PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu votes Tuesday in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week, the citizens of Israel took to the polls to exercise their democratic duty and select those who will lead their country over the next few years, including their next prime minister. For Americans, living in the democracy that all other modern democracies model themselves after, we sometimes fall into the trap of taking our democratic rights for granted. But democracy is a remarkable achievement for a nation, no less for one so young as Israel, struggling to defend itself in a region dominated by autocracies.
We must not underestimate the strength this democratic process lends to the State of Israel, as it does any democratic nation, as something worthy of celebration. The success of these elections proves once more that US support for Israel is intrinsically tied to our shared values of democracy and freedom, and reinforces the necessity of American support remaining steadfast for the only democracy in the Middle East.
A week after the 2019 Israeli elections, it is safe to assume that Benjamin Netanyahu will continue to lead Israel as its prime minister and head of government. On behalf of the organization I lead, the American Jewish Congress, I congratulate him on this achievement.
With this being’s his fifth term, Mr. Netanyahu is on track to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, surpassing even David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first premier and the leader who declared Israel’s independence in 1948. As PM Netanyahu ushers in this new era, I believe his upcoming term has the potential to pave a path toward a new era in US-Israel relations, solidifying his legacy as a venerated leader deserving of his long tenure. As such, I believe the prime minister’s priorities should include three issues that are critical to the future of US-Israel relations.
First and foremost, the prime minister should focus on encouraging and facilitating strong bipartisan support for Israel in the US Congress. For decades, American support for Israel from both parties was assured. Recently, however, Israel has been losing support in the Democratic Party, which is increasingly bowing to the ever-strengthening voices of far-left, anti-Israel progressives such as Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.
YOU NEEDN’T look too far to see Democratic support for Israel waning; 21 Democratic senators, nearly half of all Senate Democrats, recently voted against legislation to counter the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement – a movement not only intended to cause direct economic and cultural harm to one of the United States’ closest allies, but one which challenges Israel’s legitimacy to exist, and which has been proven to have numerous ties to US-designated terrorist organizations. Now is the time to change direction and send a clear message to the Democratic leadership and the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in 2020: Israel and the United States are both stronger and more capable when united than apart, as are Democrats and Republicans.
Second, the new Israeli government should work to further strengthen the bond between Israel and the American Jewish community. With his eloquent, Philadelphia-accented English and two degrees from MIT, Prime Minister Netanyahu is often considered to be the “most American” of Israel’s prime ministers (excepting only perhaps Israel’s fourth prime minister, Wisconsin-raised Golda Meir). He feels the pulse of the American people and has an intuitive grasp of the sentiments of the American Jewish community.
As a result, he is often torn between American Jews’ idealistic vision for Israel and the hard political realities he faces at home. This conflict is made all the more complicated by influence of the ultra-Orthodox religious establishment, which frequently clashes with the Jewish pluralism many Jewish Americans long for. With his reelection, PM Netanyahu has the opportunity to bridge what many see as a growing divide between Israel and the Diaspora. The US and Israel have the world’s two largest Jewish communities. In order to reconnect them, the PM’s message must be one of inclusion, unity and shared destiny.
Last, and perhaps most important, I call on the prime minister to commit to working with the Trump administration to reach a true peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority, and to further normalize relations with the Arab world. Such an achievement would not only cement Netanyahu as one of Israel’s great leaders, but will bring about a monumental shift in global politics in favor of Israel and the lens through which the international community views issues such as antisemitism, BDS, and Israel’s legitimacy, both as a sovereign nation and as the Jewish State. Following the election, President Trump said he thinks “We have a better chance [for peace] now that Bibi has won.” Let’s do our part to ensure this chance is realized in full.
Elections are both the bedrock of democracy and a celebration of our ability to decide our own destinies. By once again winning the confidence of his people, Prime Minister Netanyahu has a renewed mandate to lead Israel toward a better future of its own choosing. I wish him and the people of Israel great success.The writer is president of the American Jewish Congress.
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