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Israel Needs A Non-Jewish Prime Minister

While serving as rabbi at Oxford University, I befriended a young African-American Rhodes scholar by the name of Cory Booker who became like a brother to me. Because of Cory’s immense popularity within our student organization, the Oxford L’Chaim Society, he was voted in as co-president 1992, serving as leader of an organization of more than 4,000 student members.

Many in the Anglo-Jewish community were puzzled at a non-Jew serving at the head of a Jewish organization, especially when pictures of Cory, with a yarmulke on his head introducing our speaker Mikhail Gorbachev, appeared throughout the UK press. But to my mind that was never a contradiction. Cory was simply the best man for the job.

A deeply spiritual man of impeccable character, Cory, a Baptist, was the living personification of Jewish values. He had a deep love and reverence for God, humanity, and the Jewish people, and he possessed a charismatic ability to inspire goodness in others. Indeed, Cory’s presidency was long remembered as a golden era for Jewish life at Oxford, and today Cory, who is now running to be mayor of Newark, New Jersey, is not only one of America’s most influential young politicians, but is adored by the American Jewish community.

I thought of Cory as I watched Israel descending into the morass of another bitterly-contested election. We who have prayed for a strong Israeli leader – firm in his or her conviction that the real road to peace in the Middle East rests not with Israeli concessions but with Arab political reform and democratization – are now handed a roster of the usual suspects. For the most part, the prime ministerial candidates are men who have already succumbed in the past to international pressure to cede territory in return for what was supposed to be peace but was always increased Arab hostility toward the Jewish state.

Indeed, I have begun to despair of any Jewish prime minister of Israel being able to withstand the pressure for further concessions. Menachem Begin was the most nationalistic of all Israel’s prime ministers and one of the proudest Jews of modern times. But he handed over to Egypt land equivalent to three times Israel’s size and received an ice-cold peace in return. Ariel Sharon, the man many once viewed as the unshakable rock of Israel’s security, abandoned Gaza and its brave Jewish residents and in return received a wave of Hamas-launched rockets so incessant that his government is now threatening ground operations in Gaza, which obviates the entire reason for leaving in the first place.

Ehud Barak, once Israel’s most decorated soldier, was ready, at Camp David, to give to Yasir Arafat Judaism’s most sacred sites, and even Bibi Netanyahu, long Israel’s most eloquent defender, gave up control of Hebron, Israel’s first capitol and the city of the patriarchs, and signed the Wye River agreements under pressure from Bill Clinton.

Given this kind of history, does it really matter who is elected Israel’s next prime minister? The outcome is already a foregone conclusion. Whoever is prime minister will come under horrendous pressure to cede huge tracts of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians, and if history is a guide, they will buckle to that pressure.

I believe that, as strange as it may sound, it is time for Israelis to begin to look seriously at having a non-Jewish prime minister. One of the reasons Cory Booker was such an effective president for us at Oxford was that he did not have so many of the hang-ups that we Jews sometimes possess: problems affirming our identity in a non-Jewish environment, feelings that we are outsiders (which in turn leads to a desperate longing for mainstream acceptance), and a feeling of queasiness at how disliked Israel is by the rest of the world.

Whereas many of our committed Jewish students were reluctant to invite their more secular Jewish friends to attend Friday night Shabbat dinner for fear of being stigmatized as parochial and missionary, Cory served as one of our greatest sources of recruitment and many Jewish Rhodes Scholars became regulars at our events due entirely to Cory’s inspiration.

Israel needs that kind of leader: a man or woman who is unafraid to assert that Israel is a moral and democratic country that has little for which to apologize. Israel needs a leader who couldn’t care less about fitting in and for whom invitations to the White House and Downing Street are meaningless.

A non-Jewish prime minister, who is already an insider, would save us from the many Jewish prime ministers who traded in their ideology to gain mainstream acceptance. Indeed, perhaps it is only a non-Jewish man or woman who could go to the United Nations and have the credibility to speak the truth about the shocking prejudice against the Jewish state in that increasingly immoral international body.

Perhaps it is only a non-Jewish prime minister who could speak with credibility about the right of the Jews to their ancient, biblical homeland. Indeed, would the Balfour Declaration of 1917, promulgated by a non-Jewish lover of the Jewish people, have had the same credibility had it been the Rabinowitz Declaration?

The story of the modern State of Israel is one of constant tragedy, interspersed with remarkable triumphs. But the most remarkable thing of all is how so many of those tragedies were self-inflicted. The Oslo agreements, in which Israel brought back to its territory and armed tens of thousands of men committed to its destruction, will no doubt be forever regarded as one of the greatest self-inflicted catastrophes by any nation in the history of the world.

Of all the people who are puzzled at Israel’s mysterious penchant for self-destruction, it is evangelical Christians who are most puzzled of all. Evangelicals were the most vocal opponents to the withdrawal from Gaza, wondering why Israel would voluntarily allow the creation of a Hamas terrorist launching pad on its borders. Indeed, Christian evangelicals take seriously not only the Jewish biblical claim to the Land of Israel, but the idea of Jewish chosenness as well, a concept that makes modern Jews incredibly queasy.

So why not have an evangelical prime minister who actually believes in – and will authoritatively speak to the world of – the Jewish people’s three-thousand-year-old claim to their homeland? I, for one, would welcome any Israeli leader, of whatever birth, who is wholly immune to any sycophantic desire for international acceptance.

Indeed, the Talmud relates that one of the most successful kings of Second-Temple era Israel was the non-Jewish Agrippa, who was so beloved by the people that when he once cried in public, after reading Deuteronomy 17:15, the commandment that “You shall not have a foreigner over you,” the people cried out to him, “Fear not Agrippa. You are our brother. You are our brother” (Sotah 41a).

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is host of TLC’s upcoming series “Shalom in the Home.” He recently won the American Jewish Press Association’s Award for Excellence in Commentary. His most recent book is ‘Hating Women: America’s Hostile Campaign Against the Fairer Sex.”

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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