The Jewish state cannot assume full responsibility for the security of world Jewry, Diaspora Minister Naftali Bennett said as fallout over the neo-Nazi rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, and an ostensible resurgence of the far right continued to rattle the US.
“We view ourselves as having a certain degree of responsibility for every Jew in the world, just for being Jewish,” Bennett told The Times of Israel in an interview on Thursday. “But ultimately it’s the responsibility of the sovereign nation to defend its citizens.”
Bennett was the only senior government minister to swiftly condemn the August 11-12 rallies — which saw hundreds of torch-carrying white supremacists chant “Jews will not replace us” while waving Confederate and swastika flags — in the aftermath of the protests and a subsequent suspected car-ramming that killed a woman.
“The unhindered waving of Nazi flags and symbols in the US is not only offensive toward the Jewish community and other minorities, it also disrespects the millions of American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order to protect the US and entire world from the Nazis,” said Bennett, who is also education minister, in an August 13 statement. “The leaders of the US must condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism seen over the past few days.”
That response was in sharp contrast to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a “leader of the Jewish world,” in the words of his office’s director-general. In an apparent effort not to anger US President Donald Trump, Netanyahu was silent for three days before tweeting out a muted denunciation of “expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism,” without specifically mentioning Charlottesville.
Israeli leaders have also remained mum on Trump’s much-criticized reactions to the events, which included initially saying “many sides” were at fault, and later allocating equal blame to “both sides” and saying there were “very fine people” among the far-right protesters.
During our August 24 interview, Bennett, who leads the right-wing Jewish Home coalition party, maintained that the “lion’s share” of US anti-Semitism emanates from the left, and refrained from criticizing Trump or Netanyahu, saying the Israeli premier did the “right thing” in ultimately condemning the incident. Outlining his general view of Israel’s responsibility for Jews abroad in the face of anti-Semitism, he indicated the onus was on local governments to intervene.
“Ultimately, Jews abroad are unique in the sense that clearly they’re citizens of their countries. But they also have some special relationship with the Jewish state,” said Bennett. “And sometimes it’s hard to define that relationship. Israel cannot assume full responsibility for the welfare and security of Jews around the world. We’re not the police force or the army of the local countries. That’s the responsibility of each government.”
In the United States, Bennett argued, the threat of anti-Jewish hatred from the far-left was more significant than from the far-right.
“We see the lions’ share of anti-Semitism is actually BDS [the Israel boycott movement], pro-Arab, anti-Israeli anti-Semitism, which is on the rise. That would be, let’s call it, radical left anti-Semitism. And there’s radical right anti-Semitism. And we’re worried about both. We have to keep our eyes on both of them,” he said.
When it’s warranted, said Bennett, his office works closely with other governments.
“If we see in America, God forbid, a dramatic increase of a clear and present danger, certainly we’ll take even more meaningful action,” he said. In other incidents, where displays of anti-Semitism are present but there is no clear and present danger, “we speak [out],” he added.
“Look, I’m minister of Diaspora affairs. Some people call me the minister of the Jews. As such, I believe I was the first minister in Israel who responded clearly and condemned this sort of neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism. Indeed, afterwards, Bibi [Netanyahu] joined and that’s the right thing. We’re out there looking out for all Jews of the world,” he said.
Speaking as Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner were in the country to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Bennett said he was not opposed to peace talks, but hoped both sides would “dump the fruitless Palestinian state approach.”
“We don’t oppose talks. The question is not whether to talk. The answer is yes, of course. The question is what you talk about,” said Bennett, who has long opposed a peace deal based on the two-state solution.
Instead, he advocates an economy-driven “massive Marshall Plan for the region that would include a land-based port between Haifa and Jenin, an open economic area for tourism, joint industrial centers, and a big increase in the number of Palestinians that could come and work in Israel. We want more of them, we need them, it’s an opportunity for both sides.”
“Have a zero-roadblock policy. No roadblocks. Freedom of movement, for everyone,” Bennett said. “That’s basically my pitch to our American counterparts — you guys understand business, you guys understand that business matters more than politics. Let’s get more businesses up and running, more jobs, and build on that.”
But he conceded that Trump and his team — despite their reluctance to speak unequivocally about a two-state solution — were “not yet” inclined toward dropping traditional formulas for peacemaking.
“We’re still at a point that in some cases, we hear the old tunes, the old music,” said Bennett. “The Palestinians keep on pounding the Palestinian state approach, which they know, we know, doesn’t make any sense. They know it better than us; they don’t want it.”