Conservative/Masorti Leadership Missed the Big Picture

Immediately after the Israeli election, the White House and State Department unhappy with Benjamin Netanyahu’s convincing victory began to threaten Israel in public. The White House jumped on two campaign statements made by the Prime Minister, one about the two state solution and the other about bussing Arab voters to the polls. Not surprisingly, both of his comments were taken out of context by the White House and various media sources. What is surprising is that the Rabbinical Assembly (RA),the association of Conservative/Masorti Rabbis did as well, and then excoriated Mr Netanyahu for their distortion. Additionally, they waited two days to do it, by then well aware that the White House was condemning Mr Netanyahu and threatening numerous sanctions against Israel. That’s when the RA’s leaders decided to jump on the President’s bandwagon fully aware of the damage they were causing. They were joined by Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO, of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) who wrote in support of the RA, that “the UCSJ believes it is incumbent upon Jews around the world to denounce the Prime Minister’s divisive and undemocratic statement… ” Instead of bashing Israel they might have focused on what was in many ways, a remarkably landmark election as discussed below. Perhaps the problem with these Rabbis is their political agenda.

Rabbis William Gershon, President, and Julie Schonfeld,the Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly released the statement Rabbi Wernick heartily endorsed. They condemned the Prime Minister’s statement, “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going en masse to the polls.” Rabbi Schonfeld told The Jewish Week that issuing the condemnation statement was an easy call for her to make.

However, the Jerusalem Post had reported that what Mr Netanyahu had actually said was “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going en masse to the polls. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them on buses.” (emphasis added). Dropping the last sentence, the RA and USCJ leaders changed the meaning of the statement which while unfortunate was more a political one than racist.The RA statement condemned him for “singling out Arab citizens for exercising their legitimate right to vote.” But if anything, the facts indicate Mr. Netanyahu, albeit unintentionally, rallied the Arab voters as much as he did Likud voters. Mr. Netanyahu was struggling to win an election but one must wonder what motivates the RA Rabbis.

The Rabbis are surely aware given their self-described “complete” support for Israel that for weeks the Israeli media has reported that other countries and their NGO’s conducted an unprecedented interference in the Israeli election to defeat Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party. One organization, V15 is tied to political operatives who worked for President Obama. Congress is presently investigating whether State Department funds were used to attempt to unseat the Prime Minister. It’s ironic that the President would not meet with the Prime Minister of Israel in the US a few weeks ago because he felt it interfered with Israeli elections, but simultaneously, may have been trying to unseat him.

In the aftermath of the election when President Obama is impairing the welfare and security of Israel by threatening to withhold support in the UN and to recognize a Palestinian state in violation of the Oslo Accords and subsequent agreements, the RA piles on “condemning” the Prime Minister. Even the ADL’s Abraham Foxman told The Jewish Week, the RA’s statement, was an “intemperate, inappropriate overreaction” to nothing more than “election overzealousness.”

Ironically, Mr Netanyahu’s statements served only to move about 5 Knesset seats from Jewish Home to Likud. Who has been more in step with the demands of the Obama Administration and the RA Rabbis, the more pragmatic Mr Netanyahu or the ideological head of Jewish Home, Naftali Bennett? A week after the election Mr Netanyahu postponed further construction of Jewish housing in East Jerusalem. Clearly, the Rabbis cannot read the tea leaves of the Israeli political system any better than the President. Or are they just out to bash Israel like President Obama upset with the outcome?

The real question is why the RA’s leadership was so anxious to politicize what Mr Foxman correctly called election overzealousness. After all, politicians make exaggerated statements to appeal to their base all the time, including President Obama. In 2010 the New York Times reported he exhorted Latinos to vote stating “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us.” In 2012 The Vice President told an African American audience that if the Republicans won, “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”
I wouldn’t expect the RA Rabbis to weigh in on their friends but then there is MK Haneen Zoabi.

MK Zoabi elected on the Joint Arab List even when not campaigning has called for war tribunals against Israeli soldiers, participated in the Gaza Flotilla and said the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers last year was not a terrorist act. Where was the RA?

The answer, I believe, is the political agenda of Rabbis Schonfeld, Gershon and Wernick. They are distinctly in lockstep with the President’s views. Otherwise, why didn’t the RA statement focus on the many positive aspects of the Israeli election.Let’s take a look into the numbers.

First, over 71% of eligible voters did vote (compared to the US turnout of 57% in 2012), and 63% of eligible Arabs voted. 86% of Arabs voted for the Joint Arab List. The RA might have focused on the plurality in the vote but it would have to concede that the significantly higher Arab vote was a political reality.

The RA appropriately weighs in on women’s issues so you would think it would be an important issue here.Then why didn’t the Rabbis statement note that more women were elected to the Knesset than ever (28, or 23%) for the third consecutive election. By contrast, women comprise 19% of the US House and 20% of the Senate.

So worried about the legitimate rights of Arabs to vote, the RA statement omitted that the number of Arab MK’s jumped from 12 to 17 including one Arab member of Likud and Labor, as well as the aforementioned Zoabi. For Arabs, it is their largest representation in the Knesset, but you wouldn’t know that based on the Rabbis’ statement. Arabs will comprise 14% of the Knesset compared to the US House’s 10% African American and 8% Hispanic representation.

If the RA just had to go negative the Rabbis might have focused on the Orthodox vote rather than distorting Mr Netanyanu’s statement. They might have mentioned that Orthodox representation in the new Knesset collapses from 39 to 28 MK’s.

Instead of commenting on the progress in this election the RA and USCJ chose to focus on the negative rather than the positives in this election. In so doing, they did neither the Conservative/Masorti Movement nor the Israeli people any good.

About the Author
Jerrold Klein manages an investment advisory business based in New York.
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