Jewish New Yorkers were predictably divided in their reactions to the fiery speech Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave to Congress Tuesday, in which he insisted that the U.S. keep up sanctions against Iran, a country he called a "radical regime" and poised to destroy Israel should it obtain nuclear weapons.
To Rabbi Elie Weinstock of the Upper East Side's Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, the oration was "a powerful speech that clearly spelled out the prime minister's concerns" and "drew out the weaknesses of what is perceived to be on the table," between the U.S. and Iran in terms of a nuclear deal.
While Netanyahu may not have followed "ideal protocol" in addressing Congress, his address was a success in that it alerted all of America to Israel's fear of a nuclear-ready Iran, Weinstock said. Netanyahu "certainly caught people's attention" and raised awareness, Weinstock said of the widely televised oration.
To Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director at Jewish Voice for Peace in downtown Brooklyn, Netanyahu's "bombastic" rhetoric was familiar warmongering -- hyperbolic, Islamaphobic and hypocritical: "He's pursuing the same aggressive policies toward Palestinians he's accusing Iran of pursuing against the rest of the Middle East," Vilkomerson said in a video chat.
And the dozens of Democrats who boycotted Netanyahu's address reflected anger at being expected "to always back Israel no matter what it does," because "of the strength of the Israel lobby," she said.
Netanyahu gave an excellent speech that compellingly articulated his fear of Iran having the capability of manufacturing nuclear weapons, acknowledged Rabbi Eliseo Rozenwasser, of Mill Basin, Brooklyn's Temple Sholom.
Rozenwasser found himself simultaneously persuaded to Netanyahu's point of view while longing to hear other perspectives for a more complete and nuanced understanding of the complex issue. "To have a valid position, you need to be fully informed," Rozenwasser explained, and Netanyahu made nuclear containment in Iran appear "almost too simple."
(Sheila Anne Feeney)