Ex-deputy PM slams Netanyahu for silence on US’s Muslim ban

Israel should be guided by Jewish values and not political expediency, former Likud stalwart Dan Meridor charges

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Likud Minister Dan Meridor at a party meeting in the Knesset in September 2011. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Likud Minister Dan Meridor at a party meeting in the Knesset in September 2011. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Former Likud party stalwart Dan Meridor on Sunday harshly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to condemn the new US administration’s entry ban on citizens from certain Muslim states, arguing that the Jewish state should place Jewish values above political expediency.

“Jews have been leading the movement for civil rights and against racism for over 200 years, all over the world, in America and Europe,” Meridor, a former deputy prime minister and justice minister, told The Times of Israel.

“Now that we are the majority [in our state], we should not think of the [political] interest of the moment, or how it looks in the eyes of the US government, but we should be guided by our moral compass. Jewish history and Jewish values should guide us, in line with our tradition.”

US President Donald Trump on Friday signed an executive order that bars people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the US, and temporarily bars refugees. The highly controversial move prompted protests in the US and elsewhere and was widely criticized by human rights groups and American Jewish organizations.

Protesters gather at JFK International Airport against Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017 in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Bryan R. Smith)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport against Donald Trump’s executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Bryan R. Smith)

In December 2015, Netanyahu himself issued a statement rejecting then-presidential candidate Trump’s vow to ban Muslims from entering the US. On Sunday, however, he did not comment on the matter, and his spokesperson refused to respond to several Times of Israel queries.

All Israeli ministers and nearly all politicians remained mum as well. One of the few exceptions was Joint (Arab) List chairman MK Ayman Odeh.

American security concerns about refugees and other individuals from certain countries are legitimate, stressed Meridor. The US clearly has the prerogative to conduct background checks in order to ensure it isn’t admitting individuals to its soil who might constitute threats to the safety of Americans. “However, the [president’s] discourse, words, attitudes and behavior — this is something that we as Jews have to clearly speak out against.”

The American Jewish community should not have to decide whether to side with the Israeli prime minister “or with basic moral values, which are Jewish values,” he said.

While Netanyahu remained silent on the entry ban from several Muslim countries, he did weigh in on Trump’s plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico, noted Meridor, who serves as the president of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations.

Netanyahu on Saturday evening praised Trump’s wall plan, comparing it to Israel’s border fence with the Egyptian Sinai. His unbridled endorsement upset the Mexican government and the country’s Jewish community, prompting the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem to issue a statement saying that Israel does not comment on US-Mexican disputes, but merely wanted to offer advice based on Israel’s experience with security barriers.

The prime minister’s behavior was “reckless,” charged Meridor. “Why did he have to go into that and hurt our interests? It’s not our business. Since when do we tell other countries how they manage their business?” he asked.

The US is Israel’s most important ally, and Trump was elected its president, Meridor added, making it legitimate for Netanyahu to seek favor with him. “However, the US is so much more than the White House — it’s the US Congress, it’s the Democratic and the Republican party, it’s public opinion, it’s the Jewish community — you need to take all of this into account. And I am very unhappy with what I heard from the prime minister.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-US presidential candidate Donald Trump meeting at Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-US presidential candidate Donald Trump meeting at Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Netanyahu was also conspicuously silent on the White House’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that failed to mention the Jews as victims of the Nazi genocide. Senior administration officials explained the glaring absence of any reference to Jews by noting that other people suffered as well, a view some pundits and politicians likened to Holocaust denial.

Meridor’s criticism is shared, albeit usually off the record, by many former Israeli officials.

A former senior diplomat who asked to remain anonymous because his current position does not allow him to speak on the record said: “Whereas in the past, so many Israeli politician were eager to denounce and decry faults in phrasing in the statements of world leaders on issues related to anti-Semitism, the Holocaust or even just Islamic terrorism, I’m at a loss to explain how a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day comes out of the White House without even mentioning the word ‘Jew’ at least once, and how the Israeli government refrains from even the slightest friendly remark about this absence.”

The prime minister was not necessarily obligated to speak out against Trump’s ban of citizens from Muslim states, this former senior diplomat said. Netanyahu routinely argues against interfering in the internal matters of other countries and “knows full well that Donald Trump is not exactly the kind of president who might be open to criticism coming from abroad,” he said.

“Given all that, and that we’re living in an international set-up where countries become more sovereignist and increasingly reject advice from foreign powers, one is all the more bemused at Netanyahu’s tweet about the American wall at the Mexican border.”

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