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Posted by on Oct 27, 2014 in Jerusalem Post | 3 comments

Stop bashing America

American Jews are apoplectic. While they watch in astonishment, Israel’s leaders are doing everything they can to disrupt and degrade Israel’s relations with her most important ally, the United States of America.

Stop Bashing America

(Photo by Lanz von Liebenfels)

Jewish leaders are not only dismayed but genuinely puzzled.  Why in heaven’s name, they wonder, would Israeli officials do things that are guaranteed to undermine the goodwill so essential to Israel’s security and well-being?

American Jews know that America is Israel’s indispensable ally.  Absent American support, Israel’s military deterrent would evaporate in a single day.  Israel’s sophisticated weapon systems are provided by America, and so is much of the funding for these systems.  Indispensable as well is American political backing in an increasingly hostile international environment.  

And the issue here is not differences over Iran, settlements, and peace talks.  There are significant policy disagreements on these matters—and sometimes, Israel is right and America is wrong.  But the American government understands that allies sometimes differ.  What it does not understand is why an ally that is the largest recipient of American aid regularly acts in ways that range from ungrateful to insulting.

The Obama administration has still not forgotten the actions of Prime Minister Netanyahu prior to the 2012 presidential election that were seen by operatives of both parties as lending support to Obama’s rival, Mitt Romney.  But one need not go back to 2012 to find provocations by senior members of Israel’s current government.  To take a few more recent examples:

Netanyahu’s September meeting with the President was held in the wake of an Israeli announcement of settlement building, followed by the Prime Minister’s statement to the American news media that Obama was acting contrary to American values.  And the day before the White House meeting, Netanyahu held a widely-publicized meeting in a New York City restaurant with Sheldon Adelson, the Obama-hating Republican tycoon who spent tens of millions of dollars to oust Obama from office.

None of these things was necessary.  The now established pattern of announcing settlements immediately prior to significant meetings or events under American auspices succeeds only in infuriating the Americans; the announcements could easily be made at other times.  And note to the Prime Minister:

A simple statement that “Israel and America have differences on the complicated settlement issue” would have been sufficient.  And if Netanyahu wants to break bread with Adelson, fine; but as numerous Israeli commentators have pointed out, arranging a private get-together in a hotel suite would have been far preferable to the hoopla of a very public meeting in the middle of New York.

And Netanyahu is not the only guilty party.  Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s Defense Minister, famously accused Secretary of State John Kerry in January of being “obsessive and messianic” in his approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace, and followed up in March with another round of insults directed at America.  He offered apologies that were weak and unconvincing, with the result that during his visit last week to Washington, he was denied meetings with senior administration officials.  Gilad Erdan, another senior minister with close ties to Netanyahu, has just accused John Kerry of making statements encouraging “moral debasement.”  And not a week goes by without Naftali Bennett adding his voice to the chorus of anti-American abuse.

Again, some of the concerns articulated by Israel’s leaders are real and some of the substance is right.  But the tone is unforgivable, the forum inappropriate, and the collective impact is, by now, disastrous.  

When a small country has a superpower patron, the key is to avoid debates in the media.  Allies do not surprise each other or exchange public insults.

As noted, American Jews are concerned and puzzled.  What might explain the motivations of those who engage in these attacks?  Some Israelis reassure them by pointing out that shared national interests will always trump personal tensions.

But such reasoning is flawed and dangerous.  Obama will be President for two more years, during which major decisions will be made by America on the Iran nuclear threat and unrest in the region.  

And while national interests are foremost, personal relations are critical as well.  Strong personal ties and trust between top leaders in both countries enable mistakes to be avoided, points of friction to be resolved, and misunderstandings to be clarified.  Without such ties, every difference of opinion is a potential crisis.

My sense is that Israelis on the right, anticipating Israeli elections, have decided that dumping on America is good election strategy for themselves and their parties.  And perhaps they feel that if pro forma apologies are then offered, America will forgive—and in any case, Israel can count on being protected by a Republican Congress, likely to be elected next week.

to advance interests that are narrow, personal, and partisan. Netanyahu needs to speak up, right now, and make clear that ministers who sit in his government are obligated to refrain from public attacks on America.  And American Jews need to remind Israel that America is Israel’s lifeline and is irreplaceable.

What is your opinion?
Do you think Israeli leaders have gone too far in their criticism of the American government?
Leave your comments at http://ericyoffie.com/stop-bashing-america

3 Comments

  1. Hi Eric … long time … hope you, Amy and the kids are well.
    For all the reasons you set out,I agree that American Jews have a right to voice criticisms of Israeli policies in which they disagree … especially those policies that may negatively affect our relationships. However, I learned that some rabbis and lay-leaders have a different opinion.
    This is why I say that: I recently published a book titled “THE AFFAIRS OF RABBI FLOWERS – An Intimate look into Clergy-Congregant Relations.” One of Rabbi Conrad Flower’s (CF) affairs took the name “The Swastika Affair” after CF prevailed over two paramilitary-dressed skin-heads and became an international hero. He was invited to Israel to address the Knesset. After he said all the nice things, he said, “Shamefully, however-and this upsets me- the Israeli government does not recognize the legality of a marriage or the validity of a conversion in which I officiated here in this holy land of ours. I am an ordained rabbi, recognized as such in every country in the Western world. However, I am not considered ‘authentic’ by the religious establishment here.”
    I have been told, even by some rabbis, that we have no right to criticise because we don’t live there and will not be directly affected by their policies.
    I’m sure this has been debated many times. But I would love a response from you as it relates to your blog.
    Ever,

    Ted

    • Ted,
      Nice to hear from you. Hope all is well with your family. I will look for your book.
      It seems to me that we agree. In the first place, America’s relations with Israel, as I said, are essential for Israel’s survival and security. Therefore, American Jews can, of course, speak out if Israel acts in such a way as to jeopardize good relations. Second, Israel is not simply the state of the Israelis; it is the Jewish state–the state of the Jewish people. (If it were only the state of Israelis, we would have no reason to be involved or to care.) That being so, Jews everywhere have a right to express their views, including criticism, and need no special permission to do so. Third, getting to your point, the absence of religious freedom is not only wrong in and of itself, it is a major problem for maintaining good relations between Israel and the Jews of the world. How can Israel be the State of the Jewish people and not be attuned to what Jews everywhere think about religious freedom and pluralism? Therefore, on these matters, as on matters of peace and settlements, American Jews have every right to express their views, privately and publicly.
      Warm regards to Louise,
      Eric

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