Patching things up with America

Places to start, Part I.

PM Netanyahu and President Barack Obama meet in the White House last week (photo credit: REUTERS)
PM Netanyahu and President Barack Obama meet in the White House last week
(photo credit: REUTERS)
"Lo and behold,” writes Jeff Robbins in the Boston Herald, “Americans support Israel.” As evidence, he offers a recent Gallup poll result that “62 percent of Americans declare their sympathies with Israel, while only 15% align with the Palestinians.”
Sixty-two percent? I remember when it was over 90%. And when was the last time a serious presidential candidate blew off a chance to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee? Sixty-two percent may provide a present majority of sorts, but it’s also proof of a decades-long slow slide that won’t end when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu no longer has President Barack Obama to humiliate. Nor does this figure indicate a more general support of Israel on this ISIS-infested, Iranto- go-nuclear, Muslim-refugees-by-the-millions, sad and sorry planet of ours, let alone a blank check for Israel.
Let’s face it. Decent people can be sick of all the Islamist and Palestinian outrages, but that doesn’t automatically equate to love of Israel. “A plague on both your houses” still retains its measure of truth.
In recent columns, I’ve argued that the Israeli “culture of dominance” does the country no good when dealing with people who don’t care to be dominated by Israelis. The columns produced a response seemingly calculated to prove my point – plus the inevitable, dreary “So go somewhere else” pseudo-riposte.
Thanks, no. And now it’s time, journalistically, to move beyond the vitriol toward some vague notions of possible partial improvements. Forget the free trips and the self-serving hasbara or public diplomacy.
This is about serious Israelis and serious Americans learning to do business with each other, and perhaps learning to appreciate each other thereby.
Yes, business.
First, a personal note.
I’m 67, five years an oleh (after 50 of thinking about it). My belief in the essential rightness of a Jewish state has never wavered. But not once in all those years, never, have I heard a single Israeli expression of concern for America. All I’ve heard are complaints, demands, accusations, self-exculpation, arrogance, and a hideous refrain of “We’re better than everybody else, so we should be allowed to do whatever we want.”
This came home to me when the American economy tanked in 2008. Israel might have said, “Our American friend’s passing through hard times. Let’s at least do a little something. Start a ‘Buy American’ program. Waive some regulations, set up some English websites, open an office or two.” An ad signed by 100 Americans saying “Israeli business kept me going” would do more good than all the “Start-up Nation” and “Wow, real estate’s booming” gloatishness.
Didn’t happen. But maybe it still should.
My wife (a brilliant copywriter and budding entrepreneur) works with a small Israeli company that sells a single medical product. The product, an Israeli invention, is brilliant. American sales should be 10 times higher than they are. It has taken my wife several months to convince the staff and management – decent, intelligent, likable people – that customer service matters. If a customer has a complaint, yes, you have to respond immediately, whether you feel like it or not. If you make a mistake, admit it and correct it. If the customer makes a mistake, work with the customer.
No culture of dominance, no rudeness allowed.
So here’s my proposal: Start seeking out small American businesses to buy from as well as sell to.
Do it right. The good results might quietly bypass a lot of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
The Internet chatter and word-of-mouth could also be delightful. And both sides would learn about the other.
Can’t be done? We’ll argue that one next time. For now, a final point that everyone from Netanyahu on down loves to bestow on us: Israel does help America. We just can’t talk about it.
No doubt. But permit me to risk the obvious on this one, an obvious derived from several decades as a military intelligence officer, think tank national security analyst, defense reporter/author and historian.
The classified world’s a very complex place. Great things happen there. So do other things. Doctors, it is said, bury their mistakes. Governments classify theirs. And as in all fields, the demand for brilliance, even competence, vastly exceeds the supply.
Intelligence sharing isn’t easy. Both countries have sources and ongoing operations to protect.
Both countries have their own internal wrangling and disputes among their operators, analysts and policy types. Neither country may want the other to know that it knows something, or how it got that information. And finally, a major concern when America deals with Israel is who else gets the information, after it’s passed on.
And both can be hideously wrong.
As for the difficulties and hazards of combined operations... ’nuff said.
In short, Credo quia classificandum (a riff on Tertullian’s Credo quia absurdam, “I believe because it is absurd”) may have some value. “I believe because it’s classified” – OK, sometimes. But the open, the visible and the obvious matter, too.
Let’s work with that.
Next: More thoughts on doing business with America as a political and cultural “force multiplier,” plus some related military stuff.
The writer is delighted to have nothing to add to his “Cancer Chronicles” for the present.