Friday, June 5, 2020 -
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The crisis in US-Israel relations

It is time for cooler heads. Tighter tongues. Longer-range perspectives.

After Simeon and Levi smote the residents of Schechem, who raped their sister Dinah, father Jacob comments: “You have made me stink among the inhabitants of the land . . . I am few in number and should they band together and attack me, I will be annihilated . . . ” (Genesis 34:30).

You have made me stink. This came to mind in the aftermath of the bald comments by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, minus any context, nuance or qualification, before his election. No Palestinian state, none, never. No patriotism among Israel-Arab voters, any of them.

The reaction was swift and predictable. President Obama, Jewish liberals and even significant circles among Netanyahu’s traditional supporters found these comments  at worst inexplicable, at best unwise — unwise in the extreme. One wonders how a person with such a powerful control of language, on full display before a joint session of Congress on March 3, could stumble so bluntly on March 16.

That said, what has followed by way of criticism of Netanyahu is even worse.

Netanyahu apologized for his comments about Israeli Arab voters to Israeli Arab leaders — in person; and Netanyahu said, quite reasonably in our view, that with the PA and Hamas in a unity government, with Syria in a civil war, with ISIS lapping at Israel’s borders, with Jordanian stability at risk, with an unchanged Hamas itching for another war, and with Lebanon in the grips of Hezbollah, right now the conditions for a Palestinian state are not ripe.

What followed this was Obama’s ignoring Netanyahu’s apology to Israeli Arabs; Obama’s fixating on Netanyahu’s original rejection of the two-state solution; and above all Obama’s utter silence on the primary reason why there is no Palestinian state, namely, Arafat’s rejection of it in 2000 and 2001, and Abbas’ rejection of it in 2008.

The Israeli offers were made by leftist or centrist Israeli prime ministers. The rejection of these offers — the preference for violence over peace by Palestinian leaders — led to the election of right-wing Israeli leaders, such as Netanyahu.

One cannot escape the impression that for all the criticism of Netanyahu’s intervention in the American political process around the Iranian nuclear issue, Obama  went one step further, feeling he had the right to determine who would win Israel’s election by allegedly financing Netanyahu’s leading opponent; and the right to reject the results.

The upshot is an upside down world.

• Saudi Arabia, Israel’s traditional Arab enemy, finds itself closer to Israel than to the US due to Obama’s acceptance of an Iranian nuclear program in principle.

• Obama is angrier at Netanyahu who, on the worst possible reading, has obstructed Palestinian independence while nurturing everything from the Palestinians’ electrical power and water supplies to their foreign trade and jobs in Jerusalem — angrier than he is at Vladimir Putin, who annexed Crimea, has undermined Ukraine and supported rebels who shot down a civilian airliner; angrier than he is at the overthrown heads of Yemen, who highlighted America’s failed anti-terrorism strategy; and angrier than he is at Syria’s Assad, who has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Netanyahu’s ill considered, untrammeled comments on the eve of his election had the effect of obscuring critical, basic facts:

• While Obama, since before his first term, has pledged that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon, and while Joe Biden has said the same even more self-assuredly, it is the softening of this pledge that set into motion the current crisis in US-Israel relations. It’s not settlements. Remember, Netanyahu acquiesced to a 10-month settlement freeze ini 2010, during which the Palestinians Authority’s leader did not even come to the negotiating table. It’s Iran. It’s the differing American and Israeli views on a nuclear-armed Iran that have led, step by step, to the current anger at Israel in the current administration.

Obama says that US security cooperation with Israel will proceed unchanged. This is good for Israel. This is also good for the US, which benefits from Israeli information. The question is, what is “security”? Israel’s security can be undermined by more than the denial of American weaponry to Israel. Israel’s security can be undermined by the US voting against Israel at the UN.

That would embolden Israel’s enemies from nations such as Iran to BDS proponents on college campuses in the US and Europe. Votes against Israel at the UN would have the effect of deligtimizing not only Israel but Jews, thus exacerbating anti-Semitism, already on the rise around the world.

It is time for cooler heads, tighter tongues and longer-range perspectives. Netanyahu needs to be more wise, circumspect and friendly toward his greatest benefactor. Obama needs to see the forest for the trees: The enemy of the US is not Israel. The friend of the US is neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas.

Simeon and Levi answer their father: “Should he [the master of Shechem] treat our sister like a harlot?” Not an exact parallel, to be sure (nor an in-depth analysis of the narrative of the rape of Dinah), but the point is clear: Pushed into an untenable position, as Israel has been pushed by the US lassitude toward Iran, one may, like Jacob’s sons, respond too forcefully or off target. Mr. Netanyahu: Be smart about thy thoughts and words. Mr. Obama: Get real about who’s who and what’s what in the Middle East.

Copyright © 2015 by the Intermountain Jewish News


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