Netanyahu “just dislikes American Jews,” says former Israeli Consul General to New York Alon Pinkus

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu holds a news conference in Tel Aviv, last Monday
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s goal was to sever the already frayed cord between Israel and United States Jewry, then so far, he is doing an excellent job.

There is nothing that speaks to the disconnect between his government and the largest Jewish Diaspora community than Netanyahu’s decision Sunday to cancel his participation in the Jewish Federation of North America’s annual convention, known as the General Assembly, which this year is meeting in Tel Aviv.

It’s considered to be the most “consequential gathering” of North American Jewish leadership, and the delegation to Israel this year numbered 3,000, representing 74 Jewish communities in the US and Canada.

These are the people that advocate for Israel in their communities and within the American government, considered to be Israel’s most strategic and strongest ally. They lead solidarity missions. They raise money, hundreds of millions of dollars for humanitarian and emergency projects in Israel, particularly in times of war.

When one looks across North America to see who loves Israel and the Jewish people, then this is one of the most significant leadership groups working 24-7 to foster the bond that strengthens both their own communities and Israel, and helps them flourish.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu meets then-US vice-president Joe Biden at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, in 2016. Netanyahu does not care that President Biden is displeased, says the writer. (credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)

“The [JFNA] General Assembly is … the longest and strongest symbol of the unbreakable ties between Israel and the United States through the American Jewish community,” said former Israeli Ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon.

The strength of JFNA is a testament to the unity of the Jewish people and to how “we are one,” said Ayalon. “I always said the State of Israel belongs to every Jew in the world, whether he lives in Israel or not. All of us have a stake in the State of Israel,” explained Ayalon, who now chairs the global investment firm Silver Road Capital group.

JFNA is an expression of that kind of global Jewish investment. For Netanyahu, who is Israel’s most veteran leader, this should be his first home court outside of Israel, the place where he should be most welcomed.

It should be his hour to inspire a love of Zion and an easy task, given that he does not have to fly to the United States to do it. He simply has to drive across town to their convention, speak and walk out.

It is particularly important this year, given that many US Jews have raised concerns about his proposed judicial reform, fearing that it weakens Israeli democracy – or even worse, turns it into a dictatorship. Already in February, JFNA published an open letter to the Israeli government raising its concerns.

What Netanyahu could have done

Netanyahu could have used this forum to allay those fears and reassure them, in the same way he has taken the time to address the American public at large, appearing in recent weeks on major US television networks. Most recently he appeared on Sunday morning on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

It was there, not at the GA in Tel Aviv, that he tried to make his case as to why judicial reform strengthens, but does not harm Israeli democracy. He also stressed how important it was to him to meet with US politicians, Republicans and Democrats, those who agree with him and those who don’t.

 “I have met equally 50%, 50% with Republicans and Democrats, hundreds and hundreds, of them,” Netanyahu said, adding that he does that because the bipartisan relationship with the US is “vital for Israel.”

It was a statement that made his absence from JNFA more startling. Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren said it was a “bad” decision, noting that there was “no good message” that came out of such a move.

“This is precisely the time to reach out to the Jewish world and to reassure them that Israel remains the nation-state of the Jewish people everywhere, irrespective of our differences, and to reaffirm the government’s commitment to dialogue and an openness based on mutual respect and love of Jewish peoplehood,” Oren said.

There was some speculation that Netanyahu canceled to avoid street protests outside the convention and criticism from within the room.

Just on Friday, Constitution Law and Justice Committee chair MK Simcha Rothman (RZP) was heckled so badly during his appearance at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem that he had to leave through a back door under police escort.

But one needs to recall that planned street protests in London and Berlin did not stop Netanyahu from flying to both locations. One could have predicted that in Berlin, in particular, German leaders he met would publicly criticize the judicial overhaul plan, and they did, but he still went.

When it came to a Jewish American platform,  however, Netanyahu turned it down, even though, as former Israeli Consul General to New York Alon Pinkus explains, Netanyahu views himself as the global leader of the Jewish people.

“Netanyahu is the prime minister of the State of Israel, which is, by definition, the state of the Jewish people,” Pinkas said. “You, Netanyahu of all people, have always highlighted how you are essentially and effectively and historically the prime minister of the Jewish people,” a move which should have necessitated his appearance.

His decision not to show up was “ridiculous,” “embarrassing” and “disrespectful” to those who came, Pinkas added.

“If you ask me what the deeper reason is,” he speculated, Netanyahu “just dislikes American Jews. Seventy-five percent vote for Democrats and 80 percent are Reform and Conservative” Jews, so “he just doesn’t care.”

There is a more sinister speculation that this is simply payback by Netanyahu for the American Jewish community’s refusal to support his reform plan and the impact of that stance on the Biden administration.

The cancellation of his speech comes just one month after US President Joe Biden said he would not invite Netanyahu to the White House in the near term, citing his opposition to the government’s judicial reform plan, and referencing American Jewish opposition to it.

Just days before the JNFA convention, Netanyahu indicated he would send the very right-wing Likud Minister May Golan, infamously known for her statements against African migrants and refugees, to serve as Israel’s consul general in New York. It was a move seen by some as a slap in the face to the mostly liberal and Democratic American Jews. It now appears that Netanyahu has since backed away from that step.

Oren said that Netanyahu cannot afford to alienate US Jews. “As Israel faces a looming confrontation with Iran, the support of American Jewry represents a strategic asset to our security. Everything must be done to preserve that asset.” 

Netanyahu’s tension with US Jewry is not recent, and dates back to his former tenure as Prime Minister during both the Obama and the Trump administrations, leaving American Jewry increasingly questioning the necessity of their ties with Israel. The push for judicial reform has only stressed that relationship even further.At the time when US Jews are asking the question of why Israel should matter, Netanyahu is giving them the message that he does not care, with a stinging slap in the face

At a time when an Israeli Prime Minister most needs to heal the Israeli bond with US Jewry, Netanyahu’s decision to ignore the GA, when it arrives at his doorstep, has given the impression that while he might value the US, when it comes to the country’s Jewry, he would like a divorce.•

As reported by The Jerusalem Post