Bib Netanyahui’s statements about Arabs “voting in droves”, using settlements to separate Jerusalem from Palestinian Bethlehem and his rejection of the two-state plan shocked many Americans, including many American Jews.
The fallout is also likely to have a lasting effect on the way many Americans, particularly liberals, view various organizations.
There’s some damage control underway, as reported in the Forward today – Jewish Groups Seek To Paper Over Differences on Benjamin Netanyahu Reelection:
American Jewish groups moved to calm continuing tensions between Jerusalem and Washington in the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decisive reelection this week. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Anti-Defamation League all released statements Thursday welcoming Netanyahu’s affirmation of support for a two-state solution.
But, AIPAC and the ADL also expressed their irritation that the president refused to give Bibi a pass on the racist remarks towards Arab voters and his contradictory statements on the two-state process.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, noting that Netanyahu had “clearly reaffirmed” his support for a two-state solution, criticized the Obama administration for having “rebuffed” the prime minister’s efforts to put relations with the United States back on track.
In an interview, Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, called the administration’s stubbornness “unbecoming.”“To say we won’t forget,” Foxman said, “that’s nasty.”
But the story is actually much bigger than AIPAC or the ADL. Bibi’s words seem to have created rifts among American Jews in a way that not even last year’s bombing of Gaza did.
If you’re going to read one article about this, I would suggest – Bibi Offers Israel Troubled Sleep — and No Hope
The NY Times has some coverage in a piece titled – Netanyahu Tactics Anger Many U.S. Jews, Deepening a Divide, which highlights a couple of personal transformations:
Aaron Voldman, 27, who recently returned to Wisconsin after a year studying on a fellowship in Israel, said he was still “outraged” at Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign, especially his election-eve pledge that there would be no Palestinian state if he were re-elected.“It is the only viable option to secure peace in the Holy Land — how could he, in good conscience, just write it off?” said Mr. Voldman, who like many Israelis speaks of Mr. Netanyahu using his nickname. “Bibi is not committed to doing what needs to be done to secure peace and justice. The Palestinians did not have a willing partner in his administration during the last round of negotiations.”
In a widely discussed opinion piece in Haaretz, Peter Beinart, a liberal critic of Israel, argued this week that those who support Israel should pressure the Obama administration to present its own peace plan “and to punish — yes, punish — the Israeli government for rejecting it.“It means making sure that every time Benjamin Netanyahu and the members of his cabinet walk into a Jewish event outside Israel,” he wrote, “they see diaspora Jews protesting outside.”
Bibi tried to staunch some of the damage, though tellingly all his appearances were on US channels:
Mr. Netanyahu tried to explain himself in interviews on Thursday with several American outlets. “I wasn’t trying to block anyone from voting; I was trying to mobilize my own voters,” he told National Public Radio.
Which of course forces us to ask who Bibi’s voters are anyway? Rob Eshman explains in the Jewish Journal of LA – American Jews and the Israeli election:
If there is one lesson American Jews will learn from Israel’s election, it’s this: they’re not us.Israel is not New York. Or LA. Or Chicago or Boston or Miami or Philadelphia. It is a Jewish “community” unlike any in America.
Israelis went to the polls this Tuesday and returned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to office. Had Bibi run versus Isaac Herzog among American Jewish voters, he would have lost. He would have lost almost as badly as Barack Obama would lose against Bibi in Israel. The fact that Netanyahu garnered 29 mandates against his opponent’s 24 was as shocking to the majority of American Jews as the fact that Jewish Americans voted overwhelmingly – twice – for Barack Obama is to most Israelis.
Jewish life is composed of tribes – Orthodox, secular, my shul, your country club, Ashkenzai, Ethiopian, etc. But the two biggest tribes are American and Israeli. Different cultures, different languages, different reality. Israel and America are the twin study of Jewish life: same birth, same heritage, but vastly different nurturing – and so very different natures.
For years the greatest myth American Jews have been telling themselves is that Israeli Jews are just like us. That works because we tend to prove this to ourselves by cherry-picking the Israel we most identify with.
In a strange way, I feel kind of sorry for Netanyahu. The people who’ve suddenly decided he’s a demagogue are apparently unaware of who his coalition partners were and that his controversial pre-election statements stole voters from them. It’s not like Israeli liberals suddenly switched their votes over to Bibi, they’ve heard all this before. The voters who switched were going to vote for Bennett and Lieberman.Naftali Bennett was/is Bibi’s Minister of the Economy. His base are settlers and they have no interest at all in a two-state solution. Their dream is Greater Israel, and Naftali discussed various ways to achieve that last year, including expulsions. I wrote a diary about this at the time.
And compared to his Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, Bibi is an Israeli Arab’s best friend. Lieberman’s party are mostly ex-Soviet and he’s the guy who got on TV during the campaign and said disloyal Arabs should be beheaded. Everyone in Israel is so used to Liberman saying shit like this that all he could muster was some exasperated protest from Palestinian members of the Knesset.
Likud’s gains (that’s Bibi’s party) were largely at Bennett’s expense, which the very excellent 972mag discusses in With friends like these: How Netanyahu walked all over his closest ally.
And it’s not like Israelis didn’t know exactly how Netanyahu feels about a two-state solution, I discussed that a while ago in a diary here.
But back to the US.
HuffPost noted yesterday – American Jewish Groups Largely Quiet On Netanyahu’s Controversial Campaign Statements. Possibly because many were uncertain of what they should make of them. That situation is changing and the Forward notes that some of the condemnation is coming from unexpected quarters – Conservatives Break Jewish Silence To Denounce Bibi’s Anti-Arab Election Scare Tactic:
Against this backdrop of the otherwise complacent Jewish community stood the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, which is hardly known as a liberal marker of the Jewish community. In a harshly worded statement, the group’s president Rabbi William Gershon and its executive vice president Rabbi Julie Schonfeld issued a call to the Jewish community to take action:“We must condemn the Prime Minister’s statement, singling out Arab citizens for exercising their legitimate right to vote,” they wrote. “It is incumbent upon Jews around the world to denounce the Prime Minister’s divisive and undemocratic statement and we do so here.”
Schonfeld told the Forward she was “extremely concerned” by the lack of rage within the Jewish community. “Each one of us rushes to the ramparts with any suggestion that we would be singled out as Jews,” she said, stressing that Netanyahu’s comment singled out Israeli Arabs.
And in the Jewish Forward – We Might Have Lost — But We Were Right About Bibi:
Obviously, the Israeli election was a disaster for Jews everywhere who favor making peace with the Palestinians. But as much as we lost, and lost badly, we should also learn to say three words.We were right.
We were right when we said that Har Homa, the East Jerusalem neighborhood, was built there to block a Palestinian state.
We were right when we said that settlements were bleeding Israel’s economy dry, far more than official statistics let on, while the Jewish state shredded its social safety net.
We were right when we said that Benjamin Netanyahu never really wanted a two-state solution.
We were right when we said that he and his allies do not regard Arab citizens as equal, and play on Israeli fear, racism, and hatred.
The administration is sticking to it’s guns as the NY Times reports – White House Antagonism Toward Netanyahu Grows:
For the second consecutive day on Friday, the White House publicly questioned Mr. Netanyahu’s sincerity about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, suggesting that Mr. Obama did not trust him to back Palestinian statehood, a central element of United States policy in the Middle East.Asked why the president did not take the prime minister at his word about his support for a two-state solution, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, quickly shot back: “Well, I guess the question is, which one?”
“The divergent comments of the prime minister legitimately call into question his commitment to this policy principle and his lack of commitment to what has been the foundation of our policy-making in the region,” Mr. Earnest said.
He said Mr. Netanyahu had raised questions about his “true view” on a two-state solution. “Words matter,” Mr. Earnest said.
It seems to me like the administration has written off AIPAC (they were heavily involved in Bibi’s speech to Congress and have increasingly tilted right). J-Street is very happy to step into the gap and over the past year I think they’ve gained immense credibility when it comes to representing the liberal viewpoint among American Jews:
Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s executive director, said the Obama administration’s refusal to allow Mr. Netanyahu to backtrack on his comments against a Palestinian state was appropriate, saying such statements should have consequences.“In his actions, he’s not actually doing anything to repair the wound or to heal the wound that was opened by his and the ambassador’s actions,” Mr. Ben-Ami said of Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Dermer.
At the same time, Mr. Ben-Ami added, the rift between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu “is built on policy and substantive disagreement, and there’s no erasing that.”
I’ll let J. J. Goldberg have the final word – What Benjamin Netanyahu Sacrificed for Election
The immediate damage of Netanyahu’s the-Arabs-are-coming slur mustn’t be underestimated. It infuriated Israel’s Jewish liberals and moderates along with non-Jewish minorities. It reverberated worldwide, evoking shock and revulsion even among Israel’s admirers. It will deepen rifts within the American Jewish community. It will be cited endlessly by Israel’s enemies as evidence in their ongoing campaign to demonize and isolate Israel as a racist, apartheid state. Worst of all, this is one bit of evidence they won’t be making up.Nor was the slur an isolated incident. It came just a day after Netanyahu’s cynical declaration that he won’t allow a Palestinian state as long as he’s prime minister. Put together, the two bombshell statements make him look more than ever like a far-right extremist. They’ll increase tensions with Western capitals at a time when healing is badly needed.
Netanyahu’s proxies will argue in the coming days that he didn’t really mean what he said about Israeli Arabs and Palestinian statehood. It was just electioneering, they’ll whisper, meant to woo voters away from the smaller parties to his right and bulk up his own party’s showing. The excuse may smooth things over on the surface. But the slurs will linger. They’ll reinforce the suspicions Western leaders already harbor about him. Leaders will offer forced smiles and congratulations on his reelection in the Middle East’s only democracy. But they won’t forget how he got there, nor what his race-baiting says about the state of Israeli democracy.
If Bibi’s views on two-states surprised you, please know that they would not surprise the English House of Commons at all. I covered their excellent debate on Palestinian statehood in a diary last year. Most people seriously following Israeli politics know exactly what Likud has been doing for years with settlements and objections to Palestinian statehood. Some money quotes below:
I am firmly of the opinion that the day will come when the two-state solution, which I believe is supported by all parties on both sides of the House, will collapse and Israel will face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights. As soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished. Hon. Members might think that that is controversial, but they are not really my words but those of the then Israeli Prime Minister in 2007.
Let us make no mistake about this: to make our recognition of Palestine dependent on Israel’s agreement would be to grant Israel a veto over Palestinian self-determination.
It will also send a message to Israel that the British Parliament believes that its illegal settlement enterprise, which has pushed the possibility of a two-state settlement to the brink of collapse, has no validity whatsoever and that the international community is resolute in its opposition to the systematic colonisation of Palestinian land.
it is more than 20 years since the Palestine Liberation Organisation, acting on behalf of the Palestinian people as a whole, recognised the state of Israel. Yet, despite that, when Israel talks about itself, it still says that it wants constant reaffirmation of that recognition. How many times have I heard Israeli Ministers—indeed, some hon. Members—ask, “How can you talk with people who do not recognise your right to exist?” So for them and Israel, recognition is not about negotiation; it is about something fundamental. Well, if that is the case for Israelis, Palestinians have no fewer rights than that. Recognition for Palestinians cannot be a matter of privilege; it, too, must be a matter of right.