Barukh Binah
policy fellow, writer and former ambassador
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To US Jewish leaders: Don’t boycott Netanyahu – talk to him

From a longtime diplomat to my brothers and sisters coming to the GA: you have a role to play at this difficult time
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Richard V. Sandler, Chairman of The Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA) at the Jewish federation's annual General Assembly in Tel Aviv, October 24, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Richard V. Sandler, Chairman of The Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA) at the Jewish federation's annual General Assembly in Tel Aviv, October 24, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Next week, Israel will host the General Assembly of the Council of Federations of North America (JFNA), in celebration of its 75th anniversary. Yet the days are somber. Our country is led by a government that, though elected democratically, is endeavoring to change the Jewish and democratic character of Israel and significantly mute its democratic component.

As a former diplomat who served primarily in or vis-à-vis America, it is quite natural for me to turn to you. After all, our two communities constitute more than 85 percent of the world’s Jewry. The future of the Jewish people depends on our brotherly relations.

Representing Israel under all Israeli governments, right and left, had always been a source of immense pride for me. I served in the United States for 14 years in various capacities, including in Washington DC, Chicago, and in New York. At the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, I worked with the United States and Canada for about ten years, including as head of the North American division. I always tried to instill in Israeli diplomats the need to connect with the Jewish communities. My advice was simple: Don’t work with the communities; just live with them and everything will happen in a natural way. You will find that we have allies like no other country in need of a “special relationship” with the superpower of our time. It’s as simple as that.

I disagree with the calls that you should boycott Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during your visit even though I strongly oppose his policies. In fact, I protest against him every week and call out, “Shame!” with the many thousands who do so. I hoist our blue-and-white flag, just as I used to do abroad.

A weekly protest in Kefar Sava (photo taken by Barukh Binah)

I disagree with this government but it is a legitimate one. Therefore, I suggest that you do not boycott Netanyahu and that you receive him properly. However, please take the opportunity to explain to him in no uncertain terms what a vast rift he is bringing about in our transatlantic Jewish brotherhood. In fact, his government ignores 85 percent of the American Jewish community as he is placing his trust in the Orthodox denomination and in backing from evangelical Christians (who, with all my gratitude for their support, uphold a vision that is not compatible with our own Jewish vision). Also, there are some 145 bills in the Knesset pipeline, many of them promoting the Orthodox Rabbinate domination at the expense of Reform and Conservative Jews, women, LGBTQ, and others. This is not a judicial reform; rather, it is a whole regime change.

Forsaking the bipartisanship that has so far characterized American support for Israel, Netanyahu has in fact adopted the Republican side. Meanwhile, the damage to Israel’s image could lead to the demise of the value structure shared by Israel and America, those values that are at the core of our “special relationship.” We may soon discover that the United States has other interests in the Mideast and that other countries are not necessarily friendly to Israel. Some may still be antagonistic but deterred by our strength and qualitative edge (based on cultural, scientific, and technological advantages that our current government fails to promote) as well as by our “special relationship” with the United States.

Having worked and lived in America, Netanyahu understands that very well. He disregards the massive protests that call on him every week to end these absurd moves. Some claim that he keeps at it in order to secure his own political base which will allow him to invalidate the judicial system and thus nullify the legal proceedings against him. Consequently, this electoral base in Israel should be answered by a political and strategic response in the United States, where Israel draws her continuous Jewish support.

However, Netanyahu and his cronies did not realize that their harsh policies would elicit such a furious response from Israel’s public, but the backlash has been fierce. Gripped by a general sense of disgust and urgency, hundreds of thousands now take to the streets, yelling: “You’ve tangled with the wrong generation!” This response is how I know that a  free and democratic Israel will surely overcome the Netanyahu era. But Israel may emerge dwarfed and damaged in the eyes of our adversaries who do not understand what democracy is all about. Here, too, we will need you to ensure that the United States continues to have Israel’s back in either a renewed conflict or in the welcome close of that conflict. If we are to face another clash (God forbid!) we will need all the political, strategic, and economic succor that you can provide to the Jewish state. If peace is upon us, as I hope and believe, we will need your power to expand and realize the benefits of peace in an international arena that is still led by the United States.

Welcome to Israel, dear sisters and brothers from North America. We are here for you and ask that you be there for us as we go through the bad days of an unworthy government. We hope and expect that these days will end soon and that the pluralistic, democratic, and Jewish banner will once again fly proudly over Israel. In the meantime, please stay with us and explain to Netanyahu where he goes wrong.

About the Author
Ambassador (ret.) Barukh Binah is a policy fellow at MITVIM, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. He is also a member of the Foreign Policy Forum and of Commanders for Israel's Security. He has served in a variety of diplomatic positions vis-à-vis the United States, including Spokesman in New York, Consul General in Chicago, Deputy Head of Mission in Washington DC and Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem,  heading the North American Division. He also served as Israel's ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark. in 2017 he published a poetry book, "it only seems like healing", and recently published his book, "Sonia McConnel and other Stories"
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