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October 23, 2019 6:57 am

Israeli Politicians Must Be Careful With Their Words

avatar by Martin Oliner

Opinion

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addresses the opening session of the 22nd Knesset, in Jerusalem Oct. 3, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

Many politicians have things to apologize for, and there’s no time like the days after Yom Kippur.

Jews around the world recently pounded their chests at Yom Kippur services, as they said, “For the sin we have sinned before you through foolish speech.” This need for repentance is especially true for politicians.

One of the lessons of the fall holidays is the power and impact of words. As Herb Keinon pointed out on the pages of The Jerusalem Post, Foreign Minister Israel Katz triggered a diplomatic crisis with Poland by quoting former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir saying that Poles imbibe antisemitism with their mother’s milk. Katz still has not apologized for that statement.

I had an opportunity to meet Polish President Andrzej Duda recently, and he said he was upset that Katz had not apologized. I told him I have gratitude to Poland, because a righteous couple risked their lives and the lives of their three children by hiding my parents for four years during the Holocaust. I owe my very existence to these people. Our family is still in touch with them.

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While my family did not want to go back to Poland because antisemitism is still part of life there, there are many righteous Poles and their descendants, and it is absolutely wrong to judge all of them together. Duda himself said he knows his people are not perfect. But Katz should see that it is time to move forward and heal.

And he is far from the only Israeli politician who needs to repent. Former Education and Diaspora Affairs minister Naftali Bennett, who had an awful 5779, has a bad habit of also dabbling in the politics of the United States.

Following Donald Trump’s questionable decision to withdraw American forces from Syria, Bennett decided to react on Twitter in English.

“At this time, we, Israelis, pray for the Kurd People who are under a brutal Turkish attack,” Bennett wrote. “The lesson for Israel is simple: Israel will ALWAYS defend itself by itself. The Jewish State will never put its fate in the hands of others, including our great friend, the USA.”

While every word Bennett wrote is correct, what point is there in a leading Israeli politician insulting the American administration on social media? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose foreign policy experience dwarfs Bennett’s, was much more careful and waited for the right time to tweet on the issue. This is also not the first time Bennett made the mistake of interfering in American politics in an unseemly manner.

Then there are the statements about matters of religion and state from both secular and hared politicians, which did nothing to calm tensions and bring either side closer to the other’s point of view. Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz’s campaign against “extortionist” haredim was no more acceptable than the most extreme statements against secular people and left-wingers of the Noam Party.

The final chest-beatings on Yom Kippur should have gone to Democratic Union MK Yair Golan and other politicians across the Israeli political spectrum who have compared virtually anyone to Nazis.

It is not the 1940s, thank God. We have a Jewish state to protect the Jewish people. Now all we need is to stop ourselves from making statements that make us into our own worst enemies.

Martin Oliner is co-president of the Religious Zionists of America, chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity, and a committee member of the Jewish Agency. He can be reached at martinoliner@gmail.com. A version of this article appeared in The Jerusalem Post.

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