A Dose of Not so Nuanced Reality

“This morning I read very carefully the charter of Hamas. It says that the Prophet commands every Muslim to kill every Jew in the world…So I hardly see a prospect for a compromise between Israel and Hamas. I have been a man of compromise all my life. But even a man of compromise cannot approach Hamas and say: Maybe we meet halfway and Israel only exists on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays’…A relative of mine who survived the Holocaust…always reminded her children and her great grandchildren that her life was saved in 1945 not by peace demonstrators with placards and flowers but by Soviet soldiers.”(Amos Oz, Deutsche Welle interview 8/4/14)

Rabbi Daniel Gordis and I don’t agree on much, but I believe we both would agree that Amos Oz z”l, was “one of Israel’s greatest novelists” and one of its most interesting thinkers. His interview took place nine years after Israel gave up Gaza, after Hamas had taken control, and after many of Hamas’s public atrocities had been well reported. Some things just take time to sink in.

Rabbi Gordis, a well-known spokesperson for many non-Orthodox organizations, is the public face of the Shalem College in Jerusalem. He made aliyah with his family from Los Angeles over twenty years ago and has written a number of books about Israel, and how he believes Israel may become a better Jewish State (?). Truth be told, I have read many of them. He has received many awards for his writings. His audience is primarily Americanized Jews, from a left of center perspective, and I believe he is an important voice from Israel to the less than knowledgeable Americanized diaspora Jewry. The Shalem College states it is “Israel’s first college dedicated to the study of the ideas that shaped both the Western and Jewish traditions and strives to prepare a new generation of leadership for [a leftist vision, my words] the Jewish state and it’s people…from experts on issues at the top of the Jewish public agenda.”

Rabbi Gordis is a very knowledgeable and thoughtful fellow, and because on several occasions I have criticized some of his writings, and heard of his displeasure, I want to try to be more sensitive. As I admit, we don’t often agree since his perspective, I believe, presents a very anachronistic, left of center, “Westernized” non-Israeli perspective, but certainly having differing opinions is nothing new when it comes to we Jews. As he himself has finally come to realize, the “younger generation of Israeli millennials is turning right,” while sadly younger Jews in America are turning left, or turning off completely.

On April 8, a friend forwarded a podcast presentation that Rabbi Gordis gave at the Shalem College on April 4, titled, “A Briefing on the Upcoming Israeli Elections.” He began his briefing with what is obvious in Israel. In this election, the question of peace with the Palestinians was a non-issue. He believed the election would be focused as a referendum on only one issue, and that would be, was it time for Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to go. If Netanyahu was successful in forming a new coalition, as he subsequently did, he would become the longest serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history. Netanyahu, I am guessing, would not have been Rabbi Danny’s choice for Prime Minister. I suspect he had never voted for Netanyahu in his four previous elections, so I would suspect that Rabbi Danny has kept his losing streak intact.

Gordis began his presentation with why the Israeli electorate would favor Netanyahu for a fifth term. He admitted Bibi’s positives were substantial. The electorate believed that he had kept Israel safe, and security was the number one, two, and three issues that concerned the average Israeli. The economy was booming. International relations were headed in a very good direction with relations continuing to develop with India, China, and many other countries under his watch. Gordis touched on Bibi’s very good relations with the United States, and with President Trump, and how Trump had moved the embassy, validated Israeli control of the Golan, had left the Iranian Nuclear Agreement, and after eight difficult, and contentious years with the Obama administration, the relationship with the United States was now stronger than it’s ever been. Additionally, Bibi had kept Israel out of two possible wars, in Syria and Gaza, and he reminded the listeners that it was with Putin’s help, that after thirty- seven years, the body of an Israeli soldier, Zachery Baumel, was returned from Lebanon, for proper burial. The positives for voting Netanyahu were impressive.

Shifting gears, Gordis began to list why it was time for Bibi to go, trying to hide his obvious distain for Netanyahu, he began by expressing his belief that Netanyahu was a racist, which I found troubling. Especially since the leadership of the Blue and White had two people who had made public statements that clearly were problematic. Gantz had stated publically that he would not include the Arab parties in his coalition, which might be thought of as being racist, and Lapid had made enemies with his numerous attacks on the Haredi community. But neither of those concerns were brought up during his podcast. A second point that the Rabbi broached was Bibi’s various indictments for corruption for which Netanyahu had been charged in four different cases, but had not been convicted, and so I put his second issue under the rabbinic category of lashon hora. Even in Israel there is a presumption of innocence. Rabbi Gordis’s third concern was Netanyahu’s outreach to other right-wing parties specifically Otzma Yehudit, for their alleged ties to Rabbi Meir Kahane z”l, and the fact that the Supreme Court had disallowed one of its members from running in the election because of how he may feel about someone who died 25 years ago. It would seem that in a democratic country it was a bit of an over reach. And Gordis did question whether the act of not allowing someone to run based on their alleged reverence for someone was questionably not very democratic.

Clearly it would seem that Netanyahu’s good points outnumbered the bad, especially when compared to the inexperience and foibles of the competition, but a reflexive dislike for a candidate can often overtake good sense. One only has to think back to Ehud Barak as Prime Minister, to remember the promises and assurances he gave being the “most decorated,” and the disaster of his term, the shortest term in the history of Israel. Good soldier, terrible Prime Minister.

It was a somewhat nuanced presentation, but I couldn’t help but smile when shortly afterward I read the headline of an article in Ha’aretz by another leftist by the name of Anshel Pfeffer, titled, “Impeccable Timing and Brilliant Campaigning: How Netanyahu Won the Election.” Anshel may not like Bibi’s politics, but as he wrote, “It was a ruthless and impeccably timed plan, right down to the ‘gevalt campaign’…if votes were allocated solely on political performance, Netanyahu deserved to win by a landslide.” And it was another leftist journalist, Shmuel Rosner, no fan of Bibi’s, who wrote under the title, “Why Israel Still Loves Netanyahu:”… “But he seems to have succeeded again, this time for the same reason he has dominated Israeli politics for most of the last 25 years: When it comes to Israel’s national security, he is the leader with strategy and vision…In the mid-1990s, during his first term as prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu rejected the assumptions underlying the peace process with the Palestinians. At the time this was considered daringly right-wing. Today it is considered common sense in Israel. How I remember those days.

Yet as I was about to leave my office, an old article peeked out at me from a folder, by my favorite peace camp journalist who I miss dearly, Ari Shavit. I remember how I embarrassed him on his book tour. He wrote a wonderful book, “My Promised Land,” but during a public presentation I told him it had a horrible sub-title, “The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel.” He seemed to get angry, typical Israeli chutzpah, and in front of about 300 people he defiantly asked me, “What should the sub-title have been?” I told him, the title was fine, My Promised Land, but the subtitle should have been, A Love Story! And he smiled from ear to ear and said, “You are right!” His honesty still makes me smile.

The name of Shavit’s article was, “Why We Hate Netanyahu—And What It Means.” ( The Forward, 01/02/98) “I walked up the street to buy a few things I needed for Shabbat, and…I saw a dozen beautifully designed posters from my camp, the peace camp. ‘We will not forget and we will not forgive!’ I asked myself what was going on here. What exactly had led to this lynch atmosphere…How is it that upstanding citizens, who normally exhibit a good healthy dose of skepticism, have mutated and now bare their teeth with violently totalitarian self-assurance…unabashedly fanning the flames of hatred for Benjamin Netanyahu?…I decided to ask myself the simplest of questions: Why is it that we hate Netanyahu so much? Is it because our security situation has reached unprecedented lows during his tenure? Is it because over 200 people have been killed in our streets and our buses and our shopping centers?

‘Oops, wrong government. All this happened while Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres were in charge. At the time we just kept quiet. We didn’t think it was so terrible. We who now hate Mr. Netanyahu so much, never even considered the idea of hating Rabin and Mr. Peres because of their responsibility for the bloodshed.

‘So do we hate Benjamin Netanyahu because during his administration the social gaps in Israel grew to unprecedented heights, and human rights legislation came to a halt and residents of the territories were subjected to a cruel closure policy…Oops. That happened in the last government too. Yet we remained silent…We did not feel that proper procedure and fair democratic rules and proper public debate were so important. So the question remains. Why do we hate Benjamin Netanyahu so much?

‘Benjamin Netanyahu bears responsibility for less bloodshed and less harm to human rights than the two patrons of peace who occupied the prime minister’s chair before him. So why do we hate him so much?…If we stop for a moment, if we are honest with ourselves for a moment, we will be forced to admit that this story, which we are trying to tell ourselves doesn’t hold water…Step by step, we have lost the ability of self-criticism, and lost any sense of good taste and shame… Thus for us, for the enlightened elite…we have been forced to contend with a situation we could not control. On the one hand, wearing our hat as the democratic elite, we well understood that the people had had their say…But on the other hand, when we put on our peace elite hat, it is obvious that we cannot accept the voter’s verdict at face value…

‘After all, despite the fact that we strut around wearing our liberal plumage, we have no doubts at all of the justice of our cause…it is crystal clear to us that our truth is the only authentic truth…the mechanism we have developed to work our way out of this tangle is to work up a psychosis of hatred for the elected prime minister…And while we revel in this hatred of all things Bibi, we will feel no compunctions as we trample every cultural norm and every basic concept of fairness! We will convince ourselves that the prime minister is the devil incarnate…who by some fraudulent scheme seized hold of the reins of power…we the enlightened Israelis were infected with a Messianic craze…

‘But even back in the autumn of 1993, Mr. Netanyahu was the naysayer…who traveled alone from village to village…repeating in his cool unemotional voice…that we were intoxicated with the fantasy. That we were humiliating ourselves, making a joke of ourselves…Hatred of Mr. Netanyahu also gave us the chance to forget that it was not the rise of Mr. Netanyahu that brought on the paralysis of Oslo, but the paralysis of Oslo that brought on the rise of Mr. Netanyahu! Perhaps you can now understand why Ari is not only a great writer, but an honest and chivalrous fellow. Alone, he was not afraid to speak of a not so nuanced reality, and for that I am once again grateful. And to Rabbi Gordis, I am sure we will continue to disagree…its just business.

05/24/19                                                                         Jack “Yehoshua” Berger

About the Author
Educated as an architect with a Masters in Architectural History, Jack Yehoshua Berger became a practicing architect and real estate developer. In his late 30's he met a Rabbi who turned him on to the miracle of Israel and he began learning how the amazing country, against all odds, came to be the miracle of the modern world.