AIPAC, Trump & Netanyahu

AIPAC’s Policy Conference scheduled to start in Washington D.C. this coming Sunday is likely to be more turbulent than usual.

The Union of Reform Judaism in North America has already come out with a forthright condemnation of Donald Trump’s candidacy for the US presidency and many rabbis and cantors have indicated that they will absent themselves from the hall when he is invited to address the assembled delegates. They also plan to distribute thousands of stickers and flyers to encourage as many people as possible to follow their lead.

However, Trump is, of course, only a symptom. The fact that so many people are voting for a candidate of his ilk is frightening not only in terms of the state of American society and its body politic but also because of its potential implications for the free world.

Trump has built up much of his campaign on the demonization of Muslims, Hispanics and African-Americans. Sending the Hispanics back to Mexico and closing America’s borders to Muslims accounts for much of his popularity.

However, he does not hold a monopoly on scaremongering. He appeals to those same primitive and xenophobic forces that led Bibi Netanyahu at the height of last year’s elections in Israel to accuse Left-wing NGO’s of busing masses of Arab voters to the polls.

Netanyahu plans to absent himself from this year’s AIPAC Conference. That is unusual for him, because he can generally expect to get a warm welcome there. It is said that he is doing so because it would be indiscreet for Israel’s prime minister to come to America at the height of the US presidential primaries. However, the true reasons lie elsewhere.

One of them, no doubt, is his reluctance to face up to mounting criticism from the vast majority of American Jews, who are disappointed by his failure to date to commence implementing his cabinet’s decision to upgrade an egalitarian space at the Western Wall and anchor it in law.

Many are also angered by his reluctance to criticize and rein in the unbridled and abusive attacks by some of his cabinet members, who have labelled Reform Jews as non-Jews and likened them to the worshippers of the Golden Calf.

All of this takes place at a time when the Knesset is introducing legislation to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling granting Israel’s Reform and Conservative Movements access to Israel’s public mikvaot (ritual baths). Health Minister Yaakov Litzman commented on national radio last week: “The Reform don’t know what a mikve is. For them it is a Jacuzzi.”

However, what is more disturbing than this predictably insulting remark by a charedi politician is the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu, his government and, indeed, most of the Opposition have chosen to remain silent and not speak out in defence of the Reform Movement.

It is, then, hardly surprising that Netanyahu will not be in Washington next week, preferring to address the AIPAC delegates via a live satellite link where he will not have to contend with the mounting anger of Diaspora Jewry.

Trump and Netanyahu pander to the voices of intolerance and bigotry in their thirst for power. For them, politics takes preference over principle.

The real question is the degree to which the public at large will let them get away with it. Edmund Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”

About the Author
Rabbi Boyden was educated and received his rabbinical ordination in London, England. Having served as the rabbi of Cheshire Reform Congregation for thirteen years, he made aliyah with his family in 1985. He has established Reform congregations in Ra'anana and Hod Hasharon and previously served as director of the Israel Reform Movement's Beit Din.
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