Dean of the Zomet Institute
“What was Esther thinking when she invited Haman? She didn’t want the people of Yisrael to say, We have a sister in the King’s palace – and therefore turn their minds away from asking for Divine mercy.” [Megillah 15b].
You who are reading this article after it has been published already know what I don’t know when I write it. What happened and what was discussed in the meeting between our Prime Minister and the new President of the United States? As I write this, an assorted group of politicians, spokesmen, publicists, and media experts are giving out free advice to the Prime Minister – what to say or not to say: is this a time for silence or for speaking / how to plant new things or to uproot existing ones / when to hug and when to avoid a hug / how to love and how to hate / a time for war and a time for peace (see Kohellet 3 – but I have in some cases replaced “time” with “how,” and I rearranged the sequence). And I will also add my voice, free of charge, to the chorus of advisors. I must admit that I am also moved by a sporting spirit, to see how well I fare in my predictions!
Here are a few minor notes about the current relationship between Israel and the United States.
Essence and not Symbolism
(1) I do not believe that symbolic declarations or actions are efficient necessities today. For example, take the matter of moving the United States embassy to the capital of Israel. This is quite important in terms of the declarative content, it would be an encouraging and embracing move, but the price of worldwide “incoming fire” against us is much greater than any real benefit. Certainly such a “dramatic achievement” is not worth the cost of giving up on much more significant successes. And if we feel that this is an absolute must, all the activity can be brought to Jerusalem at a slow crawl, without the fanfare that would entail a bombastic and very high price.
(2) It may surprise you to read that I am not at all enthusiastic about the possible appointment of the President’s Jewish son-in-law as a negotiator between Israel and the Palestinians. This is doomed to failure! Such a move would provide our enemies with a threshold weapon to torpedo any serious contact between the two sides. It would be a shame to plant a noisy obstacle directly under the negotiation table which the Prime Minister is hoping to get to, and rightly so. We might add that such a move might eventually act as a boomerang, if the President’s son-in-law is not exactly a member of Gush Emunim (the organization which set up many of the “settlements”).
(3) Similarly, I am not sure that it is a good idea to appoint a Shabbat-observant Jew who is one of the trusties of Yeshivat Bet El in the area of Binyamin as the United States ambassador to Israel. In the international arena, his position and his ability will be very constrained from the start. This is also true of public opinion in America, in that his apparent lack of objectivity may act as a detriment. There is no doubt that this appointment can act as a double-edged sword among sectors of the Israeli public which are not clearly on the political right.
(4) In the matter of the Palestinians, expansion of the settlements, and blocking the “vision” of two nations – I do not think that expansion of Israeli sovereignty should be the focus of this summit meeting, “openly on the table.” With respect to this central question, I would be willing to accept mild moves from the United States, such as rejection of a demand to rebuke Israel, turning a blind eye, or a shrug of the shoulders. And from our side, we can swallow up new territories at a slow crawl, “one dunam after another.” For example, the initial move might be extending Israeli law to cover the residents of Yehuda and the Shomron without a need to declare sovereignty over the land. And “along the way,” we might block the Supreme Court from making anti-nationalistic legal decisions through new laws, the details of which we will not discuss further here. Full sovereignty will come later, de jure if not de facto.
(5) As far as I am concerned, there is no real need for a public declaration cancelling “the Bar Ilan declaration” which recognized a desire to establish “two nations for two peoples.” And there should not be any calls to formally disband the “Oslo agreements.” These two visions have dissipated long ago, and it is best if they will simply be allowed to whither and disappear. Reality is much stronger than any declaration.
(6) With respect to Iran, ISIS, and the region of the Mediterranean, I do not have any specific advice. For these matters, I defer to the greater experience and judgement of the Prime Minister.
I close by returning to the quote at the beginning of this article, with some notes added: “What was Esther thinking when she invited Haman [to her summit meeting with King Achashverosh in an effort to save the Jews]? She didn’t want the people of Yisrael to say, We have a sister in the King’s palace [named Ivanka] – and therefore turn their minds away from asking for Divine mercy.”