What Blinken didn’t say about Israel that US Jewish leaders did - analysis

That type of talk is destructive and undermines the Jewish solidarity important both to Israel and to Diaspora communities.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, May 25, 2021 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, May 25, 2021
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would have been met by thunderous applause at the National J Street Conference on Sunday had he said the following: "If Israel ceases to be an open democracy, I won't be able to support it."

Blinken, who is Jewish, would have possibly earned a standing ovation had he said the following to his Left-wing audience: "There is no way that younger American Jews will feel what we want them to feel about Israel if Israel annexes the West Bank; if it overturns the independence of the judicial system; if it deports Israeli-Arabs who they consider disloyal to the state; if Israel is represented by Kahanists that want to change the Law of Return and to disqualify non-Orthodox converts; if Israel will decide to abolish the grandfather clause; and if its leaders are deeply homophobic and deeply opposed to the LGBT community. Then we have a problem.”

But that is not what Blinken said. The first quote is what former ADL Abe Foxman told The Jerusalem Post's Zvika Klein in an interview that appeared on Friday, and the second is what prominent US Reform Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch told Klein in an interview that appeared on Monday.

Blinken, thankfully, was a bit more circumspect. 

US SECRETARY OF State Antony Blinken arrives at his first press briefing at the State Department in Washington, last week. At his Senate confirmation hearing last month, Blinken said ‘we are a long ways’ from returning to the Iran deal. (credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)US SECRETARY OF State Antony Blinken arrives at his first press briefing at the State Department in Washington, last week. At his Senate confirmation hearing last month, Blinken said ‘we are a long ways’ from returning to the Iran deal. (credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)

"We will gauge the government by the policies it pursues rather than individual personalities," he said, to no applause. "We will hold it to the mutual standards we have established in our relationship over the past seven decades. And we will speak honestly and respectfully with our Israeli friends, as partners always should." Again, no applause.

Blinken regurgitates US policy on two-state solution

During his 30-minute speech, Blinken articulated well-known US policy in favor of a two-state solution, and against unilateral steps that could make that solution more difficult. Nothing new there. That policy was articulated when the prime minister was Yair Lapid, as well as when it was Naftali Bennett, and when the government ministers included Labor's Merav Michaeli and Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz, not only when the presumptive prime minister is Benjamin Netanyahu and the new government is expected to include Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich

Blinken's comments about gauging the government based on its policies reflect a policy articulated by US Ambassador Tom Nides on November 2, the day after the election.

"It is too early to speculate on the exact composition of the next governing coalition until all the votes are counted," Nides tweeted. "I look forward to continuing to work with the Israeli government on our shared interests and values."

A day later Nides tweeted the following: "Good call just now with Benjamin Netanyahu. I congratulated him on his victory and told him I look forward to working together to maintain the unbreakable bond."

A day after that he tweeted again, this time after a conversation "with my friend" Aryeh Deri, in which the same message was passed to him as was given to Netanyahu.

The Biden administration, to its credit, has stuck to this line. And it has done so even as some of the personalities that will make up the next government are obviously not to the administration's liking. The administration might not deal with Ben-Gvir or Smotrich. Yet it has not jumped the gun and castigated the government, warned of the destruction of US-Israel ties, or of an irreparable rip between Israel and the American Jewish community. 

That lane, anyway,  has been taken up by Jewish leaders such as Foxman and Hirsch and prominent Jews such as Daniel Kurtzer and Aaron David Miller. 

Kurtzer and Miller, two veteran diplomats,  wrote a piece last week in the Washington Post in light of the election results advising the Biden administration to tell Israel that "while the United States will continue to support its ally's legitimate security requirements, it will not provide offensive weapons or other assistance for malign Israeli actions in Jerusalem or the occupied territories."

All that, again, before the government was even sworn in. 

It is unlikely that Nides or Blinken are any less concerned about the possible policies of the right-wing government on Israel and its relationship with the US and US Jewry than are Foxman, Hirsch, Kurtzer or Miller. Still, they are diplomats who realize that it is counterproductive to criticize a government already for things it has not yet even done.

Maybe the reality of governing may make some of the ministers more pragmatic. Maybe they may realize once in office that slogans shouted in opposition are not implementable for various reasons. Maybe, as Netanyahu said in an interview Sunday with NBC, he does indeed have a record of "having two hands on the wheel" and will not allow the implementation of any policy that would lead to a rift with the US or with American Jewry. 

But Foxman and Hirsch -- and others --  cannot wait, blasting the incoming government based on the past statements of some ministers, and painting apocalyptic scenarios even before the government has held a single meeting.

If Israel becomes a "fundamentalist theocratic state," Foxman said, “they're not going to have relationships with my grandchildren, and that is very, very sad."

Really? Does Foxman - a man who knows Israel - really believe that it is going to turn into Iran? Really?

Foxman said he never thought he would reach a point where "I would say my support of Israel is conditional. I've always said that [my support] is unconditional, but it's conditional … I want Israel to be Jewish, absolutely. But I want it to be a democracy."

Does he really believe that Israel is on the verge of losing its democratic character, that the people - whom he knows well - will allow it to do so?

Instead, exaggerated words such as these seem meant to warn Israelis of the consequences if their government takes specific steps. Some Israelis may hear these dire predictions and think, "Wow, the government better not make any changes in the Law of Return or undertake any judicial reform because if it does we will lose American Jewry.”

Is Diaspora Jewry's support for Israel conditional?

That, apparently, is the effect Foxman and Hirsch would want. 

Other Israelis, however, may hear these words, and say that if Diaspora Jewry's support for Israel is conditional, then Israel's support for Diaspora communities can also be conditional. Israel, they may argue, will stand firmly with those communities that support and stand by it, but those who do not  -- well -- if they ever get in trouble and need Israel's backing and support, it might not be there.

That type of talk is destructive and undermines the Jewish solidarity important both to Israel and to Diaspora communities. Talk of conditionality should be used sparingly, and not before the government has actually done anything.

If the government annexes Judea and Samaria, overturns the judicial system's independence, and deports Israeli-Arabs -- as Hirsch warned -- he can scream bloody murder about those policies. But is it wise to do so before anything has happened?

Israelis hear these words, hear his warnings, but may not be drawing the conclusions he wants them to. Israeli policies, Hirsch warned, could drive American Jews away from Israel. But the words of Diaspora Jewish leaders about the conditionality of the relationship could also distance Israeli Jews from feelings of brotherhood with the Diaspora. 

And none of that does the Jewish people any good.