When Benjamin Netanyahu will arrive at the AIPAC Conference in Washington next week, he will be received with great enthusiasm. The audience will stand up and applaud. The youngsters will cheer. The venue will settle down only once the chairman repeatedly appeals for quiet. The Israeli prime minister will feel like a rock star; like a conqueror.
The loudest of all will be the boys in the knitted skullcaps; the decedents of Orthodox families. Meanwhile, the wealthy individuals on stage will grace Netanyahu with the warmest embraces; most of them are major Republican Party donors. The clash between Netanyahu and the Obama Administration is their finest hour. Israel’s confrontation with Obama is their entry ticket to the non-Jewish world of Republican America.
The occasion will be intoxicating, but possibly deceptive as well. For a moment, the prime minister of Israel will forget where he came from and whose interests he represents. The sobering up process shall come later.
Israel is gradually losing the support of the liberal camp within America’s Jewish community. This is a process that did not start with Netanyahu, Lieberman, or Eli Yishai. It has many reasons and not all of them have to do with the policy of Israeli governments or with the occupation. Many members of this camp stay away not only from commitment to Israel but also from commitment to Judaism.
However, as opposed to Israel, the liberals – who in Israel terms can be characterized as moderate leftists – constitute an overwhelming majority of America’s Jewish community. They have decisive influence on the Democratic Party, which at this time holds power both at the White House and in Congress.
Netanyahu can take as much pleasure as he wants to in the support of the Jewish Right, yet he cannot change the political facts: Obama will be at the White House for at least three more years, with a group of liberals surrounding him, some of them Jewish.
We have a problem
The loud applause that will welcome Netanyahu at the AIPAC Conference will not help him with his future contacts vis-à-vis the White House. They may even cause damage. This is precisely what happened to Netanyahu in his previous term in office, vis-à-vis Bill Clinton and his liberals.
Hence, Netanyahu would do well to come up with a good excuse and stay at home. Even worn-out statements that are taken for granted in respect to Jerusalem’s unity will be received as a provocative act by Washington’s liberal camp; stabbing the president in the back at a trying time.
American Jews, who invested years of their lives in working on behalf of Israel, are painfully talking of fatigue with Israel and with the whole Middle East. At times this weariness comes from their children: The children find it difficult to comprehend why their parents devote so much effort for the sake of a remote Mideastern state, which after 62 years is still unable to resolve its own problems.
For 90% of Israelis, the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo is no different than Tel Aviv. For the rest of the world, it is no different than Ramallah. Few have the energy to examine the details in depth and understand the differences between Sheikh Jarah and Gilo, Silwan and Pisgat Ze’ev. The result is a rift.
If a columnist like Tom Friedman, whose love and attachment to Israel requires no verification, portrays the Israeli prime minister as a drunken driver in need of rehabilitation, we have a problem. Friedman is the most authentic spokesman of Israel friends within America’s liberal camp.
Netanyahu is not a drunk driver. It would be more appropriate to liken him to one of those elderly drivers who take up two lanes for fear of making a mistake, while driving the motorists behind them crazy and prompting them to get into accidents. When he signals left, he turns right. When he signals right, he just drives on. Instead of receiving applause in Washington, perhaps he would do well to take up a defensive driving course in Jerusalem.