In Praise of Netanyahu

Given the cottage industry in the American print media – not to mention the international media – of Netanyahu bashing, we ought, occasionally, to praise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Prime Minister of Israel’s address to 16,000 listeners via a live telecast last Tuesday organized by the Jewish Federations of North America presents such an occasion.

Generally speaking, Netanyahu is fairly good at taking care of himself in the public eye. He is a master politician, who possesses high-level academic knowledge — he holds an B.S. and an M.S. from M.I.T. — military experience, and excellent hasbara skills. His remarkable self-possession, confidence, and success in politics render him an available target for a host of people in the media who have a bissel of his talent and experience. Just as jealousy of Jews’ abilities in such a wide array of fields is a cause of anti-Semitism, Netanyahu’s prowess weakens the immunity of petty people to BDS — Bibi Derangement Syndrome.

All that is not to say that he is beyond criticism. As a Conservative rabbi, I am troubled that his political success has often come as a result of partnering with charedi parties who do not have the larger interests of world Jewry, or Judaism, at heart as they employ the Israeli political process to evade serving in the military and working for a living. In the most recent election, Netanyahu’s decision to partner with the charedi parties United Torah Judaism and Shas was particularly troubling since the preceding government — through the leadership of Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett of HaBayit HaYehudi — had made strides toward integrating charedim into the military and the workforce.

May we live to see a day when critical domestic issues trump foreign policy security issues. Considering the extraordinary instability in the Middle East, the Iranian pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and the lack of a partner for peace among the Palestinian Authority leadership, foreign trumps domestic policy. In that arena, as was once again proved during yesterday’s telecast, no Israeli leader is Netanyahu’s equal.

He countered the calumny that the alternative to the JCPOA struck by the P5+1 and Iran is war and reiterated what he believes would constitute a good deal with Iran — the linking of dismantling the sanctions regime with the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. He reminded us that the best the JCPOA could offer is kicking the can down the road and that that road might not be as long as we might think; 10-15 years is a shorter time period than we might think.

The Obama administration has argued that what brought the Iranians to the negotiating table was the sanctions regime. First, Congress — not the President — led the effort to impose this sanctions regime upon the Iranian regime. Second, Netanyahu’s consistent and forceful case that Iran must be prevented from developing a nuclear weapon, which he has made for the last several years from a variety of podiums — most prominently the United Nations General Assembly during successive Septembers — has played a crucial role in compelling the Iranians to negotiate. In his speeches, Netanyahu emphasized that, counter to Iran’s claims, Iran’s nuclear program was for military — not peaceful — purposes. He spoke truth and exposed a lie.

Moreover, the Israeli threat to strike Iran’s nuclear infrastructure was sufficiently credible to persuade European countries to join the United States in imposing fierce sanctions.

Therefore, Netanyahu deserves some of the credit for what United States Secretary of State John Kerry has deemed the success of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran: freezing Iran’s nuclear program.

Finally, Netanyahu’s speech to the United States Congress on March 3 was a key factor in the passing of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which empowered Congress to vote up or down on any deal the P5+1 struck with Iran. His willingness to identify the flaws in the April 2 Iran nuclear deal framework placed enough attention on the negotiators in Vienna that they had to extend the negotiations past July 9, which then increased Congress’ review period from thirty to sixty days.

We are now on day 22 of that review period. Every day, more Jewish Americans and more concerned non-Jewish Americans are learning about the JCPOA. They are contacting their Representatives and Senators in Congress to express their opposition to it. They are not doing this because Netanyahu told them to, but without Netanyahu’s voice, they would not have scrutinized the deal and seen its shortcomings for themselves.

None of those who suffer from Bibi Derangement Syndrome will credit Netanyahu for these achievements. At this juncture, however, they cannot merely slander him for opposing the JCPOA, at least if they say that the views of Israelis matter to them. The entire political spectrum in Israel is united in its opposition to the JCPOA. The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief and often unrelenting critic of Israel, Jodi Rudoren tweeted the obvious about Israelis’ reaction to the Obama administration’s deal with Iran, “You know, 2 Jews, 3 opinions. Here you have 8 million Jews and nearly one opinion.”

Not frequently, but every so often, people of good faith, particularly Jews, must praise Netanyahu and give credit where due. Through his voice on the international level, he continues to do more than any other political leader to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. And thus far, he has done that peacefully.

About the Author
Matt Abelson is a Conservative Rabbi living in Somerville, MA.
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