Michael Desch in an oped today suggests that during election season, everyone wants to be a true friend of Israel which they incorrectly think means tilting substantially one direction in Israel’s ongoing struggle for security and acceptance within a very tough neighborhood.
But I agree with him that Israel doesn’t need and (from my discussions with Israeli government officials) doesn’t want lopsidedness from the US or from the diaspora Jewish community in America. They need smart thinking and support for a process that will preserve a Jewish democratic state in Israel and help lead to normalization and stability with the Arab world.
As longtime State Department Middle East adviser Aaron David Miller reminds us in his new book, “The Much Too Promised Land,” “it’s hard to compete and be successful in American politics without being good on Israel.” And so when the AIPAC annual conference coincides with a presidential election, as it did this year, these speeches become bidding wars to demonstrate the fervor of the candidates’ support for the Jewish state. Sen. Barack Obama declared himself the “true friend of Israel.” And Sen. John McCain set the late Sen. Henry Jackson’s uncompromising pro-Israel stance as his “model of what an American statesman should be.” For both, friendship with Israel means embracing the notion that the Jewish state faces dire threats that require unwavering American support.
But the mark of real friendship, as abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher put it, is “to speak painful truth through loving words.” By that criterion, neither of the presidential candidates qualifies as Israel’s true friend. Rather, it has been individuals like former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretaries of State James Baker and Henry Kissinger who have been Israel’s real friends. As public officials, they had a realistic view of Israel’s situation and were willing to criticize the Jewish state and push it at critical junctures in its history for it own good.
My take is a bit different than Michael Desch’s. I have heard Prime Minister Ohlmert, Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon, former Deputy Minister of Defense Eprhaim Sneh and others who are hard-edged and tough about Israel’s interests advocate for a two-state solution that to me seemed authentic. We also now know that Israel has been working out the plans to negotiate with Syria via Turkey. A good move in my book.
America doesn’t always need to be tough on Israel. Sometimes we need to offer criticism — like on settlements and road blocks. And sometimes we need to see that we ourselves are the roadblocks to progress.
The best friends of Israel will be pragmatists, realists, willing to engage in a no false choice process that presents wins and compromises for both sides of the Israel-Palestine standoff.
— Steve Clemons