Open letter to PM Netanyahu: A call to use both hands while affirming our relationship with President Trump

February 13, 2017
17 Sh’vat, 5777

The Honorable Benjamin Netanyahu
Office of the Prime Minister
Jerusalem, Israel 91950

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

I pen this letter during an extraordinary juncture in the history of the Jewish people. Sadly, our tribe feels divided by more than an ocean. Jewish people of all stripes are going to great lengths to establish their bona fides. However, the criteria for said credentials is where our divide throbs.

For one group of people, unconditional love for Israel is the litmus test for who is a good Jew. For another group, demonstrating shared Jewish values and repairing the world are the strands of DNA that link our people.

There is a thinning third group of Jewish people, stuck somewhere in the middle. This group expresses its love of Israel as naturally as using its right hand and exhibit its Jewish values as innately as using its left hand. The growing challenge, however, is being ambidextrous in the current political climate. For some, it feels like fighting with one arm tied behind our back.

On February 15th, you are scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House. I am sure there are many pressing items on your agenda. Iran’s undeterred pursuit of nuclear weaponry; Hezbollah amassing stockpiles of rockets on Israel’s northern border; and seeking a sincere and lasting peace with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors should fill the bulk of your schedule.

Mr. Prime Minister, I contend that this meeting represents more than discussions about the existential threats Israel faces daily. It is a unique opportunity to solidify your place as a leading spokesperson of the Jewish people before the rest of the world, and as a shape-maker of the Jewish community at large — it is a rare moment to bridge the widening divide between the two camps of Jews in the world.

During your visit to the Oval Office, I beseech you to also share with the president of the United States, alongside his advisers and policy-makers, Israel’s conscious decision to absorb Syrian refugee children. Please talk in detail about the moral imperative that drove our Jewish state to set up a field hospital on the border of Syria to treat the wounded from its civil war, despite the fact — ironically — that these same wounded have sworn themselves to Israel’s destruction.

Please share the courage Israel took before the turn of the millennium, to send in planes in the middle of the night to land on strips of sand in Ethiopia to gather thousands of people — mainly Jewish and all black– to come to Israel and enjoy a better future.

Mr. Prime Minister, please talk about the investment Israel has made to resettle more than one million Jewish people from the former Soviet Union. Share with President Trump that Israel’s culture, color and strength has been enhanced by these citizens and the expression of these values.

Mr. Netanyahu, please use your time in Washington, DC to explain to President Trump the budget and energies that are exerted to be the first responders to every natural disaster around the globe. When aftershocks were still shaking Haiti, when Japan was dealing with nuclear fallout after a crippling earthquake, when tsunamis hit the Philippines and the Congo, Israel was the very first on the ground and the very last to leave these suffering nations. Please convey the ethic that drives Israel’s instinctive response in the aftermath of tragedy.

Share with pride, Mr. Prime Minister, how the Israeli Supreme Court is made up of three judges, including a woman and a Palestinian. Explain that Israel is a democracy that follows a rigid and balanced judicial system, represented by its diversity. Israel is the only such system in the entire region.

Do not leave out the important conversations about the appreciation for current — and the need for continued — funding for the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow. These three-layered missile defense systems are joint operations in design and implementation between US and Israeli technologies and its military. The implementation of these programs has created jobs for both countries and these defensive systems have saved innumerable Israeli lives, and untold Palestinian lives as well.

Mr. Prime Minister, please share with President Trump that for the Jewish people to be the “Light unto the Nations” that Isaiah implores of us, we must seek out Israel’s safety and security AND behave in a way that is consonant with our values. Elucidate that we are driven forward by our security while the coordinates of our destination are calibrated by a shared morality. These values were embedded since Abraham, underscored during our exodus from Egypt and continue today. They include securing Israeli soldiers and citizens, while also embracing absorption of the refugee and those seeking a better future. They feature rushing to the aid of the afflicted and caring for the other in our midst while ensuring our safety and security. Being Jewish requires us to use both of our hands to shape our world for a better tomorrow.

February 15th will be more than a diplomatic meeting between two heads of state and a required handshake before the cameras. It will be a rare moment for you, Mr. Netanyahu, to extend both hands to help bridge the divide between these divergent camps of Jews.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, thank you for your leadership and for maximizing this moment in time. I am confident it will prove be one the most pivotal meetings for shaping the future of the Jewish people around the globe.


David-Seth Kirshner

Rabbi, Temple Emanu-El of Closter
Immediate Past President of the NY Board of Rabbis
VP of the NJ Board of Rabbis

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis, President of the NJ Board of Rabbis and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel commission and is a member of the Chancellor's Rabbinic Cabinet at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
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