Last week on Meet the Press, host David Gregory called Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu “the leader of the Jewish people.” At that very moment I was flying back from New Delhi where I told my audience at a world peace conference that we Jews didn’t have a leader. Who is right: Mr. Gregory or me?
I think I am. We Jews don’t have a pope or an ayatollah. We can’t even settle on one Chief Rabbi in Israel. Even when we did have one leader, Moses, we revolted! Had I lived then, I would have sided (and died) with Korah and the elders of the people who demanded a more open system of governance over Moses’ one man (him) one vote (his) leadership style.
But what would it mean if Bibi were the leader of the Jewish people? After all he got that job by being elected Israel’s Prime Minister, and most Jews, not being Israelis, are not allowed to vote in Israeli elections. Would we American Jews be forced to adhere to his policies? And what would happen if Israelis voted in a liberal PM? Would we suddenly have to change our values and follow the new PM’s dictates?
Israel is a sovereign state seeking to govern through a mixture of Jewish, democratic, and socialist values. Doing so is a real challenge as these values are often in conflict with one another. It is all the more difficult when we try to define these values and discover (at least on the Jewish side) that we can’t even agree as to what they might be. I admire them for what they are trying to do, but I am not one of them.
I’m not an Israeli; I’m an American. I’m not an Israeli by choice, and I choose to stay in the United States because I believe the United States is the freer and more liberal country, and my loyalty to freedom and liberalism trumps my loyalty to Israel. I support Israel insofar as she lives up to my values (which of course I claim are the authentic Jewish values), and disagree with her when she follows some other value system (which of course claims to be the authentic Jewish values, but which of course cannot be authentic as they disagree with my values which are, as I just stated, the authentic Jewish values). If the United States becomes a Christian Nation as many if not most of my neighbors hope, I will change my mind and move. Maybe to Israel, but, given the state of Israeli politics and policies, more likely to Canada.
Whenever I say something like this I am attacked by American Jews who make the same choice I do but hate to admit it. If Bibi is your leader, if you are going to let him tell you how to vote in the American presidential election, move to Israel and vote for his political heir instead. If you think Israel is superior to the United States, become an Israeli and make it the best it can be. But if you chose to remain an American, do so proudly and vote for your choice of presidents, not Bibi’s.