Military aid to Israel must remain unconditional - opinion

Israel never promised the Diaspora a Jewish Disneyland, or a rose garden, and the level of knowledge most American Jews have of Israel’s complex society and security is embarrassingly superficial.

 DEFENSE MINISTER Benny Gantz walks alongside US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a ceremony at military headquarters in Tel Aviv, last year. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
DEFENSE MINISTER Benny Gantz walks alongside US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a ceremony at military headquarters in Tel Aviv, last year.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Israel’s new hard-right government has yet to be inaugurated and a crisis is already brewing in United States-Israeli relations. Unsurprisingly, it is starting with the Jewish community.

Aaron Miller and Dan Kurtzer, highly respected former administration officials, argued in The Washington Post that the US should continue to support Israel’s legitimate security needs, but should not provide offensive weapons or other assistance for malign Israeli actions in Jerusalem or the occupied territories.

Tom Friedman bemoaned the demise of Israel that we once knew, which probably existed more in his fond imagination than in reality. Abe Foxman, the grand doyen of American Jewish leaders, whose support for Israel was always emphatically unconditional, now says that it is and that he will be unable to support an Israel that is not an open democracy.

Statements such as these, by prominent and mainstream American Jews, should terrify any Israeli premier. As Benjamin Netanyahu understands better than most, little is more important for Israel’s national security than the special relationship with the US. Netanyahu, however, has far more important strategic considerations today: how to stay out of jail.

The anguish over the new government’s impending policies could not be more appropriate. Netanyahu has already demonstrated that there is no outrage, no damage to Israel’s democracy and legal system, that is too great, to secure the support of his nationalist, ultra-religious and even racist coalition partners. The Likud itself is no longer just a nationalist party, but a radical and corrupt one.

 GETTING READY for US President Joe Biden’s visit to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem in July. Will US-Israel relations be able to recalibrate when the new government takes over? (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) GETTING READY for US President Joe Biden’s visit to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem in July. Will US-Israel relations be able to recalibrate when the new government takes over? (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Israeli society will undergo unprecedented stress, including to the already fraught relations between Jews and between Jews and Arabs. The IDF chain of command and its organizational unity are already under strain. The final opportunity to curtail the runaway Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population explosion has probably now been missed and by 2060 they will constitute fully one-third of Israel’s Jewish population.

They already present a growing burden to Israel’s society, economy, democracy and national security. Israel’s secular plurality, the phenomenally creative population that has long provided for its scientific and high-tech prowess, and carried the defense burden, is severely demoralized. Many will emigrate.

Netanyahu’s dependence on his coalition partners means that massive settlement and at least de facto annexation will soon be underway. A two-states solution, or some other means of separating from the Palestinians, are likely now things of the past. Israel’s critically important ties with the Abraham Accords states (UAE, Bahrain and Morocco) cannot but be badly affected.

The special relationship with the US, including the Jewish community, the world’s second-largest and critical pillar of the relationship, may also be severely damaged. The relationship is far more than just military assistance and includes a de facto security guarantee, joint strategic planning, intelligence cooperation, support for Israel’s negotiating positions and the US veto in the Security Council, which has shielded Israel from sanctions for decades, including over its purported nuclear capabilities. It also includes deep economic, scientific and cultural ties.

Will Netanyahu straining Israel-Diaspora Jewry ties impact military aid?

NO ONE in Israel is more deeply concerned than the IDF, which fully understands the critical importance of Israel’s dependence on the US. It will take years to undo the damage. Some will prove irreversible.

There is a fundamental difference, however, between alienation and even fury towards specific Israeli policies and governments, and Israel. That is where Foxman and others go too far. It took the Jewish people 2,000 years to restore our national sovereignty. It is far too early, after a mere 75 years, to distance oneself from Israel. Sorry, it’s unacceptable. Support for the state must remain unconditional and inviolate.

It might also behoove Jewish critics to demonstrate greater humility nowadays; American democracy has not been at its best. In Israel, transfers of power have been unchallenged. Israel’s Supreme Court remains a beacon of moderate jurisprudence.

The US dodged a bullet in the recent elections, barely. Israel was less fortunate, but only due to electoral hubris and miscalculation by the Labor Party. The pro-Netanyahu camp actually won by just a few thousand votes, a majority magnified in the Knesset by a quirk of the electoral system.

Moreover, antisemitism in the US is rampant in a way that most American Jews probably thought could never happen. Israel, for all its myriad faults, remains the ultimate haven. We have your backs.

Although JStreet and others tend to blithely ignore this, Israel is far more than the Palestinian issue, critical though it is, and it continues to face dire threats. Iran’s advancing nuclear program may once again pose an existential threat to the Jewish people. Hezbollah’s mammoth rocket arsenal threatens unprecedented destruction to Israel’s home front. Hamas is a growing threat.

In this light, Miller’s and Kurtzer’s words cannot but feed into the growing calls on the Democratic Left for a dangerous change to US policy, that would condition military aid to Israel on the nature of its policies. Even if they were careful to limit conditionality to a specific policy area, it is the principle that is so troublesome. In the real world, distinctions between offensive and defensive weapons are rarely truly feasible and those between legitimate and malign actions are entirely in the changing mind of the beholder. Military aid must remain unconditional.

It may be hard to remember, but the US-Israeli relationship was quite limited until the late 1960s and even many American Jews had little to do with Israel until its dramatic victory in the Six Day War suddenly made them proud to be Jewish. Now, many are sincerely distressed, others merely ashamed. Tough. Israel never promised the Diaspora a Jewish Disneyland, or a rose garden, and the level of knowledge most American Jews have of Israel’s complex society and security is embarrassingly superficial.

Those of us who live in Israel and who are trying to build a vibrant Jewish state, society and culture, do not have the luxury of hand wringing or ill-advised expressions of conditionality. We still have to send the kids to school and defend Israel’s borders until conditions improve.

Chuck Freilich, a senior fellow at The Miryam Institute, was a deputy national security adviser in Israel. Danny Ayalon, a policy expert at the Miryam Institute, was a deputy foreign minister and ambassador to the US. They are the co-hosts of the Miryam Institute’s biweekly podcast, the Israel Defense and Diplomacy Forum (IDDF).