A matter of values

While PM performed an important role by protecting Jews’ rights to live in Jerusalem, he should refrain in the future from deeming a US president disloyal to his or her country’s values.

Netanyahu speaks with Bob Schieffer on CBS's “Face the Nation”  (photo credit: screenshot)
Netanyahu speaks with Bob Schieffer on CBS's “Face the Nation”
(photo credit: screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lashed out at the Obama administration for criticizing Israeli construction in east Jerusalem.
In an interview taped last Thursday and broadcast Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation, Netanyahu said he does not accept restrictions on where Jews could live, and said that Jerusalem’s Arabs and Jews should be able to buy homes wherever they want.
“The idea that we’d have this ethnic purification as a condition for peace, I think it’s anti-peace,” Netanyahu added.
The prime minister was hinting at his vision of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that rejects the concept that a future Palestinian state must be Judenrein.
The principle that Jews should not be uprooted from their homes in east Jerusalem – or in Judea and Samaria for that matter – should be sacrosanct to any future arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel committed no crime by reuniting its capital as part of its defensive efforts against the combined armies of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt during the Six Day War.
It is abhorrent to entertain the idea that, after centuries of discrimination against Jews has finally come to an end and Jews have returned to the land, parts of the city of Jerusalem would be made off-limits to Jews. Jerusalem is the holiest city in Judaism – not in Islam nor in Christianity.
And against all the odds the city has had a nearly unbroken Jewish presence for centuries.
This is also true of the predominantly Arab neighborhood of Silwan, which has been the focus of so much of the international community’s consternation after a group of Jews bought houses in the neighborhood and moved in.
Yemenite Jews lived in Silwan until 1936, when a violent Arab uprising forced them out of their homes. Now Jews are returning. No amount of rioting on the part of Arabs should be allowed to prevent this.
However, while making the case for the right of Jews – and Arabs – to live in all parts of Jerusalem, Netanyahu made an unfortunate comment. He claimed that the White House’s criticism goes “against American values,” in an apparent reference to the right to access housing free from discrimination.
The White House’s reaction was not long in coming.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest replied: “When it comes to American values, it’s American values that led to this country’s unwavering support of Israel. It’s American values that have led us to fund and build an Iron Dome system to protect the lives of countless Israelis. It is clear how American values dictate or at least guide our thinking.”
While Netanyahu was right to defend the rights of Jews to live anywhere they want in the holy city, it is not the place of an Israeli prime minister to judge whether or not an America president, voted into office by a majority of voters, is living up to his country’s values. There is no small amount of chutzpah in the prime minister’s presumption that he knows better than US President Barack Obama what American values are.
To emphasize this point we could for a moment turn things around. How would Netanyahu feel if Obama told him that he was deviating from Israeli or Jewish values? Clearly this would be an affront to Netanyahu, a man steeped in Israeli and Jewish culture and history. This is like calling the rules in someone else’s game.
A US president might try to persuade an Israeli prime minister to return to negotiations with the Palestinians by arguing, say, that the pursuit of peace is a quintessentially Jewish value. He or she might also turn an Israeli prime minister’s attention to a Jewish text or saying as a way of making a point.
Obama did this in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in March, when he paraphrased the Jewish sage Hillel to make the point that Israel was running out of time to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.
“If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” Hillel’s dictum begins, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” It is a much different matter, however, to tell a nation’s leader that he or she is out of touch that nation’s values. So while Netanyahu performed an important role by protecting Jews’ rights to live in Jerusalem, he should refrain in the future from deeming a US president – or any other foreign leader – disloyal to his or her country’s values.