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Haaretz, Israel

A Burden to an Asset

By Amir Oren

Translated By Hannah Stork

13 January 2013

Edited by Kath­leen Weinberger

Israel - Haaretz - Original Article (Hebrew)

Chuck Hagel’s nomination as American Secretary of Defense — despite pressure from American leaders who pride themselves in their concern for Israel — reflects a loss of the powers of intimidation once held by those who oppose Barack Obama and supported Mitt Romney in the presidential elections. If a serious electoral process were currently underway in Israel, including the possibility of any noticeable candidate being able to compete with Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama’s decision to nominate Hagel would also have had political implications for Israel. In the absence of such a candidate, Netanyahu drums away undisturbed, continuing to broadcast his propaganda through speeches in Congress and in the United Nations — even though he is isolating Israel in the international sphere and galloping straight toward a head-on collision with the president regarding issues like Iran, nuclear power (including Israel’s) and Palestine.

In the past, organized American Judaism has been a critical ally for Israel; it is still significant, like a ticking time bomb in the White House basement and on Capitol Hill. It is two generations daring Americans to ask themselves — and recently more and more vocally — if Israel is an asset or a burden to them. This also begs another question: Are the voices in America pretending to speak in the name of Israeli interest really an asset to the asset?

Perhaps it is more accurate to talk about a tail to the tail; if Israel keeps wagging as the tail of the dog America, what do we call the ones sitting at the very tip of the tail making it wag? That tip of the tail is always found on the right. It doesn’t live in Israel and doesn’t share in the nation’s struggles; and it is mistaken in thinking that a donation to the electoral campaign of a congressman who will vote in favor of funding the Iron Dome is equivalent to living in the towns being battered by rockets.

As Americans strive for independence in their strange ways, they don’t want a foreign country — friendly though it may be — to define their own national interests for them or to tell them what to do through its emissaries — which, in so doing, raise again the question of dual loyalties. And now these same self-appointed representatives are dictating to Israel the nation’s entire platform in its clash with the president.

The golden age of Israel’s effective partnership with organizations representing American Judaism occurred during one decade (the 1970s) under the orchestration of ambassadors Yitzhak Rabin and Simcha Dinitz. The tapestry of relations with the Democratic majority in Congress and with key figures from the Republican minority, in conjunction with the Nixon-Ford-Kissinger governments, yielded security profits and critical national returns during the Yom Kippur War and during the process of reaching interim arrangements with Egypt and Syria, even though there was in this a Pyrrhic victory: Israel’s implicit ability to instigate its allies to action discouraged the government from placing the same pressure on Golda Meir; in the absence of that pressure, Anwar Sadat despaired of using diplomatic channels and turned to war.

The ambassadors sometimes drew close to the line of permissible action; if they crossed it, they hurried to return to their foundation: raids or invasions. The government complained and reached the verge of a direct presidential appeal over Congress’s heads against Israel’s refusal to consider public opinion. However, in the end, the rules of the game were understood and respected. Even during Menachem Begin’s moderate first term (during which the minister of foreign affairs was Moshe Dayan and the defense minister was Ezer Weizman), Israel preserved a balanced level of cooperation with the American government, tiny clues here and there still pointing to Israel’s ability to turn to Congress. That relationship was only disrupted during Begin’s second term.

Netanyahu, deputy to foreign minister Moshe Arens and later ambassador to the United Nations, connected with the militant right of the Republican Party. During the government of Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir, Israel lobbyists in Washington turned to the right, and there they have stayed. The only person who has dared to contend with them has been Rabin when, after his reelection, he strove to advance diplomatic arrangements. At the end of an introductory meeting in Jerusalem with AIPAC lobbyists, Rabin was invited, as seemed obvious, to coordinate his actions and processes with theirs. He turned red, boiling with anger, and decidedly laid down the limits of the law. In the real world, as opposed to the world of arrogance and bravado, Israel’s prime minister must match himself to the American president; collaborators in Israel need to listen to Jerusalem and not to tell it what is good for Israel.



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