Our conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Sunday Morning the final program was a Satellite speech with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
There were several agendas going on behind the scenes. First, forget about the reports about his decision not to visit with us which was reported in the Press. That issue is not critical. The first purpose was to demonstrate two goals. First, Rabbi Jacobs has the authority and power to get Bibi to speak to us. Second, despite those early claims that Rabbi Jacobs was a totally left leaning Israel advocate who protested with the Palestinians, this was his chance to show he is a moderate now. Politics- always politics.
Jacobs stood up on stage and introduced the Prime Minister heaping praise on him for his work to open up the Western Wall for access to all in communal prayer. He complimented him for being 2nd longest serving Prime Minister since Ben Gurion. Then Netanyahu started to give it back to Jacobs for all his good work for Israel. All of this was for the crowd to bolster Jacobs and calm down the right wing in the movement who think of Jacobs, with some justification, as a sympathizer to Palestinians as victims of the Israeli army's occupation of the West Bank Arab communities and as an opponent of all Jewish settlements.
I wonder if Netanyahu also realized that he needs as much support from American Jewry as possible as stands against the world with regard to Iran and the current negotiations that the American administration is involved in. Maybe his media advisors are counseling him that now he can’t take anyone for granted. By the way this was the first time that a sitting Israeli Prime Minister addressed our Biennial. Last time it was President Obama who showed up. The difference between the reaction to him then and the courteous and respectful reaction ( not especially enthusiastic) of our assembly to Netanyahu was noticeable. This is definitely not an AIPAC group.My sense is that many Reform Jews are against the settlements on the West Bank and want Rabbi Jacobs to stay true to his previous actions and words but now he, like all politicians, moves to the center to maintain peace. I think, on the other hand, that Netanyahu’s position has more standing in our movement than the current leadership elite both clerical and lay leadership share in common about Netanyahu on Iran and the settlements. This is definitely a touchy issue. But the point was that both men benefited from the opportunity to address the biennial, but, for different reasons.
What were his three points?
- He wants a negotiated settlement that takes away Iran’s capability to develop weapons and their ability to manufacture any weapons. There is a difference between the two issues.
- He discussed the issue of the Palestinians and negotiations. He says he is willing to make historic and difficult compromises but he needs to see that the current leadership of the PA truthfully will recognize Israel as a Jewish state as much as Israel must recognize the new state of the PA. He says the issue is not the settlements as much as it is the deep seated inability of the PA to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that they cannot return to Jaffa. That is a non-starter.
- The final point is finding peace between Jews. He skipped over all the big issues that consume Israelis. Instead he focused on what he thought we wanted to hear which is that the area surrounding the Kotel must be open to everyone because it belongs to all the Jewish people. He also complimented Rabbi Jacobs for his help in working for compromise with his government to achieve a solution.
- Finally Netanyahu complimented the Reform movement and NFTY for all its work in Israel.
The fact is that he is a fantastic speaker and salesman. He did a great job in bolstering Jacobs, speaking to us of his viewpoints on Iran and addressed the public worship space and equal access for women at the Kotel.
His humor and swagger is a part and parcel of who he is. He was clear, positive and determined to see this current negotiation through. He warned us all of the implications for war in the Middle East from other nations who would surely obtain nuclear weapons if Iran develops a bomb.
Great talk and I will let you the reader come to your own conclusions about the issue of the Netanyahu and Obama administration positions on the Iran negotiations and talks with the PA.