J Street, blank checks and putting the "squeeze" on Israel
J Street, blank checks and putting the "squeeze" on Israel

“Our aid is not intended to be a blank check,” J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami, stated on October 27, at the organization's annual conference.

This type of so-called "conditioning," "linking," and/or "squeezing" of Israel over US aid and support has an unfortunately long history in Washington and it is time for it to stop, once and for all. It's unseemly and the US - Israel relationship loses its value for both nations every single time this road is gone down.

Ben-Ami's proposed tactics seem very close to those actually employed by Henry Kissinger in the 1970s. Kissinger is due to speak at an upcoming Jewish conference in New York, and it’s worth considering the real cost of this type of rhetoric and strategy.

Distinguished Israeli diplomat Yehuda Avner (1928-2015) saw this close up in his role as a speechwriter, secretary, or adviser to five different Israeli prime ministers, from both sides of Israel's political spectrum—Golda Meir, Levi Eshkol, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, and Shimon Peres. He also served as Israel’s ambassador to both Britain and Australia, as well as in other senior diplomatic positions.

In his widely-acclaimed book, The Prime Ministers, Avner shared numerous remarkable anecdotes—including some troubling episodes involving Secretary of State Kissinger during both the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 1974-1975 shuttle diplomacy between Egypt and Israel.

Avner bluntly refers to American officials—meaning Kissinger—who “tied” Golda’s hands on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, telling her “in no uncertain terms not to fire the first shot,” and even “warned” her “against full-scale mobilization” of Israel’s reserve forces. Over 2600 Israeli soldiers died as a result.

Kissinger did not want Israel to win a decisive victory because he thought that would make it hard to wring concessions out of the Israelis after the war. 

Avner quotes from a conversation between Kissinger and President Richard Nixon on the ninth day of the war. Israel was begging for U.S. weapons. Kissinger, with Nixon’s agreement, was stalling on the weapons shipments. “We’ve got to squeeze the Israelis when this is over and the Russian have to know it,” Nixon said. “We’ve got to squeeze them goddamn hard.”

Kissinger replied: “Well, we are going to squeeze them; we are going to start diplomacy in November after the Israeli elections.”

And squeeze them he did, pressuring the Israelis to release the encircled Egyptian Third Army and various other concessions. When the new prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, hesitated to give into Kissinger’s demands, the secretary of state orchestrated what Avner calls a “brutal” message from President Gerald Ford to Rabin. The message blamed Rabin for the absence of peace and announced a “reassessment” of America’s policy toward Israel. The “reassessment” consisted of a cut-off of all U.S. weapons shipments.

Avner offers a vivid account of Rabin’s confrontation with Kissinger after the message arrived. The conversation began with Kissinger disingenuously claiming that he had “nothing to do with the President’s message.” Avner continues:

“Rabin, lighting a cigarette, glared at him through the flames of his lighter, and said, ‘Henry, I don’t believe you. You asked the President to send that message. You dictated it yourself.’

“Kissinger, shocked, began shouting, ‘How dare you suggest such a thing? Do you think the President of the United States is a puppet and I pull his strings?’”

“Rabin did not answer. He just stood there in stony silence.

“Kissinger, beside himself with frustration and rage, yelled, ‘You don’t understand. I’m trying to save you. The American public won’t stand for this.’ ”

Kissinger’s histrionics were the giveaway. If he genuinely had nothing to do with the message, he would have just calmly denied it. Instead, he was “shouting,” “yelling,” and “beside himself with rage”—because Rabin had the audacity to see right through him.

It was an open secret that President Ford had little knowledge of, or interest in, Egyptian-Israeli diplomacy. He delegated that responsibility to Kissinger and followed Kissinger’s recommendations. The notion that Ford, with no advice or input from Kissinger, had decided on his own to blame the Israelis and cut off weapons, was absurd. And Rabin dared to call him on it.

Equally absurd was Kissinger’s claim that “the American public won’t stand for this.” The American public did not know, or care, whether Israel surrendered some mountain pass or oil field in the Sinai. It was Kissinger who was obsessed with “squeezing” Israel for those concessions. It was Kissinger, posing as a “senior American official,” who tried to incite the American public against Israel by feeding reporters stories about Israel supposedly obstructing peace.

The above should make it clear that the Jewish Leadership Conference erred when it decided to invite Kissinger to be the featured speaker at its upcoming conference. There is still time to cancel.

What's more, before the primary contests start, Ben-Ami should retract his statement. 

Putting the "squeeze" on Israel is wrong whether it is only in words by a former Bill Clinton staffer like Ben-Ami or it is in actual deeds by a Richard Nixon staffer like Kissinger. These type of words and deeds must be condemned by all good friends of Israel. 

Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North America’s U.S. division; Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education and is dedicated to the ideals of pre-World War Two Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Herut's website is https://herutna.org/