For years it was an unwritten rule of Israel-Diaspora relations that neither side would meddle in the other’s politics. Israelis and American Jews could discuss the policies of their respective countries, but agreed to keep a polite distance from the electoral side of things.
Like many rules, that one has gone by the wayside in recent years. Some American Jews have found a way to support the candidacies of various Israeli politicians, and each of the last three U.S. presidents has angered one side or the other by signaling their preference for an Israeli party or voting bloc. In accepting an invitation from Speaker of the House John Boehner to speak before a joint meeting of Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu risks stepping on this political land mine. Weighing reports of a strained relationship between President Obama and Netanyahu, critics of the meeting are worried the speech will undermine the essential bipartisan nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
In another breach of the “no politics” rule, Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi, Yonah Metzger, called on Obama to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard or risk Jewish votes in the 2012 election. “I’m not making a prophesy, but rather echoing the frustrations of numerous American Jews who voted for him and are disappointed by his lackadaisical approach to the numerous appeals for Pollard’s release,” Metzger said, according to Israel radio.
It’s true that calls for Pollard’s release are being heard among Jewish groups and individuals that largely ignored his cause for years. They feel Pollard has done his time for an egregious crime, and compassion calls for clemency. Whether American Jews — especially the liberals and Democrats who voted for Obama — would base their votes on this is a dubious proposition.
If anything, Metzger’s message may end up reinforcing the perception among some U.S. government officials that Pollard is still considered a hero among some Israelis and Diaspora Jews, especially on the Right. If so, Metzger’s message might actually hurt his cause.
Pollard’s case should be argued on its merits, and not be coupled with a political threat or warning. American Jews and Israelis find it hard enough to talk about policies — we should keep politics out of it.