Op-Ed: Netanyahu and the Issues Facing Him

By Gary Mond, Chairman, National Jewish Assembly

The National Jewish Assembly, which I chair, never takes any side regarding internal Israeli politics. We were silent on the issue of judicial reform prior to the current war. Furthermore, prior to Israel’s autumn 2022 election, we made no comment on the deal between Israel and Lebanon on drilling for oil and gas because we knew it was a contentious Israeli election issue. We think it is totally wrong for a diaspora Jewish organisation to ever take sides on issues which Israelis must decide on themselves, and wish that other diaspora organisations behaved likewise, rather than fanned the flames of internal Israeli discord, which tragically many of them do.

That said, when it comes to supporting the Israeli government of the day (of whatever political colour) in its arguments with the outside world, we support Israel to the hilt. Of course, among our advisory board there might privately be a variety of disparate views, yet we believe that supporting Israel means supporting its government, and of course praying that Hashem imbues it with the wisdom to make optimal decisions in the best interest of Israel.

This brings us to the central figure of Israel today, its prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He does, of course, arouse considerable passion, both among his supporters and his enemies. Yet in defending Israel, and without championing his views and actions in our community, it is fair and reasonable to address some misconceptions.

First, he is certainly in a very difficult political position. The international media would have us believe that the vast majority of the country would agree to practically anything to bring the hostages home (alive or tragically deceased), even if it meant granting freedom to some 20,000 Hamas-affiliated terrorists currently in Israeli prisons, and allowing Hamas to survive and flourish. Much less, if any, publicity is given to the opposing viewpoint in Israel, which is that the prosecution of the war towards eliminating Hamas is actually more important, even if this drastically reduces the hostages chances of survival. It is difficult to say which of these two viewpoints is the majority Israeli view, although both are undeniably firmly held positions. The latter gets far less coverage than the former, but is just as prevalent, if not more so. Netanyahu is caught in the middle.

Second, the media often remark about Netanyahu’s perceived wish to keep the war going as long as possible. It comments that he has several potential criminal charges pending against him which can only be pursued once he is no longer in office. Might this be true? The way to analyse this is to ask whether his policies would be any different if he was not facing criminal charges. My view is that his policies would not be any different – his desire, as he has articulated many times, is to eviscerate Hamas as a military and governing force in Gaza. This is also the view, for the most part, of his support base, Likud voters. Hence this criticism should be rejected.

Third, little publicity is given outside Israel to the single biggest problem of all that dwarfs all of the others and which threatens Israel’s very fabric of society. This is the dispute between the haredi community and most other Israelis about the failure of many of the former group to serve in the Israel Defence Forces. Most secular Israeli Jews resent the idea that a growing proportion of the population refuses to serve as they do. There is a pressing need for a solution. Without it the unhappiness of those who serve, in their resentment of those who do not serve, will become uncontainable. What, exactly, are Netanyahu’s plans for the solution to this issue? Some form of compromise is desperately needed.

Finally, and especially in connection with the war, Netanyahu is under constant pressures from international players, notably the United States. On this point one can be unequivocal. He must act, like every Israeli prime minister, past, present or future, in what he or she believes to be in Israel’s best interests – and those actions might well not be the same as outside governments, and even the Jewish diaspora, want.

In conclusion, for those who want to criticise Netanyahu, it is important to ascertain exactly what you might do in his place. There are no easy decisions.

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