columnU.S.-Israel Relations

Netanyahu and Jewish worry about what the neighbors might think

America is already divided, as is Israel, between those who favor appeasing enemies while reprimanding friends, and those who espouse the opposite view.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a conference of the Likud Party, presenting the list of candidates, in Ramat Gan on March 4, 2019. Credit: Aharon Krohn/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a conference of the Likud Party, presenting the list of candidates, in Ramat Gan on March 4, 2019. Credit: Aharon Krohn/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

A few days ahead of the Knesset elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to extend Israeli sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria. This campaign promise, which was reported by many unfriendly news outlets as a ploy to garner votes from the far-right, had nothing to do with his ultimate victory, however. The real reason for his win was simple. The Likud Party that he heads is most closely aligned with the position of mainstream Israeli society, which holds centrist views laced with the realism born of experience.

This is not to say that Netanyahu’s annexation announcement was insignificant. On the contrary, it was so straightforward and insistent that it led many right-wingers say that they’d believe it when they saw it.

Politicians tend to talk a big talk, after all, particularly during a campaign. And Netanyahu, as Israelis across the political spectrum agree, is nothing if not a brilliant politician. A “magician” is what he was called on election night by left-wing pundits shifting from elated to despondent as exit polls gradually were replaced by actual country-wide vote counts.

Once the final tally was in, the news lull left by a lack of concrete information about the yet-to-be-finalized coalition was instantly filled with hysteria, at home and abroad, about Netanyahu’s annexation pledge.

One source of this carry-on was the liberal/progressive American-Jewish community.

Nine groups—the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, its Rabbinical Assembly, Mercaz (its Zionist affiliate), the Anti-Defamation League, Ameinu, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Israel Policy Forum—wrote a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, asking him to keep Netanyahu in check.

Yes, this motley crew, not one member of whom supports Trump, appealed to him to prevent the prime minister of Israel from making a move that they “believe … will lead to greater conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, severely undermine, if not entirely eradicate, the successful security coordination between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and galvanize efforts such as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that are intended to isolate and delegitimize Israel.”

In addition, the letter went on, “[Annexation] will create intense divisions in the United States and make unwavering support for Israel and its security far more difficult to maintain.”

This plea, dripping with nauseating false piety, would be laughable if it weren’t so vile.

In the first place, the only “undermining” and “eradicating” going on in Israel are being done by the P.A. Secondly, the BDS movement uses any excuse to engage in “efforts to isolate and delegitimize” the Jewish state. That’s its whole purpose, of course.

Third, it is a complete lie that annexation would divide the United States and make its support for Israel “more difficult to maintain.”

America is already divided, as is Israel, between those who favor appeasing enemies while reprimanding friends, and those who espouse the opposite view. Jewish liberals and Israeli leftists who fear offending murderous Palestinians and hateful boycotters belong in the former category.

To be fair, Jews have a long-standing tradition of identifying with their captors. Many Israelites rescued from Egyptian bondage complained to Moses that conditions under slavery were better than their trek through the desert to arrive at the Promised Land. If those whiners had had their way, we would not be celebrating the Passover holiday that begins this Friday.

The other tendency of Diaspora liberals—to flinch whenever Israel asserts its heritage and power—stems from mar’it ayin, a concept in halachah (Jewish law) according to which even legitimate actions are prohibited when they could be misconstrued by other people as impermissible. In other words, it’s the Jewish legalization of worrying about what the neighbors might think, and changing one’s behavior to stave off possible disapproval.

Thankfully, Netanyahu disregards mar’it ayin when making decisions for the country, whether Jews across the ocean like it or not.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ” 

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