Netanyahu’s dismantling relationship with US Jewry

It is a spectrum, and we all shift back and forth across it through different personal experiences and changing times in our lives.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: REUTERS)
PM Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Say you had a friend who always asked for favors, but never returned them when needed. What would you do? It is safe to assume you would stop being their friend. And what if it was a relative? That would complicate things, of course. On the one hand, you wouldn’t want to push them out of your life, on the other hand, you can’t keep silently accepting their behavior.
This, I imagine, is how the members of the Jewish Agency Board of Trustees felt this week. For decades, they spend their days relentlessly defending Israel from those seeking to delegitimize it. And then, one fine day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inflicts a burning insult on them, creating an impossible situation that forces them to cancel a meeting with him. Clearly, they do not want to completely turn their backs on him, but they simply cannot ignore last week’s events.
To me, the Jewish people are a family. Even the most secular parents can imagine their dear sons and daughters becoming more religious. Just like even the most strictly religious parents know that some of their children may decide to secularize. It is a spectrum, and we all shift back and forth across it through different personal experiences and changing times in our lives.
Implementing the recent government decision would unravel the sacred filial bond between Diaspora Jewry and us, the one that makes us one people. From an historic perspective, it would amount to making an ugly dent in the Jewish narrative. A story that withstood 2,000 years of exile, but might not survive the Jewish state’s disassociation from our brothers and sisters overseas.
It is not clear what gives the archaic, anti-Zionist rabbinic establishment in Israel the audacity to disregard the connection of millions of our people to Judaism.
Netanyahu, by repudiating his promise to establish a shared praying section in the Western Wall and deciding to promote the national conversion legislation, circumventing a Supreme Court ruling, is not only cynically surrendering to that rabbinic establishment, but also endangering Israel’s relationship with some of its strongest and most important Jewish allies, demonstrating just how empty is his pretension to be a messiah of Israel’s foreign relations.
The contribution of Jewish community worldwide, and particularly American Jewry, to Israel’s strength and security is invaluable. American Jews’ commitment to the future of the Jewish state is manifested in its effort to continually ensuring the White House and Congress provides Israel essential defense aid and diplomatic backing. Jews around the globe express their unity with their brethren living in Israel and support for the Zionist enterprise through generous donations and investments in our country, economy and society.
It is this deeply rooted fraternity that Netanyahu is dismantling. When he makes it clear to Reform and Conservative Jews, who comprise the vast majority of American Jews (only 15% of whom are Orthodox), that their Judaism has no place in Israel, Netanyahu accepts their status as second-rate Jews and disparages the deep emotional connection between all of us. Even more so, this disdainful policy contradicts the brave relationship the State of Israel has tirelessly worked to create with Diaspora Jews as a whole and particularly with the prosperous Jewish community of its greatest ally, the United States.
Just last week I returned from a mission in Australia, during which I held a series of meetings with local Jewish community leaders and worked to convince my colleagues in the Australian Labor Party to maintain their support for Israel. I reminded those Labor members that even if they disagree with Israeli government policy, they must not give up on all Israelis. It appears that while I and many other Israelis are working to strengthen the bond with our closest allies, Netanyahu does all he can to push them away.
During World War II, David Ben-Gurion said we, Zionists, must support the British Armed Forces as if there were no White Paper (a British policy document that severely constricted Jewish immigration to then British Palestine) while fighting the White Paper as if there was no war in Europe. We, the reasonable Zionists, must continue defending the State of Israel around the world, while combating Netanyahu’s government policy at home. The Jewish community shouldn’t be misled by Netanyahu’s failed appeasement attempts to repair the damaged he has caused. There is only one way for Netanyahu to fix the damage: by supporting the Western Wall Compromise and the Conversion Bill before it’s too late.
The author, an MK, was elected to the 19th Knesset in 2013, one of several young social activists who assumed office that year. She was reelected in March 2015. She is a member of the Labor Party, now called the “Zionist Union,” and describes herself as a “Zionist, social democrat and pragmatist.”