Liberal US Jewish groups bemoan Netanyahu’s victory as ‘undermining’ Israeli democracy

The American Jewish community on both sides of the political coin reacts to the victory of Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud in Israel’s national elections on April 9.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, addresses supporters as the results in Israel's national elections are announced at party headquarters in Tel Aviv on April 9, 2019. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, addresses supporters as the results in Israel's national elections are announced at party headquarters in Tel Aviv on April 9, 2019. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Now that the dust is starting to settle after Israel’s national elections on Tuesday—followed immediately afterwards with the emotional upheaval related to Israel’s “Beresheet” spacecraft attempting to land on the moon on Thursday—the Jewish community in the United States is reacting to the results. Jewish and pro-Israel groups expressed mixed reactions to the re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The responses highlighted the accomplishments that Jewish groups cheered and jeered over the past two years of the Trump administration. These include the much stronger relations between America and Israel that have led to clear-cut diplomatic gains, including U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaring Jerusalem the official capital of Israel in December 2017; moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018; withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that same month; increasing sanctions on Iran in August and November 2018; approving Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights shortly; labeling Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terror group; and defunding most taxpayer assistance to the Palestinian Authority for rewarding terrorists and their families, among other measures.

“Most traditional and enthusiastic Zionists Jews admire what Mr. Netanyahu has done for Israel,” National Conference on Jewish Affairs spokesperson Rabbi Aryeh Spero told JNS. “True, many of the liberal Jewish leaders in America do not favor him, but they would be equally against any Likud or center-right leader.”

He added that “it is not for Diaspora Jews outside to force its ways on Israel. Israel is not the place for liberal American Jewish leaders to social engineer how Israel prays or where they pray. Israel cannot be a laboratory for liberal social experimentation from those living outside.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the American Jewish Committee and the National Council of Young Israel offered their congratulations to Netanyahu, who is expected to successfully form a governing coalition in the next few weeks.

“Once again, Israel has demonstrated through the ballot box that it is a vibrant democracy with a wide diversity of views and robust citizen involvement. We congratulate @IsraeliPM @netanyahu and all the newly elected members of the Knesset,” tweeted AIPAC.

The AJC said that the election was about more than the incumbent.

“The ultimate winner of Israel’s democratic elections is freedom itself. The freedom to cast a ballot. The freedom to select from literally dozens of political choices. The freedom to support the new leaders or peacefully oppose them,” said CEO David Harris. “To its everlasting credit, Israel has remained steadfastly committed to its democratic and pluralistic values, as reflected in the latest round of voting, and remains a shining example in a region where the democracy deficit is all too painfully evident.”

“From strengthening its economy to safeguarding its citizens, Israel has seen a resurgence during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s tenure,” said NCYI in a statement. “His tough stance against Israel’s antagonists and his ardent efforts to call attention to their malevolent desire to bring harm to Israel and its inhabitants has helped expose their evil intentions to the international community.”

‘Undermine democracy, demonize minorities and delegitimize dissent’

On the flip side, J Street, the Jewish Democratic Council of America and the Israel Policy Forum expressed disappointment with the electoral results.

Similar to their criticisms of President Trump, many liberal U.S. Jewish groups view Netanyahu as undermining Israeli democracy in favor of a strong nationalist agenda. In particular, they have grown dismayed over the nation-state bill passed last year as well as the dispute over an egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall.

“After several months of political upheaval, intensive mudslinging and down-to-the-wire campaigning, it looks like Israel’s next government is likely to be fairly similar to its last,” said J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami in an email to supporters.

“The Israeli right, drawing on the support and the example of President Trump and other ethno-nationalist leaders around the world, has become more extreme in pursuit of its dangerous vision—and increasingly unapologetic about using rhetoric and tactics that undermine democracy, demonize minorities and delegitimize dissent,” they added.

Ben-Ami provided a rallying cry of resistance: “In our communities, in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, we will promote a policy vision to counter the Trump-Netanyahu agenda and ultimately to reverse the terrible damage these leaders have done.”

JDCA issued a less aggressive but equally stern response.

“Israeli voters have spoken and we respect their decision, but we cannot ignore that Trump put his thumb on the scale to influence Israel’s election. We reject his intervention in the strongest terms, just as we reject interference in our own election,” they tweeted.

“The once-and-future Prime Minister Netanyahu has one priority now, which is to form a government that will pass an immunity law allowing him to avoid indictments entirely, or one that at the very least will not pressure him to immediately step down once indictments are served,” wrote IPF policy director Michael Koplow. “That is not a government that is comprised of Kachol Lavan and perhaps Kulanu for some extra margin, but one that is going to be a witch’s brew of ultra-nationalists and haredim on top of the most extreme voices in Likud that demands a range of narrow sectarian goodies in order to shield Netanyahu from the long arm of the law.”

Koplow added that Netanyahu’s re-election will only worsen the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora.

“A Likud government dependent on the settler right’s five seats and the haredi parties’ 16 seats is not even going to make cursory nods towards religious pluralism, seek to reform the rabbinate or limit its influence, or pay lip service to the requests of American Jews,” he said.

“Any hope of amending—let alone repealing—the nation-state law is going to be a cruel joke,” he continued. “The dominant theme of this government is going to be hardline religious policies that erase the already barely visible line between state and religion, and it will make American Jews feel more marginalized in the Jewish state than they already do.”

Both Trump and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called Netanyahu on Wednesday to offer their congratulations.

You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates