American Jews have mixed feelings about Benjamin Netanyahu's speech

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Marco Werman: The Netanyahu speech divided public opinion back in Israel. It also caused a stir among American Jews, as The World’s Aaron Schachter explains.


Aaron Schachter: Jews disagree. It’s what we do. You put five Jews in a room, you get six opinions. So, no shock that Benjamin Netanyahu can be a pretty divisive topic at a dinner party. But here’s one thing most American Jews agreed on: it was a bad idea for the Israeli prime minister to plan a speech that would so clearly anger the Obama Administration, and some American Jews were further ticked off that Netanyahu forced them to choose between loyalty to their president and to the state of Israel.


Alan Lowenthal: There is a division. I think that it’s unfortunate that all of us that were at one time on the same page have been forced to make choices.


Schachter: Alan Lowenthal is a democratic congressman from California. He wrestled with not going to the speech. In the end, he attended. But he says the deal Netanyahu cut with House speaker John Boehner pitted democrat against republican, Jew against Jew, and Lowenthal was not amused.


Lowenthal: The support for Israel historically has been a bipartisan effort. It’s two weeks before the Israeli elections and I think it’s an inappropriate time to try to both influence the United States Congress and at the same for the United States Congress to be involved in an election in Israel. I think that is totally inappropriate.


Michael Lerner: We published an ad in the New York Times that was signed by 2,650 people.


Schachter: Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine, a progressive Jewish quarterly.


Lerner: It says “No Mr. Netanyahu, you do not represent American Jews.”


Schachter: Rabbi Lerner is not a fan of Benjamin Netanyahu in the best of times, hasn’t been for decades. But, for the most part, his criticism has been of Netanyahu’s policies and not his behavior. This time though, he says Netanyahu has gone too far. The problem, again, wasn’t just ticking off the US president.


Lerner: Actually, what’s at stake is a much more serious struggle. He has elicited the fear amongst Jews that Israel and Jews are going to be seen as arrogant and actually fulfilling the worst anti-semitic stereotypes of who Jews are.


Schachter: But here’s another opinion, as you knew there would be. Mitchell Bard runs the American Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. Like most American Jews, including Rabbi Lerner, he was against Netanyahu coming to make today’s speech. He thought it was unnecessarily provocative. But is it the end of the world? No.


Mitchell Bard: I thought personally that there were other ways to approach the issue but I think we’ll see that it will pass over as most of these past disagreements have, going back, as Netanyahu said, as far back as 1947 when the secretary of state opposed the creation of the state of Israel.


Schachter: And Bard thought the speech was a good one, not arrogant, and did lay out an alternative path forward, one that would increase protections for the Jewish state. “Don’t let Iran keep any nuclear enrichment capability,” Netanyahu said, “unless they agree to a lot more than they have.” “For starters,” he added, “Stop threatening Israel and supporting groups that fire rockets into the Jewish state.” Bard says that would be progress, and most American Jews would agree that those are reasonable goals, but shouldn’t necessarily be part of the US-Iran nuclear talks. For The World, I’m Aaron Schachter.