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March 6, 2019 4:04 pm

At English-Language Event in Tel Aviv, Lapid Voices Alarm Over Growing Partisanship in US on Israel Support

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

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Yair Lapid. Photo: Adi Cohen Zedek via Wikimedia Commons.

Blue and White joint list co-leader Yair Lapid expressed concern to an English-speaking audience in Tel Aviv on Wednesday that Israel was “losing the Democrats” and lamented that the Jewish state had become a partisan issue in American politics.

Lapid — who is slated to become Israel’s next foreign minister if Blue and White wins the April Knesset elections –was asked to comment on a new Gallup poll that showed a five-percent drop in US public support for Israel to 59 percent, the lowest level in a decade.

“First of all, it’s terrible,” he replied. “It has to do with two very different yet connected elements. One is the fact that Israel is not bipartisan anymore because [the Netanyahu] government has allied itself completely with the Republicans.”

“It’s not only the kind of friendship [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has with President [Donald] Trump,” Lapid said, but also Netanyahu’s fraught relationship with former President Barack Obama.

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“I was unhappy when the bitterness in the relationship between Netanyahu and Obama,” Lapid stated. “If you are upset with the American president, well you know what? You have to do a better job of hiding your feelings, because he’s the American president.”

“Of course, the peak of this was the speech Netanyahu gave in the American Congress in 2014 behind the president’s back, which is not done,” he continued, referring to the Israeli prime minister’s anti-Iran nuclear deal address. “And since then the relations of this government with the Democrats are down the hill.”

“The Democrats also felt, and I cannot say they were wrong, that in the last election Netanyahu’s government was all for President Trump,” he asserted.

Lapid also connected this to “some activities” undertaken by Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, who has strong ties with the Republican Party. Lapid called these activities “at least — how to describe it? — not very suitable for an ambassador to a friendly country.”

“We’re losing them also for other reasons,” he went on to say, noting an “alarming shift in the structure of the Democratic Party.”

“Somebody asked me years ago if you were in America what would you be? And I said, I’d be a conservative Democrat. There’s no conservative Democrats anymore that we can spot. And this works against us,” he added.

Referring to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who has sparked several rounds of controversy recently with comments widely viewed as antisemitic, and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defended Omar’s remarks, Lapid said, “The way they speak about Israel is something we never heard before.”

“Netanyahu’s government just did a very lousy job of fighting this,” he charged. “The fact is that we’re losing our bipartisan stature in the United States.”

Another major factor, Lapid said, is American Jewish alienation from Israel due to the Israeli government’s failure to liberalize its policies on religion and state issues.

“It used to be that when you had a problem in American politics, you go directly to the American Jews,” Lapid noted. “But the American Jews are as upset! A) They are 80 percent Democrats. B) What happened with the Kotel [Western Wall] framework and with the conversion bill is an insult. I mean, the fact that the minister of religion in this country came on the Knesset stage — I was in the hall — and said that Reform Jews are antisemites. This is unacceptable to the biggest congregation in America.”

To change this, Lapid said, Israel must transform its religious institutions.

“Here’s what I’m saying as one of the leaders of Blue and White,” he stated. “Reform Jews are Jews, Conservative Jews are Jews, they should have equal rights; every stream of Judaism should have equal rights in this country. And it is almost unbelievable to me that I have to declare this out loud. I’m stating something that was supposed to be the obvious.”

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