Benjamin Netanyahu does not speak for (all) American Jews

Mr. Netanyahu's exaggerated claims to speak not only for his own country, but for Jews throughout the world - not!

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Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu
WASHINGTON,  February 14, 2015 – The controversy over the planned speech before a joint session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March continues to divide Republicans and Democrats.
What has been largely overlooked is Mr. Netanyahu’s exaggerated claims to speak not only for his own country, but for Jews throughout the world who are citizens of other countries, including American Jews. This, needless to say, he has  no mandate to do.
Early in February, Mr. Netanyahu said he was not just the prime minister of Israel but also “a representative of the entire Jewish people.” It is unprecedented for the leader of one country to claim to speak in the name of millions of men and women who are citizens of other countries simply because of their religious faith.
The reaction to his hubris has been widespread. Many American Jewish leaders have urged Mr. Netanyahu not to come, among them Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in the U.S., and Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.J Street, a liberal pro-Israel lobbying group which opposes the occupation of the West Bank and seeks a negotiated two-state solution, declared:  “Israel’s Prime Minister said he would be representing all Jews when he addresses Congress…He said he’s coming to Washington ‘not just as the Prime Minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people.’

Netanyahy is in the middle of a tough election campaign, battling along with other party leaders for the right to represent Israelis, but he certainly can’t claim to speak for Jews in the United States. Benjamin Netanyahu has his own constituents. Coming to the United States to undermine a president who was elected with the votes of 69 per cent of American Jews, while having the audacity to claim he represents us, is real chutzpah.”
Editorially, the Jewish newspaper THE FORWARD (Feb. 11, 2015) asked the question:  “Who Speaks for the Jews?”  It declared:  “By rushing to Paris to march, lecture and promote immigration to Israel after the terrorist attacks in January, Netanyahu rankled many of the Jews he ostensibly was there to help, turning what should have essentially been a shiva (mourning) call to comfort the grieving into an uncomfortable political exercise.  And by claiming to represent all Jews in his plea to a GOP Congress to defy a Democratic president, Netanyahu risks the ‘Israelization’ even the ‘Judaization’ of the debate over Iran’s nuclear weapons.”

According to THE FORWARD, “We have survived into modern times because we haven’t relied on one leader—a king or prelate or pope—and instead embraced the fact that we are diverse in more ways than we can count…We’ve learned to find vitality and sustenance in a dynamic pluralism that resists centralization…Not all our lives are consumed with terror and hate. Not all our lives revolve around Israel.  Editors at THE FORWARD have been penning editorials for more than a century, but we wouldn’t presume to speak for all Jews.  Neither should anyone else.”

In Israel, there is a similar effort to claim to represent those beyond its borders.  In November, a proposal for a basic law titled “Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish People” passed by a vote of 14-6. For the bill to become law it must be approved by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

This legislation would make Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, 20 per cent of the population, less than equal. Beyond this, the claim that Israel is the “nation-state” of “the Jewish people” is on its face fanciful and bears little relationship to reality.

The “nation-state” of American Jews is the United States, not Israel, just as the “nation-state” of British Jews is the United Kingdom and the “nation-state” of French Jews is France, etc.The Zionist notion that Israel is the Jewish “homeland,” and that all Jews living outside of Israel are in “exile” is an ideological construct. The overwhelming majority of American Jews, for example, have always believed that Judaism is a religion of universal values, not a nationality, and that rather than being in “exile” in America, they are fully at home.  They are American by nationality and Jews by religion, just as other Americans are Catholic, Protestant or Muslim.

Sadly, the Israeli government seems not to recognize that Jewish Americans are not “Israelis in exile.”  Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly called upon American Jews to make a “mass aliyah” (immigration) to Israel.

No other foreign government argues that millions of Americans, because of their religion, are in “exile” in the United States and that their real “homeland”or “nation-state” is that foreign country. Israel should be content to be the nation of its own citizens, whether they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim.
Discussing the proposed Nationality Law, Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan argues that, “Saying Israel is a ‘Jewish’ state in the sense of race would be analogous to insisting that the U.S. is a ‘white’ state and defining Latinos as ‘brown.’ And saying it is a Jewish state in the sense of observant believers would be like asserting that the U.S. is a Christian state even though about 22 per cent of the population does not identify as Christian (roughly the same proportion as non-Jews in Israel)…Netanyahu’s demand is either racist or fundamentalist and is objectionable from an American point of view on human rights grounds either way.”

While Israel claims to speak for all Jews, the fact is that it is a theocracy, with Orthodox Judaism, in effect, as the state religion. The majority of American Jews are not Orthodox. Reform and Conservative rabbis have no right in Israel to perform weddings, funerals or conversions.

Israel, when it comes to genuine religious freedom, is more similar to Saudi Arabia and Iran than to Denmark or France.  In what sense, then, can it claim to represent all Jews, when most Jews would be denied genuine religious freedom within its borders?

Zionism and Judaism are radically different. In 1929, Orthodox Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamarat wrote that the very notion of a sovereign Jewish state as a spiritual center was “a contradiction to Judaism’s ultimate purpose.” He wrote:  “Judaism at root is not some religious concentration which can be localized or situated in a single territory.  Neither is Judaism a ‘nationality’ in the sense of modern nationalism…No, Judaism is Torah, ethics and exaltation of spirit…it cannot be reduced to the confines of any particular territory.  For as the Scripture said of Torah, ‘Its measure is greater than the earth.'”

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding Prime Minister, agreed that Israel can speak only on behalf of its own citizens “and in no way presumes to represent or speak in the name of Jews who are citizens of other countries.” That  was 1950. Now, in 2015, Benjamin Netanyahu somehow thinks he is in a position to speak in the name of all Jews, whatever their nationality, citizenship or point of view.  He needs to abandon his grandiose and delusionary view of his role. Whether or not he even speaks for the majority of his own citizens is less than clear. In the last Israeli election, his party received less than 30 per cent of the  vote.

One thing which we can be confident in saying is that Netanyahu certainly does not speak for all American Jews.

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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.
  • ALL JEWS EVERYWHERE (A.J.E.)

    A MESSAGE TO ALL JEWS EVERYWHERE
    FROM ALL JEWS EVERYWHERE

    Our organization, All Jews Everywhere, wishes to voice our appreciation to Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of All Jews Everywhere, Inc., for speaking on behalf of the Chosen People before the Israel Funding Association (sometimes referred to as the U.S. Congress).

    While we applaud Mr. Netanyahu’s invitation to members of Congress to emigrate to Israel, we advise him to drop that “coming home” theme. Bibi, Israel needs our Congress here to keep that spigot open and the funding flowing.

    Many have suggested that Israel should finally relent and apply officially for U.S. statehood. However, we reject that notion, since Israel would then only be represented by two senators, as opposed to 100.

    We are thrilled that Congress will be hosting this noted peace warrior. Bibi Netanyahu routinely provokes more standing ovations than the President of the United States when he addresses Congress. Fortunately, thus far, few self-hating Jews have been so petty as to criticize Mr. Netanyahu for actions he’s taken in his role as colonial administrator.

    We are appreciative of the fact that, like most great leaders, Bibi has been able to negotiate many settlements. Some of those settlements are secured by walls, barbed wire, machine guns, helicopters, drones and tanks, and some argue that Israel is engaged in the oppression and ethnic cleansing of people living in Gaza and the West Bank. We beg to differ! The bulldozing of the houses of the families of 12-year-old terrorists throwing rocks at our tanks is essential in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “Broken Windows: Eternal War for Eternal Peace” program, which of course requires U.S. aid to finance and maintain. Thus, All Jews Everywhere believes it is reasonable that Mr. Netanyahu is preparing to spend three full days in meetings with the executive committee of Congress — known locally as AIPAC.

    We fully endorse Bibi’s cogent point that the problems between the so-called “Palestine” and Israel (whose right to exist as a Jewish state is biblically inscribed — thank you G-d for choosing
    us!) are caused by Iran. It is a known fact that all the problems in the world are a direct result of that rogue nation’s undeclared nuclear ambitions, which pose a serious threat to Israel’s monopoly of undeclared nuclear weapons.

    Although secret cables from 2012 have just surfaced in which Mossad — Israel’s CIA counterpart — judged Iran incapable of manufacturing and deploying nuclear weapons, if the U.S. and its allies do not bomb Iran soon there could be a war gap. As Mr. Netanyahu stated this week while touring Israeli military bases, “I will go to Washington to address the American Congress, because the American Congress is likely to be the final brake before the agreement between the major powers and Iran.” If too much time passes without war, the momentum for war, along with funding, will erode, threatening our way of life. Alarmed at such a possibility, we in the AJE endorse 2016 Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s request to continue U.S. taxpayers’ annual outlay of $3.2 billion in outright gifts to Israel, plus another $9 billion in loan guarantees and funding for projects that provide jobs there as snipers and tank-operators.

    All Jews Everywhere prays for G-d’s assistance in preventing the same methods used to privilege Jews in Israel from being applied by other countries to privilege them against Jews. We reject the anti-Zionist idea that a single humanitarian standard should be applied to all. Otherwise, where are the perks in being the chosen people? We do however suggest that Bibi exchange his camouflage yarmulka for a more conservative one, to keep open his direct pipeline to Adoshem. We worry whether Bibi’s desert camo kippah makes him invisible to G-d. How can G-d protect him, then, and by extension Eretz Yisrael?

    “Money for occupations” or “Money for war”? America is wealthy enough to continue funding Israel’s occupations as well as its wars, and make them our own. Yes we can!

    Next Year in Tehran!
    AJE Executive Board