After a series of American objections to Israeli policies (culminating in the annexation of the Golan Heights more than forty years ago) led to protests and suspensions of signed agreements with Israel, Prime Minister Menahem Begin called in US Ambassador Samuel Lewis and gave him a tongue-lashing:
“Are we a vassal state? Are we a banana republic? Are we 14-year-old boys who have to have knuckles slapped if they misbehave?" And Mr. Begin continued: “You cannot and will not frighten us with punishments... Threats will fall on deaf ears… We shall not allow a sword of Damocles to hang over our heads. The People of Israel have lived for 3,700 years without a strategic agreement with America, and will continue to live without it for another 3,700 years."
We are missing a Begin-like response today.
The American government’s hostility to Israel’s new administration is offensive. That is not ameliorated by the fact that it is being prompted, aided, and abetted by so-called American Jewish “leaders” whose progressive politics darkens their attitude towards the Jewish state. The United States has routinely interfered in Israel’s elections, and its domestic and foreign affairs, but the extent to which it is attempting to micromanage Israel’s democracy, duly elected government and policies is unprecedented and shocking.
We are hearing US government officials stating openly that Israel may not expand settlements in Judea and Samaria and had better not annex the central part of our ancient homeland. Furthermore, that Israel may not change its rules of engagement under fire for either our military or our police. We may not amend the law and limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court nor amend the “Grandfather Clause” of the Law of Return that has engendered the Aliyah of mostly Gentiles to Israel over the last several years, if not longer. Israel may not change the status quo on the Temple Mount – i.e., it must maintain discriminatory policies against only Jews – nor may Israel's Knesset enshrine religious freedom protections in our laws to prevent violations of conscience created by the new immorality sweeping the globe.
Similarly, US government officials state that Israel may not take preemptive action against Iran if it so chooses without prior coordination with the US, knowing that prior coordination will certainly abort the potential success of any mission and knowing, as well, that the US will never take preemptive military action against Iran.
Most critically, and repugnantly, Israel is being ordered that its newly elected government may not implement any of the policies on which it was elected and for which the government was formed. In essence, the US will only support the new government if it continues the policies of the government that was routed from office and rejected by the people.
Many Israelis reflexively fear the wrath of Uncle Sam and would willingly forego making any improvements to life in Israel that irritate our benefactor. That contention was never sound, although it was certainly more plausible in Begin’s time that it is today. There is a fear of cutting off American military assistance, but let’s face it. The amount is a pittance in the US budget, not that substantial in Israel’s budget, and – since it is all spent in America anyway – essentially subsidizes the American arms industry which would be the first to protest a cut off. And Iron Dome money is an investment that benefits the US as much as it does Israel.
How much money are we taking about? By comparison, the US has provided Ukraine in one year with the equivalent of 15 years assistance to Israel. It squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan the equivalent of centuries of assistance to Israel. It is not about the money. It is more about the fear of the unknown, of being disfavored by an older sibling whose approval we crave. But nationhood requires independence and life as a banana republic can get very slippery.
Add to America’s condescension towards Israel the FBI’s demand that it investigate the death of the shaheed (as the PA media described her) journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Apparently, the FBI has concluded its investigations of the dozens of journalists and thousands of civilians killed in America’s twenty-year war in the Middle East.
And, apparently, it has no time, interest, or resources to investigate the Jew hatred and related attacks that are sweeping across the United States that has made Jews the number one targeted ethnic group in the entire country.
If interference in domestic affairs of another country is fair game, here are two suggestions: a learned colleague noted that Israel’s Ministry of Justice should send Israeli investigators and attorneys to determine why assaults on Jews go unprosecuted in America – why Jews can be attacked on the street and brutalized and their assailants, if arrested, released immediately on bail, and rarely prosecuted, convicted, or incarcerated. That certainly is unacceptable and should be a high priority for Israel.
Additionally, Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, now headed by the estimable Amichai Chikli, should form a task force to investigate the prevalence and virulence of Jew hatred in America and issue a report that is balanced and caters to no American political party’s agenda. Indeed, such is within the mandate of the ministry which seeks to nurture close ties with Jewish communities around the world and, if necessary, come to their defense. There might not be a Jewish community outside of Israel today that is more under siege than is American Jewry – both spiritually and physically.
The sad reality is that for all the bluster, America is in decline. It is essentially bankrupt, carrying a debt of over thirty trillion dollars and sustaining its economy only by printing money. Its work force is shrinking as government handouts of the freshly printed money to favored constituents disincentivizes work. Its borders are porous and millions of migrants are pouring into the country, further sapping its resources. Some of those illegals have already introduced into America enough Fentanyl to kill every American several times over. Its infrastructure is collapsing. The recent cold wave killed dozens of people and its electricity grid is unable to fully heat many parts of the country.
All that is third world stuff. And its politicians are focused on grandstanding for the cameras, earning money for themselves, and keeping power by suggesting how more awful life would be if their opponents were elected.
It is also in Israel’s interest, as has happened over the last decade, to cultivate and strengthen ties with other superpowers around the world. America is perceived as weak across the globe (Ukraine has paid the price for that) and nations such as China, Russia and North Korea show it little deference. Israel, then, is a ripe target for bullying to try to regain for the US some international prestige.
The contempt that the American government has for Israel’s new administration is breathtaking. It deigns to prescribe for Israel who can be a citizen, who is a Jew, how its police and army should conduct itself, what laws we can pass, where and how we can pray, and even where we are allowed to build our homes and factories.
In due course, the Americans will insist on setting the price of every Milky and choosing who can light the torches on Yom Haatzmaut. There is no other country in the world to whom it would present such dictates – and no other country in the world would pay any attention to it if it did. Israel should listen respectfully and make its own decisions based on the will of the people and the unique requirements of a Jewish state. That does not mean that we should act in a needlessly provocative way; it does mean we must always act in our interests and refrain from constructive acts only when the balance of national interests weighs against it.
US resistance – including that of American Jews – to Israel becoming more Jewish should be met with a “thanks for sharing.” Prime Minister Netanyahu is making a mistake if he visits America presuming he will convince them to act on Iran, but fully aware that he will just be handed a list of things that he may not do. We should stop the preemptive apology tour and we should forcefully reject the implication that we are a banana republic whose existence depends on American largesse and beneficence.
Those days are long gone and we should act like it.
Rabbi Pruzansky was a pulpit rabbi and attorney in America, and today lives in Israel where he serves as Israel Region Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values.