By Shai Robkin
In the “Our View” opinion piece “Play Nice, Kids” in the Jan. 30 edition, the Atlanta Jewish Times contends that Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama “disagree on every substantive issue in the U.S.-Israel relationship.” One can only surmise that the writers are prepared to dismiss as nonsubstantive those actions, not just rhetoric, on which the two countries’ leaders obviously do agree, including $3.1 billion in annual U.S. aid to Israel; U.S. replenishment of Iron Dome munitions after Israel’s war this past summer with Hamas; historically unprecedented, ongoing military collaboration and cooperation; and U.S. efforts to prevent a Palestinian state from gaining recognition in international bodies. (And I’m sure I left out a few other “nonsubstantive” issues where American and Israeli administrations are collaborating, such as those affecting trade and economic development.)
Even where there is disagreement, primarily over the negotiations with Iran, it is a disagreement about tactics, not the overarching goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, about which there is a consensus in the entire Western world, thanks to American leadership.
But it’s apparent that Prime Minister Netanyahu also doesn’t place much value on or simply takes for granted these and the many other benefits of American patronage that Israel enjoys, benefits that exist because the two countries do indeed see eye to eye on the most substantive issues that they collectively confront.
More disturbing is Netanyahu’s decision to play politics with the long-standing bipartisan U.S. support for Israel by scheming (is there any other word for it?) with congressional Republicans to bypass the White House and their Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill. As the opinion piece does correctly point out, there is no love lost in the personal relationship between Netanyahu and Obama. But it is the Israeli prime minister, not the U.S. president, who has chosen to bring the private distaste for each other into the public eye.
At the recent Marcus JCC Book Festival, Rabbi Daniel Gordis was asked about the relationship between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and a different U.S. president, Jimmy Carter. Gordis noted that while Begin personally despised Carter, he was careful to avoid showing his disdain in public.
Even those who objected to Begin’s policies and performance as prime minister recognized that in the international sphere he remained the consummate diplomat at all times. Apparently, as the AJT editorial states, Netanyahu has “used up every ounce of his diplomatic reserve.”
There are many in the American Jewish community who believe that public statements in the United States regarding the Jewish state should be limited to support of the policies and positions as determined by the democratically elected Israeli government. But even those who hold that opinion would certainly recognize that such unqualified backing for Israel must stop at the line where the statements and actions of Israel’s leaders endanger the bipartisan support that the country has so long enjoyed in Congress as well as in the White House.
As an organization dedicated to maintaining and strengthening this bipartisan support, it is not surprising that we have seen no public statement from AIPAC concerning Netanyahu’s scheduled address to Congress.
However, we should all hope that behind closed doors AIPAC is making it clear to Republicans and Democrats alike that supporters of Israel in America in no way endorse the invitation that Speaker John Boehner extended to Netanyahu and that all care should be taken in the future to keep support for Israel from becoming a tool for partisan political gamesmanship. And that same message needs to be delivered loud and clear to the Israeli political leadership.