Stand up to the bullies in the White House

Stand up to the bullies in the White House

In an article last week that made my jaw drop, The Wall Street Journal reported a profound change in U.S. policy that has the potential to do long-term damage not only to the U.S.-Israel relationship, but to Israel’s very existence. 

And in a reaction equally jaw-dropping, nearly every major Jewish organization (ZOA proudly excepted) failed to make a statement condemning this change.

Long-standing U.S. policy and law allows munitions transfers to Israel to go through a bureaucratic defense department approval process. Reversing that policy last week, the administration halted an already approved transfer, castigated the Defense Department for “blindsiding” it by having honored the request by routine channels, and instituted an onerous new policy to “scrutinize future transfers at the highest levels.”

In other words, the administration is changing the terms of our military alliance with Israel. Now, everything is political.

Never mind that the administration’s accusations are inconsistent with the words of its own Defense Department officials, who repeatedly confirmed that the process for the transfer precisely followed existing procedures. This was a routine transfer of munitions which were already stored at a pre-positioned weapons stockpile in Israel. 

Never mind that Israel is battling for its life with a terrorist entity that has fired thousands of rockets at Israel’s civilian population centers and diverted international aid money to build a labyrinth of attack tunnels. One would expect the administration to approve any resupply of an ally in the midst of such a war. The fact that, under such circumstances, they interceded to stop a pre-approved transfer is beyond alarming.

Make no mistake, these actions were taken explicitly to punish Israel for what the administration perceives as a lack of cooperation or, perhaps, obedience — something not required of other allies or recipients of aid. An anonymous “senior Obama administration official” described the United States as Israel’s “strongest” friend, but added that the “notion that they [Israel] are playing the United States, or that they’re manipulating us publicly, completely miscalculates their place in the world.” 

“Playing us?” “Miscalculates their place?” Sounds like a threat from the bully in my junior high: I’m stronger, so do what I say, or else. 

These statements make clear the hostility of the administration to Israel. And the resulting action, a power grab from the Defense Department and a slap in the face of congressional intent, indicates a fundamental change in the nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship, one that should concern us deeply.

Once again, this administration has shown itself willing to play dirty, to use the administrative power at its disposal to demand acquiescence or extract a price. We saw it when complexities and delays were added to the visa applications of Israelis, resulting in twice as many denials as previous administrations, and a complete cancellation of visa services since July. We saw it again with the swift and unprecedented FAA ban on all U.S. flights to and from Israel coincidental to Kerry’s arrival in the region to press for concessions to Hamas. The FAA usually issues warnings or changes flight paths (as it did, for example, in areas of the Ukraine after a commercial jet was shot down); a complete ban is virtually unheard of. The ban took place at the height of Israel’s tourist season, inflicting economic harm on top of reputation and diplomatic damage. This, too, was apparently done to teach Israel a lesson — that the administration expects Israel to obey or pay, and that Israel’s friends in Congress can’t always help.

Given Israel’s unfortunate location in the midst of the world’s most dangerous region, where order is unraveling by the minute, we cannot take its security, or even its existence, for granted. A hostile US administration that will withhold military support, impose procedural barriers, or force concessions to Israel’s enemies, can inflict tremendous pain on Israel and its citizens. If the United States stops exercising its Security Council power to block anti-Zionist initiatives (as it has already hinted it might), greater physical and economic harm to Israel, and indeed to Jews everywhere, could result. It is a dangerous situation that will only get worse if nothing is done to stop it now.

Which raises the question: Where are the large national Jewish organizations that should be condemning this serious diversion from existing policy? As of this writing, among major Jewish organizations, only the ZOA has publicly condemned the recent policy changes. Why aren’t more Jewish leaders calling out the administration on its bullying and betrayal? Will American Jews again stay silent while other Jews pay the price?

In The Abandonment of the Jews, David Wyman documents the U.S. policies that purposefully obstructed the rescue of European Jews from the Holocaust, and the concurrent failure of the American-Jewish community to press for policy changes that could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives without impeding the war effort. 

Hamas is no less genocidal than Hitler in its intent or efforts. Yet the White House actions directly harm Israel’s ability to fight this scourge. It is yet to be seen whether the American-Jewish community will speak out against these policies, or whether we will bear the guilt of previous generations for failing to speak up before it is once again too late.

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