Politics Have Consequences
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
It is important to understand that underlying the hullabaloo about the Kotel controversy and restricting conversion to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Netanyahu potentially is creating an existential crisis for Israel because of his own selfish, egotistical need to maintain political power. While there are very serious substantive issues between Israelis and Diaspora Jews regarding both issues, ultimately Netanyahu should rethink the consequences for Israel as it affects the willingness of American Jews to carry Israel’s water in the political swamps of American politics.
There has always been an element of chutzpah in the manner in which Israel treated American Jews. They have been asked to advocate for Israel’s needs as defined by any current specific policy objective, until Israel—without consulting American Jews—changes its mind. There are numerous examples of Israel leaving American Jews holding an empty bag as an Israeli Government reversed or modified its policy. When Israel was a state struggling to survive even through the 1980’s, American Jews threw their hands up and reversed course to follow Israel’s interests as it defined them.
Israel is a sovereign state and clearly has every right to determine its own national interest. In 2017, American Jews have many needs and American society has very serious problems. Israel leaders ought to recognize that American Jews are the strongest advocates that Israel has in Washington and throughout the world. They ought not to be treated as a disposable friend who can be replaced at a moment’s notice. America’s agreement to provide Israel with $38 billion of military assistance will only last for ten years. If one quarter of the 2.5% of the American public who are identified as Jews become disillusioned, alienated, and disconnect from Israel, Washington as well as Israel’s enemies will pick that up quickly. Sheldon Adelson can give Israel all the money he wants but he only votes once in Nevada and, if necessary, the Koch brothers could cover his donation to the Republican Party without losing a beat.
If Netanyahu fails to put his political house in order or if no alternative, respectable voice emerges in Israel soon, Israel will be even more isolated than ever. The charedi community will move to America and await the Messiah here. They are not Zionists, most do not serve in the army, and many pay no taxes. They are on the dole from the State and hold the Government political hostage; while Bibi expects American Jews not to object.
In addition, it long overdue for America and Israel’s modern orthodox rabbis to challenge the charedi rabbis. The kotel is not a charedi synagogue. Proper religious conversions cannot be challenged by the charedi rabbinate. The modern orthodox laity is simply weak-kneed in their willingness to condone the passivity of their rabbinical leaders. Zionist Orthodox rabbis must stop looking over their “right” shoulder. They should be stepping forward in support of their non-Orthodox brothers and sisters in America as well as the secular Jews of Israel. If they fail to do so they too are complicit in the decline of support for Israel.
If a Rabin Government could fall in 1976 because American F-15 planes were delivered to Israel on a Friday after Shabbat had begun, maybe American Jews should call for the Netanyahu Government to be replaced by one that cares more about the Jewish people than it does for placating Jews who do not support the State.