May 24, 2019

Could American Jews Handle More Netanyahu?

“Benjamin Netanyahu’s main opponents have tried to use an unusual weapon against the longtime prime minister ahead of a defining Israeli election set for Tuesday: They’ve argued that he has damaged the relationship between Israel and diaspora Jews.

For some American Jews, the strong alliance between Netanyahu and Donald Trump of the past few years has added stress to their relationship with Israel, which has become especially fraught in the years since the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in the early 2000s. While some Jews in the U.S. appreciate Trump’s positions on Israel, many detest the American president’s domestic politics and believe that he has enabled anti-Semitism and xenophobia. And while segments of the self-identified pro-Israel community in the U.S. resolutely support anything that the Israeli prime minister does, some have been wary of Netanyahu’s alliance with right-wing forces, and disappointed by what they see as his failure to facilitate religious pluralism. Tuesday’s major election in Israel marks a high point of strain in the relationship between at least some American Jews and Israel, which has changed radically in the past generation.

To understand the American Jewish relationship with Israel, it’s helpful to divide American Jews into three rough categories. On the right lies the self-described pro-Israel crowd, many of whom are Republicans, and many of whom are deeply religious. For the most part, this group would cheer another round of Netanyahu. Among modern-Orthodox Jews, for example, “the relationship is incredibly strong—it’s as strong as ever,” Nathan Diament, the executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, told me. Part of this connection is sociological; these Jews often travel to Israel, have family there, and send their children there to study. Some in this group don’t believe it’s their place to criticize Israeli policy. “We should be deferential to the decisions that the democratically elected leaders in Israel make about Israel’s security,” Diament said. “They’re the ones whose lives are on the line, and they’re the ones whose kids are serving in the [Israel Defense Forces].””

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