U.S.-Israel Relations -- Still Strong As Ever?
by Sarah Ann Haves
According to recent statistics highlighted at the Herzliya Conference in Tel Aviv last week, currently 46% of Americans sympathize with Israel -- a number that has been consistent since 1967. Less than 12% of Americans sympathize with the Palestinian cause. What’s disturbing is that 30% of Americans don’t seem to care about either the Arabs or the Israelis, and there is a certain indifference in the United States to the on-going conflict in the Middle East.
As pointed out by Alfred Moses, Chairman of the UN Watch, and one of the speakers on U.S.-Israel relations at the conference, American President Barack Obama is currently focused more on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. After his first year in office, Obama let the American public know, in a Time magazine interview, that he had made mistakes in foreign policy regarding Israel and the Palestinians. He admitted that his expectations had been too high of what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could deliver. In Obama’s January 2010 State of the Union address, he spoke long and hard about domestic policy, especially America’s recessive economy, including the need to reduce unemployment by creating new jobs. However, very little emphasis of his speech was on the Middle East, and there was no focus on new strategies for jumpstarting peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, told Herzliya Conference participants that the U.S. and Israel are natural partners and the relationship has never been better. He argued that the pundits and the media are zeroing in on things which are not important. Pointing out that Obama re-affirmed the $30 billion aid package to Israel, early in his Administration, Ayalon said the U.S. commitment is iron clad. “If you look at the cooperation in terms of military, intelligence, and defense, things have been as good as any time I can recall,” he explained.
For Israelis, the U.S. partnership is not only about democracy, but about ideals, and Ayalon spoke about American grass roots support for Israel that goes beyond Congress, the Obama Administration and the U.S. government. He insisted that, though there have been some hiccups, twists and turns in the road, the U.S. and Israel are working on the same side.
The fact that the U.S. supports the only democracy in the Middle East, gives America added strength, according to Ayalon. He called the U.S. an “indispensable country” because U.S. policy does not change the American attitude of supporting Israel as a nation that believes in the same values. Ayalon further pointed out that the Israeli government sees the American administration as friendly, despite media reports.
As for the current impasse between Netanyahu and Abbas, “All parts of the coalition in Israel would like to see a peaceful solution and a resumption of negotiations, and I believe we are all waiting on the Palestinian side,” declared Ayalon.
Malcolm Hoenlin, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was not as positive in his approach to U.S.-Israel relations at the conference. While he agreed that the special relationship is intact, it is not the way some would like to see it. Hoenlin pointed out that many U.S. administrations fall into the trap of thinking they have a solution to Middle East problems. U.S. presidents believe they are going to engage the parties and come up with satisfactory resolutions.
Speaking to Hoenlin on the sidelines of the Herzliya Conference, this writer asked him about Obama’s first year. Hoenlin described an over-emphasis on an Israeli settlement freeze for natural growth, which was a demand that Israel couldn’t meet and didn’t. There was also disappointment on the follow-up to Obama’s Cairo speech, especially expectations of Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries that weren’t fulfilled. “Every president comes into office thinking he is going to make peace in the Middle East. This was no different,” Hoenlin explained.
As Obama and his staff re-think American foreign policy vis-à-vis Israel and the Palestinians, Hoenlin believes that disagreements between the two countries need to remain private. Publicly, the U.S. and Israel should be seen as standing together. He stated that when there are differences brought out, publicly, between the two countries, disagreements get blown out of proportion, especially in the media.
Furthermore, what’s really important, according to Hoenlin, is not to take the rapport between the U.S. and Israel for granted. He explained that the relationship is not immune to challenges. It goes up and down, while the core of this friendship remains the same.
Hoenlin is concerned that with the rise in global anti-Semitism, as well as the anti-Israel sentiment on U.S. college campuses, it is crucial to prepare the American public for the dangers that lie ahead. “Just because the numbers are as strong as ever, we can’t sit back and relax, because there are a lot of forces at play seeking to undermine the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. This effort at de-legitimization (of Israel) that we have seen in Europe is coming to the U.S.,” Hoenlin warned.
Anti-Semitism is the highest it has been since World War II, especially in countries like Britain and France. Efforts are underway at universities, among academics, and in elite circles, to influence grass-roots support for Israel. “It’s a process that I call the poisoning of the elites,” explained Hoenlin. He said it starts with small groups, then expands, and filters down into the populace as a whole. “Then, you see the numbers start eroding because they spread these lies, these distortions.” Hoenlin referred to the Goldstone Report which he feels was misused and accepted, despite being full of inaccuracies and falsehoods.
Speaking of the U.S.-Israel relationship, Hoenlin re-emphasized, “We have to be on guard, we can’t take for granted this relationship, neither on a political level, or the level of the people. We have to think creatively to make Israel’s case. Just tell the truth. I think that’s Israel’s strongest weapon.”
Most Americans want to see Israel remain strong. The consensus is that, if America and Israel are seen as having a poor connection, this could be problematic when dealing with other Middle East countries. In the opinion of both Israeli and American leaders, showing the connection between Israel and America as being unbreakable is essential in resisting the tide of radical Islam.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that Obama did not produce the foreign policy breakthrough he had hoped for, U.S. Ambassador to Israel, James Cunningham, explained that Obama is determined to continue trying to make peace in the region. Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, Cunningham acknowledged, “We are intent on proceeding down the path which we have set out. We continue to have a sense of urgency and disappointment in what has not been achieved in the peace effort so far.”
As differences on how to pursue peace in the region continue to surface between the U.S. and Israel, leaders in both nations are determined to get across to the global public that the goals and interests of both countries are the same. As of now, the U.S. plans to stand squarely with Israel if there is political or military action necessary in order to meet future threats to the Jewish State. The U.S. continues to recognize and support Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism and aggression in the Middle East... a goal that American citizens can relate to at home.
Whether this unique relationship will remain strong in the future, or erode because of growing anti-Israel hatred in the U.S., remains to be seen. Hoenlin emphasized, “In terms of global support, Israel can never count on anyone but itself....Israel has to make decisions for itself, and protect its own interests.”
As Israel readjusts its future foreign policy initiatives, the hope of Israeli leaders and citizens, alike, is that they can trust the United States to back them up, in peace or war. Israel will continue to look for friends in America who understand the necessity of the strategic U.S.-Israel relationship, especially in terms of the continued survival of the Jewish State. It’s a relationship that affects two democratic allies, focusing their strengths on solving problems in a hostile region, and neither country can afford to find themselves on opposing sides.
“You will arise and have mercy on Zion; for the time to favor her, yes, the set time has come.” Psalm 102:13
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting from Israel on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues affecting the nation.
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