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Conservative Rabbis Break Ranks, Rip Bibi On Arab Comments

RA becomes first major Jewish group to criticize Likud leader's election day rhetoric; Netanyahu defends statements on MSNBC.

03/18/15
Staff Writer
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Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, wave to supporters as exit polls come in on March 17. Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, wave to supporters as exit polls come in on March 17. Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

In a sharply worded statement today, the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly “condemned” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for making divisive comments Tuesday when he urged Israelis in a video message to get out and vote because “Arab voters are going en masse to the polls” and thus threatening the country’s “rightwing government.”

The Rabbinical Assembly thus became the first major Jewish organization to strongly criticize Netanyahu for what many have termed racist comments.

“This statement, which indefensibly singled out the Arab citizens of Israel, is unacceptable and undermines the principles upon which the State of Israel was founded,” wrote Rabbi William Gershon and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the organization’s president and executive vice president, respectively.

“Because we proudly and unreservedly continue our unflagging support for the State of Israel, its citizens and its values, we must condemn the prime minister’s statement, singling out Arab citizens for exercising their legitimate right to vote.”

The two then called upon “Jews around the world” to join with them in denouncing Netanyahu’s “divisive and undemocratic statement and we do so here."

Netanyahu defended his statement in an interview with MSNBC Thursday, saying: 

“I’m very proud to be the prime minister of all of Israel’s citizens — Arabs and Jews alike. … I met a few days ago with many Arab supporters of Likud. I met them in the north of the country and I said I was concerned about massive foreign money … definitely millions from foreign funders – big NGOs [non-governmental organizations] … .

“I said they would try to get out votes for a specific party — an amalgamation of Islamists and other anti-Israel groups. And I said when that happens, make sure we get out our vote. I wasn’t trying to suppress a vote, I was trying to get something to counter a foreign-funded effort to get votes that are intended to topple my party — and I was calling on our voters to come out. And by the way, we got quite a few Arab voters for Likud — and I’m very proud of that.

“In any case, my governments have funded billions -- billions — into the Arab communities to try to upgrade infrastructure — schools — and I will continue to do that … to have real integration of Arab citizens of Israel into the Israeli economy, hi-tech,  society....”

In an interview with The Jewish Week, Rabbi Schonfeld was asked if there had been much discussion before issuing the statement because it was not released until today — two days after the video posting.

“I didn’t see it until Wednesday, and it takes some time to digest everything that has been happening in order to respond to something as serious as this,” she said. “We are denouncing the statement — not the man. … It was not a tough call [to issue the statement].”

“In the aftermath of the election, we call upon the Prime Minister to use his authority to unify all the citizens of the State of Israel, regardless of religion or ethnicity, as demanded by the guiding principles upon which Israel was founded and of democracy for which the State of Israel stands,” the two added.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, criticized the RA’s statement, calling it an “intemperate, inappropriate overreaction” to nothing more than “election overzealousness.”

“The prime minister did not express himself in any way that suggested Israeli Arabs shouldn’t vote or should be prevented from voting and exercising their political rights,” Foxman told The Jewish Week. “He was only expressing alarm that there were efforts to organize them [Israeli Arabs] to unseat him — and that is his political right. I would have used different language maybe, but it wasn’t racist and it didn’t violate their right to vote.”

The Israel Policy Forum, a non-profit organization that works to promote a two-state solution, issued a statement this afternoon saying the “statements made in recent days by Prime Minister Netanyahu in opposition to a two-state solution, as well as his election-day warning that large numbers of Arab voters posed a threat to his continued leadership are troubling and objectionable.”

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism issued a statement Wednesday noting: "Netanyahu chose to use demographics as a wedge that threatens voter engagement.  No public figure should lament fellow citizens exercising their right to vote freely, expressing themselves openly, and peacefully in accordance with the values of a democracy."

stewart@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

12/22/2015 - 21:32
2015 israeli elections, Benajmin Netanyahu, Likud
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Well here's the thing. Israel is a Jewish state. The only one. Like it or not.

Bernhard Rosenberg · Top Commenter · Rabbi at Congregation Beth El, Edison NJ

Do not trust Obama, people in his administration or think about voting for Hilary. I will again lead up a group as soon as the Republican candidate is decided...Hilary will sell Israel out. Look who is donating to her election...I warned America before WHEN I WAS CHAIRMAN OF RABBIS FOR ROMNEY and they still elected Obama. Everything I predicted did occur. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

Honored rabbi, doctor, top commenter, shlita

"Everything I predicted did occur." Oh my, that's pretty impressive in light of the fact that Chazal teaches that the spirit of nevuah (prophecy), was taken away after the destruction of the Second Temple.

Question: Since you seem to feel that you can predict the future, why do you say "as soon as the Republican candidate is decided"? Given your divine powers to predict 'everything' about the future, don't you know already who the candidate will be?

I share Rabbi Rosenberg's deep concern. The revelation that Obama and the State Department were deeply involved in the political campaign against Netanyahu crosses the line of respectful diplomacy then stomps all over it.

It was completely out of place for the RA to issue this statement. First the premise is wrong. Bibi was not trying to suppress the vote....he was trying to turn out his base. Why? Because foreign money was pouring into Israel trying to topple him. Money came fro US taxpayers too, and that was done illegally.

So this statement was based on a false premise. Sorry, you are wrong.

Next, why does the RA feel it necessary to engage in what is already a toxic political environment. Exactly how was this statement supposed to help? It actually fans the flames.

Finally, if the RA feels it needs to interject into Israeli politics, then where are the many statements you should have made on Obama's meddling in Israeli politics, and in the constant threats Obama is making to the US/Israel relationship? Where was the statement when White House officials called Bibi derogatory names?

I suggest the RA stick to Rabbinic matters and stay out of politics, unless they are being supportive towards Israel. My two cents.

I cannot understand how someone can plug a 2-state solution for 6 years, then change direction one day before the election when he sees he is in trouble, then change again for the purpose of appeasing is critics who are questioning his statements!
How does the world trust him?
This creates problems for those of us who love Israel and only want peace for its people!

This is sadly more a symptom of a once respectable movement that has been slowly becoming less and less relevant than a substantive criticism of Netanyahu. That is, being "PC" has been the easy path for Conservative leaders at the expense of holding on to basic principles. One sees this in Conservative synagogues which attract few members under 50, and whose regulars are an aging group.Why has the movement faltered, and how has it neared complete dissolution? These are the questions the "leaders" of this movement should ponder.

My blood was already boiling after Thomas Friedman's diatribe. Have we no shame? I am reading a book now called Hitlerland, which is a a eyewitness account by American ambassadors to Germany throughout Hitlers rise to power. The fact that most of them were somewhat enamored of Hitler is disturbing enough but the fact that the Jews of that time period supported his right of freedom of speech is no different from our liberal agendas of today. Have we learned nothing from our history? Why do we as Jews feel compelled to air our dirty laundry in public? Transparency is one thing but isn't there already enough anti Israel sentiment without us adding to it? Oy Vey!

The Conservative Movement's rush to criticize Bibi does not surprise me.

The Liberal Jew's mantra is: "There is no god but the New York Times and Thomas Friedman/Roger Cohen/Nicholas Kristoff is its prophet."

Likud is a disgrace to jews. full stop.

D, Isn't it true that the Likud party won more seats in the Knesset than any other Party in the Jewish state? When you say Likud is a disgrace, you are essentially committing libel against the Jewish people. You should try to calm down. Get some therapy or something.

Gut Gezuked!

It's sad when the leadership of the vast majority of Jewish American synagogue & temple members can't tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman even when sober. The current RA leadership libels Netanyahu by calling him a racist. Netanyahu’s electioneering tactics reflect Israel's political system. One must be able to tell the difference between politics and racism. Let me explain.

In Israel's multiparty system every vote is critical. Fall one seat short and the opposition gets first dibs on forming a government. This year - a historic first - Israeli's Arab parties agreed to merge for the common good and formed the Arab Joint List. Combined they received the third largest total of votes. Had Herzog won, given that the vast majority of Israeli voters these days vote right of center, Herzog would logically have tried to form a left of center coalition with the Arab party.

Bibi did in the election campaign what American pols do in the primary campaigns - he "whipped" his followers to get out the vote against this potential opposition. Was Obama racist when he told his San Francisco fund raisers during the 2008 primaries that white Pennsylvanians when frightened retreat to their religion and guns? Was Obama misogynist when he dissed Clinton during the debates?

If the current RA leadership, and other U.S. "progressives" who attack Bibi as a racist knew of what they speak they might ask why Israeli parties of the right get far more Sephardim and Mizrachim voters (Israel's "brown" Jews) then does the Labor Party. Anything to do with Labor's open bigotry against these groups and the religious - when Labor was riding high in Israeli politics? (Similar to the Democrats ignoring their own150 years of supporting slavery and segregation until the Republicans helped LBJ pass the 1965 Civil Rights Act, and then flipping and calling Republicans racists.)

It ain’t Purim anymore RA leadership! Sober up and learn the difference between Israeli politics and racism.

it would be really convenient to use that one-sided term from America's history - racism - to describe and condemn voting attitudes in Israel; however, it would be denying a number of truths and realities to reject a more appropriate and somewhat less charged description - tribalism.

1. Half of the Jews in Israel - and an even higher percentage of those voting Bibi - are virtually identical in appearance as their Arab cousins. They may have differing goals, aspirations, affinities, and preferences, but they are as DNA-matched as Belgians and Dutch.

2. The entire Mideast is a hotbed of tribal envies, warfare, and hatreds - this Sunni v that Sunni; this Alawite v that Sunni; this Egyptian Copt v that Egyptian Salafist. Within that entire mass of humanity - sweltering under an unforgiving sun and living on a lot less fresh water than most of the world - there is a tribe which similarly traces its roots to the same rocks and sand; it happens to follow the laws of Moses as interpreted by 2000 years of rabbis and more rabbis. But it eats the same basic food as the other tribes of the region - greasy falafel and overcooked shwarma; it has the same fears of annihilation by its neighbors as any other minority in the area.

3. It controls 1 percent of the region's land mass; and it has among it, about 2 million men, women, and children who happen to look European; although, one would be hard-pressed to deny that at least 15 percent of Lebanese also look European courtesy of genetic material left behind by Crusaders and traders.

4. Because this single tribe wants to protect its slice of territory and its identity, it's damned as racist; Assad, the Alawite isn't racist for seeking to maintain dominance over the Sunni majority; Iraqis aren't racists for seeking to repress the Kurds; but the Jews who want their little slice of the pie are called racists - and that's by American Jews whose only suffering in the past 50 years has been through being falsely accused of "having all the money".

get a grip - and stop treating yourselves like the enemy

[

The perennial argument that we're being held to a "double standard" compared to Assad et al is a perennial loser. It is a rather unbecoming comparison.

@Anonymous

and what if a politician in the US said that about black voters coming out in droves and scare mongering in a similar fashion ? how would the world react to that ?

everyone of these self righteous clowns voted for obama.

If Netanyahu's statements energized voters to vote, why didn't the left do the same? Israel is a Jewish state. It was created to be a Jewish state. It is also a democracy. If you want it to remain a Jewish state, you have to get out the Jewish vote.

The arabs were voting in droves. That didn't cause a flock of Meretz voters or other voters to the left. Israelis voted this time and for the last several elections for a right wing government. Bibi did not take any votes from the left.

No left wing voters changed their mind because of Arab voters. On the contrary Meretz and the Joint Zionist party have Arab Members. Bibi did succeed in scaring other right wing party members (from Yisrael Beitenu, Yachad, Shas, Bayit Yehudi) to vote Likud.

Those right wing voters saw the need to unite around Likud to ensure a mandate to form a government. Bibi did no lure any Meretz or Joint Zionist party voters. He won, he outmaneuvered, he negotiated, and he energized his base. Israel and Israelis live in a society that does not value being politically correct the way we do. Israelis call it like it is.

The housing issue is huge. Israelis need more affordable housing. They need it for Jews and Arabs. They want to build in Efrat, Modiin, and around Yerushalayim. The housing issues are causing stress all over the country. The Israelis want security. They want peace in exchange for peace. Every land deal with the Palestinians has only lead to further terror. Their is no willing partner for peace at this time.

Netanyahu wants peace. Relations with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia have never been better. Israel was created as a Jewish State. The Jews of that state have a responsibility to keep it Jewish. The Jews outside of Israel should also work to make sure Israel ramains a Jewish state. The minorities wishing to live in the Jewish state are welcome to live there and play by the rules

Should we be surprised that the Reform and Conservative movements prefer to be in Pres. Obama's hip pockets rather than support the nationalist/Zionist aspirations of the Jewish state and their plain-spoken Prime Minister?

I don't agree with this politically correct liberal verbage. I think Prime Minister Benyamin Natanyahu was just motivating his base about the consequences of not getting out to vote. They had been predicted not to win against Labor who was motivating their base to vote by promoting peace without real regard for the security of Israel. Most Arab Israelis prefer to live in Israel and many voted for Likud because of the intolerance they see in the West Bank and Gaza for anyone who dares speak up.

I don't think it racist ; he was trying to get out his base
politics as usual. Probably not said as clearly as it could have been

Someone who got free commercials on the Congressional floor from the United States Republican Party is complaining about others' use of money in elections?? Go away, Bibi.

“Devoid of any persuasive policy alternative of real substance, and of an alternative candidate of authentic stature, Netanyahu’s left-leaning detractors have mobilized to exploit their unelected positions of power and privilege to launch a massive media blitz against him and his wife...” -- Martin Sherman --
Netanyahu's government has directed billions of dollars to assist the Israeli Arab community. The allegation that Netanyahu is anti-Arab is just not true.

Did the Rabbis denounce the equally divisive, racist and derogatory remarks from the Left? http://myrightword.blogspot.co.il/2015/03/where-is-obamas-denunciation-of-left.html

The Arab citizens came out to vote for the Joint List and not the left. The Knesset members from the Joint List have no desire to join the Jewish center-left or the Jewish right. Bibi knows that and was being diengeous. He succeeded only in drawing more votes to Likud from other smaller right wing parties. His actions will only make life more difficult for Jews in Europe.

The Conservative Movement, quickly going down the tubes, probably shouldo spend more time fixing its own house than criticizing Israel's PM.

So it's ok for the PA to encourage voting by Israeli Arabs, but not ok for a Jewish Israeli to point it out and what it could entail?

His language was ill advised, but clearly his intent was to say that a consequence of a larger Arab turnout is likely to be more votes for the left, and that those who support the right should consequently make an even greater effort to get their potential voters to the polling booths.

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