Bibi Comes To America
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The details are as follows: Netanyahu arrives today in New York. Aside from personal meetings, he has three major events which determine for Bibi how happy his forthcoming New Year will be for him and for Israel. Before he flies home to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, Netanyahu has a private meeting with Jewish leaders scheduled for Sunday, an address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, and a sideline meeting with Trump–who also addresses the GA on Tuesday.
Each of these events has considerable baggage attached to them and could precipitate extensive political fallout for the Israeli Prime Minister at home, in Washington, and within the American Jewish community. All three events are could expose Israel to considerable potential pushback or support depending on what is said.
Bibi's U.N. Address is as important for his supporters at home as it is for his Government’s friends in the U.S. It is appears likely that he will focus on the Iran Agreement which Israel continues to oppose. Publically, Israel also believes Iran is violating the understanding in every way possible. Israel's officially unconfirmed recent attack on a Syrian chemical weapons installation is only further corroboration of this threat. Netanyahu’s speech will address the growing danger looming from Syria and Lebanon. Israel is also signaling that Syria’s cozy relationship with Iran and Hezbollah could destroy the decades of quiet on the Golan Heights.
Netanyahu’s conversation with Trump is both form and substance. Bibi admires Trump’s arrogant style and braggadocio as both men are suffering serious ethical challenges. He is jealous of it on the one hand but, hopefully, he realizes it is this style that makes it so difficult to trust anything Trump says. This ought to lead Netanyahu to a point where he becomes much more suspicious of both Trump’s motives and endgame when it comes to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. If he continues to be enamored with the Trump’s style, Israel could get caught in a real political dilemma.
His conversation with Jewish leaders–which is a standard part of every Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to the U.S.–almost never happened. It will occur but be private. There is so much angst and annoyance with much that Bibi has done in his political kowtowing to the Charedim and the Charedi parties, that non-orthodox leaders in the U.S. are reluctant to welcome Netanyahu into their community. The transparent manner in which he reneged on previously agreed upon procedures to accommodate non-orthodox groups at the Kotel, infuriated the overwhelming portion of American Jews. Leaving aside their dissatisfaction with Israeli treatment of Palestinians, it is largely internal Jewish issues which have begun to create a genuine wedge among non-Orthodox groups and their leaders in how far they are willing to extend themselves in support for Israel. If Bibi assumes naively that he can paper this over with a warm schmooze with Jewish leaders he is grossly mistaken. In addition, Netanyahu’s overly comfortable relationship with Trump—especially after Charlottesville– and his apparent admiration of Trump’s authoritarian style has also challenged many Jews’ respect for Bibi.
Many non-Orthodox rabbis have already indicated their intention to address the President's record and especially his remarks after Charlottesville during the High Holiday season. These rabbis, it seems, are also in a quandary. They also recognize that they should honor the head of the regime when he calls to wish them Happy New Year. They want, however, to tell the President that they totally disapprove of the false equivalency which Trump persists in making concerning White Supremacists and anti-Semites versus left wing protesters. Since they will not have the opportunity to express their position to the President on this phone call, they have no choice but to decline the call.
This seems to be the correct decision. As all of Washington already knows, Donald Trump never wants to be told he is wrong.