There continues to be deep-seated debate and tension between American Jews and Israelis — and even among many Israelis — concerning the Iran agreement reached by the P5+1 to control the likelihood of Iran’s obtaining nuclear weapons. Serious and even life-threatening though that fight may be for Israel, it is being fought out today largely between the U.S. Congress and the White House.
At the same time, the Netanyahu government faces major internal domestic challenges that it ought to be addressing with at least as much intensity as it is paying to trying to doom the Iran deal.
One way or another, that agreement will be resolved within the next month or so, but Israel’s internal issues and how they are resolved may well have a long-term effect on many within Israel as well as on Jewish and other supporters in America. The events that are happening now within Israel are compounding the country’s efforts to sway the Iran debate in the eyes of some American Jews. They also are driving wedges between Israel and American Jews.
The Netanyahu administration’s settlement policy — aside from frustrating the Obama administration and many others in the West — remains a serious political football with which Netanyahu continues to play as he watches the settlers gain ever more strength and even confronting the IDF. The tension that emerged following the violence that occurred in the Arab village of Duma on the West Bank — which resulted in a baby’s being killed, presumably by radical settlers seeking to avenge the murder of a Jewish settler — will explode on both sides unless the Israeli government institutes policies that eliminate the possibility of similar events.
The haredi attack on a young teenager during the Jerusalem gay pride parade, aside from the horror of her killing, revealed poor police work, a lack of control of recidivists in some communities, and divisive attacks by some Jewish leaders against LGBT groups. As was the case in the Duma firebombing, most American Jews cannot condone that such uncontrolled, unethical, undemocratic behavior by some Israelis is being tolerated or excused by any Israeli leaders. The acceptance of this blasphemy is based, at least in part, on internal political considerations.
The steps taken over the past weeks by some Modern Orthodox rabbis to confront the Chief Rabbinate establishment on the matter of conversion to Judaism by instituting their own Jewish courts may appear to be a minor matter, but the push-back from other Modern Orthodox rabbis as well as haredi leaders has been significant both in Israel and the United States. Beyond the substance of the confrontation, here too there are significant political concessions that have enabled the Netanyahu government to engage in its own geopolitical directions unobstructed by restrictive demands from elements of their collation who support the Chief Rabbinate’s insensitivity to the larger Jewish community.
Similarly, the Jewish Agency for Israel decided not to permit HaBayit HaYehudi Diaspora Minister Naftali Bennett to control a strategic dialogue between Jews in Israel and Jews in the Diaspora. The prime minister, a critical partner in this projected conversation, was unable or unwilling to control Bennett’s right-wing religious flanking despite significant protests from the Jewish Agency and American Jews.
None of these internal issues begin to focus on the regional geopolitical problems immediately confronting Israel other than Iran. From Hamas in the south to Hizbullah in Lebanon and now Syria in the north, to the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Sinai, to the proliferating ISIS threat, Israel faces a constellation of dangers.
Many of these issues are not necessarily new although their current manifestations are. Coming as they do at this time, they add fuel to much of the growing alienation emerging among American Jews toward Israel.
A pluralist approach that exists among American Jews is rejected by Israeli authorities. Rebuilding Diaspora trust in Israeli political, civic, and rabbinic leadership requires a process of mutual respect for which the Iran debate has underscored a need. The Netanyahu government has failed to comprehend that — even with the unlikely possibility that they will win the fight with the Obama administration over the Iran deal — its conduct with the United States may have greatly damaged not only the U.S.-Israel relationship at a governmental level but also has caused a serious rupture between it and American Jews over numerous issues.