Israel’s election and my ethical dilemma

As much as I detest Bibi Netanyahu, we must realize he won the election and elections have consequences.  And he won because his opponents had no consistent message. Last time I was in Israel I had a conversation with a longtime political observer – a Tel Aviv cab driver – who said he backed Bibi because he was a man running against boys, a grown-up with experience that his opponents lacked. I think he is a crook whose only real goal was to gain power, but the electors made their decision and while we may have disliked the way he did it – making friends with corrupt and immoral pols – he won.  Time to move on.

Israelis made their decision.  I don’t get a vote. American Jews may squirm and whine,  it doesn’t matter.  I’ll still support Israel.  I’ll still go there and spend my American dollars. They may look down on my opinions, I’ll still look up to their courage in the face of terror. Recent columns by Tom Friedman and Danny Gordis, both Jews raised in America, laid out their opinions and their perspectives. Friedman saw this as Trump rising from the smoldering ashes to spread his putrid policies, appointing people like Rudy Giuliani as attorney general and a Proud Boys leader as homeland secretary, Marjorie Taylor Greene as White House spokesperson.  He wrote:

The coalition that Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu is riding back into power is the Israeli equivalent of the nightmare US Cabinet I imagined above. Only it is real — a rowdy alliance of ultra-Orthodox leaders and ultranationalist politicians, including some outright racist, anti-Arab Jewish extremists once deemed completely outside the norms and boundaries of Israeli politics. As it is virtually impossible for Netanyahu to build a majority coalition without the support of these extremists, some of them are almost certain to be Cabinet ministers in the next Israeli government.

And there already is a new town in his name:

Gordis, an American rabbi who made aliya in 1998, responded with five points:

Point #1: American Jews want a tepid Israel; most Israelis have never wanted that, and don’t care about the discomfort of those who do.

Here’s the heart of the problem. There are many people around the world who want Israel to be something it does not wish to be. They want it to be successful, but humble. They want it to be strong and secure, but still desperate for foreign support of all sorts. They want it to be Jewish, but in a “nice” kind of way. Israeli dancing (which I haven’t seen here in years), flags at the right time, a country filled with “Hatikva moments” as some call them. A country traditional enough to be heartwarming, but not so traditional that it would dare imply that less intense forms of Jewish life cannot make it. A country steeped in memory, but also one that is finally willing to move on.

Point #2: How the Left and Center gave Smotrich and Ben-Gvir lots of ammo.

Yes, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir are highly unsavory characters, to put matters very mildly. …  Smotrich used the occasion of the Yitzchak Rabin Memorial at the Knesset to attack the Shin Bet and to argue that it was they—and not the Israeli religious right, commonly seen as somehow complicit—who encouraged the murder.

Note, also, that it was a fair election. Who’s saying it was rigged? Anyone saying the election was stolen? Have any players said that they won’t relinquish power? No one. No one at all. A country that was built primarily on a foundation of people who came from non-democratic countries has built a democracy that hasn’t sputtered.

Point #3: Many Israelis feel they’re losing control of the country.

A bit more than a year ago, Israeli Jews and Arabs went to virtual war in the streets of our cities. No one less than President Rivlin called it a pogrom. Interestingly, post-election stats show that the Arabs from those cities where the rioting took place overwhelmingly voted Balad, an Arab party that endorses terrorism and is opposed to Israel being a Jewish state. Interestingly, how did the Jews in those cities vote? … Yup, you guessed it. Smotrich and Ben-Gvir.

Many of the Israelis who voted for Smotrich and Ben-Gvir voted not for the antics and not for the cringe-worthy moments that are sure to follow. They voted for them because Ben-Gvir, actually more than Smotrich, is arguing that it’s time to take the country back.

Point #4: We have got to stop this Trump-Bibi comparison.

Drawing the Trump-Bibi parallel is a quick way of evoking among the vast majority of [Friedman’s] readers a sense that if Israel elects Bibi, Israel is lost (“the Israel we knew is gone”). But despite Bibi’s intention to weaken the judiciary, his use of over-the-top toxic election rhetoric that corrodes Israeli society, his having given his imprimatur to Smotrich and Ben-Gvir and the fact that his intersections with truth seem coincidental at best (even Smotrich has been recorded calling Bibi “the liar of all liars”), Trump and Netanyahu are two very different animals. Bibi is articulate and smart. He’s a voracious reader of history (and much more). He thinks (and I agree) that Diaspora life often tends to foster an inability to see danger in time. He’s both a rough-and-tumble (ruthless) politician, and a genuine intellectual.

Point #5: If you know Israeli history, you stop trying to predict it.

No doubt American-Israeli relations may sour as Bibi names his cabinet. Barak Ravid, a native Israeli journalist who is Axios’ correspondent in Israel, writes:

The Biden administration is closely watching to see who incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu names as Israel’s defense minister, with some U.S. officials concerned a politician from a Jewish supremacist party will be appointed to the post.  

The minister of defense is the most powerful position in the Israeli government after the prime minister and manages the security relationship with the United States.

Smotrich, the leader of the Jewish supremacist Religious Zionism list that is part of Netanyahu’s bloc, is expected to demand he be appointed defense or finance minister. He supports building settlements and annexing the West Bank, refuses to call settlers who attack Palestinians “terrorists,” and has called for more forceful action by the Israeli military in the West Bank.  U.S officials are particularly concerned Smotrich will get the defense minister post. It’s unclear whether the Biden administration will work with Smotrich, who has a track record of making racist, anti-Arab and anti-LGBTQ comments.

However, Netanyahu could also appoint himself to the position — something several prime ministers have done in the past.

So here is my most serious concern:

Should Israel be held to a higher ethical standard?

As an American, with our own political issues, we don’t have a vote in Israel.  But as a Jew, cringing as we watch Israeli officials act immorally (in our Jewish world view), don’t we have a say?  

During Viet Nam, many Americans took comfort in the aphorism that individuals have morals, but nations do not; they just have interests, not morals.  I disagree.  The actions taken by the only Jewish state in the world do reflect on me.  Antisemitism with its accompanying violence affects me. When Bibi speaks for Israel, he must remember that what he says and what Israel does affects every Jew.  Everywhere.

So, yes, I may not have a vote in Israeli Elections, but I certainly have a voice.

Yes, I do hold Israel to a higher standard.

They accepted that responsibility when they declared Israel a Jewish state.