Netanyahu - damned for bad ties with Obama, damned for good ties with Trump

A good healthy relationship with the president was necessary for a good, strong Israel-US relationship. When that was lacking, all was – the doomsayers said – on the verge of collapse.

By
August 19, 2019 00:54
4 minute read.
Netanyahu - damned for bad ties with Obama, damned for good ties with Trump

Former US president Barrack Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and US President Donald Trump. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Putting it mildly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then US president Barack Obama had a difficult relationship.

Obama was on the Left, Netanyahu on the Right. They saw the world through very different lenses and disagreed fundamentally both about Iran and the Palestinians. As a result, there were constant fights, name-calling, leaks, and an altogether dysfunctional relationship, as one pundit after the next explained it.

Each new disagreement – over the settlements, over the stymied peace process, over the Iran nuclear deal, over Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress – gave birth to overheated headlines that the entire US-Israel relationship was on the verge of collapse. It was as if Netanyahu’s difficult relationship with Obama meant that the entire Israel-US relationship was about to go down the drain.

A good, healthy relationship with the president, this argument ran, was necessary for a good, strong Israel-US relationship. When that was lacking, everything – all the doomsayers said – was on the verge of collapse.

Fast forward a few years, and now Netanyahu has the best relationship an Israeli prime minister has ever had with a US president. Ever. So what do the headlines morph into? The US-Israel relationship is on the verge of collapse because of the strength of that relationship – that relationship is too good.

Netanyahu, and by extension Israel, were damned when they had a difficult relationship with the US president, and now Netanyahu, and by extension Israel, is damned for enjoying a good relationship with the US president.

Three days after Israel decided to bar US representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country because of their BDS advocacy, three days after hyperventilated headlines and over-dramatic tweets, it is time for everybody to sit back and relax. This too will pass.

If the eight years of the Obama administration taught anything, it taught that the relationship between Israel and the US is deep, wide and broad enough to survive serious disagreements over policy, and a difficult and very critical president.

During the Obama years, too many conflated Netanyahu’s relationship with Obama into Israel’s relationship with the US. They are not one and the same. There is much more to the US-Israel relationship than the relationship at the top, as important as that relationship is.

There is also the relationship with Congress; the military/intelligence relationship; the business relationship; and the historic ties between the two countries that extend even to a sympathy that America’s founding fathers had for the idea of a Jewish state.

Poll after poll continues to show that Israel enjoys extremely strong support among the American public. Granted, there is serious deterioration on the progressive flank of the Democratic Party. That is troublesome. It should be carefully monitored, and serious efforts are needed to address it. (One thing is for certain: those progressives who already dislike Israel intensely would not have liked it any more even had Israel let Tlaib and Omar conduct their bashing-Israel tour.)

Yes, you want a good relationship at the top, but even if that does not exist – as the eight years of the Obama-Netanyahu era proved – the relationship between the two countries can still thrive and prosper.

The same is true now. Israel wants strong bi-partisan support. But if it doesn’t exist at the moment, the relationship can continue to flourish and grow because the other components remain: a super strong relationship with the president, exceptionally strong military/intelligence cooperation, very close business cooperation, and still strong public support.

It is also premature to eulogize the bi-partisan support.

Despite President Donald Trump’s efforts to present them as the face of the Democratic Party, Omar and Tlaib do not represent the party, or the party’s position on Israel. They represent a faction of the party – a vocal and high-profile faction, but still a small one, and it should not be overstated.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is not going to stop supporting Israel because it banned Omar and Tlaib, even though he called the move “outrageous.” Neither is House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel, or senators Chuck Schumer or Bob Menendez.

There is more to the Democratic Party than the progressives, more to US public opinion than The New York Times editorial board, and more to American politics than Bernie Sanders. Are they important? Obviously. Are they the dominant trend? Obviously not, otherwise Trump would not be president.

In the important and necessary discussion over whether it was wise for Israel, under pressure from Trump, to ban the two representatives, perspective is needed.

The US-Israel special relationship is not suddenly going to come crashing in on us. Even if our standing may slip even lower with Democratic progressives, we enjoy an excellent relationship with the president, a strong relationship with the vast majority of Congress, a great relationship with the US military, intelligence and business sectors, and are held in pretty high regard by a large swath of the American public.

We should enjoy it for now, and also trust that Israel’s value to the US will enable us – as we have in the past – survive periods when a less favorably disposed president may be sitting in the Oval Office.

Not too long ago, we were there, did that and – despite all the catastrophic headlines and apocalyptic prophecies – lived to tell the tale.


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