The Bibi cha-cha

Benjamin Netanyahu is the winner of the most recent election in Israel. Odds are on his side to build a coalition and continue his premiership. I wish him well. But many are still gargling to get the yucky taste out of their mouth.

Every match up will have a winner and a loser, whether pitcher versus batter or presidential hopefuls. But if a win is achieved through sneaky tactics or cheap moves it salts the wound of the loser and mitigates the validity of the winner. That is what happened when the incumbent Prime Minister made some political statements on the eve of last week’s election.

There is a new dance craze in the Middle East. It is called the Bibi cha-cha; you step forward before the election with right-wing statements and then quickly take two steps back after it helps you win. Spin your allies round and round. Repeat.

There is a reason why Jews notoriously cannot dance. It is because we are not inclined to move forward and backwards in quick steps. We are fashioned in classrooms and synagogues to champion honesty and never to step out of rhythm only to cater to personal needs and endeavors. We are supposed to have passions and principles. While they might change and adjust, decency and morality is the core of our cadence.

Bibi’s ballet undermined that foundation. World leaders are mad. As an unwavering Zionist, I am embarrassed. This behavior unnecessarily feeds a derisive narrative of the conniving Israeli in the marketplace. It needlessly transfers our focus from Israeli doctors healing wounded Syrian refugees and mind-blowing technology that enables the paralyzed to walk again to questioning honesty and intentionality. What a shame.

Two countries with shared values and much at stake are falling hardest victim. President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are both hip deep in the pool created by their endless pissing match. The stench and volume are proving unbearable. This episode only worsens the matter while big issues and opportunities are ignored.

It is time for both of these world leaders to be as stubborn in their commitment to their countries’ alliance and future as they are in who is right and wrong between them.

Lest President Obama wag a finger in the face of the Prime Minister about cheap statements to garner votes, I would jog his memory to 2008. I was sitting a mere pitching-wedge away at AIPAC when then Democratic presidential hopeful, Senator Obama, said to a sympathetic audience of close to 8,000 people “Jerusalem is the undivided and undisputed capital of the State of Israel.” Hours later, when he was out of the AIPAC forum and had secured the nomination, he practiced his dance moves by taking steps back and restating that the status of Jerusalem must be determined by the parties through negotiations. Another Fred and Ginger move!

The notion that all politicians lie doesn’t pass muster for me. That is not a compelling reason for speeding on the highway or deflating footballs before an NFL game.  If it is wrong, then it should not happen. We are better than that. We deserve more than that. That is what it means to be a light unto the nations.

I spend oodles of time with Baby Boomers, Generation X’ers and Millennials. What all of these wide-age-gapped groups share is an unquenchable thirst for honesty, goodness and morality from their leaders; elected and appointed. They expect police to uphold the law in and out of a uniform. They expect political leaders to craft legislation in Congress and uphold it on Main Street. When descriptions and deeds don’t jive, we erode the trust of all of those demographic groups and leave them parched.

I have long wrestled with whether the Jews are a people or a religion. I have come to the conclusion that we are both. That means our elected officials cannot only govern with political interests but must have a moral compass that guides them in their decision-making. I expect the Prime Minister of the State of Israel to have a core set of principles that are the basis of our religion.

I can care less if Bibi, Buji or Tzipi choose to eat bacon-cheeseburgers or go to the beach on Yom Kippur. That is between them and God. However, I do expect Israeli elected officials to be honest, moral and forthright. That is the institution we all share regardless of background or observance. It is that shared foundation that brought all of us to tears after the three boys were kidnapped and murdered. It is that shared foundation that brought relief to our hearts when Gilad Shalit fell into his parents embrace again. It is that shared foundation that allows our chest to burst with pride when the IDF is the first to set up a field hospital after a natural disaster anywhere across the globe.

When Netanyahu is trying to stop the existential threat of a nuclear Iran, he claims to speak for all Jews. When he stands with a head covering at the Western Wall for a photo op, he connects himself with the religious roots that unite us. So when he denigrates the rights of Israeli Arabs and lies to capture extreme votes he speaks for all of us. Oh, how I wish he did not.

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the Immediate Past President of the NY Board of Rabbis, President of the NJ Board of Rabbis and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute.
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