Column: Israel Is Our Business

Israel’s Six-Day War disrupted Benjamin Netanyahu’s graduation plans at Cheltenham High School, located less than a mile from the Philadelphia neighborhood where I grew up. I recall reading that he skipped his graduation in June 1967 so he could fly to Israel and risk his life in defense of his native land.

Now Netanyahu is dedicated, so it seems, to undoing all that went into transforming Israel into the great small nation it is today. It is common knowledge that Bibi, Netanyahu’s nickname, is leading the right-wing’s charge to alter the judiciary beyond recognition. Bibi’s coalition has also proposed annexing the Palestinian territories and restricting secular activities that will inconvenience non-Orthodox Jews.

Last week, Bibi advanced from severe tone-deafness to odious arrogance when he labeled protesters as “thuggish” and lectured critics on the meaning of democracy. When America’s ambassador to Israel urged Bibi to slow down, an Israeli cabinet minister told him, “Mind your own business.”

Israel is suddenly enduring not just terroristic bombardment but also legal, diplomatic, political and economic bombardment. Besides murders of three Israelis, settlers’ brutal vigilantism and massive protests, many booming high-tech companies are creating their own brand of Isrexit by moving their operations and bank accounts out of the Holy Land. Isn’t that a sufficiently blunt message?

While I have mixed feelings about Bibi, I felt insulted and frustrated by his lack of responsiveness. Bibi should know better that American Jews have contributed funds to Israel, lobbied for our government’s support of Israel and defended Israel’s actions when harsh critics bashed our homeland. Add to this America’s ongoing military aid and diplomatic help, and the struggles of Israeli citizens.

“In a democracy,” a patronizing Netanyahu scolded, as quoted in The New York Times, “the people vote in elections and the representatives of the people vote here in Parliament. That is called democracy.”

We can surely think of words to “call” Netanyahu. He was just getting started:

“Unfortunately, the protest leaders are trampling democracy. They do not accept the results of the election, they do not accept the decision of the majority.”

No, Bibi. Do you think that the voters’ freedom of speech ends with the election? Netanyahu can argue that Israel has no First Amendment that permits his citizens to speak. Do Jews anywhere need a law authorizing us to blab? As David Ben-Gurion in so many words reputedly told President Eisenhower, “You try governing 2 million prime ministers.”

Netanyahu can at best claim a very slight majority behind him on conservative policies. The mass rallies in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and elsewhere send a powerful message that a large portion of Israelis oppose Bibi’s most controversial plans.

For that matter, did everyone who voted for the coalition’s parties want the Knesset to override Supreme Court decisions?

The majority of the Knesset has the authority to enact any policy it sees fit, but must it act without offering a forum for public debate? They could take the time to hold hearings and explore the pros and cons of these policies.

Since Bibi defines democracy as ending with the election, what was he doing intruding on a foreign country’s democracy? Before his first election as prime minister during the last century, why did he appear on a foreign country’s Sunday news programs defending Israel’s policies? During a stint between prime minister posts, why did he testify before a foreign country’s congressional committee urging said foreign country to invade Iraq? After returning to his pm job, why did he choose sides with one political party in the same foreign country?

It should be no wild guess to identify the foreign country in question.

Most curious is the four-word, no-nonsense response of Amichai Chikli, the Israeli cabinet minister charged with relations with the Jewish diaspora, to the message of American ambassador to Israel Thomas R. Nides that was articulated in a CNN podcast: “We’re telling the prime minister, as I tell my kids, pump the brakes, slow down, try to get a consensus, bring the parties together.”

And Chikli told him: “Mind your own business.”

Did I mention that Chikli is responsible for relations with the Jewish diaspora?

What would happen if Jews in America and elsewhere mind our own business?

Minding our own business will mean sending no more funding for social programs in Israel through our Jewish Federations, the largest Jewish charities. Minding our own business will mean ceasing our lobbying for America’s long-lasting support for Israel. And when Israel’s bashers label it as an apartheid state, we will ignore them so they can move on to persuade others with an uninterrupted tirade against Israel’s so-called brutality.

Such hypocrisy is not lost on Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who heads the U.S. Union for Reform Judaism.

“That criticism is only ever used one-sidedly,” Jacobs said in addressing another one of those massive crowds in Tel Aviv this past weekend, The Times of Israel reports. “They say we can’t have an opinion but then they say that ‘we need your help on this important issue in Congress.’

“We’re not asked to stay away in those moments. And we do it with complete commitment. It’s not right to say, ‘We’ll let you know when you can weigh in.’”

By no means can anyone dictate Israel’s policies, nor should we. Israel is a sovereign nation whose leaders must decide on its future actions. However, they must consider the stakes for Jews throughout the world and that of America and other nations which have helped Israel become what it is today.

We are partners in shaping Israel. That makes Israel our business.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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