As a mother of five, I’m something of an expert on temper tantrums. (You should see me when they miss the bus!) So it is hard not to notice that the term has been used repeatedly to describe the President’s outsized reaction to the reelection of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, including his repeated threats to overhaul the US-Israel bond. Throughout the Jewish and secular media, commentators including John McCain and the Wall Street Journal editorial board have referred to the President’s post-election threats as a “tantrum” from which he should calm down and regain controlled restraint.
I wish I could agree. A tantrum is an emotional meltdown, an out of control child kicking and screaming to get his way. Obama’s reaction, by contrast, is calculated and planned. It is consistent with his actions over years. And the President’s focus on Netanyahu’s election-eve statements merely provides an excuse, not the motivation for the President’s threatened policy changes and overt hostility.
Since he came into office, the President has sought to put “daylight” between the US and Israel. Many unprecedented actions have been taken by this administration in pursuit of that goal, from interrupting pre-arranged arms transfers during a war, to damaging words like “chicken***” and Kerry’s infamous “apartheid” comment, to the despicable policy of maintaining funding to the Palestinian Authority after its decision to form a coalition with the terrorist group Hamas. Most recently, last week’s revelation that top-secret US defense documents with details of Israeli nuclear weapons research were intentionally declassified and leaked to Iran and Russia in the days before Netanyahu spoke to Congress shows just how much darkness this “daylight” can yield.
The election results, a confirmation by Israelis of their commitment to their own survival, serve merely as the White House’s latest excuse to chip away at the US-Israel bond. In a press conference last week, a reporter noted the administration’s repeated refusals to accept Netanyahu’s explanations of his remarks, and asked what, if anything the Israeli leader could do to prove himself sincere. Obama’s ten-minute answer could be reduced to one word: nothing. Like the Pharaoh we will all read about this weekend, the President has hardened his heart and will not be swayed.
It is small comfort that Israel is not the only nation finding itself unable to rely on its traditional alliance with the US. American inaction as ISIS marches through Syria and North Africa and Iran-backed forces take over Iraq & Yemen has left the Saudis, Jordanians and Egyptians equally adrift, much like Yemen’s President Hadi, who had to flee the country by boat in the face of Iran-backed Houthi attacks.
Although there is much at stake in the twenty-one months ahead, we know that this Pharaoh’s term will pass. Yet many American Jews remain enslaved to their own false ideas about what Israel must do going forward.
On this eve of Passover, we should reflect on these ideas and attempt to break free.
The Torah powerfully demonstrates that our ancestors’ enslavement went far beyond their physical reality, beyond anything Pharaoh could impose. Long after their bodies had exited Egyptian soil, Jews were still slaves in their minds, asking again and again to return to an awful reality rather than embrace the unknown.
So, too, American Jews have been slaves to fixed ideas about Israel’s future that contradict daily realities. And like our ancestors, we must strive to free ourselves from the slave mentality.
We have been slaves to the accusations of our enemies, ever apologizing for our very existence. To become a free people, we must reject their libels and define ourselves on our own terms. Zionism is the movement of the Jewish people to form a nation-state in our ancient homeland of Israel. Israel has absorbed immigrants from every nation and race, and its entire population enjoys equal rights and a free society — unlike in any Arab nation. We must free ourselves from internalizing the world’s false charges that we have become oppressors.
We have been slaves to the false idea that Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are somehow obstacles to peace, just because Palestinian Arabs demand a Jew-free country. Why should the world endorse this racism? And why should Israel block natural growth of existing communities while her “partners in peace” continue to reject all overtures? We must free ourselves from the need to blame Jews for the failure of Palestinian Arabs to accept our existence.
Most of all, we have been slaves to the idea that the failed policies of Oslo are the only way to maintain a Jewish, democratic Israel. To become a free people, we must recognize that a better life will not come from this stillborn plan.
Whether one was swept up in the dramatic hope of the handshake or believed it was doomed from the outset, the fact is that for over twenty years the land-for-peace formula has proved a failure. Twice Israel offered comprehensive agreements including an Arab capital in Jerusalem, and twice Palestinian Arab leaders rejected them without counteroffers. Instead, they reignited terror wars on the Israeli people that continue to this day. Areas that Israel unilaterally withdrew from have not become building grounds for a peaceful society, despite levels of international aid unprecedented in human history; instead, they have devolved into launching pads for more attacks on Israeli citizens. Israeli devotion to the process is simply not enough when Palestinian leadership in all parties deny Israel’s right to exist in any borders, reward violence and hatred, and continue to devote themselves to Israel’s destruction.
Just as the ancient Israelites nearly rejected freedom because they could not accept its uncertainties, so too many modern Jews risk Israel’s future by focusing on something that has been proven a dead end. Peace requires that Palestinian Arabs stop funding terror and war, accept Israel’s right to exist, and re-educate their society to embrace peaceful coexistence. The sooner efforts are focused on these goals, rather than on pressuring Israel to take ever greater security risks, the sooner real progress will be possible.
In this election, Israelis have rejected the false hopes of past plans. Let us Americans free ourselves as well, and support them as they begin applying their immense capacity to finding solutions that address realities, not fantasies.
Laura Fein is the Executive Director of ZOA-NJ, which will hold its annual Mission to Washington on Tuesday, April 28. Reach her at ZOANJ@zoa.org.