Monthly Archives: March 2015

After the Election

Bibi won. Not by a hair. Not by a long shot. It was not even close. Bibi won re-election in a decisive manner. With an unquestionable victory, Netanyahu is not expected to come under pressure to change his mind about forming a right-wing nationalist coalition with Kulanu, Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas and United Torah Judaism, rather than a national-unity government with the Zionist Union. President Reuven Rivlin is to begin consultations with the elected parties Sunday, with the goal of appointing Netanyahu to form a government after official results come in next Wednesday. Netanyahu is to have then four weeks to form a government, ending April 22, the eve of Independence Day. He can ask Rivlin for a two-week extension, but sources close to him said he did not want to do so, because following his victory, he was in a position of strength.

Many people who describe themselves as politically progressive were heartbroken by the turn of events. They truly believed that Bougie Herzog and Tzipi Livni would lead a progressive centrist coalition. The polls backed up their hopes… until the results poured in.

Close Israeli friends of mine who watched the election results in Tel Aviv described feeling as depressed and let down as they were the night Rabin was assassinated. For them Bibi’s reelection was some form of betrayal, the snuffing out of a developing dream of moving away from a growing concern for the fate of a democratic Israel: “the resurgence of hate speech; attacks by settlers on Palestinians and their property in the West Bank; the Knesset’s attempts to rein in left-wing human-rights organizations; and, most of all, the unequal status of Israeli Palestinians and the utter lack of civil rights for the Palestinians in the West Bank. A recent poll revealed that a third of Israelis think that Arab citizens of Israel-the nearly two million Arabs living in Israel proper, not the West Bank-should not have the right to vote.”

Reading this quote from David Remnick from the November 17th New Yorker, it’s not surprising that Bibi’s last minute call to his base on Tuesday – as the vote was underway – in which he railed against what he called “left-wing organizations” that he said were busing Arab-Israelis to the polls in an effort to bolster the center-left and oust him from office, was so effective. In that same November article, Remnick masterfully detailed the many twists and turns for the state of Israel: “the persistence of occupation; the memory of those lost and wounded in war and terror attacks; the Palestinian leadership’s failure to embrace land-for-peace offers from Ehud Barak, in 2000, and Ehud Olmert, in 2008; the chaos in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon; the instability of a neighboring ally like Jordan; the bitter rivalries with Turkey and Qatar; the regional clash between Sunni and Shia; the threats from Hezbollah, in Lebanon, from Hamas, in Gaza, and from other, more distant groups, like ISIS, hostile to the existence of Israel; the rise of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe and its persistence in the Arab world; a growing sense of drift from the Obama Administration. All these developments have pushed the country toward a state of fearful embattlement. The old voices of the left, the “pro-peace camp,” have too few answers, too few troops. And so Netanyahu, the champion of a status quo that favors settlers and the Likud, retains his perch. His strategic vision seems to be a desire to get from Shabbat to Shabbat.”

Yes I am disappointed. Yes, I am worried that the prime minister’s official abandonment of the two state solution (I’m not sure he ever truly believed in it) and then his halfhearted clarification that he never abandoned it creates more cynicism towards his intentions. I’m worried that there is no easy rapprochement to be had between the US and Israel over Iran and how to handle the next weeks and months of nuclear negotiation. I’m worried that Abbas will turn to an ever more receptive European theater and seek international support, thus gaining real world legitimacy. I’m worried this election will even further speed the power of the BDS movement, in Europe and in the US, too.

With all this disappointment and angst, I love Israel no less. In the midst of tremendous turmoil, nothing about my allegiance to the state of Israel diminishes. Let’s face it. I’ve had US presidents who I vehemently opposed, whose policies were abhorrent to me. I didn’t move away. I am utterly fed up with the current standoff in Washington and the Congress who seems to keep sinking ever low in polls and in stature. When a US president does something with which I agree, I am gratified. When a president acts in a way that draws my wrath, I speak out. When the US stands for justice and freedom, I stand tall. When the US acts in a way I deem as morally questionable, I will not be silent. So it is with Israel. I will not give a pass to Israel when there is injustice in its borders. I will stand with other Jews and Israelis who expect, who demand, more. Leaders come and go. Policies are passed or vetoed. Challenges are met with strength or with vacillation. I will never be silent about my nation or my people.

I am disappointed in the election results. And I know that some of you feel very differently. Some of you believe strongly in Bibi’s vision of Israel and support his decisions. And so we will continue to have a robust and respectful difference of opinion. Which is, of course, the foundation of democracy.

Am Yisrael Hai! The nation of Israel lives on!

Shabbat Shalom

After the Speech

Bibi had his day with Congress sans 50 or so folks who refused to grant the prime minister a full house. The applause was thunderous. The cheers were full throated and heart felt. Bibi’s speech was dramatic: his oratorical skills are legend here and back in Israel.

I must admit that I am no fan of Bibi Netanyahu. It’s not that I don’t agree with his politics. I’m not certain ultimately what his politics are, other than preserving the status quo.  And I emphatically believe that the status quo is slowly choking off more and more pathways to some beginning of a denouement with the Palestinians.

Perhaps we shouldn’t go there. I tend to veer away from overt political commentary, and I know that some of you may disagree with my positions on Israel. But remaining entirely silent about the prime minister’s speech is, I think, irresponsible. Because I think it created real fault lines in the otherwise strong US-Israel relationship.

For the first time there is an overt relationship being crafted between the Israeli prime minister and one American political party. For the first time an Israeli prime minister publicly dissed the president of the United States in his own capital.  And I wonder; was this the true goal of the speech? To make Israel a partisan issue like almost everything else in this country, from climate change to health care to gay marriage, and so forth? To shine up his image as a tough guy which will appeal to a part of his electorate back home that he needs to win for his reelection? To convince the world that he is right and Obama wrong? I don’t know but it is worrying.

An aspect of the prime minister’s speech that particularly irked me was when he pointed to Elie Wiesel who was sitting in the gallery. “My friends, standing up to Iran is not easy. Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is. With us today is Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Elie, your life and work inspires us to give meaning to the words, “never again.””

A BCC reporter is being criticized for describing this moment in a tweet as Bibi “playing the Holocaust card again.” But that is exactly what this was. Peter Beinart bravely called it like he saw it and was accused of belittling a man upon whom most Jews and Christians alike confer saintly credentials.  But the plain fact is that an aged Elie Wiesel has been co-opted by the prime minister. “I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past.”

By drawing a direct correlation between Hitler and the current Iranian regime, Bibi infers that this is an all or nothing gambit, a notion his best intelligence officials reject. Teheran is not Berlin.

The Holocaust is a permanent part of Jewish life and Jewish history. It lurks in shadows. It is used and abused. Israel is of course the reification of ‘Never again.’ I get that. We live that. But are we not, at last, strong enough, secure enough, and clear enough, not to have to show the world our scars to justify our desire for safety and peace? After all the accomplishments of the Jewish people since 1945, must we still use Holocaust imagery in our statecraft?

So many issues to discuss. So much in the balance. Let’s never be afraid to discuss things in an honest and open way, even when we disagree.