Benjamin Netanyahu won his fifth term as the prime minister of Israel last week, and reactions have been mixed, both locally and nationally.
Rabbi Reuven Mann was actually in Israel as the election unfolded. The founder of Congregation Torat Emet in Phoenix was pleased with Netanyahu’s victory, and believes that “Bibi” will be able to guide Israel through stormy waters.
“The biggest threat is that which is posed by a nuclear Iran, but Israel must also be concerned about the terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which are always prone to launch missiles that cause serious harm to civilians and must be contained,” Mann said. “Netanyahu is far from perfect, but he is an experienced hand at dealing with these kind of issues and very seasoned in dealing with the leaders of the world’s major powers such as President Trump and Putin.”
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, believes that no matter what, ideology should not divide the local community.
“However we feel about the results, the consequences of the Israeli election don’t negate our Jewish commitment to seeking peace and justice throughout the world,” he said. “It is imperative that the local Jewish community not fall into the myopic trap of divisive partisanship. Klal Yisrael is bigger than that.”
Rabbi Jeremy Schneider of Temple Kol Ami had some concerns about the election, but didn’t want to feel discouraged about Israel’s politics, especially with Passover right around the corner.
“I am feeling the challenging connection that many Diaspora Jews may be feeling after the Israeli elections,” Schneider said. “However, we, as Diaspora Jews, should internalize the concept that Israelis went to free and fair elections and elected the party and its leader that spoke to them. I am proud of our little democracy. As the sign on the Bereisheet space shuttle read as it took a selfie just over the moon: ‘Israel: Small Country Big Dreams.’”
A number of national organizations echoed Schneider’s words in their own reactions.
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said, “The ultimate winner of Israel’s democratic elections is freedom itself. The freedom to cast a ballot. The freedom to select from literally dozens of political choices. The freedom to support the new leaders or peacefully oppose them.”
AIPAC tweeted, “Once again, Israel has demonstrated through the ballot box that it is a vibrant democracy with a wide diversity of views and robust citizen involvement.”
Nathan Diament, the executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, tweeted, “American politicians and pundits, organizational leaders and activists should recognize and appreciate that Israel just held a free, fair and hard-fought election and that this democratic process yielded a result that should be respected.”
The Union for Reform Judaism was less sanguine. “We have deep concern that the new government will deepen the discrimination against the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, continue to undermine the democratic values and institutions of Israel, and discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel,” the URJ said in a statement. “We are especially concerned by the statements made by Prime Minister Netanyahu on the eve of the election calling for annexation of the West Bank Jewish settlements, a unilateral move that would make a two-state solution impossible and render the Jewish democratic State untenable.”
Susie Gelman, the board chair for the liberal Israel Policy Forum, agreed, saying, “Any form of annexation would kill the two-state solution.... It’s no exaggeration to say this is a very serious development.”
The Jewish Democratic Council of America tweeted “Israeli voters have spoken and we respect their decision, but we cannot ignore that Trump put his thumb on the scale to influence Israel’s election. We reject his intervention in the strongest terms, just as we reject interference in our own election.”
Whatever the point of view, Yanklowitz hopes local Jews will unite around common principles rather than be divided.
“What we need to do, regardless of our individual politics,” he said, “is come together and strengthen our community’s commitment to mitzvot, a stronger Israel, and actualizing our unique and collective potentials.” JN
Additional reporting by Washington Jewish Week’s Samantha Cooper.