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Tough Love: The New Reality of America’s Relations with Israel

“The Times They Are A-Changin,” were the words of the iconic Bob Zimmerman’s (a.k.a. Bob Dylan) sixties song. True then as now: nothing is more certain than change; and ours is, indeed, a constantly changing world with ever shifting priorities. Even solid, longstanding relationship—such as the one between Israel and America—is going through a change. Israel better realize that, not only for its safety and prosperity, but so it will retain its most ardent supporter. The one that supplies it with almost twenty percent of its defense budget; arms it with the best and most sophisticated weaponry; and sticks by it, sometimes even against its own best interests, in the United Nations.

It is not a case, as many American Jews and Israelis prefer to think, of Israel knows better what’s good for its people. That’s goes without saying. However, even in the best of families, the ones where the parents grant every wish their kids desire, give them all the money they ask for, and never say no to them to the point of spoiling them rotten, there comes a time sooner or later for the parents to make a stand; to draw the line in the sand of what’s acceptable and what’s not. It is by no means a question of “if you’ll do as I say, only then I would buy you the new car, give you the money, or love you more.” Rather, it is a question of experience and wisdom, and a larger overview. After all, it says in the bible (Proverbs 13, 24) He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”

So here comes President Obama, showing some “tough love” towards Israel, and suddenly all hell brake loose. (This is not an exaggeration, considering the bigotry, racism innuendoes, even the use of the two “N” words—Nazi and Negro—to describe Obama, coming from some segments of the Israeli society.) Even PM Netanyahu got in on the act, allegedly naming Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod “self-hating-Jews.” (He later tried to retract, of course.) And what does the new administration demand of Israel: To stop all settlement activity without exceptions, as a pre-condition for resuming peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Nothing wrong with that, actually, and nothing new: one way or the other, since the Six-Day-War, all US presidents had demanded a stop to that illegal activity (according to the Geneva Convention).

However, only those who showed a tough stance with Israel, forced her to compromise, had led her then to significant inroads towards peace. Nixon, Reagan, Clinton (to an extent) and Bush the son, were all regarded as great friends of the state of Israel. By naiveté or otherwise, they had paid lip service to these demands, but had allowed Israel to continue with its insane settlement police. Only presidents Carter and Bush the father, who “dared” to challenge Israel and its all-powerful Jewish-American-Lobby, and indeed showed some “tough love,” had achieved progress towards peace and stability in the Middle East. As reported in Newsweek by Jacob Weisberg, first “… with Jimmy Carter, who threatened a cutoff of American aid to pressure Menachem Begin into returning all of Sinai to Egypt, which made possible the 1979 Camp David agreement;” and then with “George Bush (and James Baker) who withheld loan guarantees from PM Yitzhak Shamir, which led to the peace treaty with Jordan, the recognition of Israel by many other countries and first face-to-face negotiations with Palestinians.”

I could never understand why so few Jewish Americans were/are willing to say Israel was/is—OK, just maybe—wrong on this or that. And how, even fewer, were/are willing to exercise their own free thinking/judgment in these matters. As Thomas Friedman wrote in the NYT on August 1st, “For years, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the pro-Israel lobby, rather than urging Israel to halt this corrosive process, used their influence to mindlessly protect Israel from U.S. pressure on this issue and to dissuade American officials and diplomats from speaking out against settlements. Everyone in Washington knows this, and a lot of people—people who care about Israel—are sick of it.”

Include me among them. It is high time to end the monopoly of these organizations on what’s wrong and what’s right for the state of Israel. Jews who voted for Obama should now voice approval for these first courageous steps he is taking to move the stalled Middle East peace cart forward. The facts are that the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan are holding steady. We are friends with benefits, almost. The stalemate with Syria is solvable, and a peace-deal—American and Israelis agree on that—would reduce Syrian involvement with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, bolstering Israeli security. It is the Palestinian issue that for years has brought bloodshed all around. As a matter of fact, the Yom Kippur war in 73 was the last war between Israel and any of its Arab states’ neighbors. It is the Palestinian issue that keeps the fire burning. About time we extinguish that fire, allowing peace to bloom.

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