Fears of a United States-Israel rift are likely overblown, according to a national Jewish community relations official.
Martin Raffel told a local audience that despite the U.S. administration’s pique over building plans in Jerusalem and a frosty relationship between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, relations between Jewish organizations and the administration remain ongoing and strong.
Moreover, military cooperation between the two countries “has remained at a very high level,” said Raffel, senior associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “The Obama administration has positioned more arms in Israel than any administration in history.”
In statements from administration officials, he said, “I think I’ve heard the words ‘unshakable’ or ‘unbreakable’ more in the last week than any time I can remember.”
Raffel spoke at an April 29 program sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County. The program, held at Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen, was cosponsored by Neve Shalom, Temple Emanu-El in Edison, and the Jewish Community Center of Middlesex County in Edison.
Raffel, an East Brunswick resident, acknowledged the Obama administration’s relationship to Israel was “the number one Jewish water cooler issue” around the country. He said the community is divided into three camps: those who believe the president is trying to destroy Israel (most of them, he suspects, among the 22 percent of Jews who did not vote for Obama), those who think Obama’s Mideast policies “hit the nail on the head,” and the third — perhaps largest group — who remain uncertain.
Raffel acknowledged that following an initial Israeli gaffe — the announcement of a housing project in contested east Jerusalem during a March visit by Vice President Joe Biden — some U.S. administration officials made it a “bigger issue” than Biden himself had.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “had a tough conversation with Netanyahu and the whole thing just spiraled out of control,” said Raffel.
Yet Raffel also recalled a speech made by Biden during that same trip, in which the vice president stressed the United States “has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel.”
Good for Israel
Still, said Raffel, the settler issue has “the potential to tear Israeli society apart.” Like his predecessors, Obama’s team insists expansion of settlements beyond the 1967 green line is “not helpful” to the peace process — although previous administrations have tended to leave Jerusalem out of the mix.
He added that the JCPA, which represents all denominations and divergent viewpoints, does not take a stand on settlements one way or the other.
Raffel also suggested that Obama’s current approach to Israel is intertwined with wider regional conflicts. With the United States involved in two wars in Muslim countries and trying to halt the nuclear aspirations of Iran, it needs to build alliances with the Muslim world, where the Palestinian issue has become a stumbling block. Clinton has said the Palestinian problem was rarely mentioned in meetings with world leaders in the 1990s. Now, said Raffel, “she has said it’s the first, second, or third issue, Now it is a geopolitical issue and an important factor in [American] foreign policy.”
He pointed out policies that strengthen America’s economic, military, and leadership position in the world are always good for Israel.
“Israel should be in a world where the U.S. is strong and respected,” said Raffel. “I’d much rather have the United States out in front than China, Russia, or the Europeans.”