Oren and Obama: Let’s hear it for ‘daylight’

Former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren accuses President Obama of departing from the traditional U.S. posture toward Israel, that of “no daylight” between the allies.

Aside from the fact that this posture is by no means a tradition — having been adopted by no U.S. president ever — it is terrible public policy and a bad way to conduct any relationship, personal or institutional.

Think of the people in your life, the people with whom you are closest. Is there any one such person with whom you can honestly say there is “no daylight” between you? If you could find such a person, what kind of a relationship could you have with him or her? It would be like talking to a mirror.

Relationships thrive based not only on commonalities, but also on differences. We benefit from experiencing different ideas, interests, and points of view. Rubbing up against people with differences shapes us and allows us to change. Hearing feedback from a different point of view allows us to escape from the trap of our own preconceptions and the tendency to encapsulate ourselves in our bad habits.

A relationship with no daylight is not love or friendship but subservience, slavery, or cloning, although even a clone would develop differences over time.

As far as public policy goes, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has shown no inclination to modify his public stances to eliminate daylight between himself and the U.S. president, Oren would seem to want Mr. Obama to modify his own to conform to that of Mr. Netanyahu. This would mean that the Israeli government is given the power to dictate the policy of the United States. While the two countries share many interests and values, their interests and values are not, and should not be identical. President Obama is obligated to support the interests and values of the United States, not those of another country, even one with whom we have a strong and close relationship.

And as with individuals, “no daylight” between nations is not the mark of a good friend. When one sees a good friend doing damage to himself or herself, is the action of a true friend to stay silent or to warn the friend, as forcefully as possible, of the danger?

Sunlight (or daylight) is said to be the best disinfectant. And, despite Israel’s many commendable qualities and actions, there is much in Israel that needs disinfecting. Palestinians living within Israel proper are at best, treated as second-class citizens, while in the West Bank, they are deprived of many basic rights and subject to violence by settlers who commit criminal acts against them with impunity. These are not only violations of human rights, they are also a festering wound in the well-being of the Israeli community.

The farther Israel moves from a two-state solution, the more it builds and consolidates settlements, the more it tolerates racist words and actions, the more it strengthens Hamas while weakening Palestinian moderates by vilifying and sidelining them, the more it jeopardizes its own future as a Jewish and democratic state.

Let me be clear. When anyone says things like those I am saying here, he or she is accused of being one-sided and letting the Palestinians off the hook. So let me say in no uncertain terms that the Palestinians have a great deal to answer for as well. They have allowed a terrorist organization to take control of Gaza. Some have committed atrocities against innocents. Palestinian public discourse has been polluted with anti-Jewish rhetoric. However, none of these justifies the self-destructive actions of Israel. And the United States in general, and American Jews in particular, do not have the same close relationship with the Palestinians that we do with Israel. This close relationship obligates us to a special degree of honesty toward our friend.

Israel needs an honest friend to let it know that its self-destructive actions do not go unnoticed and that we do not accept them. We need to press our friend to save itself from disaster.

Long live daylight.

This piece originally appeared on the New Jersey Jewish News website.

About the Author
Martin J. Levine is a volunteer leader at J Street, serving on the Executive Committee of its Northern New Jersey chapter and as the Communications Chair for the chapter.
Comments