As the Iranian-P5+1 talks continue, commentators and self-anointed pundits are
warning of the worst crisis in US-Israel relations, the abysmal failure of
Israel’s foreign policy, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s “hysteria,” and
toxic bad blood between two national leaders.
Calm down. The current
squalls are a far cry from the hurricanes and tornadoes the commentators are
Over the last four decades, I’ve been an observer of and
often deeply involved in the intricacies of the US-Israel relationship, as a
lobbyist on Capitol Hill, an Israeli diplomat in Washington and a public affairs
consultant. I’ve seen and experienced real storms and crises.
several that I recall: • In 1970, the French government decided to cancel a sale
of 50 fighter jets to Israel, and to sell 110 fighter planes to the new
revolutionary Libyan government headed by the mercurial Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
When French president Georges Pompidou flew to the US to meet president Richard
Nixon, American Jewish protesters confronted him with raucous
Nixon was furious over the affront to his guest.
According to journalist Richard Reeves, Nixon raged, “The f**king Jews think
they can run the world.”
Nixon, Reeves continued, “decided right there to
postpone the sale and delivery of 25 Phantom jets and 80 Skyhawks to
That’s what you call a crisis in the relationship.
1974, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. George Scratchley Brown,
publicly spat out anti-Semitic canards when he complained that Israel got
congressional support for military equipment.
“Now this is somebody from
another country, but they can do it,” Brown groused. “They own, you know, the
banks in this country, the newspapers. Just look at where the Jewish money is.”
The Jewish community in the US shivered and shook, particularly after Brown
escaped with only a presidential reprimand.
• In 1975, president Gerald
Ford and secretary of state Henry Kissinger called for a “total reassessment” of
US Middle East policy, as a reaction to Israeli refusal to surrender to
Kissinger’s demands on an Egyptian- Israeli settlement. According to Associated
Press accounts at the time, American officials said, “The special Israeli-US
relationship will be examined.”
At a time like that, Shakespeare would
have someone yell “Cry havoc!” Jewish Americans responded in 1975 by “Crying
gevalt!” the Yiddish equivalent to “The sky is falling!” • President Jimmy
Carter was no great friend of Israel, and certainly not of Menachem Begin.
Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski repeatedly refused to
term Israel an American “ally.”
Carter’s ill will toward Israel continues
to this day.
• When Israel bombed the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981,
vice president George Bush demanded that an embargo be imposed on the delivery
of F-16s to Israel.
• Then there was president Ronald Reagan protesting
Israel’s war against the PLO in Lebanon in 1982, by holding up a picture of a
wounded Lebanese girl (who turned out to be a boy or vice-versa, and was
probably wounded by PLO fire) to show reporters and photographers.
of the worst crises in the relationship was the bruising Airborne Warning and
Control System battle in 1982, when the US administration sought congressional
approval to sell AWACS aircraft, F-15 fighter jets and sundry pieces of lethal
hardware to Saudi Arabia. When American friends of Israel fought to block the sale, the
administration adopted the battle cry coined by a Saudi lobbyist in Washington,
“Reagan or Begin!” Charges of American Jews’ dual loyalty were widespread. On
several occasions employees of US military agencies came to the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee’s offices to offer classified documents, such as secret
blueprints of Saudi bases. “My pastor told me to bring it,” one claimed. Fearful
that these visitors were agents provocateurs, AIPAC staff hastily saw them out –
including one named Jonathan Pollard.
Just a week after the
knock-downdrag- out AWACS vote, AIPAC lobbyists joined forces with their State
Department counterparts to pass the Foreign Aid Bill in Congress.
animus by the Bush- James Baker team toward prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was so hot that
it could melt snow on Pennsylvania Avenue. In September 1991, some commentators
claimed the special relationship hit its nadir when members of the Bush
administration challenged the allegiance of American Jews. In a brawl over $10
billion in loan guarantees to Israel in order to absorb Soviet Jews, Bush-Baker
tied the congressional bill to Israel’s settlements. Bush even went on national
TV to oppose the bill, saying, “I’m just one lonely guy down here, and I’m up
against some powerful political forces...
Something like 1,000 lobbyists
[concerned American citizens, supporters of Israel] on the Hill [are] working on
the other side.”
Subsequently, Bush realized he had to dampen
anti-Semitic sentiments he had unleashed in the country.
WHY IS today’s
dispute between the two governments not “cratering,” as one commentator claimed?
Because no one in either country wants it to – not the leaders, Congress or
Knesset, and certainly not the vast majority of citizens of either
In fact, the strategic, religious, cultural, scientific,
intelligence and economic ties are stronger than ever before – indeed,
unbreakable. The forces opposed to Israel in the Middle East are unsavory to
most Americans, and Israel’s support in American public opinion has never been
higher.The writer was a senior staffer in AIPAC’s Washington and
Jerusalem offices for 25 years, worked as a public affairs consultant, and
served as deputy chief of mission of Israel’s Embassy in Washington for three