Opinion

Netanyahu’s Fawning Over Trump Is a Slap in the Face to American Jews

Israel’s government has failed to distinguish between establishing good working relations with the new administration and sycophancy. Progressive Israelis must step in and speak out on behalf of U.S. Jews.

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, reacts while Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli's prime minister, speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 15, 2017..
Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

The majority of American Jewry is in shock, still digesting the formerly unfathomable notion of Donald Trump's electoral victory and the ascendancy of the alt-right. Long-term American values such as diversity, welcoming motivated immigrants, respect for the judicial process, racial and gender equality have been cast aside. In such an environment, American Jews have never felt more insecure about their future. Yet, current Israeli leadership has proven deaf and blind to the plight of American Jewry, while Israel's progressive camp has failed to speak out.

Recent Pew surveys have shown American Jews to be among the most strongly liberal groups in America. More than 70% of American Jews supported Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. For the vast majority of American Jewry Trump’s election, his administration’s attempts to ban immigration from seven Muslim majority countries, the resurgence of anti-Semitism, the intentional omission of Jews as victims of the Holocaust in a recent White House statement, and the emergence of the alt-right hero Stephen Bannon as key White House advisor, has been the stuff of nightmares.

Highlights From the Trump-Netanyahu Press Conference Haaretz.com

Yet Netanyahu, during his Wednesday press conference with President Trump, did not hesitate to give Trump and his administration a clear pass on any charges of anti-semitism, stating "there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump." This follows other statements of support, such as his Trump like Tweet endorsing Trump's plan to build a wall on the Mexican border.

Netanyahu is not alone. Many Israelis are blind to the anguish of their fellow Jews across the ocean. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat used paid Facebook advertising to disseminate a series of astonishingly insensitive videos, one lambasting Obama as having surrendered to radical Islam while abandoning Israel to a hostile UN and the other showing Jerusalemites celebrating Trump's victory. Interior Minister Aryeh Dery went even further, claiming that Trump's victory is a sign of the coming of the Messiah as a result of what he sees as the blow his victory dealt to non-Orthodox Jews in the United States.

The Israeli government needs to establish good working relations with the Trump administration. Yet there is a wide gap between good working relations based on respect and shared interests, and the fawning, over the top affection for Trump exhibited by Israel's current leadership. This behavior makes a mockery of the time-honored Jewish ethos of 'all of Israel are responsible for one another' and represents a slap in the face, during their hour of need, to the majority of American, Jews who continue to support Israel financially and diplomatically.

Where the Israeli government has failed, the Israeli opposition and civil society should step in. If nobody in the Israeli government is willing to hold the White House accountable for the intentional omission of Jews in a statement on the Holocaust, then opposition lawmakers should not hesitate to do so from the Knesset podium. As the Senate conducts hearings this week on David Friedman's nomination as ambassador, Israelis need to speak out on the downsides of receiving an American ambassador renowned for his hateful and divisive rhetoric and whose views on unbridled settlement expansion are at odds with the majority of the Israeli public. Israeli democracy and human rights activists, who have already weathered eight years of an unsympathetic hard line Israeli government, need to be proactive in sharing strategies and lessons learned with their American Jewish colleagues.

It is imperative that American Jews know that, during these troubled times, progressive Israelis are aware of their plight, care about their welfare, and are willing to speak out on their behalf. Now, more than ever, progressive Israelis must rise to the challenge, give life to the Jewish values of joint responsibility, and be there loudly and clearly for their American Jewish brethren.

The pendulum will swing, both in Israel and the U.S. Policies based on fear and exclusion, and on endless conflict will not succeed. People will tire of the “alternative facts” thrown at them and will seek more constructive solutions. Israeli and American progressives, as they seek to move ahead during these dark times, need to stand together and strengthen one another. They must remember that they have allies on the other side of the ocean.  

Chaim Landau is an associate at Shatil, the action arm of the New Israel Fund. He is founder of Perspectives Israel, which educates about the complexity of the challenges facing Israel from multiple viewpoints. He lives in Jerusalem.