The Israeli election has been divisive, even here among American Jewry, but now is not the time to drift apart.
American Jews are as divided as Israelis over the results of last week’s elections. But we cannot let those divisions tear apart our community or worse, let the differences contribute to further American Jewish estrangement from the Jewish state.
Already, apathy about Israel is a far greater danger than dissent. If increasing numbers of American Jews, especially among the younger generation, feel alienated from the country because it’s leaders ostensibly don’t share certain values, then the gap that separates us will continue to grow wider.
In a testament to Israel’s vibrant democracy, 72 percent of its citizens cast a ballot, electing not only Benjamin Netanyahu to a fourth term as prime minister but also a record number of Israeli Arabs to the Knesset, making the newly formed Arab Joint List the third-largest party in the Knesset. These are choices, whether we like them or not, we must respect.
Some of Netanyahu’s 11th-hour campaign statements — disavowing a Palestinian state on his watch and his appeal to Jewish voters to counter Arab votes — spurred anger and disbelief on many fronts. The already strained relationship with the United States has intensified and the reaction among American Jewry has sparked significant debate.
What many American Jews don’t understand is that on some fundamental issues — including Iran and Israel’s security — Israeli Jews are mostly united around Netanyahu’s positions. Even on the question of a Palestinian state, the center-left party of Isaac Herzog had acknowledged that the likelihood of such a state happening anytime soon was minimal.
Still Netanyahu erred in his campaign rhetoric. He most likely is correct, as he sought to clarify, that the conditions today in the Middle East — both the Palestinian actions and the encroaching Islamic extremism — do not bode well for a Palestinian state anytime soon. Still, the notion that Israel was committed to a two-state solution, even as individuals differed on how to get there, has served as a cornerstone not only of U.S. policy in the region but also of the widely shared Jewish vision of Israel remaining a Jewish and democratic state.
We cannot let these trying times play into the hands of the anti-Zionists who will use whatever ammunition they can to delegitimize Israel. But we must also be candid about the challenges ahead so as not to alienate those whose support Israel needs — both inside and outside the Jewish community.
Above all, we must continue to work in partnership with the Israeli people and their elected government in their efforts to achieve peace and security.