From headline to byline, Obama-Bibi looks like the primary fight card of a heavy weight boxing match. The latest decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to decline a request for a meeting – a meeting – by Senate Democratic leaders shows that for every diplomatic tit, there is an equally–vexing tat waiting in the wings for its chance to shine. Meanwhile, the Middle East boils, ISIS kills and maims unabated, Iran continues to press for greater nuclear license, and the ugly faces of prejudice and hatred, never far behind, rear their heads from Paris to Sydney. These indeed are troubling times.
Now, more than ever, the US/Israel relationship requires some grown ups at the table. As an American, pro-Israel, progressive Jew, I have watched with trainwreck-like horror as both my elected leaders and those of Israel play chicken with the delicate but misunderstood essence of our intertwined foreign policies: Israel needs the US more than the US needs Israel, but Americans need Israel more than Israelis need Americans.
Confusing? Perhaps. But the stark truth about the US/Israel relationship is that when it comes to economy and security, Israel needs the US – our support, our aid, and our protectzia. But, ironically, the average Israeli couldn’t care less what America or Americans care about him or her.
Conversely, Americans don’t “need” Israel, but in fact care very deeply about Israel and her people, according to all current polling data. And it is this love for Israel that drives much of the passion we see every year, right around the first week in March, when dueling pro-Israel groups – J Street and AIPAC – converge on Washington to make their case for what the US/Israel relationship should look like. And while they may have two (seemingly) very different points of view, what binds these two groups together is that they both care about Israel.
What this ultimately means is that there is an informational and emotional delta between our two governments and peoples. The relationship between and among each other is often obscured by the temporal ebbs and flows of both domestic politics and global events, creating an uneven push and pull of rational logic and emotional passion, the cognitive dissonance between what is painfully obvious to some while blissfully hidden to others, creating the desperate need for more dialogue, for more collaboration.
Which is why I believe President Obama is making a terrible mistake by snubbing AIPAC. AIPAC is composed 100% of Americans, Americans whose emotional connections to Israel far outweigh their physical need. What is needed by this audience – the audience to whom every US elected official, including this President, answers – is a reasonable, informed, rational conversation about why the United States and Israel share such an important relationship. All snubbing AIPAC will accomplish is to further feed the suspicions of right–leaning pro–Israel Americans that Obama is weak on (or, God forbid, doesn’t care about) Israel, on global terror, and the Middle East, further polarizing two pro-Israel communities in the US and two value-sharing countries that desperately need something tangible to agree upon.
What President Obama should do is go to AIPAC – himself – and directly address his views on the relationship, on the value and substance of his efforts on Iran (which, to be honest, could use some clarifying), and confront the insidious views of a loud minority that Obama is bad for Israel (and, I’m sad to say I’ve heard, the Jews). To explain to tens of thousands of Americans why Israel and a secure, stable Middle East is important to him and the United States, even if he is less than enamored with Israeli leadership.
By rising above the emotions and tactical maneuvering of the moment, he can prove that at least one adult is sitting at the table, taking current events and the relationship between these two countries seriously, not letting petty politics and gamesmanship rule the day. His fellow American citizens deserve more than shallow games. Even if they may disagree with his policies.