Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / December 16, 1997 / 17 Heshvan, 5758
Do Jews Support Netanyahu?
THE STORY IS TOLD that Gen. Moshe Dayan, the hero of Israel's Six Day War, was greeted on the streets of Jerusalem in 1973 -- after the disastrous first days of the Yom Kippur War -- by curses from passing pedestrians. "God help him who would lead the Jewish people," Dayan grieved.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must be having similar thoughts these days as he attempts to navigate the impossible straights through which Israel must travel. Netanyahu must seek peace without sacrificing Israeli security and seek the privatization of large chunks of the Israeli economy without bringing the country to a (Labor-imposed) standstill.
On every side, Netanyahu is besieged as much by friends as foes. Some say he has brought much of this on himself, and I am not a close-enough observer of Israeli events to judge this, but certainly the trouble he has been getting from leaders of the American Jewish community is unconscionable and quite shocking.
Though American Jews have a well-earned reputation for vigorous and often stentorian support for Israel, it appears that Israeli prime ministers -- the elected representatives of the Israeli people -- can no longer count on such support.
Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations have bragged to the Forward newspaper that Israel can no longer count on American Jews to pressure the U.S. government on Israel's behalf. "Netanyahu very much wants the American Jewish community to pull his chestnuts out of the fire, and that ain't happening," said a satisfied Mark Rosenblum, political director of Americans for Peace Now. "The government of Israel is no longer able to get an automatic 'We're with you, and we're going to take on the administration for you.'"
No, indeed. At a meeting between the Presidents of the Major Jewish Organizations and President Clinton, S. Daniel Abraham, a generous Democratic Party donor, was seated next to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and, according to the Forward, used the occasion to ask whether anyone in the room thought Netanyahu truly wanted peace.
Try to imagine a meeting of Arab leaders in which any member expressed such sentiments about Yasser Arafat! The irony is that -- in contrast to the case of Netanyahu -- there are substantial reasons to believe that Arafat does not want peace. His solemn promises to crack down on terrorism have been broken time after time. His promise to amend the PLO charter -- which calls for Israel's destruction -- has been endlessly delayed. He makes speeches in Arabic calling for never-ending "jihad" or holy war against Israelis and Jews, and he proclaims in those speeches that the "peace process" is merely another stage in the decades-long struggle to liberate Palestine (meaning all of Israel). Look at every map that hangs in the offices of the PLO and you will see no Israel.
So, what is it that Netanyahu has said or done to persuade so many American Jews that he is unworthy of support, that his devotion to peace is suspect? He has made clear, through building programs and by his clear statements, that there will be no repartition of Jerusalem. Jerusalem's status as the permanent capital of Israel is a non-negotiable item for the overwhelming majority of Israelis, and to convey as much to the Palestinians is only fair.
At the same time, Netanyahu has proposed a program for partition of the West Bank that would hand over 50 percent of the territory Israel won in a defensive war to the losers. The Israeli cabinet, including super-hawk Ariel Sharon, is now evaluating which parts of the West Bank Israel must hold for minimal security.
The U.S. position, as usual, is that Israel should continue to make concessions and cede territory even in the absence of reciprocity from the Palestinians. Recently, the director of Middle East studies at the U.S. War College said that the United States should support Israel's survival "within the 1967 borders." Someone should ask Secretary of State Madeleine Albright if that is truly the U.S. policy -- because if so, it stands in stark contrast to the views expressed by the U.S. Congress -- though, perhaps not to those of the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations.