Jewish-American leaders must choose U.S. President Barak Obama over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is time for them – together with Jewish leaders around the world – to acknowledge what much of the Israeli electorate already knows: Netanyahu is bad for the Jews.
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American Jews have always been careful to show respect to the Office of the President of the United States, even when they were less than enamored with the Middle East policies of the person holding it. They must now find the courage to acknowledge that an Israeli prime minister who insults both the office and the president is no friend of American Jewry. Netanyahu's vendetta against Obama is particularly galling, because Israelis and Jewish Americans have rarely had a friend in the White House as committed, generous and reliable in his support for them as the current president.
Jewish-American leaders should find themselves in an uncomfortable position when Netanyahu addresses Congress against the wishes of the president. An Israeli politician who makes common cause with one American political party over the other damages bi-partisan support for Israel, regardless of whether politicians from both sides of the aisle give Netanyahu ovations, as they have in the past. An Israeli leader who works actively with the Republican Party to discredit the Democratic Party is spitting in the face of the American Jewish electorate, which has given 64 to 90 percent of its vote to the Democratic presidential nominee in almost every election for the last 50 years.
I do not envy Jewish-American leaders, who have to distinguish between the office of the prime minister as the leader of State of Israel, and Benjamin Netanyahu, a jingoist politician who always puts his personal political ambitions first. Netanyahu knows that appearing to stand up to foreign leaders plays well to his voter base, who revel in the illusion that their strong leader won't let anyone tell Israel what to do, and that after six years of Likud-sponsored attacks on Obama, many of Netanyahu's followers mistakenly believe that Obama is not a friend of Israel. Rather than welcoming Israel’s prime minister with the usual fanfare and adulation, Jewish-American leaders should signal him that his grandstanding is not appreciated when it gratuitously thrusts American Jews and Israel between two branches of U.S. government.
Ostensibly, Netanyahu will speak to Congress to express Israel’s desperate need to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Like most Israelis, I believe that Iran poses an existential threat to our future. Jews everywhere are right to feel endangered by Iran. The apparent assassination last week of prosecutor Alberto Nisman in Argentina, just before he was to present evidence of a cover-up of Iran’s involvement in the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center, brings home the immediacy of the menace and the long arm of our opponent. But I do not think that the U.S. Congress needs Benjamin Netanyahu to explain again his well-publicized opposition to the current negotiations or the dangers posed to the Western world by Iran’s subversive global activities.
Over the last several years, Netanyahu has sounded the alarm about the Iranian threat repeatedly and with consistent urgency, if with intermittent timing. The result has been for Netanyahu to turn himself into the boy who cried wolf. Unlike the situation in the United States, only some European leaders acknowledge the danger, but too many cannot abide the messenger. The Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket massacres brought home this risk more than ever; Europeans have long stopped listening to Israel’s prime minister. This state of affairs is tragic, and it is Netanyahu’s fault.
A responsible leader would have worked overtime to strengthen the alliance with Israel's most important allies – the U.S. president and the heads of Europe – for a united campaign against Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Instead, Netanyahu has made a practice of insulting our most important partners, most recently when he antagonized the president of France and other European leaders by his self-aggrandizing behavior at the Solidarity March in Paris.
And the Paris incident, of course, was minor compared to the enmity toward Israel that Netanyahu’s consecutive governments have cultivated among European leaders by expropriating Palestinian land and expanding settlements. Netanyahu acts as if the Israeli right need never compromise to assuage our allies; the world will recognize the justice of their cause, and if it doesn't, its criticism can be exploited for political gain. This is a terrible miscalculation.
More than three quarters of Israeli voters rejected Netanyahu’s party in the 2013 elections, and current polls forecast similar results in 2015. While Netanyahu was able to form the government due to Israel’s factional parliamentary system, the vote hardly represented an overwhelming mandate for a man who fancies himself the Leader of the Jewish People. I cannot resist pointing out that more Jews voted for Obama than Netanyahu.
It is time for American Jewish leaders to pluck up the courage to say "no" to an Israeli prime minister who uses a feud between the Democratic president and the Republican- dominated Congress for a stunt to boost his television ratings back home. It is time for Jewish-American leaders to say "no" to Benjamin Netanyahu.
Don Futterman is the Program Director for Israel for the Moriah Fund, a private American Foundation, working to strengthen civil society and promote democracy and peace in Israel. He can be heard weekly on TLV1’s The Promised Podcast.