Getting the U.S.-Israel Relationship Back on Track

  • November 7, 2015

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives this weekend in the U.S. and prepares to meet President Obama next week, there is an opportunity for the two countries to reboot relations heading into the final stretch of the Obama Administration.

Some believe this will be challenging. Many have written about the personality clash between the two leaders. But I think the impact has been exaggerated. However, there certainly have been significant policy differences between them over the past several years.

This was particularly obvious during the debate around the so-called Iran deal. In that fractious exchange, there were tough words exchanged all around. At times, competing claims degenerated into slanderous attacks. But both sides should now take a deep breath.

Even deal opponents should recognize that President Obama chose a path that he and many experts believed to be sensible. Based on the analysis of experts, the administration felt that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action served not only the U.S. national interest but also the interests of our allies in the region, including Israel. The Anti-Defamation League did not agree with this assessment, but many experts and organizations did.

When he adopted this position, some foolishly labeled the president and his aides as anti-Semitic, a groundless charge that seems especially weak after a cursory review of the facts. President Obama and his team have consistently renewed military support for the Jewish state and provided diplomatic support for Israel at the United Nations and in other fora. Moreover, not only has the president provided moral support to Israel by linking the quest for Jewish sovereignty to the American civil rights movement, but he has joined U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and Pope Francis as world leaders who appropriately have questioned the true motivations of those who reject Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state.

By the same token, deal supporters should acknowledge that Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli government took a strong stance against the deal, not out of a desire to be oppositional to President Obama or because of a political agenda. Rather, the Israeli position was derived from a strongly held view grounded in facts that a militarized and normalized Islamic Republic is an existential threat to Israel. Critics who deny this fact seem dangerously out of touch with reality.

Indeed, since the deal was signed, the Islamic Republic has explicitly repeated its refusal to accept Israel as a legitimate member of the family of nations. Iranian proxies continue to pursue terrorism against the Jewish state. The hostility and militarism of the regime has not ebbed in any perceptible manner. And, if we take the Iranian leadership at their word, including recent statements by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, it would appear that Israeli concerns are well-founded.

Further compounding legitimate policy differences, individuals on both sides occasionally have resorted to ad homenim attacks, whether individuals in Jerusalemderiding President Obama as anti-Semitic or unnamed officials in the administration disparaging Prime Minister Netanyahu as "chicken-s---." In both cases, officials diminished themselves and their nations with such crass slander.

Looking ahead to the upcoming visit, both sides have an opportunity to move past the acrimony and acknowledge that the two countries have far more in common than the issues that divide them.

For the U.S., Israel remains a robust democracy and a bedrock island of stability in a region that seems less stable by the hour. Israel's commitment to the rule of law, basic freedoms and human decency distinguishes it from every other country and non-state actor in the Middle East. And the Jewish state is a hub of innovation whose technological achievements power our products, whose groundbreaking research supports agriculture and manufacturing, and whose scientific advancements enable medicine and uplift humanity. And the American people at a grassroots level empirically support the Jewish state.

For Israel, the U.S, remains its most important ally. America has been unflinching in its support for Israel in international circles and multilateral fora that all too often ostracize the Jewish state. The U.S. has been a crucial source of military assistance but also an extraordinary reservoir of economic support and commercial investment at a time when the cancer of "Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions" continues to grow. And America's bedrock commitment to a fair and just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one that guarantees Israel's legitimate security interests, remains crucial to the long-term prospects for peace in the region.

And, as incitement persists and violence continues to flare, both the U.S. and Israel still share a fundamental interest in seeing an eventual end to the conflict through a two-state solution. To get the process back on track, preliminary steps will be required, including a cessation of violence on the Palestinian side and the reestablishment of trust among both parties. Nonetheless, the U.S. and Israel share an interest in facilitating this outcome and achieving a just and lasting peace for all parties.

America and Israel have far more in common than the critics care to mention. Next week -- when the leaders shake hands -- it will be an opportunity to remind the world of the shared interests that bind the two nations.