Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shake hands during their meeting in Jerusalem in 2012.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The strained relationship between Israel and the American Left will not improve automatically when there is a president of the United States whom Israelis perceive to be less critical than the current one, J Street’s Israel director, Yael Patir, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview in the capital on Wednesday.
Polls show that no matter who wins the November 8 election, an overwhelming majority of Israelis believe the next president will be more pro-Israel than current president Barack Obama. Supporters of presumptive Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton have said that if she is elected, a healing process will begin between Israel and American doves, but Patir said changes must take place in Israel to facilitate that.
“I think there will be a restart in relations between the American administration and Israel, and I am sure both sides will want to turn the page,” he said. “But Israel will still have a challenge with American liberals, because the problem is not cosmetic. It’s connected to policies, and it is a function of how much Israel is seen as seeking peace, an end to occupation, and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
Patir said American public opinion is strongly pro-Israel now, but she described trends among young Americans that do not work in Israel’s favor for the future, such as less interest in the Middle East, increasing isolationism, fatigue from conflicts and from Israel, and US demographic shifts strengthening minorities who identify with the Palestinians.
Patir opened the J Street Israel office five years ago because the organization needed a command post to reach out to the players in the Jewish state.
Her job includes building and maintaining relations with decision-makers, public figures and influencers, and hosting groups of congressmen and American pro-Israel activists.
Asked how J Street is perceived here, Patir said “there is no feeling that we are considered muktze [untouchable] or out of the tent that there might be in the US [Jewish community], but sometimes there are narrow political considerations,” such as Likud figures who do not want to meet with the NGO.
Nevertheless J Street officials have met recently in Israel with Likud ministers Ze’ev Elkin, Yuval Steinitz, and Gilad Erdan, who all publicized their meetings, with Erdan thanking J Street for its part in the fight against BDS while emphasizing that he does not agree with the organization on other issues.
J Street has an advisory board in Israel that includes former Labor Party minister Ophir Pines-Paz, that party’s former chairman Amram Mitzna, and former consul-general in New York Alon Pinkas. Sometimes the organization fights an uphill battle, as when it tried to persuade Israelis that last year’s Iran nuclear deal was not as bad for Israel as it was perceived. The organization drafted former Shin Bet director (and former Labor Party minister) Ami Ayalon and other security figures to the cause.
Patir often finds herself denying charges against J Street, such as that it opposed sanctions on Iran or cooperated with anti-Israel international probes like the UN’s Goldstone Report.
“As time goes by I have to explain less and less,” she said. “We’ve come a long way because we have done a lot to explain our views. The perceptions that Obama created us and that our leaders talk to him every night helps us, but they are not true. J Street was founded by people who are very connected to Israel and very involved in the US, who believe the US must always be involved in solving the conflict, because without America pushing for a resolution, it’s not going to happen.”