nothing about it – including the timing of the announcement. With that most gratuitous statement, he has proven once again that he does not possess even a modicum of integrity.
The timing of the announcement, when US Vice President Joe Biden was in town to jump-start the moribund peace process, is no less troubling than the fact of the continued settlement enterprise, which is a clear impediment to peace, particularly the evacuation of Arab families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, which has attracted worldwide attention, labeling us as an outlaw nation. It has invited Palestinian violence likened to that which happened when Netanyahu, in his first time around as prime minister, opened the tunnel that borders the foundations of Al-Haram al-Sharif, the third holiest site to Muslims. I am sure that President Barack Obama, like president Bill Clinton before him, is shaking his head in bewilderment at the brashness of such a defiant move.
It is the Wye Plantation agreement all over again: sign an accord with the Palestinians on returning a minuscule parcel of land in the West Bank to them, only to turn around and build the controversial settlement of Har Homa, between Sur Bahir and Bethlehem, thereby undermining any progress toward peace. Netanyahu seems to derive sadistic pleasure from spitting in the face of Israel ’s most trusted ally, the US.
BUT, HE is also alienating another staunch supporter of the State of Israel – the American Jewish community. As I conclude my travels in the States, I have not found one Jew here who understands why Netanyahu’s government would commit such a foolish act. American Jews are sorely embarrassed, as Israel has raised the ugly specter of “dual loyalty.” In addition to appearing before American Jewish audiences, I also spoke to non-Jewish forums, presenting a balanced understanding of the Middle East conflict and decrying the double standards that are unfairly applied to Israel.
I specifically addressed the latest Presbyterian onslaught with its prejudicial call for a boycott and divestment. Coming from the human rights world, supposedly liberal Christians, critical of Israel, were inclined to give me a sympathetic ear. Without exaggerating my influence, I believe that in many cases I succeeded in opening their eyes to the complexities of the conflict, pointing out that there are two narratives that dominate the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians.
And here comes good old Bibi with his declaration of further settlement building. There was no way I could put this latest “slap in the face” to America in a positive light. Netanyahu is simply not considered a credible partner to peace, no matter how much he tries to sweet-talk the American administration.
I was reluctant to tell my audiences, particularly the non-Jewish ones, that America should call Israel on the carpet – not by expressions of admonition that have little or no impact, but rather by bold actions. During the senior Bush’s term in office, he withheld aid designated to help settle the masses of Russian Jews that were arriving in Israel after the breakdown of the former Soviet Union because prime minister Yitzhak Shamir refused to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians. Shamir bent, participating in the Madrid Conference, and economic aid began to flow.
President Jimmy Carter had his period of “reevaluation” to apply pressure upon Israel that eventually led to the Egypt-Israel peace agreement. Then there was the famous quote by secretary of state James Baker, who said: “Here is the White House telephone number, call when you are serious about making peace.”
THE OBAMA administration must do the same because today the stakes are much higher. The more the settlements expand – and let’s not kid ourselves, settlement building is taking place all over the West Bank, not just in east Jerusalem – the less likely a two-state solution will be an option. Jewish settlements are dividing the West Bank into cantons, making it virtually impossible for the Palestinians to establish a state that would have territorial contiguity.
If Netanyahu wants to avoid US pressure, from supporting sanctions against us in the UN to a freeze on economic and possibly military aid, as well as suspending strategic cooperation in dealing with Iran, he must jettison the right-wingers in his coalition, particularly those who operate under the guise of a religious mandate to hold onto all of “Greater Israel.”
He must send that court jester, Eli Yishai, back to the arms of his medieval guru, Ovadia Yosef, and the xenophobic Avigdor Lieberman to some totalitarian country where he would fit in just fine. He could more than make up for their loss by bringing Kadima into his government, offering it a fair share of ministerial posts.
Netanyahu need not worry about the Labor Party abandoning him. Its ideological worldview as a social-democratic party has long ago given way to political expediency. Ehud Barak, Isaac Herzog, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Avishay Braverman, et al. have become window-dressing, willing dupes for Netanyahu’s bankrupt foreign policy. If the Labor Party wishes to maintain any self-respect, it should threaten to leave the coalition unless Israel Beiteinu and Shas are immediately expelled.
Netanyahu has reinterpreted the talmudic dictum “Who is a hero – the one who turns his enemy into a friend” to mean “Who is a hero – the one who turns his friend into an enemy.”
But ultimately, it is we who are to blame for the present situation, that is the liberals and even centrists within the Israeli population. Why are not we out in the public square protesting the deceptions of the Netanyahu government that are leading us down a dead-end street, subverting any hope of achieving peace, the age-old dream of the Jewish people?
We have become silent partners in inviting international pressure and
sanctions, providing tangible fodder for those who challenge Israel’s
legitimacy as a Jewish state. We have placed the American Jewish
community in an intolerable situation, where it feels it has to choose
between its Americanism and its Zionism. With one swift irrational
move, Netanyahu has caused what could be irreparable damage to Israel.
The only force that can save us from ourselves is the United States,
but only if it acts with resolve, not through words, but with deeds –
telling Netanyahu that it will no longer tolerate “déjà vu all over
The writer is a Reform rabbi, author, lecturer and ongoing contributor to
The Jerusalem Post Magazine.