As someone who resides in NYC with a home in Tel Aviv, this week offered a whirlwind of emotions on a spiritual level, as a Zionist, as a Jew. Prime Minister Netanyahu stayed on my block in Manhattan during his visit to the United Nations. For the last week, there’s been dueling protests and rallies and passionate Jews and Israelis all over the city. While it’s something I am accustomed to in Tel Aviv its much different in Gotham to hear those beating drums and vivacious Israeli chants and bullhorns.
For my entire life I have been deeply involved with the State of Israel. I have protested worldwide for Jewish and Israeli causes, growing up in the Betar youth movement of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, have always been proud to stand with Israel in literally thousands of events, demonstrations and rallies. Over the last year or so being in Israel, I have attended protests against judicial reform. I have come to believe judicial reform has simply gone too far, is too divisive and for the sake of Israel must be stopped. Even those who think judicial reform is necessary must now recognize the damage which has been done to the country. Enough.
Yet, here in the heart of Manhattan this week so much has come to boil which affects Israel, the Jewish people, the Diaspora, and there’s so much nuance in a world where we live by soundbite and in such an ADD generation.
I deeply believe that American Jewry is facing a difficult future. Assimilation, Anti-Semitism, intermarriage, the lack of Jewish identity and education which pervades Jewish Americans is an illness – something which does not affect Israelis in quite the same way. Even the most liberal Israeli knows all the Jewish holidays and has kids with Jewish names fighting in the Israeli army. They don’t worry about intermarriage – their kids will be Jewish. They live very Jewish lives on a day-to-day basis. On Sukkot, no one goes to school. Everyone feels Shabbat.
For most Israelis these days, quality of life is good, and people are happy. Yet, many Israelis fear this government is one of radicals and Ultra-Orthodox that don’t contribute sufficiently to society. This government led by Netanyahu many have come to feel is a danger to the future of the country and democracy. It’s a major issue and all consuming.
Yet ultimately Israel is the only place in the world where Jews can be truly safe. It’s the Jewish homeland, the country that is ours in the world. As one with an Israeli citizenship who lives part-time in Tel Aviv, I’m used to passionate protests. These protests have consumed Israel, affecting many aspects of day-to-day life, traffic, businesses divesting, people refusing to show up to military reserve duty. It’s multi-faceted. When PM Netanyahu came to NYC, its inevitable Israelis followed.
As such, I was happy to attend a dinner in Manhattan with many of the leaders of the Israeli protest movement hosted by my friend and business colleague of more than 20 years Noam Lanir. Lanir is a famed Israeli entrepreneur whose father was a heroic Air Force pilot who was killed during the Yom Kippur War, as was his uncle and cousin. His grandfather was the commander of the Altadena ship. A fierce Zionist, Lanir is very involved in the protests and is someone very passionate about Israeli charitable initiatives, social causes and the future of the Jewish state. Like many Israelis, he believes this is not a matter of right vs left, but right vs wrong. He will never ever give up on fighting against Netanyahu. He stayed in the same hotel as Netanyahu hoping to encounter him face to face.
Lanir is typical of many Israelis and high-tech entrepreneurs who believe Netanyahu poses such a danger to democracy, a danger to people’s rights that even protesting against him in the Diaspora is acceptable. They believe Netanyahu poses a bigger danger to the State of Israel. They live in a very Israeli reality – something which Americans can’t get by visiting for a week and staying at the King David Hotel. At the dinner Eyal Naveh, the leader of the brothers in Arms protest spoke valiantly of his love for Israel and his fear for the future. The leaders of the movement were united in their passion and voice and love of the Jewish state. By the way, their kids will be Jewish, and they eat Jewish food, listen to Jewish music and love being Israeli. These are passionate, boisterous caring Israelis who have devoted their energy to this movement to protect and defend their country.
They came here to tell Netanyahu nothing will keep us quiet. There is nowhere you can run to where we won’t follow. They feel Netanyahu has manipulated too much in the country for too long and they won’t be silent. They harangue Israeli politicians 24/7 and its won’t stop.
Yet, in America for many it’s different. Many American Jews love and support Israel in the United States against a very difficult backdrop. The Biden Administration is no friend of Israel, Anti-Semitism is high, and Israel doesn’t have many friends.
And so understandably, many lovers of Israel in the United States asked how can you stand with and support these people who are protesting Israel in the United States? I understand them. American Jews held a “Pro-Israel” rally outside of Netanyahu’s hotel to counter the anti-judicial reform rallies (where Israeli flags are being held). For so many, Netanyahu is a hero who has done so much for the country and the Jewish people. Its natural that there’s those who want to support and rally for him in the United States. They can’t understand the internal Israeli political nuances – just as the Israelis can’t understand how odd it is on the Upper East Side to have dueling protests where the parties both support and love the Jewish state. Netanyahu has many real issues to tackle at the United Nations. The Saudi issue, relations with President Biden, Saudi peace initiatives. There’s a lot. To visit the US and be protested by your own people? Not easy.
Many of the Israelis who oppose judicial reform are as Zionist as it gets – IDF veterans with kids in the army, secular and religious, living all over the country. They are Israeli. For them, Netanyahu is an enemy of the State who belongs in jail. They look at this strictly through an Israelis vantage point.
I am not sure they understand (or care) that in the U.S. and worldwide, many in the world hate us. Holding Israeli flags next to my home protesting Israel’s Prime Minister – we are expecting people outside of Israel to understand those nuances? Terrible optics. Terribly sad all around.
And yet for Rabbi Shmuley Boteach to tweet “Really hard to believe that Jews would protest Israel in New York City” is also asinine. These people fight for Israel much more than American Jews. But in America to fly signs against the Israeli government and scream “boosha” (shame) in Hebrew at the leaders of the Jewish state? Hard to understand.
Those of the American Jewish left who join protests at the United Nations have never stood outside of the UN to protest a terrorist attack in Israel. Consensus issues in Israel like opposing an Iranian nuclear bomb is something which the mainstream American Jewish community has been silent on. The American Jewish community is overwhelmingly democratic and largely unfriendly to the Netanyahu government well before the issue of judicial reform. Their issues with Israel are much different than judicial reform. And of course, in America unlike in Israel there’s very little Sephardic representation.
This is all so terrifying. The tensions which are tearing apart Israel have reached the streets of the diaspora – and it must end. These are scary and terrifying times. Pray for the safety and security of the State of Israel.