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Saturday, March 16, 2024

The American Jewish community must see through Netanyahu's cynicism

The American Jewish community must see through Netanyahu's cynicism

“Now is the time to exercise a bit of tough love — with the goal of protecting Israel from its worst prime minister in 76 years.

My daughter has long worn her Star of David necklace, a symbol of the Jewish peoples’ perseverance and courage. But to some students at the elite college she attends, her necklace has come to represent something entirely different. “How can you wear that and support child killers,” fellow students have sneered in the library, the cafeteria and the gym.

It’s a refrain that has become all too common on American campuses following Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack, and the Israeli government’s counterattack. But the resentment is misplaced: My daughter agrees with many of her critics, some of whom are frustratingly allowing their antisemitism to silence potential allies. Indeed, while my family has long supported Israel, my daughter finds herself increasingly horrified by the brutality of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s disproportionate response. According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, over 30,000 people have been killed there since the Israeli military launched its counterattack— which has relied on weapons supplied and resupplied by Washington.

The American Jewish community must remain ever vigilant against antisemitism, which has spiked in recent months. The disturbing images coming out of the Gaza Strip have only poured more fuel on a seemingly endless flame. And bigotry should never be allowed to infiltrate and weaponize political debate. But college protesters are correct that the United States can no longer pretend to be an innocent bystander in Gaza.

Netanyahu’s policies, which have been endorsed by a number of U.S. presidents, have empowered Hamas, weakened Israel, undermined West Bank leaders, and as a result sacrificed Palestinian well-being in the name of regional security. President Joe Biden appears to be growing uncomfortable with this lopsided approach. The embattled incumbent finds himself in an untenable position, as evidenced by the almost Kafkaesque nature of giving Israel bombs that kill Palestinians with one hand while delivering food to the survivors with the other. The Biden administration is twisting itself into a pretzel trying to appease all sides while not alienating key constituencies. And Biden may not be in office much longer, limiting any potential for change. 

But the American Jewish community is not constrained by electoral politics — and it has played a significant role in shaping U.S.-Israeli policy in the past. Just look at the immense lobbying power of AIPAC

American Jews have long identified with the underdog. They rallied to the defense of Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, often at great personal peril, and more recently served as key supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. Now, Israel’s long-term prospects could depend on American Jews taking up the cause of a two-state solution, difficult as that may be in the aftermath of Hamas’ terrorism. The stakes are incredibly high. If Israel continues to follow Netanyahu’s disastrous path, Israel risks becoming a diplomatically isolated pariah state. 

This is personal to me. I married a Jew. Our children are Jewish according to rabbinical law. I named my son after a fictional Zionist hero. I wrote a book on Holocaust heroes that was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. Still, I fear what Israel is becoming. It is losing the moral high ground. 

Netanyahu’s Israel has fallen far short of its founding post-Holocaust ideals. 

I have had lively discussions with my friends on this topic, which obviously elicits strong emotions. But the Israel of Bibi Netanyahu is not the Israel of David Ben-Gurion. The country has changed culturally, politically and, most of all, demographically. And the way the Israeli military seems to exercise apparent disregard for civilian casualties begs the question: What happened to that Israel that was once so concerned with protecting innocent life that it famously suspended its targeted terrorist assassination program Operation Wrath of God after a single person was mistakenly killed? While certainly not perfect, that Israel had clear diplomatic goals and values. That Israel inspired my son’s name.

In contrast, Netanyahu’s Israel has fallen far short of its founding post-Holocaust ideals. It is no longer seen by the world as David fighting the giant Goliath; it has become Goliath. And its frequent justifications for using excessive force ring increasingly hollow as a result.” 

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More likely, Netanyahu and his allies want to ultimately crush Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and move Israeli troops back into Gaza. I do not believe either outcome would serve Israel’s long-term geopolitical interests. 

The American Jewish community must see through Netanyahu’s cynicism. Biden certainly seems to, but is still waiting for the right moment to break publicly with the thrice-indicted Israeli prime minister. And that brings us back to American Jews, and their considerable leverage. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, for instance, has been awarded Israel’s equivalent of the Jewish Nobel Prize for his philanthropy. Donors like him likely have a direct pipeline to senior Israeli leaders thanks to their generosity. And on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., publicly called for new elections to replace Netanyahu, a striking rebuke.

Now is the time to use that influence and exercise a bit of tough love with the goal of protecting Israel from its worst prime minister in 76 years.

I still believe Israel can return to its righteous roots. But its leaders must realize — or perhaps must merely be reminded — that improving the lives of innocent Palestinians is its best guarantee of long-term survival as a strong, respected member of the family of nations. Whether that ultimately means endorsing a two-state solution, or some sort of new hybrid model, one thing is clear: The killing of Palestinian civilians has to stop, and massive aid must be permitted to flow unimpeded into Gaza to start any genuine peace process, and bring the remaining hostages home to their families. That would be a boon for Israel, for Palestinians and for Jews all over the world. And maybe then my daughter can start proudly wearing her Star of David necklace, again.

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