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Saving Israel from Itself (Behar – 05/25/19)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Saving Israel from Itself
I think many of us were surprised by the results of last month’s Israeli elections. It finally appeared as though Netanyahu might be displaced and new leadership would arise, but Netanyahu’s political acumen lead him to victory once more.
If you were hoping for change, you’re not alone. According to one survey, 70% of American Jews disapprove of Netanyahu as Prime Minister.
Their complaints are numerous: many American Jews resent his having backed out of a Kotel compromise that would have given pluralistic Jews their own place at the sacred shrine. They disapprove of his playing favorites to the ultra-Orthodox rabbinic establishment who delegitimatize all non-Orthodox rabbis and practices. They are appalled at Netanyahu’s support of the right-wing settlers and are vexed at how he maintains the status quo of segregation between Israelis and Palestinians.
Peter Beinart, a popular Jewish liberal critic of Israel, wrote an article entitled, “The Lesson of Netanyahu’s Victory: Israel will not change without pressure.” Calling on American Jews to pressure the American government against Israel, his theme is: “It’s time for us to save Israel from itself.”
I find this attitude bemusing. Does Beinart live in Israel? Are his children risking their lives in the Israeli army? Was he in the south of Israel when it was the target of 700 missiles sent from Gaza?
What’s surprising about the election, which was very close and is still not concluded with a majority coalition, is the voting demographics: in Caesarea, the wealthy seaside town where the Netanyahus live, most of the people voted for the opposition, Gen. Gantz. In Rosh Ha’ayin, the working-class, small town where Gantz lives, most people voted for Netanyahu. In Sederot, the southern Israeli town that is most vulnerable to attack, where children constantly have to run to shelters in their schools because of incoming rockets from Gaza and have constantly asked for harsher responses to Hamas’ attacks, 85% of them voted for Netanyahu’s Likud Party and his more right-wing partners.
Unlike Beinart, I don’t think we really have a right to judge this election or to decide for Israel what is best for them. I just finished reading an enlightening book, “An Arabian Journey: One Man’s Quest Through the Heart of the Middle East” by Levison Wood. This young British man traveled the whole Arabian Peninsula by foot, camel, boat and car over a six-month period. “Starting in Northern Syria, amidst the deadliest war of the twenty-first century, Wood set forth on a 5,000-mile trek through the most contested region on the planet. He moved through the Middle East, from ISIS-occupied Iraq through Kuwait and along the jagged coastlines of the Emirates and Oman; across a civil-war-torn Yemen and on to Saudia Arabia, Jordan, and Israel, before ending on the shores of the Mediterranean in Lebanon.”
There’s a famous joke that Israel is a great place but the neighbors are lousy. This book really explains the situation of the neighbors. Most of the area is war-torn. Kurds are fighting Muslims. Muslim Arabs are fight Christian ones. The Shia are fight ISIS, and the Sunnis are fighting the Shia. Then there are some that say none of the above Muslims are true Muslims for Muhammad only taught peace.  In Iraq, Kurds, ISIS and the new Iraqi Army are at war; desolation and destruction are everywhere. In Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia battle openly with the Yemenites caught in the middle. Add to this upheaval invasions by Somalian pirates and Moscow’s and Iran’s hands in Syria and Lebanon, the whole place is unstable.
Living in America where our northern border is about as good as it gets, and where our southern border is mostly of an economic concern, I don’t think we can empathize with an Israeli living in the Middle East.
In the past, I too was critical of Israeli leadership, hoping they’d do more to accomplish peace with the Palestinians. Certainly, the Oslo Accords were a disappointment, but it’s twenty years after those efforts, couldn’t some new progress be made? Yet, now after reading this book, viewing all the chaos in the area, I think maintaining a peaceful status quo with the West Bank Arabs, even if it is unequal and discriminatory, is about as good as gets in the Middle East.  I can now understand why Netanyahu is viewed as hero despite all his flaws.
The Middle East is a hotbed of chaos and anarchy with a few oases of peace and prosperity. The fact that Israel has thrived in this challenging environment is amazing and its leadership should be praised. We hope for peace and equality for all people as an innate part of Jewish and Israeli belief, and I’m sure it’ll happen when the time is right. Until then, we’d be better off not advising Israel on what’s best for them, and stick to planning what’s best for us here in America.

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