Israel’s New Government And U.S. Jews

Israel now has the most right wing, religious, nationalistic, narrow and fragile coalition in its history.

It is shaping up as a government built on rejection of peace with the Palestinians, aggressive settlement construction, religious extremism, extortion, a disdain for democracy and huge payoffs from the national treasury.

If it pursues policies espoused by some of its leaders and coalition partners it could widen the growing gap between Israel and the mainstream of the American Jewish community.

Prof. Gil Troy of McGill University wrote that Netanyahu "promise(d) hundreds of millions of shekels for ultra-Orthodox education which is proudly, flamboyantly, often crudely anti-Zionist."

Unbelievably, Netanyahu bought the votes of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party by giving the Economy Ministry to a convicted felon, its leader, Aryeh Deri, who spent nearly two years in prison for bribery and corruption for his crimes as Interior Minister.

The ultra-Orthodox are only about 8 percent of the country's 8 million population but get disproportionate aid. That's because their votes are for sale to both the right and left, and in narrow governments like this one where every vote counts, that buys them disproportionate influence.

Their ability to extract concessions on issues important to many American Jews — defining who is Jewish, recognition of Jewish immigrants not converted by Orthodox rabbis, laws on marriage and divorce, the status of the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements –could dramatically affect Israel's relationship with the Diaspora, cautioned Itamar Rabinovich, former Israeli Ambassador to Washington.

Netanyahu plunged the US-Israel relationship to new depths this spring when he came to Washington, at the invitation of the GOP leadership, to lobby the Congress against any deal Obama may make with Iran.

Once there is an agreement, US-Israel relations will face another critical test, said Rabinovich.  "Netanyahu has to decide wither to try to improve the agreement and get concessions for Israel or to join the Republicans in trying to scuttle it altogether," he said.

Unlike the past six years, Netanyahu has no one in his new government who can be his interlocutor with the White House.  Previously he had Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni and Shimon Peres.  Today he doesn't even have an ambassador who is respected at the White House.

Just weeks ago Netanyahu was boasting how he could ignore Barack Obama because he was a lame duck president who'd be gone in 20 more months, while, he and his Republican friends could expect to be in power long after that.

Now with his own shaky coalition threatening his political longevity and Obama's improved public support, Netanyahu has to rethink how he wants to manage the American relationship generally and the Iranian nuclear agreement in particular.  Does he want to work on the inside to get improvements and concessions for Israel or go full Republican and oppose it regardless of content or cost?

More than his personal political future is at stake.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.