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Lost in translation: How I decode US policy for Israelis

The problem: Israelis don't fathom the intricacies of Washington -- The solution: these videos

As a world superpower and Israel’s closest ally, the U.S. makes daily decisions that directly impact our lives in Israel. However, the complexity of the American political system — riddled by influential interest groups — makes it difficult to understand, interpret, and respond to American policy. National Interest Waivers, Decertifications, Preliminary Hearings, Special Envoys, and Veto Powers — it seems as if we need to speak Washingtonian just to keep our heads above water. In a new video series called Lost in Translation (LIT), I decode and highlight Washington’s tangled web of policies for Israelis, an effort driven by the belief that a better informed public is capable of making better decisions for the state of Israel.

Every time something significant, complex, obscure, and relevant to Israelis happens in the U.S., I make a video to provide a glimpse into the Washington-insider political dynamics and operations behind such developments. Each episode of the web series is devoted to a separate issue, unpacking it in non-jargony Hebrew (with English subtitles!), to help Israelis parse through it all.

As an Israeli, born and raised, who spent significant time in the U.S., I was afforded a unique opportunity to understand both American politics and Israeli audiences. I spent four years at Yale studying Ethics, Politics, and Economics, but also unlearning some misconceptions that I had grown up believing as an Israeli, about the American political system and the different interest groups that impact it. After graduating, I entered the D.C. policy world, with front seat access to the insider politics of Washington. Straddling these two worlds has not only developed my understanding of the American-Israeli discourse, but has also enabled me to parse through the idiosyncratic U.S. policies. I decided to utilize this dual-perspective to provide Israelis with a useful, concise, and exciting tool to navigate a previously inaccessible realm.

With a rapidly growing community and each video getting thousands of views (up to 11.5K per video), LIT has already begun this process. In its first ten episodes, LIT has unpacked UN resolution 2334, explained Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, broken down U.S. aid to Palestinians, provided context on Mike Pence’s Knesset speech and the evangelical connection to Israel, discussed the Taylor Force Act, given a quick and simple breakdown of how a bill becomes a law, and discussed the consequences of decertifying the JCPOA.

לפני שנה בדיוק, עברה במועצת הבטחון של האו״ם החלטה 2334. איך אנחנו רואים אותה, שנה מאוחר יותר? One year ago today, UN security Council 2334 passed. How do we see it, one year later? English subtitles available.

Posted by ‎Lost in Translation – אבודים בוושינגטון‎ on Saturday, 23 December 2017

Through the videos, LIT hopes to build a knowledgeable Israeli public, which would be more equipped to make wise decisions for the country. I believe that one of the most important of those decisions is how to navigate the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship.

This vital bilateral relationship was not built as a cold and calculated alliance; rather, it was founded on shared values. It has been able to successfully navigate strategic divergences, for at its essence the nature of the alignment is based on a deeply shared understanding and pursuit of democratic values. The American public’s support of Israel is rooted not in geopolitics, but in ideology.

However, over recent years, two concerning trends have emerged. Rather than uniting both sides of the American political spectrum, Israel has become a highly divisive topic, one associated primarily with the Republican Party. Meanwhile, Israel’s support among Democrats has plummeted. Additionally, disagreement and resentment between American Jews and the Israeli government has grown.

מה קרה בנאום מצב האומה? למי הדמוקרטים קמו להריע? State of the Union – what did the Dems cheer for? #SOTU

Posted by ‎Lost in Translation – אבודים בוושינגטון‎ on Saturday, 3 February 2018

LIT hopes to take initial steps to mend both relationship: cultivating our strong and important relationship with the Republican party, while also bringing closer the Democratic party, along with respecting and understanding American Judaism and how the two communities can grow together. LIT hopes to do so by giving its viewers new and necessary information about ways in which Israeli decisions are received in the United States, and a more nuanced view of the communities. Providing access to this information is a critical first step in preserving our relationship with our American allies.

To learn about the U.S., its political system, and the forces behind it; to help build a strong U.S.-Israel relationship; to avoid getting lost in translation, please join the Lost in Translation community.

About the Author
Lia Weiner is a research assistant in the Project for Middle East Peace Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
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