In a recent interview, the leader of the opposition, Tzipi Livni, expressed her fears for Israel-Diaspora relations. I would like to set Tzipi Livni’s mind at rest. We are a strong, independent country. Many, many years ago, when the fledgling State of Israel was struggling for recognition and financial viability, support and donations from the diaspora were gratefully received. Help from the diaspora was critical at a time when the future of Israel was very much in doubt and we do not forget.
However, Israel is now a world-class economic power and we no longer need charity. We hope that we can enjoy good relations with our fellow Jews in the United States, but this must be based on mutual respect and understanding.
There is a widely-held myth that the American Jewish population influences US government policy towards Israel. Without American Jewry, US support would be in doubt. We would not be able to rely on the US to protect us against the world. The US might abandon Israel.
Sadly, the United States has a long history of abandoning its friends and allies. We should understand that the US does what all other countries do; it looks after its own interests. If, for any reason, US and Israeli interests should diverge, Israel would be abandoned without further thought.
Let us look at a few examples of American reliability as an ally.
WWII began with Nazi Germany’s attack on Poland in September 1939 and Great Britain’s immediate response. The United States did not come to Britain’s aid. The US decided to enter the war only after the Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, over two years later. Yes, the US waited two full years before coming to the aid of its closest ally.
Consider the case of Noriega, or Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno, to give him his full name, president of Panama. From the 1950s until shortly before the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, Noriega worked with the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA employed Noriega as a source of intelligence and to transfer illegal weapons and military equipment to various counter-insurgency forces operating with US backing throughout Latin America.
In 1971, the news media picked out the phrase War on Drugs from a press conference given by President Richard Nixon. The term quickly gained popularity amongst the general public. The US administration gladly accepted Noriega as an ally in this ‘war’. His CIA handlers were well aware that Noriega himself was involved in drug trafficking and, as a result, had built a considerable personal fortune. However, due to his usefulness to the U.S, they chose to look away.
By early 1988, the US government was getting tired of Noriega, and started negotiations seeking his resignation. However, after long and inconclusive talks, the negotiations broke down; Noriega had no intentions of resigning. Using several incidents of harassment of US servicemen, including the shooting of a Marine, as a pretext the US invaded Panama. Although the United Nations General Assembly condemned the invasion as a “flagrant violation of international law”, the US was not impressed. They saw no problem with an illegal act of war that killed an estimated 3,000 civilians and caused $1.5 billion in property damage in order to capture just one man.
Noriega’s luck ran out. He was captured and flown to the US. Tried on charges of racketeering, drug smuggling, and money laundering, he was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
During his trial, the government stated that Noriega had received $322,000 from the U.S. Army and the CIA. Noriega claimed that he had been paid nearly $10,000,000 and tried to give evidence about his work for the U.S. government. The court ruled that information about any operations involving Noriega, for which he had purportedly received payment from the US, was not relevant to his defence. The court decided that “such evidence might confuse the issues before the jury”.
Noriega was held in prisons in the US, France and finally in Panama until his death in 2017. He had plenty of time to contemplate the wisdom of relying on the United States of America.
The South Vietnamese could tell us a thing or two about US reliability. President Nixon sabotaged Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1968 peace initiative to bring about an early end to the Vietnam war. Nixon feared that a successful outcome would give his opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, an advantage in the 1968 election. He ordered his campaign director to scuttle the peace talks, or as he put it to “monkey wrench” the initiative. As a result, the war raged on for another seven years, with countless victims on all sides.
As a further illustration of the value of US support, in January 1975 the provincial capital, Phuoc Binh, was attacked. President Ford asked Congress for funds to assist and re-supply the South before Phuoc Binh was overrun, but Congress refused. Not surprisingly, the failure of the US to respond left the South Vietnamese thoroughly demoralized. In April 1975, the US organised the largest-ever helicopter retreat as Saigon fell, leaving their Vietnamese allies to their fate.
More recently, we saw how President Obama treated the Iranian people’s protests against the results of the 2009 elections. Early returns showed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his way to re-election. But the former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi denounced the result as fraudulent and declared himself the winner. His supporters gathered in the streets of Tehran to celebrate his claim to victory, but police dispersed them with tear gas and gun fire.
Mike Pence, vice president of the United States, wrote: “In the wake of the demonstrations and the regime’s brutal attempts to suppress them, President Barack Obama repeatedly failed to express America’s solidarity with the Iranian protesters. As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I recognized the lack of action for what it was: an abdication of American leadership.”
So, Ms. Livni, we must rely on ourselves, our brave men and women serving in our armed forces, our resilient population, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze, Samaritans and Bahá’í (my apologies if I have forgotten anyone) and our strong and vibrant economy. Let the diaspora Jews worry about themselves – they certainly have plenty to worry about.