Friends don’t diss friends
I am a firm believer that nations that bless Israel and the Jewish people will be blessed. The United States is a case in point. From its earliest founding, words of encouragement from President George Washington to the few Jewish residents of the United States set the pattern for God’s blessing on the new nation.
Late 19th century and early 20th century America welcomed the persecuted Jews from Eastern Europe, and Jews eventually climbed to the highest levels of American society. When Israel declared her Statehood, it was the Democratic US President Harry Truman who recognized the new country first, and intervened to help her win the War of Independence. Twenty-five years later during the shock of the Yom Kippur War, Republican President Richard Nixon authorized the critical re-stocking of Israelis weaponry to stave off and eventually defeat the invading Arab armies. During this period the US became the world’s sole superpower. The United States and Israel have had an amazing symbiotic relationship of blessing for the past seventy years, regardless of what party headed either government. However, that relationship is now threatened due to the actions of Israel’s Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu.
What’s strange is that Netanyahu is viewed as an expert in US/Israel relations, having been educated in the US and being one who speaks flawless English. Yet, his actions in recent years — in particular, aligning himself with the Republican Party — is making Israel a partisan issue in the United States for the first time.
One of the most effective lobbying organizations in the US is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Most lobbyists seek to build alliances with both political parties. In that way the lobbyist has influence over whichever party is in power. For decades AIPAC built strong alliances with both Democrats and Republicans. The result was that both parties supported Israel during war and peace. Throughout multiple administrations, Israel has been the recipient of the largest US foreign aid in the world. The militaries and intelligence services of both countries are closely intertwined. For both countries, a breach in their historic relationship would be deeply troubling.
Netanyahu’s recent barring of the two Democratic Congresswomen from visiting Israel inadvertently granted some level of plausibility to their previously anti-Israel rhetoric. Whereas most Congressional Democrats had either condemned their earlier rhetoric or made clear that their party was adamantly pro-Israel, this most recent faux pas by the Prime Minister forced the Congressional Democrats to support them and excoriate Israel for her undemocratic behavior. Some Democratic Presidential candidates are now calling for reconsideration of foreign aid to Israel, unheard of in the past. But this was only the latest of unbelievably short-sighted actions by the Prime Minister.
The worst, and probably the one with the most continuing reverberations, was Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation by Congressional Republicans to speak to a joint session of Congress in 2015, opposing the Obama Iran deal when Obama was the President. At a recent Israeli political rally, Yair Lapid, co-leader of the Blue and White Party, shared that he had a conversation with Elizabeth Warren, one of the leading Democratic Presidential candidates. He said she was not at all anti-Israel, but she said that the Democratic Party will not forget the Netanyahu speech to Congress where he sought to undermine President Obama in his own country. This is not to suggest the Iran deal was good or that one country’s leader always must publicly support the positions of the other. Rather, international diplomacy is an art, and friends don’t diss friends, certainly not publicly.
This, among many other reasons, is why there needs to be a change in Israeli leadership. Israel needs leaders that build and maintain bridges with the governments of their friends and allies, not with specific political parties. Let the radical Congresswomen into Israel to meet with Israel’s leadership and see the country’s hopes and aspirations, in the center of a very dangerous and volatile geographic area. The Blue and White Party has leaders with extensive foreign and military experience and who appreciate the amazing relationship that the US and Israel have had throughout the years. The Book of Proverbs says, “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city…” The Democratic Party in the US represents at least one-half of the American public. Let’s stop offending them. Friends don’t diss friends.
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Jamie Cowen is a Partner at Cohen, Decker, Pex, Brosh Law Offices, Petach Tikvah, Israel; Former Rabbi, Tikvat Israel Congregation, Richmond, Viriginia; Former President, Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations; Former Chief Counsel, US Senate Subcommittee 1978-1986