(November 21, 2022 / JNS) In an article entitled “Netanyahu’s Comeback Stirs Unease Over Israel Among American Jews,” The New York Times reports that the recent election of Benjamin Netanyahu to his sixth term as Israeli prime minister is giving many progressive Jews the vapors.
This should come as a surprise to no one. For years, more and more Reform and Conservative Jews have embraced the neo-Marxist ideology of modern progressivism, which views all things through the lens of race, gender and intersectionality. Under that construct, Jews are privileged whites and the State of Israel is an apartheid, colonial, occupying power oppressing people of color.
Even though this fact-free ahistorical drivel is utterly divorced from reality, it is being preached by rabbis across the country.
For example, the Times reported that Rabbi Rolando Matalon of Temple B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side of Manhattan told his congregants that the right-wing Otzma Yehudit Party—a likely partner in Netanyahu’s coalition—is “racist, Jewish-supremacist.” The party, Matalon claimed, promotes “hateful and violent ideas. … My most dominant emotion is fear. … I’m afraid about the erosion of what was a liberal democracy, democratic values, of the judicial system.”
The most dangerous of Rabbi Matalon’s false narratives is the idea that Jews can be “supremacists” for their own race. Jews are not a race. They are adherents of a religion and/or a nation. The distinction matters. Races are not entitled to their own countries, nations are. By adopting the progressives’ antisemitic mantra that Jews are a race, the rabbi is effectively admitting that Israel has no right to exist.
It should always be remembered that Jews were deemed a race by Spain during the Inquisition, Germany during the Holocaust, the United Nations when Zionism was equated with racism and today by modern progressives. There is a reason we should never let our enemies define us. Jews die when we do.
How a rabbi can graduate from rabbinical school without understanding this critical distinction is incomprehensible. Clearly, the curriculum is in need of revision.
Rabbi Matalon also appears to misunderstand basic civics. His understanding of democracy parrots that of the woke left in the United States: A threat to democracy exists every time Republicans win an election, because they may implement policies progressives do not like. Therefore, to “preserve our democracy,” America must become a one-party state. Rabbi Matalon appears to believe the same about Israel. A threat to democracy exists every time the Likud Party wins an election.
Unfortunately for the rabbi, Netanyahu won a convincing victory in what everyone agrees was a free and fair election. To his credit, the outgoing prime minister, Yair Lapid, graciously conceded to Netanyahu and prayed for his success.
This was Israel’s fifth free and fair election in the last three years. No doubt there will be another free and fair election no later than four years from now. Matalon simply cannot accept that his favored side lost. That is not a basis on which to declare the “death of democracy.”
Much of the rabbi’s hand wringing is over the likely presence of Itamar Ben-Gvir in the new governing coalition. Admittedly, Ben-Gvir has made some disturbing statements about Arabs living in Israel. However, he will not be the prime minister. Netanyahu will be. He will set the policies that Ben-Gvir must implement. By definition, this will moderate Ben-Gvir’s actions.
It would be interesting to know if Rabbi Matalon is disturbed by the role of progressives in the Biden administration and in Congress. I will presume he is not, because he most likely agrees with their woke agenda even though some of the most virulent antisemites and implacable enemies of the Jewish state are congressional progressives. Just to name a few: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her “Squad,” Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Moreover, these progressives play a prominent role in setting President Joe Biden’s agenda.
I have no doubt the rabbi and like-minded members of his community do not believe the progressive dominance of the Democratic Party makes it antisemitic, racist or a threat to democracy.
Since members of the clergy like Rabbi Matalon publicly espouse such views about Israel, logic dictates they will filter down to their congregants. The Times also interviewed Irvin Schonfeld of Congregation Beth Elohim, a Reform temple in Brooklyn, who said: “I do not like these far-right parties because there is an element of racism in them. … I feel very strongly that there is no place for that in politics.”
Putting aside that he makes the same tragic mistake as Rabbi Matalon by referring to Jews as a race, Schonfeld also repeats the mantra that the incoming Israeli government is “far right.” The designation is intentional. It is meant to conjure up images of fascism. However, any comparison between a democratically-elected Israeli government and fascism betrays either a fundamental misunderstanding of fascism or intentional dishonesty intended to advance a political agenda.
Unfortunately for progressives, the “fascist” label is undermined by history. A past “right-wing” Netanyahu government was responsible for the Abraham Accords, Israel’s first peace and normalization agreements in decades. While their rhetoric may make progressives feel better, none of Netanyahu’s “moderate” or “liberal” predecessors ever made peace with any of Israel’s neighbors.
It is highly likely that Netanyahu will reach other peace agreements with Israel’s Arab neighbors during his new term. That is, if the Biden administration does not frustrate those efforts with its incoherent policies towards Iran and the Palestinians. Indeed, one of Netanyahu’s publicly-stated goals for this government is to end the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all.
It should also be remembered that the “right-wing” government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin made peace with Egypt in 1978, one of the most monumental political achievements of the 20th century.
Unless the progressives define “right-wing” as “peacemaker,” they should find another way to describe Netanyahu’s new government. They should also stop fretting over Israeli democracy. Netanyahu’s election is good for Israel, America and democracies around the world.
Eric Levine is a founding member of the New York City law firm Eiseman, Levine, Lehrhaupt & Kakoyiannis P.C. He is an essayist, political commentator and fundraiser for Republican candidates with an emphasis on the United States Senate.
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