Netanyahu: With Trump—Less With American Jews
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The alienation between Prime Minister Netanyahu and American Jews appears to be continuing to grow while at the same time his love affair with President Trump appears to continue to grow. In a matter of a few days there have been indications that have spoken to both issues.
Reports have suggested that the White House is finishing up a proposal for restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Netanyahu is reported to be skeptical and the Trump circle has indicated that Abbas is prepared to join such discussions. In addition, it has been noted that some of the Gulf States are prepared to joining in such an effort. How much is true and will actually happen is dubious but Netanyahu has announced that he is ready to join such talks although he questions their viability as well as whether they will ever really begin. This is to say nothing as to whether they can produce constructive results. Bibi also has apparently indicated that he is sure—whether he actually believes this or not is not clear—that the Trump Administration will back Israel’s position, regardless.
With respect to American Jews, the level of hostility in many circles has become so intense that Netanyahu has announced he will not be addressing the annual conference of the Jewish Federations of North America meeting in L.A. between November 12-14. This unprecedented move—should it come to pass—indicates how much hostility Bibi has built up among the national leadership of North American Jews over the last year alone.
While there is considerable disagreement with Netanyahu and his Government’s policy regarding the Arabs and peace talks, that is not at the root of this split. American Jewish leaders are largely not from the Orthodox community and certainly not from the haredi community. The overwhelming leaders as well as the attendees are Conservative or Reform Jews or even religiously unaffiliated. While they are certainly pro-Israel they continue to be extremely upset at how Bibi and his Government have addressed any initiatives to permit religious pluralism at the kotel, (the Western Wall); that space would be provided for worship by members of the non-Orthodox communities. They are also frustrated that the Bibi appears to be willing to support legislation which will acquiesce to Orthodox demands to permit the Chief Rabbinate to be the sole determinant of Jewish religious conversions. They sense that the Government persists in capitulating for political reasons to the religious community. This occurs despite the fact that Israeli Governments have promised for years to create genuine accommodations as they have been urged emphatically for years by non-Orthodox Jews especially in the Diaspora.
Netanyahu’s decision to renege on his commitment has elicited serious concern that he would receive a lukewarm reception—at best—at this annual meeting. There are reports that Netanyahu is not attending or even speaking by remote television feed because he does not want to appear together with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin. Netanyahu has had numerous sharp differences with Rivlin over the past few years, however this is fake rationale for Bibi’s skipping the meeting. It appears rather to be much more of a political or diplomatic charade.