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Netanyahu from the Perspective of Others

Netanyahu from the Perspective of Others

Recently, when I was asked to comment on the Israeli film, Oslo Diaries, I noted that I see it as a valuable perspective on a missed opportunity for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and a sobering reminder that there were sincere proponents for peace on both sides. I also view the movie as a “hatchet job,” on Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

A friend wrote that if it is a “hatchet job,” it is a well-deserved one. He then asked rhetorically if Netanyahu’s silence in the face of right-wing sentiment against Yitzhak Rabin and Netanyahu’s own words contributed to Rabin’s death. (Indeed such rhetoric is replayed often on Israeli television each year around the anniversary of Rabin’s death.)

History has painted Rabin as the fallen crusader for peace, and indeed his death was a tragedy that obstructed the peace process – and it hasn’t moved forward since.

Still, to simply blame Netanyahu for the sorry state of current Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations (or lack thereof) is an oversimplification.

I wrote back to my friend:

As you recall, I began my remarks about the film by saying, "I am no fan of the current prime minister of Israel."

Further, I hope he will be indicted on criminal charges, and on more than one occasion, I have publicly called for him to resign.

I also believe history will hold him accountable as your letter suggests, for his rhetoric in the days before Rabin’s assassination.

So I don’t disagree that he "deserves" it.

But…

We often make the same mistake with Netanyahu that many who oppose President Trump make. In attempts to vilify these leaders (even if we believe they "deserve" it) we fail to apprehend and appreciate what makes them popular enough with so many people that they are elected (repeatedly, in Netanyahu’s case) to the highest office in the land.

Netanyahu is now the person who has served Israel as prime minister longer than anyone else in its history. Is it only because Israelis are fools or greedy grabbers of Palestinian lands and oppressors of the Palestinian people?

Or, do we, from the safety of Sanibel, fail to grasp the existential threat to its existence, which Israel has lived (or perceives – with lots of good reason – that it lives) since well before it officially became a state? Do we fail to understand that most of Israel’s population descends from those who fled as refugees from Arab countries that robbed their families of homes, possessions, fortunes, and lives?

Literally, with only the shirts on their backs, they arrived in Israel, where they were absorbed, housed, learned a new language and skills to earn a living. They don't trust the Arabs or any promises the might make to Israel.

Another significant percentage are refugees or descendants of refugees from the former Soviet Union that backed the Arab world in its struggles against Israel. These individuals, too, have no confidence that the Arab world will honor a commitment to peace with Israel.

Finally, there remain descendants of Holocaust refuges who are well aware that Azzam Pasha, Secretary General of the Arab League, joined forces with Hitler and vowed to perpetrate the destruction of Israel in a way that will remind the world of the Mongolian massacres.

Netanyahu – whether we like it or not – effectively speaks to their fears, and if we ignore those fears, we can never understand Israel’s reality as we should.

So, to say Netanyahu "deserved" the hatchet job he received should not blind us to the propaganda motive inherent in a film released just as the latest Israeli election campaign is getting underway.

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is a former president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, CT. He currently serves Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel, FL. A prolific writer, he is the author of several books, the most recent of which is Who Created God?:and Other Essays. Rabbi Fuchs earned a D.Min in Biblical Interpretation from Vanderbilt Divinity School, which, in 2017, named him its “Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.”

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs
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