Israel’s Republican Prime Minister

By Dow Marmur

Jerusalem (Sept. 25, 2017) – One of the many things that President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu seem to have in common is their disdain for, nay hatred of, Barack Obama. The president’s obsession with ObamaCare is an apt example as is the prime minister’s fixation on the Iran nuclear deal. Both may have objective reasons for their views, but it’s difficult not to see the added fervor in their opposition as both issues are identified with the former U.S. president’s Democratic policies.

That’s one of several reasons why, by all accounts, Iran was the principal item on Netanyahu’s agenda when he met with Trump in New York last week. It was also the main theme of his United Nations address. Ironically, Iran, for its own reasons, is colluding by engaging in provocative acts which vindicate Netanyahu’s stance.

Preoccupation with Iran may also be a reflection of the prime minister’s reservations about the prospect of peace with the Palestinians. It was obviously kept off the agenda. Though Trump seems to want to make peace between the Palestinians and Israel, he may have also realized by now that it’s not easy. All may say that they want it, but nobody appears to be prepared to do enough about it.

The issue about non-Orthodox access to the Kotel may be, in the view of some, ill chosen, but for better or worse, it has become central.

Of course, Donald Trump and Binyamin Netanyahu don’t need Obama to be opposed to the Democratic Party. Israel’s most American prime minister is also an ardent Republican. This may work in his favour at present enabling him to state that never have United States-Israel relations been better than under the current U.S. administration, but the time will come when the United States will have a Democrat as president and, for all we know, a Democratic majority in Congress. What then?

U.S. support for Israel has always been bipartisan with American Jewry as the most ardent, influential and consistent advocate. Is Netanyahu jeopardizing it? An opinion piece in last month’s Ha’aretz by the distinguished Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer seems to suggest it in accusing the prime minister of not paying due attention to American Jewry.

The issue about non-Orthodox access to the Kotel may be, in the view of some, ill chosen, but for better or worse, it has become central. By going back on the Israeli government’s commitment to make prayer space available for non-Orthodox streams thus appeasing his Orthodox coalition partners who’re obviously against it, and thus keeping himself in power, Netanyahu is alienating the majority of American Jewry which also has in its midst many of the most influential Americans.

Combined with the fact that, by all accounts, support for Israel is weakening among young American Jews, the short-term gain of keeping the coalition together may result in long-term losses when it comes to keeping the Jewish people together.

Yes, most Jews, particularly those who now want equal access to the Kotel, may have voted for Obama and, yes, many of them may be opposed to, nay outraged by, the antics of President Trump, but the commitment to Israel on the part of American Jewry has been solid. To jeopardize it now is irresponsible. Netanyahu wouldn’t be the first politician in history to opt for expediency at the expense of statesmanship, but Israel cannot afford it.

Mr. Prime Minister: this is the week of repentance and retrospection in the Jewish calendar.

Rabbi Dow Marmur is Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He lives in Jerusalem.

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