American Jews Place Hopes In Herzog
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American Jews Place Hopes In Herzog

Change of government could spur better ties with administration.

Analysts said they believe American Jews would like to see a new Israeli government to help re-cement ties with the Obama administration.

“I think American Jews will probably feel more relieved at this juncture if [Labor head Isaac] Herzog ends up forming the next government,” observed Alon Ben-Meir, a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.

“American Jews and most Israelis are very concerned about the tension and the deterioration in the relationship between Israel and the U.S.,” he said. “They feel strongly that if there is a new Netanyahu government, it will not get along with the Obama administration — and that would be a major concern for the remaining 20 or so months” of Obama’s term in the White House.

A Herzog-led government would also have an impact on the American political scene, according to UCLA political science professor Steven Spiegel.

If Herzog is part of a new government, it would have an impact on the American political scene, he said. “Netanyahu — for good or ill — accentuated the partisanship of Israel, especially with his speech [to a joint meeting of Congress.”

Spiegel was referring to the Republican invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress March 3 about his concerns regarding the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran to keep it from developing nuclear weapons. Although some 56 Democrats boycotted the speech, it was interrupted 39 times with applause — 23 of them standing ovations.

Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Organizations, said that although American Jews would like to see an end to the strained relations between Israel and the U.S., “it is not at all clear to me” that the Republican members of Congress would welcome that.

“They have aligned themselves with the right wing of Israeli politics, which is unfortunate,” he said. “Even if Herzog wanted to move forward with the peace process, he might find obstacles in Congress despite being welcomed in the White House.”

But Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said he does not foresee a Herzog-led coalition being able to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians. In addition, he said, “grassroots American Jews will not want to see a likely terrorist state established.”

The last American Jewish Committee poll of American Jewish attitudes towards a Palestinian state in late 2013 found that 50 percent favored it but 47 percent opposed.

Klein said he is convinced that “no matter what deal is offered, they [the Palestinians] will turn it down.” He noted that two prior Israeli prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, offered the Palestinians “between 95 and 98 percent” of the West Bank, along with “chunks of Jerusalem.”

“They did not accept either deal, why would they accept it now?” Klein asked.

“Abbas negotiated with Netanyahu for only one week in the last 5 ½ years. He never came to the table even when Netanyahu ordered a 10-month [settlement construction] freeze that Hillary [Clinton] called unprecedented.”

“I don’t think Herzog will agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state without getting Abbas to fulfill some of his Oslo obligations – outlawing terrorist groups, end the alliance with Hamas, ending incitement and arresting terrorists,” Klein added. “Abbas has never done those things even though he promised to do them.”

Asked about Netanyahu’s pledge this week that there would not be a Palestinian state on his watch if he is given another four years as prime minister, Klein said Netanyahu was simply “saying what he truly believes — that such a state would be “more dangerous than one in the Gaza Strip because it would be next to 70 percent of the Israeli population and would be able to knock down airplanes at Ben-Gurion Airport.”

Alan Elsner, a vice president of J Street — a liberal advocacy group that supports a two-state solution and describes itself as pro-Israel, pro-peace — said in an interview a day before the election that a national unity government is a distinct possibility. He explained that he does not believe Herzog would be able to form a center-left government, and that a strong showing by the Joint (Arab) List might be able to thwart Netanyahu’s chances of forming a government. (It garnered 13 seats in Tuesday’s election.)

“If there is a change of government and a change of direction, I think many American Jewish organizations that have veered sharply to the right in the last few years would find themselves in a difficult situation,” he said. “They would profess allegiance to the elected government of Israel and find themselves defending policies different from the ones they defended heretofore.”

But should Netanyahu succeed in putting together a right-wing coalition government, Elsner said it would be a “catastrophe for Israel, which would be isolated in the world and find its relations with the Obama administration irreparably broken. He would be pushed to speed up settlements and that would only deepen Israel’s isolation.”

Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said he is confident that American Jews will remain committed to Israel no matter the outcome of the election.

“At the end of the day, American Jews want a safe and secure Israel, one that will be strong in the face of the tremendous challenges that surround it and that maintains a good relationship with the U.S.,” he said.

“There is no question that those in our community may have a favorite candidate or want a certain outcome, but everyone understands that Israelis will make their choices,” Mariaschin observed. “After the coalition is sealed, there will be one government in Israel … and we will all be working together.

“The threats from ISIS, Islamic extremists, terrorist organizations and Iran will remain the same. … The threats are far more important and the stakes far higher than one issue or another. Whoever winds up leading the coalition will still have to deal with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. And we know that the major parties in Israel — if not all — have the same view of the Iranian threat. So regardless of who wins, the fundamental relationship between us and Israel will remain. We have too many issues in common.”

editor@jewishweek.org

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