Contrary to the expectations of many of Israel’s American citizens, President
Barack Obama will neither punish nor pressure Israel, five experts on US-Israel
relations agreed on Thursday evening.
The quintet – four former diplomats
who had served in senior capacities in the US and a Chicago-born professor
emeritus of diplomatic studies who edits the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs,
think that in his second term, Obama will put much more emphasis on solving
domestic problems than in dealing with foreign policy. They were brought
together under the auspices of Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya’s Center for
European Studies and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations.
were Lenny Ben- David, a former deputy chief of mission at the Israel Embassy in
Washington where he spent his growing up years; Zvi Rafiah, a former minister
counselor at the embassy in Washington, and now a consultant and commentator on
US affairs and US-Israel relations; Colette Avital, a former consul- general in
New York; Prof. Aharon Klieman; and Moshe Arad, a former ambassador to the US
who acted as moderator.
While there was disagreement among the panelists
as to whether this was an historic election, there was consensus that Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s perceived interference in the US presidential
election and his presumed support for Mitt Romney will not undermine Israel-US
More than one of the panelists recalled that when Yitzhak
Rabin was ambassador to Washington, he was actively involved in Richard Nixon’s
campaign, even to the extent of riding in Nixon’s plane. Arad noted that Ezer
Weizman, as defense minister, had been involved in Jimmy Carter’s campaign, but
as far as Arad could remember, this was the first time that a prime minister of
Israel had given support to a US presidential candidate.
Another point of
consensus was on the issue of bipartisan congressional support for Israel
regardless of which party was in the White House.
As far as America’s
domestic affairs are concerned, Ben-David emphasized the importance of restoring
what he called “the divided states of America” to the united states now that the
election is over.
Rafiah seemed to think that there was historic
significance in the phenomenon that a black American had twice been elected
despite the fact that the US economy had not recovered and that the situation is
not promising. He regarded this as an important revolution, a turning point in
American political history, because it set a precedent for other minorities such
as Hispanics and women.
Rafiah underscored that it was in Israel’s best
interests to cultivate Hispanics because they are growing in number and in their
participation in the American political process.
He questioned whether
Israel was doing enough to gain support from either the Hispanic or the black
communities in the US.
As for American foreign policy, while he agreed
that it would take second place to domestic policy, he said Obama will still
have to make decisions about Iran, what if anything America will do about the
civil war in Syria and how America will relate to the Muslim Brotherhood regime
Theoretically and practically, Obama can give orders to attack
Iran, Rafiah said.
The plans, the weapons, the intelligence and the
coordination with Israel are all there. The question is why he doesn’t give the
Rafiah surmised that had Romney won the election he would wait
till at least the end of 2013 before giving the order, because he had to make
appointments, learn the system and concern himself first and foremost with the
economy and with housing.
Avital said that Obama’s second victory could
not be qualified as historic as the first time. What was more important was that
he had brought with him the values of human rights and social justice. His being
black is no longer an issue, she said, but the values that he brought with him
have become rooted in the American ethos.
“This is a new America we
haven’t seen before,” she said.
What bothers Rafiah about Obama is his
tendency to relate Israel to the Holocaust instead of to the Bible. He finds
that strange in a church-going Christian.
Avital attributed a significant
part of Obama’s success to the women’s vote. “The role of women is a rising tide
in America. Women recognized this election as being very much about them, and
the election was as much about their future as it was the election of the
In Avital’s view, the Republican Party moved much more to the
Right, and many of its traditional voters no longer felt at home
When it came the Jewish vote, Avital commented that American
Jewish society cannot be seen as a monolith. It is a diverse, pluralistic
society with varying attitudes toward Israel, she pointed out, adding that when
it comes to the vote, “one can determine without any shadow of a doubt that
Israel is not their main concern. Israel is not a priority in the lives
of American Jews.” The younger generation of American Jews is less engaged with
Israel than previous generations, she continued.
“Today Judaism is not a
must for them. It is a choice. For them human rights has become almost a
religion and for them Israel is not a country that is par excellence on human
rights issues,” Avital said.
She warned that today’s younger generation
of Jews may not play the same role vis-à-vis Israel as did its
Avital strongly doubted that Obama would try to get even
with Netanyahu or would seek some kind of revenge.
“Relations are not
based on emotions but on what is perceived to be in America’s interests,” she
said. “We have to make sure that Israel will continue to be viewed by the US
administration as a strategic asset.”
In this context she said that
renewal of the peace process with the Palestinians is important for the State of
Israel not only because of Israel’s isolation and the tensions that permeate the
area but also for the US if it wants to have an impact on the
Avital also doubted that Obama would put pressure on Israel. “If
he gets involved, it will be where he can have success,” she
Klieman made the point that there is a difference between victory
and a mandate.
Obama did not receive a sweeping mandate, he said, and if
he did receive one, it was a limited mandate to focus on domestic
There is a growing consensus among both US liberals and
conservatives that America must first rebuild its economy so that it can later
have a more robust policy for overseas, Klieman said.
There is a lack of
interest and enthusiasm among Americans for global leaders and global
commitments, and this extends to the direct use of force or military
intervention to make the world a secure place for democracy. There are
exception, Klieman noted, citing the use of special forces, cyber warfare and
“The US under Obama is in the midst of a major downsizing of
foreign policy aspirations and is making a mockery of pundits who predicted that
America would be a global super power,” Klieman declared, and suggested that one
of the reasons for America’s distancing itself from involvement abroad is that
countries in the region (other than Israel) to which the US has given support
and foreign aid, have in return been the most anti- American.
also suggested that Israelis become less obsessed with the Netanyahu-Obama
relationship and realize that Obama is disappointed with the Palestinians and
their leader Mahmoud Abbas. That's something that most Israelis tend to forget,