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March 2, 2015 12:56 am

Netanyahu Speaks and (Some) American Jews Tremble

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

Likud members overwhelmingly voted for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to continue leading the party. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

On the eve of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress the level of hysteria among American Jewish liberals has reached cascading proportions. From full-page advertisements in The New York Times to anguished columns in The Times of Israel expressions of outrage pour forth. They are furious lest an Israeli prime minister implicate them in such a heinous deed as warning against the imminent surrender of the Obama administration to Iranian nuclear ambitions.

All the usual suspects on the Jewish left chimed in. J Street released a petition with 20,000 signees protesting: “I’m a Jew. Bibi does NOT speak for me.” That self-identified “pro-Israel pro-peace” group also purchased a full-page advertisement in The New York Times warning that the Prime Minister’s speech would damage American-Israeli relations. Jewish Voice for Peace urged members of Congress to skip the speech, presumably lest they be contaminated by hearing something outside their comfort zone. Not to be outdone Tikkun declared: “No Mr. Netanyahu, we will not let you drag us into a proxy war for Israel against Iran.”

The following warning from similarly frightened American Jews resonates in memory: “Harm has been done to the morale and . . . to the sense of security of the American Jewish community through unwise and unwarranted statements and appeals which ignore the feelings and aspirations of American Jewry.” It might even include: “The State of Israel represents and speaks 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 any other country.” Ooops. Those were the words of American Jewish Committee president Jacob Blaustein, fifty-five years ago, in a letter to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. The Israeli leader had the temerity to request assistance from the American government for the fledgling state and urge  American Jews to make aliya. In the old Yiddish expression: “plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose.”

Now it is Netanyahu’s turn to heighten the anxiety of anxious American Jews. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, criticized his plan to speak to Congress as “a bad idea” because it might make Israel a partisan issue in American politics. “That is something we in the Jewish community cannot afford,” he added. Prominent Jewish organization leaders chimed in. Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman labeled the controversy “a tragedy of unintended consequences.” Seymour Reich, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations lamented that Netanyahu was splitting Congress and dividing the American Jewish community.

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Even former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, not otherwise noted for his pronouncements as a Jew, chimed in. He dutifully informed Israelis: “You should know that the new-found alliance between your Prime Minister and our Republican Party, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and some wealthy right-wing Jews here (such as billionaire Sheldon Adelson), is poisoning the relationship between Israel and the United States.” The shanda of speaking to Congress “foists your own domestic politics onto ours,” especially “the right-wing radicalism that has taken hold in Israel – a radicalism that rejects a ‘two-state solution’ and continues to build new settlements on the West Bank.”

Frustrated and infuriated American Jewish liberals, like their outraged conservative anti-Zionist predecessors, seem terrified at the prospect of an Israeli prime minister saying something to an American audience about protecting Jews. Dual loyalty always has been, and remains, the unspoken curse of Diaspora communities. American Jews – especially, these days, of a leftist persuasion – must beat a hasty retreat from Israel lest it sabotage their privileged American status and penchant for moral preening.

But Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel issued a bold challenge to the Netanyahu naysayers when he announced his intention to attend the Prime Minister’s Congressional warning about the horrific dangers of a nuclear Iran. In an ad placed in The New York Times by Orthodox rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Wiesel requested support “for keeping weapons from those who preach death to Israel and America.”

Who knows better than Elie Wiesel that one Holocaust is enough?

Jerold S. Auerbach is a frequent contributor to The Algemeiner.

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