How St. Louis Jews feel about Israel’s change in prime minister

Rabbi+Elizabeth+Hersh+of+Temple+Emanuel+with+members+of+the+Israel+Defense+Forces+in+Israel.

Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh of Temple Emanuel with members of the Israel Defense Forces in Israel.

Eric Berger, Associate Editor

St. Louis Jews recently have gotten used to reading news about Israeli parliamentary elections. The one in March was the fourth in less than two years.

That was the first one to produce a different outcome. On Sunday, Naftali Bennett succeeded in replacing Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister by forming a coalition government featuring right-wing, left-wing and centrist parties. It’s also the first government in the country’s history to include an independent Arab-Israeli party, the Islamist Raam, as a partner.

Netanyahu served as prime minister for 12 turbulent years. Bennett leads the right-wing New Right party and previously served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff and as minister of defense, among other posts.

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Given this dramatic change, the Jewish Light decided to check in with local Jews to get their thoughts on what the new leadership could mean for the Jewish State.

Their responses have been edited for clarity and space.

Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg of United Hebrew Congregation, met with Netanyahu in 2018 as part of rabbinic mission to Israel:

Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg of United Hebrew Congregation

“This new government is potentially exciting. It is a moment of change. I know that Prime Minister Bennett is considered right-wing, and folks are focusing on that. However, we also need to focus on the fact that the coalition that was built to create this government is probably the most representative of Israeli society, as a whole, that we’ve seen in a long time, and this is the change that should be celebrated.”

Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh of Temple Emanuel, is preparing to travel in October to Israel with congregation trip: 

“I send my words of mazel tov and strength and encouragement to the new government. I am also very torn because we don’t look at any other nation in the world like we look at Israel — both Jewish people and non-Jewish — and are very vocal about what happens in another government. And sometimes I am hesitant to say too much because I don’t live in Israel. I am not sending my son to the Israeli army next year, so I hope and I pray that the citizens have elected a government to serve them well, with a vision of peace for all people.”

Nancy Lisker, regional director of American Jewish Committee St. Louis, lived and worked on kibbutz in Upper Galilee region of Israel:

Nancy Lisker, regional director of American Jewish Committee St. Louis,

“I think Naftali Bennett and the coalition government — as he said — first have to bring the country together. Israel has many challenges post-COVID, one being to rebuild its economy. And secondly, working towards peace with the Palestinians. Once he unites the country and the economy is stronger, if he has the support behind him, he could take bold steps. He will have the support of the Biden administration — President Biden has said so — so I don’t see why he couldn’t take bold steps towards peace.”

Neil Jaffe, chapter chair of J Street St. Louis:

Neil Jaffe, chapter chair of J Street St. Louis, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

“It’s hard to say how much Netanyahu had done to cause damage to the Israeli democracy, to the civic institutions, to the rule of law. It’s going to be hard to come back from, but I think there is great relief that Netanyahu is out and that there is a new group in place.

I think Bennett is a thoroughly right-wing politician. He worked closely with Netanyahu, but he only holds six Knesset seats, so I think the whole coalition is really going to depend on the inclusion and buy-in of the center and center-left and left-wing parties. I think that with other parties occupying critical ministries, there is an opportunity for this new coalition to strengthen Israeli democracy, strengthen Israeli civil society and hopefully address and end the occupation of the Palestinians.

Traci Goldstein, co-president St. Louis Friends of Israel:

Traci Goldstein, co-president St. Louis Friends of Israel, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that the new coalition can succeed. Furthermore, I think that it is very important to take note of the diversity of the coalition. When people use words like ‘apartheid’ or ‘ethnic cleansing’ in describing Israel, we need to challenge them as we have live, real evidence of what a true thriving democracy looks like with diverse parties sitting at the table.”