For Bibi, the diaspora is mostly a relic of history
CAST YOUR mind back to the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence last month, and that strange, split-screen moment when the TV networks showed both the dedication ceremony for the new US embassy in Jerusalem and the protests at Israel’s frontier with Gaza, where IDF forces shot dead some 62 Palestinians.
Rightly, it was the latter event that got most of the world’s attention. But I want to focus on a less noticed part of that Jerusalem ceremony.
There were blessings delivered by two Christian pastors, hailing Jerusalem as the city of ‘Jesus Christ our Lord.’ As it happens, both men were familiar. And not in a good way.
First up was the Dallas cleric Robert Jeffress, who once baldly declared, “You can’t be saved being a Jew.” For him, Judaism and other nonChristian faiths not only “lead people away from the true God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in hell.” So not a natural friend of our people.
The closing benediction came from John Hagee, who once preached that Hitler was a “half-breed Jew”, sent by God as his “hunter”, to hound and chase the Jews towards “the only home God ever intended for the Jews to have: Israel.”
That’s right. For Hagee, the Holocaust was part of a divine plan, with Hitler a holy servant.
The pastor also explained that the blame for antisemitism rests, you guessed it, with Jews. Apparently, it’s our punishment for disobeying God.
Odd, then, that this pair of antisemitic cranks should have been given pride of place in Jerusalem, where they were warmly embraced by Mr Netanyahu and his ministers. Odd, but these days not so rare.
Last week, Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US and a close Bibi confidante, hosted Hungary’s foreign minister, praising the country’s leader, Viktor Orban, as a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people. In Mr Dermer’s view, Mr Orban has “zero tolerance for antisemitism.”
That’s hard to square with Orban’s record and especially his recent re-election campaign, which depicted George Soros in classic antisemitic fashion, as a sinister manipulator and puppetmaster.
When Israel’s ambassador in Budapest sided with the local Jewish community to denounce the Soros imagery, Mr Netanyahu intervened — ordering the ambassador to withdraw his remarks.
The Israeli PM has been similarly friendly towards the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, even though Mr Kurz’s coalition includes the Freedom Party, an outfit with recent roots in neo-Nazism. The Jewish community in Vienna is distressed, but Mr Netanyahu is unmoved.
What’s this about? Why would Mr Netanyahu be so comfortable with those who so clearly dislike Jews? Until recently, my answer would have been a variation on “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.” Many of these rightists are vehemently anti-Muslim. They see Israel fighting what they regard as the good fight against Islam, and that leads to an affinity. It’s the same common cause made by those Israeli rightists who’ve become fanboys for Tommy Robinson, and which leads the English Defence League to fly the Israeli flag on their marches. What unites them is a shared loathing of Muslims.
But with Bibi, it goes deeper. It relates to a calculation he seems to have made about the future viability of the Jewish diaspora. Accordin Why is he so comfortable with those who dislike Jews? ing to those who know him well, Mr Netanyahu has concluded that non-orthodox Jewish life outside Israel is doomed. Liberal, secular or cultural Jews in the US or Europe are, thinks the Israeli PM, a dying breed. Within two or three generations they will be gone altogether.
That means future support for Israel from abroad will come from two groups, either evangelical Christians or orthodox Jews. Tellingly, the other guest speaker at the ceremony in Jerusalem was a rabbi from Chabad.
It would explain a lot, from Mr Netanyahu’s disdainful dismissal of liberal Jewish concerns, to his repeated insensitivity to the predicament of diaspora Jews. Witness his urging an audience of Paris Jews after the January 2015 killings at a kosher supermarket to abandon France and come to “our historical homeland, in the land of Israel”, a plea which, framed that baldly, seemed to confirm the hostile, antisemitic notion of Jews as less than fully French. (The audience responded by singing “La Marseillaise.”)
Only a politician who doesn’t care about the plight of diaspora Jews could have been so clumsy. The same goes for the indifference he consistently shows towards the fact that it is Jewish communities abroad who are called to account for the conduct of his government. Bibi could not care less.
That might be because he has written off most of the Jewish diaspora, betting that the Jewish future rests only on Israel and that Israel’s future rests on Christian evangelicals in the US and ultra-nationalist Islamophobes in Europe. So long as the likes of Donald Trump, Fox News and Viktor Orban love Israel, that’s good enough for Bibi. As for the rest of us, we don’t count. To Mr Netanyahu, we’re history.
Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for The Guardian