Israel's elections reawaken U.S. Jews' trauma

Opinion: While many Israelis dismissed 'government for change' as nothing more than a marketing stunt, most U.S. Jews welcomed what they considered a major change from the trauma they incurred during Benjamin Netanyahu's time in power

Avi Gil |
Published: 06.27.22, 00:02
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tried to brand their government as the “government for change”. Unlike many Israelis who saw this as nothing more than a marketing stunt, most U.S. Jewry welcomed what they considered a major change from the trauma they incurred during Benjamin Netanyahu's time in power.
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  • Now, with the collapse of the governing coalition and with all signs pointing to another election, their trauma might reawaken.
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    ארה"ב בוחרת 2020 כתבת בוחרים יהודים הקול היהודי כיפה אובמה ביידן 2008
    ארה"ב בוחרת 2020 כתבת בוחרים יהודים הקול היהודי כיפה אובמה ביידן 2008
    (Photo: AP)
    Many U.S. Jews felt like Netanyahu’s government gave up on them. They felt like it regarded Reform and Conservative Jews — a majority of whom are affiliated with the Democratic party — as an assimilating population that is destined to disappear.
    Netanyahu’s defiant appearance in front of the U.S. Congress in 2015 against the will of then-president Barack Obama equated his conduct to that of a bull in a china shop.
    His unapologetic alliance with former president Donald Trump only served to add fuel to the fire, both due to him breaking the long-standing tradition of bipartisan support of Israel and due to the animosity most U.S. Jews felt towards the Republican president.
    The Bennett-Lapid government was therefore a breath of fresh air for most American Jews. The pair worked to mend fences and restore the bipartisan support of Israel and managed differences with the Biden administration through quiet and respectful dialogue.
    During their term, we didn't hear firey statements like those made by former Likud lawmaker and Israel's ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, who said that "the American Jewish leadership will have to choose between their support for the agreement with Iran or their support for Israel’s position."
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    (Photo: AFP)
    To ensure such mistakes won't repeat themselves, Israeli leaders, both left and right, must repeat and memorize the following mantra: the U.S. is the only superpower Israel can rely on.
    The special relationship Israel has with the U.S. is based in large part on its Jewish community, therefore the Jerusalem-Washington-Jewish community trident constitutes a strategic resource and a decisive force multiplier for Israel and the Jewish people.
    To keep sustain this trident, the Israeli government must not only maintain good relations with the U.S. government and the two major parties but also with its Jewish community.
    The American Jewish community's influence is incongruous with their tiny share of the population, making up roughly 2% of the entire U.S. population. They’re well organized and have a presence in all walks of life — government, academia, business, culture, media and law.
    The Israeli government must respect their opinion even if it doesn't coincide with its own. It must converse with them on all hot-button issues: Iran, the Palestinians, the treatment of non-Orthodox strands, the Western Wall, etc.
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    איוונקה טראמפ טקס פתיחת שגרירות ארה"ב בירושלים
    איוונקה טראמפ טקס פתיחת שגרירות ארה"ב בירושלים
    Opening of U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem
    (Photo: Amit Shabi)
    Regarding the Iran nuclear deal, we cannot put them between a rock and a hard place. We must accept that there’s a majority among them who support the Democratic president’s policy on the matter, whether it is Obama or Joe Biden.
    Since this Jewish public is loyal to the democratic president, it can be harnessed to help achieve critical elements necessary to secure Israel's might.
    This would require acuity while considering the various sensitivities of the Jewish public, like growing fear of antisemitic sentiment over the claim that the Jews are assisting Israel to force the U.S. into a war it doesn’t want.
    Although American Jews will not vote in the upcoming Israeli elections, they are affected by their results and their help will be needed by any government that takes the reins in Jerusalem.
    The new government must therefore learn the lessons of their trauma. We'll need the assistance and influence of American Jews very much down the road, so belittling and ignoring them could cost Israel dearly in the moment of truth.

    The writer is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute and a former director-general of the Foreign Affairs Ministry. His new novel "Toronto Junction" was recently published by 2sfarim-publishing.
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