Former US Senator Joseph Lieberman..
(photo credit: YIRMIYAHU VANN)
The wide range of opinions in the Knesset can help Israel gain more support among the American Left and US Jewry, former senator Joseph Lieberman told the Knesset caucus on US-Israel relations on Monday.
“Part of Israel’s strength is its incredibly dynamic democracy,” Lieberman told MKs on the Right and Left. “Members of Knesset representing a wide range of opinions have the opportunity to reach out and make the case for Israel to groups with which you have an ideological affinity.”
Lieberman reassured the MKs that support for Israel remains bipartisan in the US, but said that there is “attrition” of that support within the Democratic Party.
The former senator from Connecticut explained that many of those who do not support Israel do not realize what a diverse society Israel is, and said that “diversity is an asset.”
Lieberman pointed to Israeli tolerance for people of different sexual orientations as something about which many Americans do not know, to which MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union) responded that progress came from the Supreme Court and not from the Knesset.
“That sounds familiar,” Lieberman chuckled.
As for eroding support for Israel among American Jewry, Lieberman said that he is “not sounding the crisis bell,” but that if something is not done to change the trend, it could be a serious problem.
Caucus chairman MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) said that the US-Israel relationship has two channels – interests and shared values – and that the caucus deals mostly with those values, democracy foremost.
“I believe this is a greater asset than shared interests,” he said.
Shai called the caucus an important place to discuss freedom of speech and other rights that the US and Israel value.
“We take the Knesset and present its diversity. The people here are from so many different backgrounds. The dialogue between us and with the US is valuable,” Shai explained.
Lieberman also discussed the world powers’ agreement with Iran, calling it a “bad deal for the US, for the Middle East and for Israel.”
The former senator said that US Barack Obama threatened Democrats who were considering voting against the deal, and told them that he would remember it if they did.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told Lieberman and the caucus that the issue of the Iran deal will continue to be a major one and that Israel will be prepared to protect itself.
Edelstein also lamented that US congressmen often visit Israel, but do not come to the Knesset.
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi joked about the apparent camaraderie between the committee’s members, warning Lieberman not to be fooled. He called last week’s over-12-hour budget vote “not just a filibuster, but hell.”
However, Hanegbi said there is a relative consensus between lawmakers on the Right and Left that the Iran deal is a bad one.
Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which sponsors the caucus, spoke about the focus of the committee meeting – the changing connection between American Jewry and Israel.
“Even though Israeli society is becoming more diverse, American Jewish society remains much more pluralistic. This Jewish identification in America remains largely unknown by the Israeli public,” Ruderman explained. “In addition, Israelis largely are unaware of the changing nature of American Jewish identification with Israel and the impact that changing identification will have on Israel’s future security.”