The close, vital friendship of Israel and the United States has survived a year of public, often angry disagreements, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told more than 2,000 people gathered in Washington for the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.
“No matter what disagreements come between Israel and the United States, Israel has no better friend than America, and America has no better friend than Israel,” Netanyahu said Tuesday, Nov. 10, receiving one of several standing ovations.
A day after he had his first meeting with President Barack Obama in more than a year, the Israeli leader praised the American for his commitment to Israel’s security and its quantitative edge in military hardware “so that Israel can defend itself by itself” against all foreseeable enemies.
Much of their meeting was about a new 10-year memorandum of understanding on security cooperation and possibly increased U.S. military assistance to Israel. They agreed that a U.S. delegation will visit Israel in December to talk about the agreement.
Netanyahu had been expected to ask for an increase from $3 billion to $5 billion a year in military aid, but Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, said during a briefing Sunday night, Nov. 8, that it’s premature to discuss specific numbers. Instead, the two sides need to talk about the threats Israel will face the next decade, then decide what weapons systems will meet those threats.
Shapiro said Israel and the United States are working on upgrades to the Iron Dome anti-missile system and will bring the David’s Sling system online next year, and Israel is considering increasing its order for 33 F-35s to 50 or 75. No other Middle East nation is allowed to have the F-35.
Any change in the amount of aid also must take into account the budget constraints on both sides, Shapiro said.
Netanyahu said his good meeting at the White House included the recognition that whatever their disagreements about the deal the United States and other world powers signed with Iran regarding its nuclear program, Israel and America must work together to ensure that Iran complies with its commitments, curtails its regional aggressions and cuts its support for global terrorism.
U.S. support for Israel is indispensable, Netanyahu said, but so is Israeli assistance to the United States.
The prime minister also focused on the strength of ties between the U.S. and Israeli Jewish communities, which have been strained not only by the Iran deal, but also by the role of religious parties in the current Netanyahu government, which controls only 61 of the 120 Knesset seats.
Netanyahu responded to concerns about Jewish pluralism in Israel: “I will always ensure that all Jews can feel at home in Israel: Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews, all Jews.”
He backed that statement up with promised actions: the creation of a roundtable led by his Cabinet secretary to address the concerns of different streams of Judaism — a step he said is significant for Israeli politics; the opening of talks between the government and the Jewish Agency to strengthen Progressive Judaism within Israel; and the completion of long-overdue arrangements for pluralistic worship at the Western Wall.
Netanyahu praised the partnership between Israel and North American Jews in building a strong Jewish future in the face of violence and hate speech targeting Israel and Jews.
“We must speak out against the slander of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. We can and must fight lies, and the only way you fight lies is by speaking the truth,” he said. He acknowledged that Israel is not perfect but said it is the victim of a triple standard: one for dictatorships; one for all other democracies; and one for the world’s only Jewish state.
“Treat Israel fairly. Treat Israel decently,” he said.
Speaking almost two months into an outbreak of personal Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israelis, Netanyahu repeated his commitment to a peace agreement that establishes two states for two peoples, but not a deal that creates a second state intending to conquer Israel or flood it with the descendants of Palestinian refugees.
“The reason there isn’t peace between Israel and the Palestinians is the persistent refusal of the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish state in any boundaries,” he said, adding that when a Palestinian leader emerges who will recognize Israel as a Jewish nation, there will be peace.