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The United States faces a close but turbulent relationship with Israel – UnlistedNews

Long before moving into the White House, President Biden compared the relationship between the United States and Israel to that of close friends. “We love each other,” he said, “and we go crazy.”

The US and Israel are currently in one of those freaking out phases of each other from their usually close but often turbulent 75-year partnership.

The upcoming vote on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to control the judiciary has become the latest point of contention, as Biden warns against pursuing a plan that has deeply divided Israeli society, while the prime minister essentially tells him to step aside.

What makes this moment different is that the break has nothing to do with foreign policy and national security issues that often spark disagreements, such as arms sales, Iran’s nuclear program, territorial claims or the long-standing drive to forge peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, it is a strictly internal issue within Israel, namely the balance of power and the future of freedom in the only historic bastion of democracy in the Middle East.

Friction between friends has complicated cooperation in other areas where the two allies have common interests. For months, Biden refused to invite Netanyahu to Washington, preventing at least some meetings between lower-level officials. The president relented last week, agreeing to meet at an as-yet-unspecified time and place in the United States later this year, but then felt compelled to issue a public statement making clear he had not changed his mind about Netanyahu’s campaign to curb judicial independence.

Debate over the prime minister’s plan, which drew hundreds of thousands of protesters to the streets of Israel over the weekend in the past month of demonstrations, has also spilled over into the Jewish community in the United States, at a time when growing partisanship has threatened to undermine American support for Israel.

“People who are left of center are concerned or more upset in general than people who are right of center,” said Nathan J. Diament, executive director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, one of the country’s largest Orthodox Jewish organizations.

“There are many people in the American Orthodox community whose views on the fund are sympathetic or supportive of the reforms,” he added, noting that his community leans more politically conservatism, “but are nonetheless concerned about the division that the process has caused.”

Still, he and other longtime supporters and analysts said they remained confident that the US-Israel relationship would endure. After a liberal Democrat congresswoman called Israel a “racist state,” the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution declaring otherwise. Only a handful of Democrats boycotted President Isaac Herzog’s address to a joint meeting of Congress last week, and most of the rest gave him a standing ovation.

Robert B. Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the fight over the court plan was “the clash of the century” inside Israel, but did not really affect relations with the United States in any profound way. “It’s a bit of a light controversy,” he said. “In historical terms, this does not begin to classify as a crisis between the United States and Israel.” Instead, he said, “this is really a fight within the family.”

The United States and Israel have had one of the most intimate partnerships in the world since the Jewish state was founded in 1948 and recognized minutes later by President Harry S. Truman. But conflict has been in the DNA of the relationship from the beginning. All presidents, even the most outspoken supporters of Israel, have fallen out with Israeli prime ministers at one time or another.

Despite recognizing Israel, Truman refused to sell offensive weapons to the new state, as did his two successors. Dwight D. Eisenhower forced Israeli forces to withdraw from Egypt after the 1956 Suez Crisis. Ronald Reagan was outraged by Israeli lobbying against his sale of high-tech aircraft to Saudi Arabia. George HW Bush was so opposed to Israeli settlement plans that he suspended $10 billion in home loan guarantees.

Netanyahu has been at the center of many disputes in recent decades. When he was deputy foreign minister, his public criticism of the United States in 1990 led an angry Secretary of State James A. Baker III to ban Netanyahu from the State Department. Once Mr. Netanyahu became prime minister, Bill Clinton was so dispirited after his first meeting in 1996 that he later asked his advisers: “Who is the superpower here?using an expletive for emphasis.

Barack Obama and Netanyahu, never friendly, further estranged when the Israeli leader delivered a speech to a joint meeting of Congress to lash out at US efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran. Even Donald J. Trump, who went out of his way to give Israel virtually everything on his geopolitical shopping list, finally broke up with Mr. Netanyahufirst over a disagreement over annexation and then over Israel’s congratulations to Mr. Biden on winning the 2020 election.

Mr. Biden’s relationship with Mr. Netanyahu has been rocky for years. Mr. Biden once said that he had gave a photo to Mr. Netanyahu with an inscription using her nickname: “Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing you say but I love you.” As vice president, Mr. Biden was undermined during a visit to Israel by a settlement announcement. But Biden later insisted that he and Netanyahu “were still friends.”

In some ways, Mr. Biden’s approach to Israel has been different from his modern predecessors. While he has reaffirmed US support for a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, Biden is the first president in decades not to seek peace talks, an acknowledgment that there are no prospects for success any time soon.

That in itself should have been a relief to Netanyahu, who has long resented US pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. But Mr. Netanyahu has openly criticized Mr. Biden’s effort to negotiate a new nuclear deal with Iran, while Mr. Biden has called Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet “one of the most extreme” that I had ever seen.

The judicial changes have been the last sensitive point. When Vice President Kamala Harris addressed a celebration of Israel’s 75th anniversary at the country’s embassy in Washington last month, just two words in her speech described the shared values: “independent judiciary” — prompted Foreign Minister Eli Cohen to say he hadn’t even read the plan. Yair Lapid, the opposition leader, recently lamented that because of Mr. Netanyahu “The United States is no longer our closest ally..”

Despite all that, Satloff said he didn’t think Biden was “picking a fight” with the Israeli leader, which led to last week’s invitation. “I think the administration came to the conclusion that this tactic of holding up a presidential meeting had run its course,” he said.

Biden doesn’t think much of the judicial restructuring package, however, going so far as to summon Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist, to the Oval Office last week to deliver the message. Mr. Biden urged Mr. Netanyahu to “not rush” his changes and “look for the broadest possible consensus here.”

The advisers insist that Biden is not trying to engineer a specific outcome in an ally’s domestic politics. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said the president was simply offering “judicious but direct” advice.

“This is not about us dictating or lecturing,” Sullivan said in a brief interview after an appearance last week at the Aspen Safety Forum in Colorado. “It’s about us deeply believing that the foundation of our relationship is our common democratic values.”

Other Democrats also said it was appropriate to weigh in with a friend. The huge street protests “should be a cautionary note to elected leaders in Israel and I hope they give them pause,” said Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and a close Biden ally.

But some Republicans blamed Biden for intervening in an internal problem. “He may know more about the judicial system and feel comfortable telling the Israeli people what they should do,” said Sen. James E. Risch of Idaho, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. “I don’t think that’s any more appropriate than they should tell us how we should vote on the Supreme Court here.”

In the American Jewish community, the issue has not generated the same passion that is seen on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

“People who were very involved in the Jewish organizational world were certainly activated by the proposed judicial reform, but I don’t think this caught on in the American Jewish community overall,” said Diana Fersko, chief rabbi of Village Temple, a Reform synagogue in Manhattan.

Rabbi Fersko, author of a book on anti-Semitism to be published this summer, said the issue is complicated, pointing to deep differences between Israeli and American societies. “I don’t think the American Jewish community should get too involved in this,” he said. “But I do think that we must have a deep belief that the state of Israel will find a way forward.”


Sara Marcus
Sara Marcushttps://unlistednews.com
Meet Sara Marcus, our newest addition to the Unlisted News team! Sara is a talented author and cultural critic, whose work has appeared in a variety of publications. Sara's writing style is characterized by its incisiveness and thought-provoking nature, and her insightful commentary on music, politics, and social justice is sure to captivate our readers. We are thrilled to have her join our team and look forward to sharing her work with our readers.


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