Master of Puppets – Beit Lavan and the White House

Beit Lavan translates to English literally as “White House,” and the parallels between Yaakov’s relationship with Lavan and Israel’s relationship with the executive branch of the United States government are unsettling, to say the least. After fleeing Esav, Yaakov seeks shelter only to find himself enslaved, reliant on the goodwill of his master, Lavan. There is no end to Lavan’s trickery in his dealings with Yaakov. Each time they reach a negotiated understanding and Yaakov carries through with his commitment, Lavan then backtracks, deceives and changes the terms of the agreement. This pattern continues for the twenty years that Yaakov lives in Beit Lavan.

Time after time Israel has been pressured by the White House, forced to make “painful concessions”, dangerous “goodwill gestures” and sign on to international agreements diametrically opposed to the national interest. Israel continues to bow to the pressure and fulfills their part of the agreement. But it is never enough and soon the wages are changed, the stakes raised once again. Still, despite the obvious intransigence of our ‘peace partner’, Israel continues to defer to the American administration (whether Democrat or Republican), negotiate in good faith and sign on to more agreements.

זֶה לִּי עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה בְּבֵיתֶךָ עֲבַדְתִּיךָ אַרְבַּע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה בִּשְׁתֵּי בְנֹתֶיךָ וְשֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים בְּצֹאנֶךָ וַתַּחֲלֵף אֶת מַשְׂכֻּרְתִּי עֲשֶׂרֶת מֹנִים


“This is twenty years that I have spent in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your animals, and you changed my wages ten times.” (Vayeitzei 31:41)

The modern incarnation of Lavan often uses its military aid as a form of enslavement and political extortion. To further increase Israel’s dependency, the U.S. has in the past pressured Israel to end domestic military production such as the Lavi fighter jet, which would have made Israel independent of the F-16. U.S. military assistance is a faucet which can be, has been and threatens to be turned on and off for political considerations.

In the past, Israel purchased US military hardware with loans. During that time, presidents Truman and Johnson both imposed arms embargoes on Israel in times of war, in 1947 and 1967 respectively. In 1956, Eisenhower openly threatened to cut off aid as a means of pressuring Israel into an early withdrawal from the Suez. As most of the military aid allotted to Israel since 1973 must be used to purchase American-made equipment, Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region is viewed as being owed to Washington. Our military power, in effect, becomes a possession of the United States who does not hesitate, albeit in a tactful manner, to pressure Israel towards dangerous concessions to the Arabs.

וַיַּעַן לָבָן וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל יַעֲקֹב הַבָּנוֹת בְּנֹתַי וְהַבָּנִים בָּנַי וְהַצֹּאן צֹאנִי וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה רֹאֶה לִי הוּא


And Laban answered and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, and the sons are my sons, and the animals are my animals, and all that you see is mine.” (Vayeitzei 31:43)

In the most recent example of the political manipulation Israel is subjected to, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was pressured into accepting a ceasefire with Hamas, against the advice of top military and intelligence officers and the will of the majority of the population. But this is not the first time Netanyahu has been duped by the White House.

During his previous tenure as PM, Netanyahu signed the Wye River accord at the behest of President Clinton, committing to further land concessions. Netanyahu upheld his end of the bargain while Clinton completely disregarded his. Following a meeting with Netanyahu in 2001, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky wrote: “I asked Netanyahu about Bill Clinton and Jonathan Pollard and he did not mince words. This will shock some people but not others. He characterized Clinton as ‘very hostile to Israel, clearly a friend of the Palestinians.’ Netanyahu was induced into coming to Wye partly by an unequivocal commitment by President Clinton to release Jonathan Pollard, and send him back to Israel with the Prime Minister. Netanyahu simply ended: ‘Clinton lied to me.’ ” (Yediot Yeshurun, June 2001).

In the greatest moral and strategic blunder since Yitzchak Rabin was pressured into signing the Oslo Accords, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the expulsion of 8,000 Jews and the withdrawal of all military from the Gaza Strip. Although the initiative came from the master strategist himself, it was the White House that cleared the way, helping to eliminate domestic resistance. So, in exchange for this suicidal maneuver, Sharon was given a piece of paper, a letter signed by President George W. Bush, expressing U.S. support for retaining the major settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria, among other reassurances. The expulsion from Gaza created a national trauma, as well as a terrorist state which has carried on a missile offensive for nearly eight years straight. Israel again discovered the value of assurances issued from the White House, when in June of 2009 the US Secretary of State informed the Israeli government that the policy positions guaranteed by the Bush letter were only informal understandings and “did not become part of the official position of the United States government.” Tricked again.

The current occupant of Beit Lavan has once again changed Yaakov’s wages. President Obama drastically weakened our long-term negotiating position by pressuring Netanyahu to impose a 10 month building moratorium in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Following Israel’s compliance, Abbas reneged on his pledge to return to the negotiating table. Although Netanyahu did not extend the building freeze as demanded, it was too late as the damage had been done. What was once unthinkable and later presented as a gesture of goodwill has now become a precondition to any further negotiations.

וְאַתֵּנָה יְדַעְתֶּן כִּי בְּכָל כֹּחִי עָבַדְתִּי אֶת אֲבִיכֶן. וַאֲבִיכֶן הֵתֶל בִּי וְהֶחֱלִף אֶת מַשְׂכֻּרְתִּי עֲשֶׂרֶת מֹנִים וְלֹא נְתָנוֹ אֱלֹהִים לְהָרַע עִמָּדִי


“And you know that with all my might I served your father (Lavan). But your father mocked me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not permit him to harm me.” (Vayeitzei 31:6-7)

We all remember the national sense of humiliation, recently inflicted by Obama’s scornful treatment of our Prime Minister during his now infamous White House visit. Adding to the humiliation were the long series of publicly condescending statements issued by the administration and capped by Obama’s inability to find a moment to meet with Netanyahu during his trip to the U.S. for the opening of the UN General Assembly. At a time of widespread regional chaos and multiple threats to Israel’s national security, the American president was too busy to meet with his Israeli counterpart, but found time to appear on television talk shows and late-night comedy. Lavan’s deceitful and humiliating treatment of Yaakov continues. Yaakov struggles to maintain his dignity, but remains enslaved to his master.


Tomorrow, Maaseh Avot, Siman L’Banim continues with the third and final examination of Parshat Vayeitzei: the Torah’s original paradigm, complete with the EXACT pattern of antisemitism for ALL of Jewish history to come.

About the Author
Mike Kavitsky made aliya from the United States in 2005. He is married and has four small children.