Much has been made in society, as reflected in the press, about the weakening of the “unbreakable alliance” between America and Israel.
As a retired US Foreign Service officer, now back in Jerusalem for the past 26 years, I presume that the cleavage in relations at the highest level has more to do with the issue of how to confront and stop Iran as a near-nuclear power than it has to do with the judicial reform imbroglio.
The bottom line – President Joe Biden may not want to face and answer Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eye-to-eye on Iran. He may have no intention of lifting the option of military action off the table and exercising it against Tehran together with Israel.
What is most telling in this regard, is that even after the Israeli government reversed course on “judicial reform” by submitting the issue to bipartisan negotiation and compromise at the presidential level, one has not heard truly soothing words from the White House.
So don’t be taken in by a claim that Netanyahu is weakening the alliance. Look to interests, interests, interests. Is the US going to work hand-in-glove with Israel on stopping Iran? It may have decided not to, and not because of Israel.
Don’t be confused by the Biden administration’s maintenance of tactical military cooperation with Israel, even at the highest level, when the strategic underpinning of the White House stance may be crumbling.
Washington's concerns about Israel
This said, Washington has been rightly concerned, as is almost all of Israel, by the degree to which the judicial reform issue became a nearly all-consuming item of internal Israeli debate and, indeed, division. This issue threatened to weaken our national cohesion, and would compound the danger to Israel if allowed to fester.
This is an issue of strategic importance for the US, as well as for Israel, as the fabric of Israeli society and polity appeared to be weakening at a time when external threats are growing, both strategic vis-à-vis Iran and its cohorts as well as political concerning the Abraham Accords. No referral to a so-called “loosening of mutual democratic values” between our two countries should be allowed to cast a smoke screen over this issue. I won’t believe that President Biden is ready to have the fate of nearly 10 million Israelis, including the proverbial second “Six Million Jews,” decided by the degree to which their government is more or less democratic? He does not apply this criterion to strategically important Saudi Arabia and many other states.
But the rock-bottom issue is extremely serious. Israel is the only country and people in the world faced with the choice, “to be or not to be,” to live or not to live, and so should be reassured with iron-clad guarantees, not just words. Many states come and go, with Yugoslavia being a most recent example, but not one of them has witnessed the demise of its constituent nationality.
The American people and their representatives, in the clear US interest, should not allow the Biden administration to usher in a cool alliance with Israel that could lead to a hot war in the Gulf as Tehran ups its dangerous antes. Whether it be by miscalculation or because Tehran and also Russia have read President Biden correctly in his relations with Israel, the disaster will be the same for America, Israel and the rest of the free world.
Be sure that the “evil empire” of Iran is following all of this with very great interest. It is not interested in the democratic values of the Zionist state and its polity, but only in their destruction.
As for the very few confused Israelis who have said that they would refuse to serve or who are suddenly seeking foreign passports, they should reflect on the moral meaning of Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative – act as if you would want all to follow your example.
They surely cannot be ready to abandon 10 million fellow Israelis to their fate, thinking erroneously that they themselves will be saved abroad in a world without Israel. To quote the philosophical parable, the river they will step into will not be the same river that looked so calm and inviting from our otherwise wonderful country.
If their action were to lead to the destruction of the one and only Jewish state, and its safe haven for others, it is not just the wolves nearby who would feast on the carcass. Jackals, internationally, would also partake of such carrion. An early 20th century antisemitic American postcard, “Israelite? The light that failed,” says it all, both for that time, as for now. There would be no safe haven for Jews anywhere in the Diaspora, whether they had abandoned Israel or had never come.
More than ever, this time of pulsating Jewish sovereignty is the time for steadfastness at home and for aliyah from abroad. What is needed is a clearer vision of our responsibility for each other as Jews, for life, whether in Israel or among those who have not yet joined us.
And, as for Israel’s most important ally, America, we should all pray fervently that it also will overcome its own constitutional crises in its and in Israel’s own national interest.
The writer is an American-born retired US Foreign Service officer living in Jerusalem. He served 13 out of 30 years in Muslim countries. He is a board member of the Israel Interfaith Association and founder of the non-sectarian Jewish Covenant Alliance: www.covenantalliance.org.