JPost Annual Conference 2018.
(photo credit: screenshot)
There was one issue that speakers at this year’s Jerusalem Post Conference tried to convey to the rapt audience at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City on Sunday: The relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger.
six Israeli ministers praised the close alignment of thought with US President Donald Trump’s administration over issues such as who is the blame for the lack of progress with the Palestinians and the future of the Iran nuclear deal. There was also unanimous support and appreciation for the upcoming move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) underscored the new plateau in bilateral relations by calling for renegotiation of the decade-long defense agreement between the two countries. He said the memorandum of understanding offers insufficient missile defense aid at a time when Israel is facing an unprecedented array of missile threats from Iran and its proxies.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) downplayed any perceived deterioration of support for Israel in the younger, more liberal wing of his party, claiming Israel has always had and will continue to retain bipartisan support in the US. “I haven’t seen that division in our political system,” he said, “and it must remain that way.”
This support was also evident in Tel Aviv, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with new US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his first working trip.
Regarding Iran, Pompeo said US-Israeli cooperation “is critical to our efforts to counter Iran’s destabilizing and maligned activity throughout the Middle East and indeed throughout the world.” Netanyahu responded, “America and Israel are closer than ever before, and I have no doubt that our alliance will grow even closer in the years ahead.” He added that Pompeo’s inclusion of Israel on the itinerary of his first trip was “symbolic” of that strong bond.
One could imagine the Netanyahu government breathing a huge sigh of relief following the tumultuous eight years of the Obama administration which – despite upping financial aid and security cooperation with Israel to unprecedented levels – clashed often with Jerusalem over the same issues on which Trump and Netanyahu now agree.
However, one area that definitely needs improvement is Israel’s relationship with American Jews. This is especially true of the younger generation whose liberal ethos often puts them at odds with what they perceive as Israel’s aggressive nationalism.
World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder put it best when he told the crowd that Israel and Israel’s American supporters were not doing enough to educate young people about the country’s positive attributes.
“The Diaspora today is not the same Diaspora of my generation or my parents’ generation. They believed in Israel 100%. Too many in the young generation are turning their backs on Israel. We need to ask ourselves why they are doing that and what can be done,” he said.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert cited the Western Wall agreement for egalitarian worship – which was later nixed by Netanyahu due to ultra-Orthodox pressure – as significantly damaging support for Israel among what should be its core American non-Orthodox supporters.
“If there’s one thing I can’t refrain from saying openly and publicly, it’s the indifference and rudeness and aggressiveness against major parts of the Jewish people outside of Israel,” Olmert said. “After telling them how much their support is needed, the Israeli government disqualifies them as Jews. This is unacceptable and intolerable.”
Even comedienne Roseanne Barr touched on the subject in answering questions about Natalie Portman’s much-publicized rejection Israel’s Genesis Prize – a move that encapsulates the alienation some traditionally strong supporters of Israel feel today.
“We have to be able to talk to the young people in America because they’re way off, they’re way out there. We have to figure out a way to reach them instead of turn them off,” said Barr.
So, despite celebrating the “no daylight” approach that the Israel and US governments appear to share, Israeli leaders must continue to reach out to understand and engage with the ever-changing Diaspora, from which so much of our strength is derived.
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