The results of Israel’s recent election have left us with one unmistakable takeaway: Israelis support Netanyahu.
Despite multiple predictions of defeat – including exit polls released the night of the election – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won a stunning victory, trouncing adversaries on both ends of the political spectrum and securing his place in Israeli history as its longest-serving premier. I have known Netanyahu for nearly 30 years, ever since he came to speak for me at Oxford. His irrepressible Jewish pride and desire to defend his people was strongly in evidence then.
It has never diminished.
But probing deeper, while voters have shown that they appreciate Netanyahu’s general platform, they seem to strongly endorse one particular end of it: the extension of Israeli sovereignty over majority-Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, known in political vernacular as Area C.
Days before the election, the prime minister vowed, out of the blue, to annex these areas should he win another term. “You are asking whether we are moving on to the next stage,” he explained to a reporter. “The answer is yes; we will move to the next stage. I am going to extend [Israeli] sovereignty, and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements.”
The meaning of this plea to right-wing Israeli voters – who now constitute the undisputed majority of Israelis – figures clearly in the data. In the month before Netanyahu announced his commitment to annex Area C, Likud was predicted by polls to earn from 26 to 31 seats. Two days after Netanyahu tossed the bombshell to the press, his party won an astounding 36 seats in Israel’s 21st Knesset.
But American Jews were less impressed.
In a letter to US President Donald Trump published this past Thursday, nine Jewish groups gathered to condemn Israel’s prime minister for his pledge to extend Israeli sovereignty to the heart of the Jewish biblical homeland. The letter – signed by such major American Jewish groups as the Anti-Defamation League, the Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism – laid down the belief that Netanyahu’s proposed extensions of sovereignty would “create intense divisions in the United States and make unwavering support for Israel and its security far more difficult to maintain.”
Another voice amid the chorus was that of legal scholar and Democratic Israel-advocate Alan Dershowitz. In a tweet released around the same time as the letter to President Trump, Dershowitz congratulated the prime minister before instructing him in matters of policy.
“Mazal tov to Israeli PM Netanyahu, who I’ve known since he was a student at MIT.” Dershowitz tweeted, before adding that he was “waiting for the new peace plan to be implemented.” He then specified exactly how it had to be done: “[It’s] time for a fair two-state solution that assures Israel’s security.”
First, someone ought to notify Dershowitz that Netanyahu is no longer a student at MIT. He is a public servant, and takes his assignments from the people he represents, not academics. Why is Dershowitz publicly lecturing Israelis about a Palestinian state – which would directly threaten Israel’s existence?
The contents of the letter from the nine American Jewish leaders was also misguided. The message advances the oft-told warnings that annexing sections of Area C would intensify the conflict with the Palestinians; undermine – “if not eradicate” – Israel’s security coordination with the Palestinian Authority; and bolster efforts, such as BDS, that seek to isolate Israel.
WHILE THERE is merit to these ideas, they’re far from accepted truth. On the contrary, these sound exactly like the warnings of a global backlash we heard before Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, or the warnings to Trump that recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would ignite a firestorm.
The results were notably underwhelming. Israel has rarely experienced more favorable standing among the Gulf states than it does today (with the exceptions of Iran and its ally Qatar). Israel has, under Bibi’s leadership, also ramped up its connections with Muslim states in Africa – including Mali, Somalia and the Republic of Guinea, which recently renewed diplomatic relations with Israel for the first time in nearly 50 years. The sitting president of Chad even visited Israel last year – a first for the African-Muslim nation. In the Gulf, the world recently witnessed Israeli ministers publicly visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Netanyahu even paid a visit of his own to the Sultan of Oman – in Oman.
As for security cooperation with the PA, there are these considerations: Most of the terrorism that Israel currently faces is a product of the Oslo Accords of 1994, and the withdrawal from Gaza of 2005. In the Second Intifada, PA guns were actively set against Israeli soldiers and civilians. So it’s hard to argue that Israel should make critical security decisions based on what the PA has to say.
However, far more outrageous than what the letter said was who it was addressed to. Amazingly, this letter wasn’t written as a plea to the Israeli public, as it should have been, nor to Israel’s prime minister – but to President Trump.
Let that sink in: Mainstream American Jewish groups are demanding that their president take action to subdue a sitting Israeli prime minister days after he won an election.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen American Jews trying to force-fit Israeli policies into their own idealistic molds. But it is the first time they asked an American president to do it for them.
In a twist stranger than fiction, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rose to defend Netanyahu from mainstream American groups. Asked whether he thought Netanyahu “vowing to annex the West Bank” could hurt the administration’s upcoming peace plan, Pompeo answered, “I don’t.”
In the same interview, Secretary Pompeo would go on to capture the very frustration with the peace process that drove so many Israelis to reject a two-state solution. “We’ve had a lot of ideas for 40 years. They did not deliver peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Our idea is to put forward a vision that has ideas that are new, that are different, that are unique – that tries to reframe and reshape what’s been an intractable problem.”
It’s a fair point. Israel has been wandering through decades of negotiations, trying to create a Palestinian state, and has watched their efforts go up in the smoke of suicide bombs. This became especially pronounced when Israel withdrew fully from Gaza, only to watch it fall to Hamas and become a permanent launching pad for terror and rockets.
American Jews don’t have to agree with Israel on all points. But let them at least agree that Israel is a sovereign nation and a democracy – mature enough, wise enough and courageous enough to chart its own way.The writer, ‘America’s Rabbi,’ is the author of 32 books including The Israel Warrior. The Washington Post and Newsweek call him ‘the most famous Rabbi in America.’ Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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