Michael Boyden

A Perfect Storm

“For first time in its history AIPAC conference may present a stage for division rather than unity on Israel. A perfect storm is brewing.”

Aaron David Miller, VP and Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, has just expressed that view on Twitter in connection with the conference, which is due to take place in Washington at the end of March just two weeks prior to Israel’s elections.

Back in the 1990’s Bibi was a revelation and was received like a rock star when he addressed American Jewish audiences. Unlike most of his predecessors he spoke flawless English and sounded like one of them. He knew what they wanted to hear and gave them performances that were repeatedly interrupted by thunderous applause. But times have changed.

Just take a look at Bibi’s address to the delegates of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations attending their convention in Jerusalem last week. During his 30-minute speech he was feebly applauded just eight times.

He devoted most of his presentation to Israel’s technological advances and his fostering of relations with a growing number of countries in Africa, South America and the Gulf, but he received most applause when he said: “The unity of our people is the source of our strength”.

Unfortunately, Bibi betrayed that interest when he backtracked on the Kotel agreement reached in conjunction with the Jewish Agency. For him, preserving his government coalition with the charedi parties took precedence over Israel’s relationship with the bulk of American Jewry.

It was, therefore, hardly surprising that the theme of the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly held last October was “Israel and the Diaspora: We need to talk”. Now that’s the kind of language people use when contemplating divorce. However, it was American Jews who were expressing that anxiety and not Israelis.

What put the seal on the fragmenting relationship with Diaspora Jewry was Bibi’s political maneuver last week that resulted in his Likud party forming a partnership with a smaller merged party that includes members of the Jewish Power movement.

Jewish Power embraces the ideas of the late rabbi Meir Kahane, who wanted a Jewish theocracy and advocated forced removal of Palestinians. That for many was the last straw.

It was enough that Congress had summoned Bibi to address them behind Obama’s back. Many are also distressed by Bibi’s cynical partnership with Trump, which he is even using on a campaign poster prior to the forthcoming elections. This has only served to emphasize the political gulf between most American Jews and Israel’s prime minister.

When religious pluralism is frustrated and there is a very real possibility that the Jewish Power movement will be part of our next government, many will be asking themselves whether this is the kind of Israel with which they can identify. If as Bibi said “The unity of our people is the source of our strength”, one can only wonder where we are heading.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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