Larry Gellman

The Day the Music Died

The national anthem of the State of Israel is entitled Hatikvah which is Hebrew for “The Hope.”

For decades, the song and its words have had special meaning for many Jews since Israel had emerged as a place where Jews who lived in horrible places could seek refuge and fulfill their hopes for a better life and where the rest of us could watch and visit with pride.

In recent years, the situation got more complicated as the Israeli government continued its military occupation of the Palestinians in the West Bank. Settlement growth expanded instead of contracting as Israel’s allies have requested and successive Israeli governments have promised.

But all complexity has sadly been drained from the situation in recent weeks as the prime minister of Israel has made a series of shocking statements and decisions that eliminated even the hint of ambiguity about his real intentions and Israeli voters responded by making it clear that Benjamin Netanyahu is the man that most of them want leading the country.

Election day was a very sad day for me and many of my American and Israeli Jewish friends who had hoped for a different outcome.  But democracy is what it is and most Israelis are getting exactly what they think they want.

But, if they are to be honest, they need to get a new national anthem. Because they have clearly chosen a narrative that is devoid of “The Hope” for a sustainable better future.

With a two-state divorce off the table, Israel will either become an apartheid state after annexing the West Bank or it will cease to be a Jewish democracy.  Netanyahu offered no thoughts or plans for an alternative.  Because none exists.

Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that his vision has nothing to do with hope or optimism or any aspirations regarding tikkun olam (repairing the world) or Jews becoming an or l’goyim (a light unto the nations) as we are commanded to do by our tradition.

His narrative–and those of his supporters both in Israel and here in the U.S.–is all about stoking fear and anger over their view that anti-Semitism and bias against Jews and Israel which he believes saturates the entire world.

Netanyahu secretly negotiated with Republicans–the sworn enemies of President Obama (his friends at AIPAC didn’t even know he was coming) to address our Congress.

In his speech, he claimed to be speaking for all the Jews of the world but the only reference to Jewish text he cited was his comparison of the leaders of Iran to the hated Amalekites–an unscrupulous people who the Jews were instructed to annihilate.

He made not a single mention of any aspirational Jewish texts or God’s commandments regarding treating others with a level of respect and dignity.  Not a word about not doing unto others what we wouldn’t want them to do to us.

The many, many Jewish texts about our commitment to justice and mercy and leaving the world a better place than it was when we got here.

Then, on the final day of his campaign, he flipped all the cards on his long-standing commitment to helping create a Palestinian state and reached out to the most Right wing and racist of Israeli voters by stating both that there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch and then urging Right wing Jews to be sure to vote because Israeli Arabs–legal citizens all–were voting in droves and their voices needed to be countered with those of real Israelis.

So, after years of hedging and being politically correct and worrying about what anyone else in the world–including Americans–thought, Bibi has come clean in a final desperate effort to attract enough voters to assure his fourth term.

When the dust and celebrations and posturing ends, the magnitude of the damage that Netanyahu and his supporters have done to the Jewish brand and our community here in the U.S. will become clearer.

Most American Jews have spent their entire lives fighting and hating the values and policies that Netanyahu has now made it clear he embraces.

We know about the anti-Semitism and bigotry and discrimination that Jews have faced over the years and still face in some parts of the world. But most American Jews under the age of 65 have never experienced any of it.  Instead, OUR real life experience is that most of the gentiles we know want to be our friends and partners and neighbors and fellow club members and they want their kids to marry our kids.

We also know that 85 percent of the world’s Jews now live in the U.S. or Israel where it is better to be a Jew than in any other places at any time in history.

Making the world a better place, being a light unto the nations, and hoping for better, happier, more productive lives are what we have always been about.  And if that is no longer what the government of Israel is about….

A definition of Judaism based on a shared narrative of fear and victimhood at a time when most Jews have never had it better will never resonate with us. Not granting Hitler a posthumous victory and being sure we hate all the right people is not what most of us are all about.

Thank God.

About the Author
Larry Gellman is a retired Managing Director--Wealth Management at a private worldwide investment firm. He has studied and lectured on Jewish wisdom and ethics in Israel and the U.S. . He has spent 40 years as a major Jewish philanthropist and a current National Board Member of organizations including J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and CLAL and a past chairman and former board member of Israel Bonds, Jewish Federations, AIPAC and Jewish Day Schools in Tucson and Milwaukee. THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN MY WRITINGS ARE MINE AND MINE ALONE. IDO NOT SPEAK ON BEHALF OF ANY OF THE ORGANIZATIONS WHERE I SERVE AS A BOARD MEMBER OR VOLUNTEER.
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