I’m not surprised that it took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a full three days until he said anything about the events in Charlottesville. Or that, after three full days, he said, basically, nothing.
When he finally did make a statement, not on his personal account and only in English, Netanyahu merely tweeted, “Outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism.” He did not mention Charlottesville, and he did not mention U.S. President Donald Trump’s statement that created equivalencies between neo-Nazis and left-wing protestors.
Nor did he distance himself from his son, Yair, who, like Jared and Ivanka, plays a role in policymaking and wrote on his Facebook page that the leftists are more dangerous than the neo-Nazis.
I am not surprised at Netanyahu’s behavior because it’s already very clear that Netanyahu and Trump have linked their administrations. And they continue to remind us of just how much we, Israeli and American progressives and decent Jews, have in common, and that to resist one is to resist the other.
Cynically, Netanyahu frequently declares that his morality is based on the imperative of Jewish survival and that he is the prime minister of the entire Jewish people. He claims to see anti-Semitism everywhere, and he warns of a looming Holocaust at every opportunity. The agreement with Iran, incitement by Palestinians, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza all are signs of the impending Holocaust that threatens the existence of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. I’m not surprised because, like Trump, Netanyahu has no moral compass.
Yet somehow, neo-Nazis marching through Charlottesville waving swastika flags, chants of “blood and soil” and shouts of “Sieg Heil,” and three Nazis in uniform with rifles at the ready standing outside a synagogue didn’t remind him of the Holocaust. I’m not surprised. After all, when Trump neglected to even mention that Jews suffered in the Holocaust, Netanyahu did not say a word.
Like Trump, Netanyahu has no sense of leadership. Of what must be said. Of what history and the times demand of him. Of responsibility for the present or the future.
Netanyahu’s only moral compass points toward himself, and leads toward his ultimate goal: to stay in power. And his strategy to achieve this goal is clear: Divide and Pander.
Within Israel, as he demonstrated at a recent rally, Netanyahu does not see himself as the prime minister of all Israelis—only of those who support him and his goals. As for the others, he once said, “They have forgotten how to be Jews.” He incites against his critics by inflaming tribal loyalties and spreading dissension. He foments hatred by painting his opposition as traitors who collude with foreign governments to undermine the values and even existence of the State of Israel. He panders to his Jewish alt-right flank, who place their extremist brand of Judaism above democracy and decency. In the service of Divide and Pander, he twists issues of justice and rule of law into partisan, left-right divides.
As those of you in North America have probably noticed, Netanyahu does not really see himself as the prime minister of all the Jews, either. Alienating the majority of North American Jews by caving in to the ultra-Orthodox minority over the Wall and conversions, acts as Caesar for some of the Jews—the right wing, anti-Palestinian, Jewish power, pro-settlement Jews, in Israel and in North America, who support him.
By pandering to Trump’s Orthodox supporters, Netanyahu is pandering to Trump. After all, like Netanyahu, most American Orthodox Jews have yet to condemn Trump for his heinous equivalencies.
Netanyahu knows that he had better stay on Trump’s good side. As children say, it takes one to know one, and so Netanyahu, who has elevated vindictiveness to a political art form, is well-aware that he better not antagonize the mercurial, immature—and vindictive—American president.
Just as Trump’s silence has emboldened the extreme right in the U.S., Netanyahu’s Divide and Pander strategy has emboldened the extreme right in Israel, too. As most Jews feel abandoned by Trump, so many Israelis, Jews and non-Jews, feel abandoned by Netanyahu. As you feel frightened in your homes and synagogues, progressive Jews in Israel, too, are beginning to fear for our own safety on our streets and at our demonstrations.
No, I’m not surprised, and yes, I am becoming fearful. I am also determined. Just as you are refusing to allow Trump to debase the values of the United States, we are not going to allow Netanyahu to destroy the values of Zionism and Judaism.
As progressive Jews, in North America and in Israel, we must join together in the struggle against anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism, intolerance, xenophobia and intolerance. Trump and Netanyahu have joined forces, so we must, too.