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Looking for ‘tough love’ in all the wrong places
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Looking for ‘tough love’ in all the wrong places

Are America and Israel still in love? When it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship, we must be experiencing the “tough love” part.

Secretary of State Clinton declared publicly again recently her own and the administration’s unfettered support for the State of Israel. She also expressed — as a friend or even best friend — that the administration would take liberties with Israel in expressing its concern about another sovereign nation’s policies. This refrain seems to be the president’s favorite theme with regard to Israel.

While it is easy to start with the mantra that Israel is a stable democracy, the only one in the Middle East, and our staunchest ally, the president then comfortably moves on to criticize territorial initiatives with allegations that are not based upon fact and certainly not facts on the ground.

Curiously, our approach of tough love for Israel, which was designed to bring us into closer harmony with Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and other great “friends,” has not quite worked out. Let’s review this assessment.

Turkey recently recalled its ambassador after a committee in the House voted to question the Turkish “genocide” with regard to Armenians. Its Premier Erdogan has edged closer and closer to his Arab neighbors and away from Turkey’s historic military ally Israel. He has publicly criticized Israel and its stand with regard to Palestinians, statehood, and settlements. He has been emboldened by our “friendship” with Israel, publicly slapped down the Israeli government, and questioned Turkey’s alliance with Israel vis-a-vis its regional position.

And what results do we have to show for the administration’s public criticism of Israel with regard to its neighbors? Egypt continues to be a non-democratic, authoritarian state freely criticizing Israel and its largest donor, America — publicly, privately, and without rebuke from the administration. The country appears to be ripe for division since its President Mubarak is aging and infirm and not necessarily able to do a handoff to his son.

Our newest best friend Syria seems not to have moved at all, continues to hold Israel in some public form of contempt, and is the conduit for Iranian arms and military and financial support for groups that publicly destabilize the region. In February the presidents of Iran and Syria pledged to create a Middle East “without Zionists.” Such conduct despite the return of a U.S. ambassador to Syria is not much friendship. The administration’s tough love has caused a bad reaction with our friends. Maybe a rethink is in order.

I keep reading positive messages about the president’s early years, his relationships within the Jewish community of Chicago, and even the fact that he roomed with an observant Jew while in the State Legislature in Illinois, suggesting a deep understanding of Yiddishkeit. Obviously, there are different understandings when it comes to settlements. While I ponder the complexities of our holiday honoring freedom from slavery in its physical and spiritual aspects, I have difficulty understanding this tough love for Israel.

I commend Benjamin Netanyahu for his speech at the AIPAC conference. It was inspirational, accurate, and respectful.

Part of the difficulty we have in America is understanding how to treat ourselves, our friends, and our enemies. Israel is not our enemy. Maybe if we take literally the mantra about that special relationship, we would rethink the tough love and its impact. To whom do we reserve genuine affection? Bestowing that kindness on countries that are not aligned with us and with whom we do not share moral values has not worked. Rebuking Israel does not work either. Let us go forward with a higher moral imperative — celebrating our freedom and the values that join us with Israel and other democracies. To do otherwise denigrates our shared beliefs.

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