Daily Israel Report

Former Envoy: History Proves Israel Can Withstand US Pressure

Former envoy to US insists Israel can and should stand up to US pressure - particularly under 'dramatically weak' Barack Obama.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 5/14/2014, 11:17 PM

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama
Flash 90

Former Minister for Congressional Affairs to Israel's Embassy in Washington Yoram Ettinger spoke at a Women in Green conference on sovereignty in Judea and Samaria on Tuesday, explaining why Israel can - and should - make its own decisions regardless of US pressure, 

"I declare that anyone who argues that Israel cannot withstand the pressure of an American president, especially against existential threats like nuclear Iran and Islamic terrorism, is either dramatically wrong or outrageously mislead," Ettinger declared.

The source of such errors, he said, is a lack of understanding of the US political system and the complicated dynamics in the US-Israel relationship. 

Ben-Gurion: where it all began

Ettinger based his theory on past history. Several Israeli leaders have stood their ground despite American pressure before - often with very good results for Israel.

"In 1948 [David] Ben-Gurion had no army, economy, or demographic strength on his side," Ettinger noted. "The US had an arms embargo while the British were transferring arms to Arab countries. To add to the pressure, the CIA stated that there was 'no chance' for Israel to win the conflict, and even said that Ben-Gurion would be responsible for a 'second Holocaust' within ten years [due to failures in battle]." 

"Ben-Gurion said 'no' - and established the State of Israel" anyway, he said. 

Ettinger went on to recall more of Ben-Gurion's stubbornness against the US government, including his refusal to stop settling the Negev, his unification of Jerusalem, and refusal to swap land. In all these cases, Ettinger said, Ben Gurion said "no" to US pressure and did what he felt was right for the fledgling nation.

And that stubbornness was precisely what inspired such close relations between the two countries.

"Americans came to appreciate the Israeli government," Ettinger said. "The first American ambassador [to Israel] describes in his book the fact that a short Jewish man said 'no' to an ultimatum from Secretary of State George Marshall, a World War Two hero, a man for whom the world stands at attention. Afterwards, the [ambassador] wrote extensively about his appreciation of Ben-Gurion, who stood up for the idea of a Jewish State." 

"After seeing Israel's stamina and fighting spirit, the US military chief began to call Israel an ally," Ettinger explained. 

Through the ages

Ettinger noted that a distinct stubbornness has marked good Israeli policy-making throughout its history. 

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol received US threats over attacking Egypt [during the Six-Day War], he stated - the outcome of which simply earned him more respect from the US. 

Prime Minister Menachem Begin's decision to bomb the Iraqi nuclear reactor had a similar effect, he said. 

"When Begin dared to bomb the Iraqi nuclear reactor, he turned the line Americans fed him to refrain from drastic action on its head, and added to its respect for Israel," Ettinger stated. "[Later], during an event for the security establishment after the first Gulf War, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney said, 'I want to thank Israel, who a decade ago, bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor and saved us from dealing with this reactor now.'

"Yitzhak Shamir [also] stood in front of American leadership and understood how to be an Israeli prime minister who stands up to American pressure," he added. 

Respect vs. popularity 

The former Minister then turned to present-day tensions. 

"Israel withstanding pressure upgrades its respectability, even if it's not a popular move," he began, describing the current US-Israel relationship as "less pressured than ever before." 

He stated that US pressure is comparatively insignificant, due to the "dramatic weakness" of President Barack Obama - a weakness which severely threatens fellow Democrats, who fear of losing their hold on Congress due to mid-term elections. 

"When a leader is weak at home, his ability to exert pressure in the realm of foreign policy winds down to practically zero," Ettinger noted. He said that if Congress flips to majority-Republican, Obama could be a "lame duck" president until the end of his term. 

"Obama must keep the Senate majority, and for that reason he cannot anger large voting blocs," he said. "Sympathy for Israel is the last unifying theme in American politics so, at least until November, Obama must walk on eggshells when he makes statements toward or about Israel." 

Demographics and democracy

Ettinger concluded by shattering misconceptions over the Arab world's supposed demographic victory in Israel. He showed statistics proving that Jewish fertility has risen dramatically since the nineties - and that Arab fertility is actually on the decline.

In total, he said, Israel - including Judea and Samaria - is now 66% Jewish. He also stressed that while the Palestinian Arab leadership likes to inflate the numbers, saying at one point that there were 2.7 million people in Judea and Samaria, the reality is far closer to 1.7 million. 

Theodore Herzl and David Ben-Gurion both warned of demographic danger to world Jewry, he noted - but the Jewish people nonetheless remain. Historian Simon Dubnov, a contemporary of Herzl, called a Jewish state a mere "dream" and predicted just 500,000 Jews living within its borders by the year 2000. Herzl, undeterred, still became the founder of modern Zionism. 

Ben-Gurion faced similar issues, he said. In 1947, Ben-Gurion was faced with statistics claiming a 30% Jewish presence in Israel by 2001. 

Jewish population-growth is a "key player" in Israel's future, Ettinger said, and called it "the flesh and soul of the Jewish state." According to him, the Israeli government cannot sit back and let immigration happen naturally, but should invest deeply in encouraging as much immigration as possible. 

As for the future?

Ettinger predicted another half a million Jews moving to Israel within the next decade alone - and insisted that is just the beginning of the full potential of what can lay ahead, if the government works toward it.