Washington Watch: Taking care of number one

The US is not obligated to back every Israeli policy.

By DOUGLASS BLOOMFIELD
June 9, 2010 22:00
4 minute read.
US President Barack Obama

obama 311.187. (photo credit: AP)

When the US takes action in the international arena that it considers vital to its national interest, Israel has an obligation to give its full, unquestioning support.

Wavering is not only a sign of disloyalty, but undermines our vital concerns and weakens America in the eyes of its enemies.

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If that sounds absurd, just switch the names of the two countries and you will have the argument being used by many pro-Israel organizations to demand unquestioning US support for the Netanyahu government’s flotilla fiasco and other policies.

Groups like American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti- Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee expect the Obama administration, the Congress and the Jewish community to march in lockstep with the current Israeli government, never stopping to question the policies or those responsible for the debacle that has done so much damage to Israel’s international stature.

ADL questions whether the traditional US-Israel special relationship fits into this administration’s worldview. AIPAC wants lawmakers to demand the administration block “any action implying criticism of Israel for defending itself.”

They are demanding a kind of blind, unquestioning support for the Israeli government that we don’t even give to our own government.

WHEN JEWISH leaders told President Barack Obama last year that progress in the peace process occurs when “no daylight” shines between Washington and Jerusalem, they were offended when he said that approach had failed for the previous eight years (actually longer).Their message was that America must conform its policies to Israel’s, and that failure to do so would be tantamount to undermining Israel’s security and siding with its enemies.



Disagreement does not undermine the special relationship between Washington and Jerusalem. Note that the phrase was coined by Winston Churchill to describe the close political, diplomatic, cultural and historic relations between the US and Britain – close allies who disagreed vehemently, often publicly, over a range of issues during the World War II years and since.

In the wake of the flotilla debacle – a political disaster for Israel, a victory for Hamas and the bad guys – some are asking whether Israel is becoming a strategic liability. One of those is Meir Dagan, head of the Mossad. He reportedly told a Knesset committee last week: “Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States into a burden.”

Anthony Cordesman, a respected Washington defense analyst, wrote: “It is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it tests the limits of US patience and exploits the support of American Jews.”

The demonization of this president and the harsh attacks on his top advisers – many Jewish – as being anti-Israel because they’ve had the temerity to differ with the Netanyahu government further weakens the bilateral relationship at a very critical time for Israel.

Those who would shrug off the critics by saying the Jewish state should be free to act as it pleases because the rest of the world is against it anyway are only creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Today Israel is more isolated than it has been in many years, making its alliance with the US more critical than ever; it is a time for greater sensitivity to the international and security interests of Israel’s best – and only real – friend, especially a friend that also provides billions of dollars in grant aid and the best weapons available.

IN THE past two weeks the US has again demonstrated that it has Israel’s back, even when it thinks its government’s policies are wrong. In return, the administration is hoping this show of support will encourage greater cooperation in relaxing the Gaza blockade and increased flexibility in making a deal with the Palestinians.

Israel’s one-sided view of the alliance also diverts attention from other critical issues, starting with the Iranian nuclear threat and the peace process.

Binyamin Netanyahu disagrees with the strongly held American view that advancing the peace process is critical to US vital strategic interests, including thwarting Iranian nuclear ambitions. Does that mean Washington should step aside so that no light shines between them? This administration, like its predecessors, has repeatedly acknowledged that Israel has an absolute right to defend itself, but that does not obligate us to unconditionally back its every policy and foolhardy, short-sighted actions like the flotilla attack.

Friends of Israel, Jewish or not, have a right to criticize Israeli policy – just as the Right did during the Rabin, Peres, Barak and Olmert years – without being branded anti-Zionist and accused of undermining Israel’s security. Friends don’t let friends blindly blunder.They have an obligation to speak out.

In its hour of need, Israel was let down by Diaspora Jewry, said Israeli writer Anshel Pfeffer. Israel needs a Diaspora leadership that, instead of “crouching with us in the bunker,” is willing to say, “Enough is enough.

You are hurtling down the slippery slope of pariahdom and causing untold damage to yourselves and us.”


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