The recent re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel is a sad portent for Israel, for many Americans – including many American Jews – and for the Palestinians. Netanyahu didn’t hesitate to make a racist appeal to people’s fears, urging his supporters to turn out to vote because “the Arabs are voting in droves.”
“The Arabs” of whom he was speaking are citizens of Israel, exercising their democratic right to vote. To imply that citizens exercising one of the most precious rights of a democracy are somehow a threat is the worst kind of demagoguery.
He also promised that, as prime minister, he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state – a reversal of his publicly stated support of a two-state solution and another slap in the face to America, whose support of a two-state solution has always been a fundamental part of our foreign policy. And now that the election is over, he has done yet another about-face, declaring that he supports a two-state solution “in theory” – in theory, but not in practice.
We know that many politicians routinely lie to get re-elected and to achieve what they want; Netanyahu is no exception. Truth is reflected not in what people say but in what they do, and what Netanyahu, like prime ministers before him, has done is to support the establishment not of a Palestinian state but of more and more illegal settlements in “the occupied territories” – a euphemism for Palestinian land – so as to make the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible.
Netanyahu doesn’t speak for me or for most American Jews. Given Israel’s coalition government, he doesn’t necessarily speak for the majority of Israelis. Nor is Israel to be equated with Judaism, which existed long before Netanyahu or the state of Israel, and which teaches us to “love your neighbor as yourself” and that the hero is “one who makes of his enemy a friend.”
Most Americans have an innate sense of fair play and are appalled to see Israel becoming a colonial power and maintaining an occupation that is now almost half a century old. With its overwhelming strength – financed and supported by American good will, largesse and a touch of naivete – Israel today controls every aspect of the lives of almost three million Palestinians who cannot build a home without Israeli approval; who cannot study abroad without Israeli approval; who cannot even go to school in the next village or go to the hospital or visit family without Israeli approval.
Like most American Jews, I grew up proud of the little state that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust, made the desert bloom, successfully defended itself against an array of Arab armies determined to eradicate it, was and is a haven for Jews suffering persecution in other lands, and has become a powerhouse of science and technology. I believed in the words of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which says, in part:
“The State of Israel . . . will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture … and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
I don’t expect Israel to be a model of perfection any more than I expect it of my own country. But the sad reality is that the policies of Israel’s right-wing government have made Israel less safe and contributed to its isolation in the international community. More, they have fomented anti-Semitism around the world.
The state of Israel is the most important Jewish experiment of the last 2,000 years. It is precious not only to Jews, but to all who love freedom and justice. Jews have long been victims of prejudice, persecution and worse; It would be a bitter irony were Israel to become the permanent victimizer of another people.
Passover is known in Jewish tradition as “the time of our liberation.” At the Passover Seder, we welcome the prophet Elijah, herald of the messianic age – a time of liberation for all peoples. None of us is truly free until all are free.
I wish my friends and neighbors a sweet Passover and a happy Easter. May these holidays be for us and for all our brothers and sisters – in America, in Israel, in Palestine – a time of renewed hope.
Crossposted from Valley News.
Rabbi Dov Taylor is the spiritual leader at Chavurat Ki-tov: A Gathering for Jewish Life and Learning, in Woodstock, Vermont.