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Putting Words in Bibi’s Mouth

Binyamin Rose

What Bibi might have said about the Kosel controversy had he thrown diplomacy to the winds

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

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TIGHTROPE WALKER Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is like a taut rope being pulled from both ends, in the wake of threats from his coalition partners and powerful American Jewish interests, who both demand access to the Kosel on their own terms

I n the wake of threats that powerful American Jews might pull their political and financial support from Israel unless pending laws pertaining to access to the Kosel and conversion to Judaism are amended, a delegation from AIPAC landed in Israel to hold urgent consultations with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

We don’t know exactly what Bibi told his visitors, but the following is what he could have said to them, and others who see themselves as stakeholders, had he cast diplomacy to the winds:

“Let’s talk about the Kosel first,” Netanyahu might have begun. “I, and many members of my cabinet, underestimated the uncompromising devotion of Orthodox Jewish Israelis to the Kosel. They come every day and night, rain or shine. Some of these people have made a one-time commitment to pray at the Kosel for 40 consecutive days because they are facing a significant challenge in their lives. To me, it makes more sense to listen to their cries than to those of a small group of women who come to the Kosel once a month, put on a show for 40 minutes, and disrupt everyone.

“We’ve given you your own location at the Robinson’s Arch. Be content with that, even if you don’t have formal control of it. Americans must remember that Israel is geographically small. Competition for land and space is fierce. That fact makes Israelis uniquely territorial, whether it’s at the Kosel or on line in a bank or post office. One reason that we’re still here is because we’ve learned that if we don’t hold our ground, we lose it. Outsiders who challenge us on our own turf should anticipate a fight, and expect to lose.

“Next, I’d like to mention my chareidi coalition partners. The media framed my remarks to you as if I have no political backbone and can’t stand up to 13 bearded men in long coats and suits. Let me reframe that. I’m prime minister, not a dictator. I lead a coalition government, with diverse factions, from center-left to far-right, from secular to traditional to chareidi. It’s a balancing act that requires careful management and compromise.

 

“Know that the 13 chareidi MKs in my government are my most loyal coalition partners. Unlike other coalition partners that covet my job, the chareidim content themselves with doing theirs. Ask any MK, religious or secular, and they will agree that no MK knows the budget process better than Moshe Gafni and no minister has fought harder to modernize the health system and extend benefits to the people than Yaakov Litzman. I am blessed with a coterie of seasoned military and intelligence advisors, yet over the years, I have learned to also trust the wise counsel of Aryeh Deri on security matters.

“Next, let me address the critique that my positions are putting Jewish philanthropy to the State of Israel at risk. On behalf of the State of Israel, I hereby declare our gratitude for the estimated $1 billion in assistance American Jewry provides each year. The number is probably lower, but what’s a few hundred million dollars between friends? We hope that it continues, and rises. Charitable assistance enables the government of Israel to spend less of its GDP on social-welfare causes compared to other economically-developed Western nations.
“But let me be clear. At 3.49 to the shekel, the almighty buck doesn’t go as far in Israel as it used to. Sure, $1 billion is still a mighty sum, but 3.49 billion NIS amounts to less than 1% of our annual state budget. If forced to, I can ask Moshe Gafni to make some line item adjustments to the budget and we will survive.

“Finally, we still need and want your political and moral support. But I urge you to focus on the bigger picture. Anti-Semitism is on the rise globally, threatening the security of Jewish communities. Iran, ISIS, Hezbollah, and Hamas flank our borders, and are itching for a fight. Our enemies read the newspapers, too. They don’t view our public spats as two Jews having three opinions, or as a healthy democracy airing differences. To them, we look weak and divided — and this only encourages them. Let’s all lower the volume. Stop negotiating in the newspapers. The only way we’ll solve these controversies is by conversation and negotiation, behind closed doors.

“And in conclusion, if you really respect democracy, please respect ours and the final decisions that the government of Israel makes, even if you disagree with them.” (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 667)

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