I have written the following open letter to Senator Schumer and a similar letter to President Biden. Perhaps other readers would want to show their solidarity with many of our Israeli friends and colleagues and would like to add their own voices to our elected officials to promote democracy in Israel and the Jewish values upon which the State of Israel was founded.
We have met in your office in the past. I have always been proud that you are leading the Democratic Party and representing New York State’s and all of our interests and those of “liberal America” so forcefully. I was, however, surprised and disappointed that you recently visited Israel, at this pivotal moment, and gave Prime Minister Netanyahu a green light by meeting with him and taking photos with him during this watershed moment in Israel’s democratic history. Rather than reflect your usual democratic leadership, your very presence at his side encouraged his attempts at subverting Israeli democracy.
You know that the prime minister says one thing to you and American supporters and quite another to his coalition partners. He is trying to subvert Israeli democracy to keep his coalition together — and stay out of jail. That is why he wants to undermine the checks and balances represented by Israel’s Supreme Court — the only check on the Knesset.
His bottom line: He wants to stay out of jail, particularly because some of his political predecessors have been incarcerated for breaches of public trust.
May I ask that you consider the following, as an act of teshuva:
Please work to deny entry and welcome to the United States to Israel Minister Bezalel Smotrich.
As an American Jew who is horrified by the violence and escalation of tensions in Israel and the West Bank, in addition to mourning the deaths of Israelis at the hands of terrorists, and the tragic deaths on both sides, I join so many friends in Israel in condemning the pogrom perpetrated by Israelis on Sunday, February 26, against the people of the Arab village of Huwara. The disturbing images of the Huwara pogrom are reminiscent of some of the darkest moments of Jewish history. We know better!
Now is the time for Israel’s leaders to call for calm and to do everything in their power to ease the tensions. Instead, Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the civilian governor of the West Bank, whose openly pro-annexation agenda has emboldened the most extreme sectors of the Israeli settler movement, has called for further violence. He said, “I think the village of Huwara should be wiped out. I think that the State of Israel should do that.” This is calling for a war crime.
In response to the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have protested against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts to undermine the judiciary and support humane, Jewish democratic values, the prime minister said to his ministers: “I want to give you a fist to strike them with.” (“Them” is anti-government protesters.)
Smotrich and Netanyahu are adding fuel to the flames of hatred and anti-democratic acts.
The United States must be clear. The only thing that should be wiped out is the violent and hateful ideology of messianists, Jewish fundamentalists, and extremists who think that they are doing God’s work in establishing Jewish settlements throughout Eretz Yisrael and destroying Arab villages and civilian life. What should be struck down is any attempt to undermine Israel’s founding democratic principles.
Minister Smotrich wants to bring his hatred to U.S. soil. He has plans to travel to the United States later this month. I am asking you to say that he is not welcome.
Incitement in Israel and the West Bank, by Israelis as well as Arabs, has led to devastating violence. As majority leader, may I ask that you urge the Biden administration to deny entry to Smotrich and his hateful rhetoric. In addition, let Prime Minister Netanyahu know that you stand against his efforts to undermine the special relationship which the USA and Israel have enjoyed since Israel’s founding because, until now, Israel has been the only democracy in the
Rabbi Richard Hammerman
Rabbi Richard Hammerman is rabbi emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Toms River and former vice president for North America at Masorti Olami. He and his wife, Sharon, divide their time between their homes in Caldwell and Jerusalem.