Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Letter from Netanya: Jan Gaines on the Israeli Elections

Always good to hear from Jan Gaines, who made aliyah from Stamford to Netanya a number of years ago. Jan's first-hand views are always welcome and valued.  Here she reports on the aftermath of the elections in Israel - followed by my response.

Dear Friends,  It's been a long time since I've written to you.  But the growing distance between us, both ideological and physical, has alarmed me. And the apopletic reaction of American Jewish spokespeople to our recent election has me scratching my head.  So let me give you my take on Bibi's re-election first by introducing you to many of the people I know who voted for him.

Let me start with Sarah, born in Romania, mother of two married daughters and 6 grandchildren. Sarah is my cleaning lady for the last 15 years. Sarah owns her own apartment, drives her own car and lives a simple life. When I asked her who she voted for, she said "Bibi, and so did my children." 

Then there's Meir, who manages the grocery store across the street. Meir's roots are in Tunisia and he has two sons. Same story. All voted for Bibi.

Tamar from Russia who cuts my hair just moved to a new apartment after saving money for 10 years. She and her husband also have two married daughters. Tamar didn't vote Likud last time because she can't stand Liberman. But this time the whole family voted Bibi.

There's my favorite taxi driver, Eli, from Morrocco. He has done well, with one son working in the Israeli Stock Exchange and a daughter in banking.We have had great political conversations over the years. Checking in with him, of course he and his family voted Bibi. Who else do they trust?

Jacob is my computer guy from Kazakstan. Totally self made expert. Bringing up 2 sons to join him in the business. You guessed it. All voted Bibi.

How about my English speaking friends?  Aida from Canada, yes both she and her nurse daughter. Berta from Greece, both she and her PHD son high up in the Agricultural Ministry. And Nina and Mervin from south Africa. Not only did they vote Bibi but when I asked their high tech whiz kid working in a start up in Tel Aviv, he said Likud.  I said, "I can't believe this Avi. You're the 30 somethings from high tech Tel Aviv. Why aren't you voting Meretz or Labor.?  Nope, they can't be trusted to lead the country.

So there you have my little sampling of middle class Israeli voters. None live in the West Bank.  None are ultra religious; most are secular. Most voted for other parties in the past.  But not only my friends in their 60's and 70's, but their children, their 30 somethings, all defied political correctness.  Why

And my answer is one word: SECURITY!!!!!

This is what all the left wing Jewish talking heads don't get.  And neither does the White House. The loud voices from Obama on down, threatening, castigating, punishing the Israeli public for the audacity to elect a man they don't approve of,  only get our backs up higher. And the vituperation coming from our fellow Jews across the pond leave us depressed but defiant. Why, why, why are all of them bashing us with such rage?  The spokeswoman for the Conservative movement?  Does she speak for you?  Certainly not for us.  Let's not even give a second thought to the ravings of Ben Ami at J Street or Peter Beinart.  They 've made themselves totally irrelevant in this discussion.

And what the enraged White House also doesn't understand is that all their threats, and money and organizers bent on defeating Netanyahu,

ONLY HELPED TO SOME DEGREE TO ELECT HIM.  Israelis resent Obama telling them what's best for them,- - -or else!!!

Perhaps my little unscientific sample of voters I know isn't completely accurate when analyzing why the overwhelming vote for Bibi.  But I urge you to read about these average Israelis, middle and lower class, living ordinary lives. Except our lives are not ordinary by American Jewish standards. Not when we have Iran, Hamas, Hisbollah, ISIS and all the other radical Islamist groups breathing down our necks.

So think about what it's like to be in our shoes,  the next time you hear all the nasty things we do and we are. It's not just "rachmonis" we need but a real eyes wide open to the reality of our lives- - - - - - -and we need it from you if we are ever going to remain a Jewish family.

Happy Pesach.  Shalom,  Jan Gaines
Dear Jan

I'm so glad you chimed in - it really helps us to have the perspective of one living there, not in the bubbles of liberal Tel Aviv and polarized Jerusalem, but out amongst "real Israelis."  Your perspective is helpful and it certainly is validated by the numbers - no doubt people voted for security.  I also know that Israelis are far more divided than your anecdotal accounting indicates - and the Knesset balance indicates a slight shift to the center and left, of all things, when the dust has settled (and yes, I include the Arab vote. Last I heard, they are very much Israeli citizens).

American Jews are also sharply divided right now - and very nervous, as Jeffrey Goldberg documented this week. I consider myself to be very much in the wait-and-see camp, regarding the possible Iran deal and where Israel stands on the two-state solution.

I feel that this is a time for a serious softening of the tone of the dialogue between Israeli and American Jews. Maybe our leaders will take OUR lead.  Bashing goes both ways - and I think you, your taxi driver and other neighbors need to reflect on that.  Our President actually has a title: "President."  These slights might seem trivial to Israelis, whose leaders often go by nicknames (though rarely derisively by their last names). Many people here were as appalled as Israel's President was at the lack of protocol followed when the P.M. came to Washington.  We can argue about who has been ruder to whom in this ridiculous spat (and I can make a good case for both sides), but we can't dispute that the statements made by the Prime Minister leading up to the elections had an extremely negative impact on Israel's image over here, and not just among Administration officials or incurably liberal Jews, but among many others as well.  The 50th anniversary of Selma was very fresh in our minds when we heard about the "droves of Arabs" being bussed to the polling stations - and I'm sure you of all people can understand the symbolism of that.  In that light, I was proud of the Rabbinical Assembly's response - along with their subsequent acceptance of the Prime Minister's apology.  

As for the two-state situation, read the President's clarification this week and you'll see that this is not purely personal.  I do think common ground can be found on two states, which would enable Israel to have long-term security and permanent settlement blocs and the Palestinians to have hope and a state. I even believe some common ground will be found on Iran, whichever way things end up in the negotiations. 

But here is the bottom line: All the people that you disparage over here are ALSO concerned about Israel's security.  For me, and many others (and please, the time has come to stop demonizing groups you don't agree with), the Prime Minister's shifting away from a negotiation process leading toward a secure, democratic and Jewish Israel as part of a two state solution is an existential threat to Israel's existence.  For me, the proposed Jewish nation-state law would be another nail in the coffin. And this election was all about passing such a law. Would you support a law that renders Conservative Judaism invalid, not to mention one that sets the stage for discrimination against non Jews?  

I certainly can understand the anxiety felt at the ballot boxes in your neighborhood, as we count the days toward (God forbid) the next round of rockets. I am hoping that when the next round occurs, Israel and the US will be as closely aligned as ever.  That will require some hard decisions on both sides.  And some much improved listening.  And no shortage of (likely unwelcome) advice from many of Israel's friends over here.

It's a simple equation: If Prime Minister Netanyahu can claim to speak for all Jews, than all Jews have a right - and an obligation - to weigh in on Israeli policies, especially when it comes the very definition of what it will mean to be a Jewish state.  We all care about Israel too much to back off.  And after what we've seen in Europe and elsewhere lately, all of us are now on the front lines.  Every Jew has a stake in a secure Israel striving for peace.

So we'll continue to annoy each other - and isn't that a wonderful problem to have!  Our great grandparents would have taken that deal in a second.

Best wishes to you and yours for a sweet Pesach!

I hope to see you over there soon!



No comments: