The tension between Washington and Israel is less a signal of weakening American support than a clash of worldviews, said a longtime diplomatic correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.
America, Herb Keinon told a local audience, views Israel’s problems from afar and does not feel the same pressure to resolve them.
The views of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, by contrast, are colored by the constant threat of terrorism and war and the close proximity of hostile neighbors.
“Terrorism changed the country to a great degree,” said Keinon. “The country got mugged by the second Intifada.”
Keinon spoke Nov. 8 at Congregation Ohr Torah in Edison, in a talk sponsored by the Orthodox Forum of Edison/Highland Park.
Despite the tension, Keinon said, both Israel and the United States agree about what the problems are, and both believe Israel must be safeguarded. The relationship between the two countries remains strong, and Israel continues to enjoy overwhelming support in Congress, among the American public, and with the business community.
Moreover, he pointed out, there have been spats with American presidents in the past that have inflicted no lasting harm.
Keinon, a Denver native who has worked at The Jerusalem Post for 28 years, said years of violence “flipped” the Israeli public from one of optimism and support for the peace process surrounding the Oslo Accords of 1993 to a hardline position of “risk aversion.”
Keinon recalled his own service as a combat medic on the Lebanese border in April 2002. “As I hunkered down in my bunker with my flak jacket, I felt safe.”
However, that month was one of the bloodiest in Israel’s history; it included the terrorist attack on a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya that killed 27 people. Keinon said he constantly worried about the safety of his wife and children at home.
For those, like the oldest of his four children, now 26, who grew up in the shadow of terrorism, “it shaped his view of security and politics.”
“That is why 93 percent of the Jewish population thought the government did the right thing in Gaza,” said Keinon in reference to this summer’s Operation Protective Edge. “That sense of insecurity, that is where this comes from and which animates Israeli politics, and the world doesn’t get it.”
That “disconnect” is why the land-for-peace argument has lost its appeal among the Israeli public, because when “you have [smuggling] tunnels coming up in the South, the idea of land doesn’t matter.”
The American administration is still pushing the land-for-peace concept, but Israel’s “risk-adverse mood” has prevented it from getting on board, a situation that has frustrated the United States.
Likewise, while neither Israel nor the United States will tolerate Iran’s becoming a nuclear power, the line in the sand is different for each.
“The Americans say they want to prevent Iran from getting the nuclear bomb,” said Keinon. “The Israelis want to prevent nuclear capability by Iran. That’s a big difference.”
That divergence is a result of Israel’s sense of vulnerability and its proximity to Iran, whose threats to annihilate Israel remind many of the Holocaust, said Keinon.
“They forget there is a country close to being a nuclear power, which wants the same thing as [ISIS], an Arab caliphate,” he said. “Iran is much, much more dangerous. ISIS wants to create an Islamic regime; Iran already has one.”
Not that Israel is itching for the military option.
“Historically, when Israel feels its back is against the wall it has taken action, even over the objections of the Americans,” he explained. “The fact that it hasn’t acted until now means we haven’t felt our backs are up against the wall.”