The Jerusalem Post
New gov’t to test those abroad who ‘shunned Bibi, not Israel’
Anti-Zionism, for some people, is nothing less than a politically correct way to be an antisemite. Just ask Britain’s ex-Labour head Jeremy Corbyn.
But how about anti-Netanyahu sentiment abroad? Is that, perhaps, just a politically correct way to be anti-Israel? To determine the answer, it will be worth watching US Sen. Bernie Sanders.
How will US domestic terror strategy affect antisemitism?
That’s right, Sanders, the onetime US presidential candidate whose campaign was chockfull of attacks on former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “racist.” In one presidential debate, Sanders said that “sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running the country.”
During that same campaign, Sanders loudly declared via a tweet that he would not attend the annual AIPAC conference because he was “concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”
So now that there is a new government in Israel, and now that Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will increasingly be the face of Israel to the world, is Sanders
going to accept an invitation to AIPAC if Lapid is the featured Israeli speaker there? For, after all, Lapid is a liberal, and in his first speech as foreign minister on Monday said one of his top goals is to repair ties with the Democratic Party.
Or, perhaps, was Sanders’ animus toward Netanyahu – and the animus of the far-left flank of the Democratic Party he represents, along with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and others – just camouflage and an excuse to hide a far deeper hostility toward Israel?
Ever since Netanyahu publicly tangled with former president Barack Obama, and then embraced Donald Trump, it has been convenient for some Democrats and progressives to couch deep-seated anti-Israeli sentiments by saying they are not against Israel, but rather only against Netanyahu or “Netanyahu’s Israel.”
An oft-heard refrain has been, “Being pro-Israel does not mean being pro-Netanyahu?” This, of
course, is true. But now that Netanyahu is no longer running the show, will these people who were not “pro-Netanyahu” all of a sudden reevaluate what they think of Israel? Or was it all just a ruse?
Or, how about the claim that Israel is no longer the Middle East’s only true democracy, a claim that has gained currency in recent months, with even New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writing a couple of weeks ago that Israel “is not even pretending to be a democracy anymore.”
Will those who have already declared the death of Israeli democracy now do a U-turn, seeing as the Jewish state just went through a peaceful – though not particularly aesthetic – transfer of power that brought into government the most ideologically diverse coalition in its history, a coalition that includes, for the first time, an Arab Islamist party.
Will those chanting that Israel is an “apartheid state” now bang palm to forehead and say, “Whoops, our bad,” seeing that an Arab party is not only in the coalition, but an Arab politician – Mansour Abbas – is actually the one who made this governmental possible?
The answer to the above is obvious: Of course not. Despite the political developments of the last few days, the Israel-is-evil chorus will give neither Israel nor its democracy any credit. Rather, it will likely accuse it of “democracy-washing,” just as it accuses Israel of “pinkwashing” its “persecution” of the Palestinians by highlighting its progressive record on gay rights.
The pause in the Netanyahu era – it is premature to call it the end of that era since he is very much still a part of the political scene and has vowed to return – will be a test for Sanders and his ilk. Were they really just anti-Netanyahu, or were they actually all along just deeply hostile to Israel?
For those “social justice activists” inside the Democratic Party whose animosity for Israel stems from viewing it as an instrument of white supremacy and imperialism, having a Bennett-Lapid government will not really matter. Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz could be the prime minister for all they care, and the Jewish state would still be an illegitimate, “colonialist” enterprise.
It will also be interesting now to watch what happens in the US Jewish community as a result of the change in government.
For years, a narrative has been promoted, saying that young Jews are turning away from Israel because of Netanyahu and his policies.
And while there surely are young American Jews for whom Israel does not fit into their romantic ideals of what the country should look like, this argument is also a convenient smokescreen, a way for American Jewry to shift the blame for a loss of identity among its youth onto Israel’s shoulders.
If a lack of connection, affection and empathy for Israel and its people among American Jewish youth could be blamed on Netanyahu and his policies, then American Jewry is freed of responsibility for failing to instill into segments of its Jewish youth a feeling of connection, affection and empathy for Israel and its people.
In this narrative it wasn’t assimilation and a dwindling sense of Jewish identity, solidarity and peoplehood that caused the drift of some young American Jews from Israel; rather, it was Israel’s policies, including not welcoming the liberal branches of Judaism and caving into the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and refusing to implement the Western Wall compromise that would have led to the establishment of an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.
Now, with a new government in place that will likely implement the Western Wall agreement and be more receptive to the needs and desires of Reform and Conservative Jews, will an uptick in support from American Jews soon follow?
Or, perhaps, might it emerge that the brouhaha over the Western Wall plan was important for a small number of committed American Jews, while others just latched onto the idea that “Israel does not accept me or my Judaism” as an excuse for not supporting a country to which they simply feel little emotional connection?
In the coming days, the new Bennett-Lapid government will face many tests. At the same time, this diverse government without Netanyahu at its helm will also be a test revealing the true attitudes of those in the US – Jews and non-Jews alike – who were conveniently able to say over the last few years, “We’re not against Israel, only Netanyahu.”
Now we’ll see if they were being sincere.