Friday, January 30, 2015

A letter to Bibi

Dear Bibi

Let’s put it this way.   If you were running for office in the United States you might get a large number of evangelical votes and then some from the non-representative AIPAC cohort, but you’d lose among the majority of American Jews.  And likely by a landslide.  It isn’t only that your conservative politics are not shared by most of us, but that you don’t seem to understand that we care a lot more about our president and how he is treated than about you.  Some of us wonder why you seem to disregard the basic Jewish precept of derekh eretz – humility and respect when it should guide your interactions with all human beings including our chosen leader.  We still haven’t forgotten that arrogant and cheap lecture you gave him before cameras in his own office.  In case you haven’t followed our domestic politics, which I know you do, the vast majority of us voted for Barack Obama and continue to support him.  So when you dis him, you dis us, you dis me.  Let me repeat, he is our president.

Israel exists today because of Israelis.  You have built the country and take all the risks.  But let’s not underestimate how important support from the United States — beginning with Harry Truman — has been and specifically the support of American Jews.   You shouldn't take it for granted.  You may think AIPAC represents us and to be sure they have lobbied hard for Israel (always right, never wrong), but they have only a minority constituency.  It should concern you that, according to Pew’s October 2013 study, only 30% of American Jews feel “very attached” to Israel.  That number drops to 25% of those 18-49.  The numbers are better about feeling Israel is essential to being Jewish, but still not a majority: 42% and 35% respectively.  Another 39% of Jews feel somewhat attached to Israel.  In total 69%, a majority, in our community feels some link.  That's good, but putting that in some perspective, 73% of us voted for Obama in 2008 and 69% did so again in 2012.  A Majority of American Jews (54%) support the president’s policies regarding Israel — only 31% think we’re not supportive enough.

I count myself among American Jews who see Israel as an essential piece of the Jewish puzzle and with those who are dismayed at its current direction.  The low number of Jews who feel Israel is essential is deeply troubling.  To some degree it reflects the growing number of Americans, Jews and not, who are distancing themselves from religion.  But you should understand that the policies of your government, most particularly with regard to the West Bank, play a significant role in how American Jews, especially younger Jews, feel about and relate to Israel.  We are a well-educated and largely well-informed community.  We know that the Palestinians share blame for the failed peace talks, but we’re not fooled the tepid lip service you personally pay to the two state solution.  Your actions allowing further expansion of settlements speak much louder than your words.  We understand Israel’s need to defend itself and its citizens.  So the Gaza retaliation, under your watch, was understandable, but it’s scale leading to the disproportionate cost in human life paid by Palestinians seemed hard to justify.

You are passionate about Iran and its threat to Israel, some might say a passion that borders on obsession.  For sure that theocratic country has been a bad player in the past and continues to be in the conflicts that abound in your neighborhood.  No one wants to see Iran armed with nuclear weapons.  But the truth is that many of us feel than no country, including the United States and Israel, should possess weapons that everyone knows are too big to use.  But I don’t think the assumed menace of Iran is what brings you to accept John Boehner’s undiplomatic invitation.  Like him, your real motives are all about politics.  You and your former GOP acolyte ambassador think you can insert yourselves in ours while using the grander and symbolism of our capital to impact your own reelection.  Your agenda is so patently transparent.  How can you hurt Obama and help Bibi?  Not a very noble cause, not the motivation of a statesman.    The Republican leadership may welcome you in March, and the attendees at AIPAC may give you a standing ovation.  I’ll be one of those who won’t join in and I’m hardly alone.  That’s not good news for Israel.


1 comment:

  1. Great letter, Jonathan! I am a non Jewish recent follower of your blog and I admire your ability to write lovingly yet objectively about Israel. Here are a couple of percentages that you might find interesting. On the "Harper's Index" page of the March 2015 issue of Harper's Magazine, the first item of the index states: "Percentage of Benjamin Netanyahu's 2014 primary-campaign contributions that came from the United States: 90". The second item continues: "That came from three U.S. families: 30". Harper's cites the Office of the State Comptroller of Israel (Jerusalem), as the source for this information.