For the overwhelming majority of North American Jews, there are a number of valuable lessons in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Sunday morning massacre of pluralism in the Jewish world.
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One of them is this: You mean nothing to him. To Netanyahu, you are as invisible and as silent and as docile and as contemptibly polite and as fully expendable as you are, periodically, useful.
Otherwise, there is no way he would have bowed to ultra-Orthodox political extortion, reneging on promises to you and summarily quashing an agreed-upon plan to create a worthy space for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Nor would he have immediately followed this by adding crushing insult to lasting injury. Without a care in the world, his government spurred forward a bill that would anchor the monopoly of the state’s bottomlessly corrupt, exclusionary, arbitrary and universally infuriating Orthodox clerical Rabbinate bureaucracy over conversions to Judaism performed in Israel.
But that’s just the beginning. The real lesson for American Jews – and all progressive Jews everywhere – came later in the day: The only way you’ll ever get his attention, the only way to make your views and your voice heard, is to boycott him.
It’s the only language he understands.
On Sunday, Netanyahu was going his merry way, unconcerned by the firestorm the anti-pluralism decisions had set off, until an unprecedented protest boycott by, of all people, the heads of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency – perhaps the last people on earth whom one would expect to publicly take issue with an Israeli prime minister.
Enraged by Netanyahu’s actions – and his stabbing-in-the-back of its widely revered leader, Natan Sharansky – the Jewish Agency canceled a high-profile ceremonial dinner at the Knesset, at which the prime minister was to have served as headliner.
The Reform movement then followed suit, canceling a planned Thursday meeting with Netanyahu at his office.
It’s the only language he understands. And he proved that at once, when he called in a number of American Jewish leaders Monday to discuss the crisis – but the list of invitees directly and snarlingly snubbed Sharansky, his board of governors, and all officials of the Reform and Conservative movements.
In fact, no Israeli prime minister has ever used boycotts with anywhere near the frequency and damage to Israel’s own image the way Netanyahu employs them. The list is long. A few highlights...
He has directed boycotts against the German foreign minister (because Sigmar Gabriel refused a Netanyahu order to boycott left-wing nongovernmental organizations Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem); against explicitly pro-Israel liberal Jews (J Street, blackballed for membership in the Netanyahu-influenced Conference of Presidents of Major North American Jewish Organizations); the New Israel Fund; and, most recently – until the Sharansky/Reform/Conservative snub – UNESCO (a fact-finding mission was barred at the weekend from accessing Hebron, where the Palestinian Authority seeks to have the Tomb of the Patriarchs included on a UN list of endangered sites).
Why would you need to go as far as to boycott Netanyahu?
Look closer at the prime minister’s actions on Sunday and you see that, prior to the boycotts, he was blissfully unaware there was any real problem with the roundhouse punch he landed on North American Jewry.
Just a routine day for Netanyahu, or so it seemed. Just one more everyday payment of political extortion demands from ultra-Orthodox parties, in order to cement the prime minister’s grip on power. So insignificant, in fact, that on his well-tended, constantly updated Facebook page,
Netanyahu had nothing new on his mind but this: “We were here in this land for thousands of years before the Ayatollahs took the people of Iran hostage and we’ll be here long after their theocratic tyranny is just a footnote of history.”
Dear American Jews: This is exactly the time to take back your power.
If you’re in the favored, tiny minority who adore all things Netanyahu and Trump, as you like. Geh gezunterheit! Go for it, and be well.
But if you’re one of that 80 to 90 percent that wants to see liberal, profoundly democratic values expressed both in North America and Israel – values that go far, far beyond the wedge issues of the Western Wall and Orthodox monopolies on conversions, marriage, divorce and burial – this is exactly the time to stand up for yourself.
Wherever Netanyahu goes, boycott him.
Boycott him however and whenever you can. If he appears at AIPAC, walk out. Picket him everywhere and every way you can. Protest when he appears at the Conference of Presidents, or a synagogue, or an evangelical mega-church, or a Sheldon fundraiser.
Picket him when he goes to see his pals Donald Trump and Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.
Let him know what you think. Let him know you exist.
He thinks you’re nothing. That’s exactly what he deserves, and what we should all give him. Nothing.
The divorce between Benjamin Netanyahu and the overwhelming majority of American Jews is now nearly final.
On Sunday, Netanyahu dictated his terms. Not amicable.
It’s time for you to voice yours. Deny Netanyahu visitation rights.
Boycott him. It’s the only language he understands.
If Netanyahu expected a Monday meeting with selected Jewish leaders to blunt the anger, or the possibility of boycotts, he was mistaken.
The next day, the head of the 300,000-strong Chicago Jewish community said the community would shun any visiting Israeli lawmakers who voted for the new conversion legislation.
"The Federation in Chicago will not be hosting any member of Knesset that votes for this bill. None. They will not be welcome in our community," Jewish United Fund and Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago President Steven Nasatir, who took part in the Monday Netanyahu meeting, told The Times of Israel.