Netanyahu’s comment on Arab voting is American Jewry’s white-and-gold dress

Get ready for a wrenching – and fascinating – episode in American Jewish life.

By DAVID BENKOF
March 23, 2015 09:01
3 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST,JPOST STAFF)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election day exhortation of his supporters to vote since Arabs were already doing so “in droves” has become the white-and-gold dress of the American Jewish community.

(I’m referring, of course, to the outfit whose picture has been zipping around the Internet, appearing to some viewers as blue-and-black, and to others as white-and-gold. Nobody sees it as both or neither.) Some American Jews are furious that Israel’s leader would appeal to the basest instincts of Israeli voters to motivate them to get to the polls. They are embarrassed that the most prominent Israeli in the world sounded like a racist demagogue. Some have even begun to reconsider the extent and nature of their support for an Israel that overwhelmingly reelected such a person.

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Other American Jews are mystified about what’s upsetting the first group.

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They say Netanyahu’s remarks opposed only the policies of Arab voters, not their ethnicity, and that he was condemning the use of foreign money to bus them to the polls. More importantly, they’re so relieved that Israel has reelected the only leader willing to stand up to the existential threats the nation faces that they cannot fathom the other group’s petty quibbling.

Nobody sees it as both or neither.

Already, major Jewish organizations are taking sides – and not always the ones you’d expect. Conservative Judaism’s Rabbinical Assembly (RA) issued a statement condemning Netanyahu’s “singling out Arab citizens for exercising their legitimate right to vote,” and saying “it is incumbent upon Jews around the world to denounce the Prime Minister’s divisive and undemocratic statement.”

Abraham Foxman is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which boasts that it “fights all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.” Yet he rejected the RA’s stance, telling New York’s Jewish Week that it was “an “intemperate, inappropriate overreaction” to simple “election overzealousness.”

Now, in the last few days, Netanyahu has tried to walk back his remarks, saying he is the prime minister of “all Israel’s citizens.” But you can’t unring a bell. Jews in the United States are extremely sensitive to racism – albeit in two directions. They hate seeing it, but they also hate being accused of it.

And this situation provokes each of those reactions among different groups of American Jews.

The impact of Netanyahu’s remark is just beginning to emerge, but it will go far beyond Jewish organizational divisiveness.

Israel supporters on campus will face renewed claims that Israel is a racist state. The contrasting approaches to Israel advocacy of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and J Street will come into sharper focus. But perhaps most significantly, Hillary Clinton will be forced to disclose what color dress she sees.

There will be no middle ground. So get ready for a wrenching – and fascinating – episode in American Jewish life.

The author is senior political analyst for the Daily Caller, where a version of this essay first appeared. He edits the Jerusalem Post Crossword Puzzle, which appears every Friday in the Metro and In Jerusalem sections. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter (@DavidBenkof); or e-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.


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