In Trump's America, can Israel remain bipartisan?

‘Israel’s strategy is to be as friendly as we can with any administration,' says New York Consul-General Dani Dayan.

PM Netanyahu and President Trump (photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)
PM Netanyahu and President Trump
(photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)
NEW YORK – The divide created in American society after the 2016 presidential election is making it more difficult than ever to keep Israel a bipartisan issue, New York Consul-General Dani Dayan told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“It’s more challenging these days than ever, because everything is partisan in this country now: abortion is partisan, guns are partisan, capital punishment is partisan and lately even the weather [global warming] became a partisan issue in America,” Dayan said.
“In this landscape, keeping Israel as virtually the only nonpartisan issue in American politics is tremendously challenging.”
Netanyahu hails "new day" in Israel-US relations after meeting with Trump (credit: REUTERS)
Dayan believes, however, that this is a challenge that needs to be faced head on, and not only for strategic political reasons.
“If we believe that our alliance is not only with the American government but also with the American people, then we have to forge that alliance with all the relevant parts of the American people,” he told the Post. “You cannot neglect half of the population [who didn’t vote for President Donald Trump] and expect the alliance to remain intact.”
For this, the consul believes Israel needs to work with both sides of the aisle in Washington and both sides of what he calls the “virtual aisle” in American public opinion.
“That’s challenging because there are burdens and American society is so polarized politically,” he said. “But I sincerely believe that Israel has all the merit to be a progressive cause in this country.”
Since he arrived in New York last August, Dayan has made strengthening the US-Israel relationship a priority, but even more so the relationship between Israel and US Jews.
Dani Dayan (photo credit: NOAM ATIA)Dani Dayan (photo credit: NOAM ATIA)
In an interview with the Post in September, just a month after he took office, Dayan made it clear that he is “not here to preach to the choir” but rather to answer the difficult questions of Jews who love Israel but have felt disenchanted with it in recent years. In that sense, Dayan sees himself as “no less an ambassador of American Jews to Jerusalem than an ambassador of Jerusalem to American Jews.”
The post-election divide has also affected this relationship, Dayan said. More specifically, the perception by some liberal Jews that Israel is too friendly with the Trump administration, which they dislike, has added a burden to their ties with the country.
“It has no basis,” stated Dayan, who admits he didn’t expect Trump to win. “Israel’s strategy is to be as friendly as we can with any administration, as long as that administration wants to be friendly with Israel.
“In the previous administration, when the first step of the president was to go to Cairo and skip Jerusalem, that hindered the sense of friendship, but fortunately with this administration it’s different,” he said.
Dayan said he hopes that under Trump more realistic goals will be set for the Israel- Palestinian conflict.
“I hope that the targets that the administration will set are those that are doable, because we need to advance, but with things that are realistic,” he said. “Unfortunately, when I see the declarations by the Palestinian leadership, I don’t see a serious will to reach an agreement.
“We can make strong improvements on the ground: on the economy, on human rights, on cooperation on many levels, on raising the standard of living of Palestinians,” Dayan continued. “This doesn’t solve the conflict – I’m not saying it’s instead of solving it – but those are things that we can do.”
As Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is set to meet with Trump in Washington on May 3, Dayan added that he hopes the US president will make it clear that “the attitude of the Palestinians and Mr. Abbas that only Israel has to make concessions and they don’t is completely unacceptable and it’s a nonstarter for negotiations.”
At the time of his appointment to the New York position, much drama surrounded Dayan, whose background as the former leader of the settler movement has been largely discussed in the media and even cost him the position of ambassador to Brazil, a price he was ultimately happy to pay.
Nine months into his new job, the consul said he is “very encouraged” by the “extremely good” relations he has forged with all sides of the Jewish community.
“I was very pleased to hear that people who completely opposed my nomination today admit that they were wrong,” he told the Post.