Thursday, March 5, 2015

What Does It Mean For The Jews - My Reactions to Being In Congress for P.M. Netanyahu's Speech

As I previously wrote, I had mixed feelings about attending Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress. The underlying politics both here and in Israel are, to say the least, distasteful. I disagree with much of P.M. Netanyahu's positions and personally feel he is as much an obstacle to peace as President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.

However, out of respect for Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham who invited me to attend, I decided to go. In the hours after the speech I realized I was primarily there as a representative of our Jewish community. I was there because I am a rabbi.

Sitting in the Visitor’s Gallery of the House of Representatives I knew I was surrounded by people with whom I had little in common other than a love for the State of Israel and an absolute commitment to help ensure her survival. From the start it was clear that the people seated around me were ardent supporters of the Prime Minister and his politics. Even so, I felt a sense of awe as I looked over the House chamber, a place where history has been, and continues to be, made.

I listened carefully to the speech, the arguments presented, the examples given, and the reactions of Members of Congress and of those seated in the gallery. I felt the Prime Minister did his best to reach out to President Obama and the administration as he emphasized all that President Obama has done for Israel and alluded to tangible support from the President that, due to security considerations, may never be publically known. I resented the implication that the Prime Minister speaks for all Jews. He does not speak for me. The introduction of Elie Wiesel both moved and saddened me. Being seated less than 50 feet from him moved me. Seeing and hearing him used as a political prop saddened me.

Leaving the gallery I was swept up in a throng of people all trying to get to the desk where we had to leave our cell phones. The comments I heard ranged from "brilliant talk" to "under whelming because of the lack of any creative solutions.” Personally, I agreed with the latter. Netanyahu said nothing new and he did not offer any alternatives to the negotiations. Much like with those who object to changing our Cuba policy all he had to offer was more sanctions, which as we all know, have not worked.

I continue to be concerned with the short and long-term threat Iran poses to America, Israel and the world. I know what I would like to see in an agreement with Iran. However, I also know that my opinion is based on emotion not knowledge. I do not have the expertise to know if my ideas would alleviate the threat or exacerbate it. I am not a policy analyst, foreign relations, security, or arms control expert. I am a rabbi.

At dinner that evening with Congresswoman Lujan Grisham we exchanged our thoughts about the speech and the dynamics present in the House chamber. After quickly agreeing that there are no easy answers to the Iranian threat, I shared what moved me the most. That is as Americans and Jews we are truly blessed. Listening to the cheers of our senators and representatives, watching them jump to their feet and applaud as the Prime Minister talked about the need to protect Israel and Jews reinforced what I have, and what I think we all have known. Any anti-Semitism we see in America pales in comparison to what we see in Europe and around the world because our leaders do not tolerate, promote or foster it. Their loud reaction to Netanyahu's mention of Iranian threats to destroy, not just Israel, but all Jews was second only to his mention of their threat to destroy America. I understood that while we must never be silent when anti-Semitism occurs, we live in a country whose government has our back.

In our dinner conversation, Rep. Lujan Grisham reinforced this message. She agreed that there is strong, unbreakable, if not unlimited support for the American Jewish community and for Israel both in Congress and the Administration.

I was there not just as Congresswoman Lujan Grisham's guest but also as a rabbi. As your rabbi I am proud to bring this message of support home to you.

Shalom uv'racha,

Rabbi Harry L. Rosenfeld