Analysis: Another chapter in the US-Israel ‘crisis’

Disagreements between the leaders of Israel, US do not translate into an actual crisis in relations between the two states.

By
November 26, 2014 00:44
4 minute read.
Obama Netanyahu

Obama and Netanyahu. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Monday’s alleged US intervention in Israeli domestic affairs over the “Jewish state bill” is a real-time example how the myth of a crisis in US-Israel ties is perpetuated.

And, yes, the “crisis” in US ties is a myth.

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Are there problems between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? Absolutely. Do they disagree about policy toward Iran and the Palestinians? They most certainly do.

But disagreements between the leaders do not translate into a crisis in relations between the two states.

Obama is no longer going to be president in two years, and Netanyahu won’t be prime minister forever.

US-Israeli relations are much wider and broader than just the ties between the two leaders. They encompass Congress, the Pentagon, the business community, public support. And on each of those counts, the relationship is strong, even very strong.

An extremely pro-Israel Congress was just voted out of office, to be replaced by what is expected to be an even more pro-Israel Congress.



Defense and security ties have never been better, both sides admit, and both sides benefit a great deal (even if Israel benefits much more). Economic ties with the US are robust, and public opinion polls over the summer put Americans’ sympathy with Israel over the Palestinians at near record highs.

There are disagreements, but no crisis – despite the now famous “chickenshit” comment about Netanyahu that appeared in The Atlantic monthly.

But then the State Department spokesman answers a leading question/comment by a reporter at a daily press briefing by saying that the US expects Israel to retain its democratic nature, and we're all off again to the “crisis” races.

Likud Chairman Ze'ev Elkin screams that the US cannot preach to us, the Israeli left screams that Elkin cannot preach to the US, and former Ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon says on Israel Radio that the US criticism of the bill was unprecedented.

Really. Let's look at that criticism. And it is important to look at the flow of the Q and A with State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke in the transcript to see whether what he said was, in context, that egregious or wildly intervening in Israeli affairs. Was it, in short, another example of “The Crisis?”

“Question: What’s the US reaction to Israel’s nationality law approved by the government?

“Rathke: Well, this is the beginning of a process, and so I don’t want to speculate on the outcome. It would be our general view, though, that we would expect any final legislation to continue Israel’s commitment to democratic principles.”

Not much there, a rather parve response to a question that becomes much more loaded when the reporter then asks, “That means that every person should have a vote, not just Jewish people?”

Say what? Where exactly is that coming from? Does anybody really think the law is meant to deprive non-Jews of the vote. But back to the manuscript.

“Rathke: Well, the United States position, which is unchanged, has been clear for years – and the President and the Secretary have also reiterated it – is that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state in which all citizens should enjoy equal rights …

“Question: -- democratic principles. That means you’re worried that it won’t continue democratic principles, and it suggests that you’re worried that Israeli Arabs may be disenfranchised. Is that your concern here?

“Rathke: Well, I would say also that this [bill] is a [legislative] process that is underway. It is not final. And naturally, it has aroused quite a bit of interest, so I think it’s not strange that we would be expected – that we would be asked and that we would offer our view.

“Question: And is it fair, then, to say that your concern is that it will not continue – that it’s possible it won’t continue democratic principles?

“Rathke: Well, I’m not going to speculate about the shape and final outcome of the legislation, but simply to point out that we would expect it to continue Israel’s commitment to democratic principles.”

Of course he would expect the legislation to continue Israel's commitment to democratic principles, and – despite the reporter's reading into his answer and fishing for a conflict – the spokesman is not saying the legislation won't continue Israel's commitment to democratic principles.

But to infer from there that the US – as another indication of “The Crisis” – is interfering in Israel's domestic matters like it has never done before, and that all this just shows how bad things have become between countries, is absurd.

It is doubtful that Elkin read the transcript when he issued this sarcastic response: "I want to thank our allies in the US State Department for making time in their busy schedule of preventing an Iranian nuclear bomb and confronting radical Islam to focus their attention on the most pressing issue in the Middle East and the entire world for that matter: teaching the Israeli public a little bit about democracy," Elkin remarked.

Huh? Can the spokesman's words really be construed as the US official trying to teach the Israeli public about democracy?

But, wait, then Economy Minister Naftali Bennett chimed in on Army Radio saying, "I say to the Americans: We will handle the affairs of the State of Israel ourselves."

What comments like those do – comments which seem triggered as much by the State Department's spokesman's remarks as they are by the scent of elections in the air – is to perpetuate the perception of a crisis. A perception that – despite leading and dishonest questions in the US, and overheated, campaign-motivated reactions in Israel – does not accurately reflect reality.

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