If you ask the average Israeli whether s/he thinks s/he knows a great deal about America, s/he is likely to answer yes. Events in the U.S. are covered regularly in the Israeli media. American films are screened, American music and TV shows are pervasive, and a high percentage of Israelis have visited America. However, when you discuss American history or politics with the average Israeli, you discover that their knowledge is, by and large, just skin deep.
That being said, despite the ignorance of average Israelis regarding America, one hopes our leadership would be knowledgeable and should understand. After all, Prime Minister Netanyahu spent many years living and working in the United States. The sitting Director General of the Foreign Ministry is American born. Unfortunately, my sense is that over the past several years our leadership has become increasingly out of touch with America. Some of the examples are extreme, like the ridiculous pronouncements made by various government ministers, such as Likud’s MK Yair Levine’s attack on the Reform movement.
However, it is not the actions and views of the junior ministers that worry me, but rather, the actions of the Prime Minister and those closest to him. One example, hard to ignore, was Netanyahu’s support for presidential hopeful Mitt Romney (at a time it was clear to most observers that Romney was going to lose to President Obama.) Netanyahu was not the first Israeli to meddle in the American Presidential election process – though when Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin intervened, at least he picked a winner.
One could write off Prime Minister Netanyahu’s disastrous speech to Congress as simple hubris, after all he truly believes in the power of his rhetoric. Then, the appointment of Ron Dermer as the Israeli Ambassador, (someone clearly identified with the Republican party, during the time of a Democratic Administration), could just be considered a function of the Prime Minister’s loyalty to one of his aids, rewarding him with a plum job. However, Netanyahu’s list of bad judgement and missteps is getting way too long to explain away.
This past week we have been witness to two additional blunders. First, was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s process in deciding to cancel his visit to the U.S., which as a result, necessitated the cancellation of his proposed meeting with President Obama. It is not at all clear what happened in the transmission of that information to the White House. What is clear, is given the miscommunication regarding similar such events in the past, one would have expected the Prime Minister’s office to work overtime making sure whatever decisions were made would be coordinated fully with the White House. Something that clearly did not happen. Amidst the furor of the visit’s cancellation the much larger problem came into focus – i.e. the disagreement between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration regarding the size of the increase in military aid the U.S. plans to give Israel.
I must say it amazes me that after the U.S. offers a relatively generous increase to Israel’s aid package, that we have the chutzpah to tell them that it’s not enough and we want more. I do not understand the source of this feeling of great entitlement; or moreover, how our leaders continue to misread America.
A few years ago I wrote that Israelis did not understand how war weary the American people have become. The U.S. Armed Forces have been fighting in Afghanistan for 15 years. Over the course of that time they also fought a war in Iraq and engaged in various missions in and around Syria. These efforts have been expensive and an exceptional drain on America’s all volunteer army; whose personnel have seen themselves deployed to war theaters across the globe over and over again.
However, the problem is deeper than that. I fear the American people are beginning to tire of our conflict. Whatever one’s feelings are about President Obama, one could not help but be struck when reading Jeffery Goldberg’s interview with the President in the Atlantic, entitled “The Obama Doctrine.” In this lengthy piece, Goldberg states that Obama was reflecting a growing body of opinion in the U.S. that the problems of the Middle East cannot be fixed by the United States. Furthermore, now that the U.S. is no longer dependent on Middle East oil, the regional clashes here are not as important as they once were.
What also should be apparent from the current U.S. Presidential campaign is that being pro-Israel, in the traditional sense, is not necessarily part of a winning election platform. The two insurgent candidates, Trump and Sanders, are arguably the least committed to a traditional pro-Israeli position of all the candidates are both garnering wide, and enthusiastic support.
An indication of what our leaders should be worrying is this post to a Facebook conversation on my newsfeed, written by an old American friend who is not Jewish. This friend posted: “I dunno what to make of Israel anymore. The Israelis dig in and so do the Palestinians. The two-state solution is over and the best hope for peace (from the outside) is a coalition government – and that ain’t gonna happen. So it ends when everyone kills each other.”
We still need a great deal of the aid we receive. We live in a very dangerous neighborhood and regardless of one’s political views, we can all agree that peace is not likely to break out in the near future. At the same time, we must realize that with foreign aid grants remaining very unpopular in the U.S., there is a limit to what we, a fellow member of the OECD, can expect in financial assistance from America.
While we may not be in a position to wean ourselves off of American aid – an act that would be preferable for many reasons – it’s time to leave our Israeli chutzpah at the door. It’s time to say thank you for whatever aid we get and make do with it. America is changing. While the majority of Americans still support Israel as a center of stability and democracy, in an otherwise turbulent Middle East, it’s also clear we cannot expect that support to continue to translate into the massive aid grants we’ll receive forever. It’s time our leaders understand that and act accordingly.