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To Liberal American Zionists: A Call to Intervene

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Crossposted on Tikkun Daily

By Nicholas Saidel

Due to a breakdown in budget negotiations within the governing Likud-led coalition, Israel is now scheduled to hold elections on January 22, 2013. What a perfect opportunity for liberal Zionists in America who support U.S. President Barack Obama to pull a “Bibi,” that is to say, to be actively engaged — dare I say meddlesome — in the upcoming Israeli elections in order to help oust current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu from power. For those unfamiliar, during a critical period of the U.S. presidential campaign, Bibi went public with his disagreements with Obama over the Iranian nuclear issue, leaked a story about being snubbed by Obama after requesting a meeting, and lavishly courted republican presidential candidate and former colleague Mitt Romney during his trip to Israel earlier this year.

These tactics were intended to bind Obama to Israeli red lines for military action against Iran by exploiting his vulnerability to attacks from the right during the campaign season. But they were also a not-so-subtle endorsement of Romney. This unprecedented candidate support from a foreign leader has made liberal American Zionists who support Obama both angry and distraught. Luckily, there is now a chance to reciprocate the gesture. Considering what’s at stake, it is not simply a matter of payback, but rather a moral imperative for liberal American Zionists to abandon the traditional “wait and see” approach and instead speak up during the forthcoming electoral season in Israel.

Let us be clear: Bibi’s policies, if left unchecked, may mean the end of Israel as we know it, i.e. as a Jewish and democratic state. The prolonged occupation of the Palestinian people, the “Judaization” of East Jerusalem and the continued settlement expansion in the West Bank has basically destroyed the possibility of a two-state solution (perhaps what Likud wants but won’t yet admit). And though you wouldn’t know it from the American presidential debates, these policies have made Israel a pariah on the world stage, and have led to increased isolation and vulnerability to delegitimization campaigns such as the BDS movement. Making a grim future even bleaker is Bibi’s fixation on waging war with Iran, a decision most Israeli intelligence and military experts agree would be calamitous for Israel.

With this in mind, concerned Jews, individually but more importantly through the policy-influencing Jewish organizations whose purse strings they control, should start endorsing those parties and candidates within Israel whose policies are consistent with the traditional Zionist vision and Jewish values such as those concerning human rights. Israel advocacy organizations in America, for the most part, do not endorse candidates running for office in Israel out of respect for the Israeli electorate and its sovereignty over domestic matters. However, the present crisis of leadership in Israel necessitates a revisiting of this principle, especially considering the alarming trend toward nationalist and religious extremism among the Israeli electorate.

Many American Jews have little faith left in the Israeli electorate to choose what is right for Israel. It is an electorate that has become disturbingly hard to recognize. A recent poll conducted by Dialog shows that, among other unsettling figures, a majority of Israelis oppose granting Palestinians voting rights even if Israel formally annexed the West Bank — arguably an acceptance of the institutionalization of Israeli apartheid. With respect to the impending election, polls show the Likud party and its right wing bloc, consisting of nationalist and religious parties, are expected to actually gain seats. As for Bibi personally, his approval rating is above 50%, more than twice as high as his nearest competitor. This simply cannot stand.

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