The Kerry Kenundrum

Secretary of State John Kerry has been the talk of the town here in Israel lately, so why not join the fun.  Israelis differ in their answer to the question, “is John Kerry friend or foe?” One has to admit that when there are not a few Jews, not a few Israelis, and not a few Knesset members paralleling sentiments held and statements made by Secretary Kerry, the assertion that Kerry is a foe of Israel is not at all a straight forward proposition.

Personally, for the life of me, I cannot tell whether John Kerry is a clever foe, a bird-brained friend or just a dogged and ambitious personal glory seeker. Perhaps having just turned 70 this past December has ratcheted up his inner fire to leave a lasting legacy to his name.

Whatever Kerry’s correct classification may be, the sad and serious fact is that he is not bringing peace to our little nation, he is bringing war.

A very clever foe whose goal is to weaken Israel without being labeled or recognized as such would act in very much the same way Secretary Kerry has in conducting these latest peace talks. That is, such a foe would seek to be perceived as an honest broker who has Israel’s best interests at heart, all the while setting Israel up as the fall guy if and when the negotiations collapse.

Kerry has not been shy of periodically reminding us of acute international isolation, economic boycotts and the break out of a third intifada if the talks fail. Implicit in these warnings made in front of the world’s cameras is that it is Israel’s choice whether to make peace or not, as if 20 years of Palestinian intransigence and lack of good will can be overcome by Israel simply deciding it wants peace. Furthermore, by making these warnings, Kerry creates all the incentive in the world for the Palestinians to view the collapse of the negotiations as a good outcome, i.e., an isolated, boycotted and sanctioned Israel blamed by the international community for the lack of peace.

The problem with labeling John Kerry as a foe is that Israeli politicians such as Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid and new Labor party head Isaac Herzog are publicly (and quite foolishly might I add) making the very same statements. How can Kerry be accused of being a foe when mainstream Israelis themselves (not extreme left Israelis) agree with his modus operandi and praise him for his conduct? Thus it appears most logical to interpret Kerry as a bird-brained ally whose lack of regional understanding results in lessening the chances for peace rather than strengthening them.

We have seen a song and dance played out on international airwaves in which various Israeli politicians (at times including Prime Minister Netanyahu) condemn a statement or call for a certain concession made by Kerry. This is inevitably followed by Kerry’s cronies (never Kerry himself) essentially saying, “How dare you Israel call us into question after everything that we have done for you!”

Of course it cannot be questioned that the United States has been our most stead-fast ally, helping Israel and coming to its diplomatic defense on many an occasion. But friendship, and what some would term charity, does not translate to the recipient being beholden to the giver’s will, losing the right to make decisions that contradict the will of such a friend.

Imagine that a close friend, who has been there for you on many an occasion in your time of need, takes you on an outing to the deep sea to witness the great white shark. You descend into the protective cage and see the menacing sharks swimming by. Then your long-time friend (who is not in the cage with you) says, “OK, it’s time for you to open the cage door, trust me it will be fine.” You of course hesitate and refuse, knowing a shark will likely enter the cage. Your friend insists and says, “Listen, I understand your hesitation, but trust me, the shark will not enter the cage and your experience will be so much better.” In response to your continued refusal, your friend takes umbrage and states, “after everything I have done for you how dare you disrespect me in this way and call my good judgment into question!”

Israel is the person in the shark cage. Should we open up the cage door simply because it is the United States who requests we do so, while at the same time giving all kinds of dire warnings for our refusal to do so?  Giving up the Jordan Valley is opening up that cage, plain and simple.  Willingly giving power and strategic territory to an entity hell-bent on your demise is opening up that cage.

Many Israelis are currently losing their nerve and adjuring, “open the cage door, don’t you realize what will happen to us if you continue to refuse?” But let’s be clear, exchanging a perceived danger for a clear and present danger (that is deadly shark attack) is no solution. “Well what do you propose then?” “Let’s start with not letting in the sharks.  That is basic, no?”

All this focus on Secretary Kerry has taken the focus off President Obama. At the end of the day, Kerry is pushing Obama’s agenda, and we find the same conundrum trying to assess his intentions. Is Obama friend or foe?

President Obama celebrates Hanukkah and Passover at the White House, but spent 20 years attending an avid anti-Semite’s and anti-Zionist’s church — that is the church of Pastor Jeremiah Wright.  According to credible accounts, America’s security cooperation with Israel has never been better, yet, we are pressured to make territorial and security concessions that will expose our underbelly to the enemy.  President Obama has been instrumental in helping to create the sanctions structure that has effectively hurt Iran and led them to the negotiating table. Yet at the same time, Obama has released that pressure at a critical moment and during the popular 2009 uprising in Iran, he chose not to provide even moral support for the Green Movement protestors on the ground that American interference would be counterproductive, especially in a region weary of American interventionism. Yet Obama did not hesitate to intervene in Egypt, Libya, and of course Israel.

Frankly, at the end of the day, to what degree the Obama administration does or does not have our best interests at heart is irrelevant. Israel knows better than any other actor what is or is not in its best interest.  Our leaders must base their decisions on an on-the-ground assessment of our national and security interests, not based on fear of international pressure. And lately, I no longer can tell whether the Tzipi Livni’s of this nation are deep down motivated by true on-the-ground assessment or fear of how the world will react. Whatever the case, when Miss Livni and others chastise Israel’s political right for refusing to abandon yet another red line, a little humility would be in order.

It has been said before, but needs to be said again. If Israel’s founders had made decisions from a place of fear of world reaction, the Jewish nation-state would have never come to be. Back in those days the pre-nascent nation faced the possibility of a second Holocaust on the very heels of the Nazi calamity. Nevertheless, Ben Gurion declared the independence of the Jewish state. In comparison, today, warnings about economic boycotts has us running scared (not to understate the real existential threats we do currently face). Our nation needs to get a grip and stop trying to satisfy a world which will never be satisfied no matter what we do.

About the Author
Ran Zev Schijanovich was born in Israel in 1970 to an Argentinian father and American mother, lived in Argentina through age 11, and then moved to New York. He made aliyah in 2005 and served as a combat soldier in Golani from the ages of 36 to 38. Ran is graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.