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More of the same as Israel bites the hand that feeds it

Has the Israeli government crossed a red line in its dealings with the US? It is a reasonable assumption after Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon's recent derisory comments about Secretary of State John Kerry. The public insult was not an errant expression of ingratitude by a lone wolf, but part of a pattern that is symbolic of Israel's attitude towards it "closest ally" and, it must be said, biggest supporter. Because there is something called national pride and honour, many Americans must rightly feel aggrieved, despite Ya'alon's subsequent apology.


More than most, White House officials have not forgotten the disastrous press conference between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their summit on 20 May 2011. The president told journalists candidly, "Obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that's going to happen between friends."

Then, in front of the world's cameras, Netanyahu reprimanded the president thus: "Remember," he declared, "that, before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide. It was half the width of the Washington Beltway. And these were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive. So we can't go back to those indefensible lines, and we're going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan."

White House officials recall that in private Obama was so offended that Chief of Staff William Daley was moved to convey this to Netanyahu's aides. When the Israeli leader sought a second meeting with the president to patch things up, his request was refused.

The continuation of this outlandish impropriety is becoming intolerable and causing Americans to re-think the relationship. While the administration may be dragging its feet, civil society institutions have started to take meaningful steps. The growing calls for a boycott of Israel in American academia and among different church congregations demonstrate this trend. This no-nonsense approach to Israeli indiscretion, which was long seen as peculiar to Europe, is now gaining ground across the Atlantic.

In his newly-released memoirs, former Defence Secretary Robert Gates recalled how he was so annoyed by Benjamin Netanyahu's arrogance and garish ambition that he suggested to National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft that he be barred from entering the White House. Underlying this disaffection is what Gates describes as Netanyahu's ingratitude for all that America has done (and continues to do) for Israel.

Taken altogether, this latest scandal must leave no doubt in Secretary of State Kerry's mind that although the attack may seem personal it does reflect an entrenched tendency on the part of Israel to bite the hand that feeds it.

Ya'alon's offensive remarks as quoted in the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth were clearly not the type a client should make about his benefactor, at least not in public: "Secretary of State John Kerry – who comes here determined, who operates from an incomprehensible obsession and a sense of messianism – can't teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians."

Although the exact motive is open to debate, the remark was enough to draw a response from State Department Spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki, who described Ya'alon's remarks as "offensive and inappropriate, especially given all that the US is doing to support Israel's security needs".

During the past year Secretary Kerry has made ten visits to the region, criss-crossing capitals trying to drum up the support of Arab leaders to pressure the Palestine Liberation Organisation/Palestinian Authority to recognise Israel as a "Jewish state". Several media reports suggest that he is succeeding in this regard.

Castigating the secretary of state for being "obsessive" is understandable, but the accusation of "messianism" is a different matter. The fact is that although the "restoration" of Israel in Zion is fundamental to messianic thought, this goal is "not for the sake of the Jews", as Barbara Tuchman points out. Indeed the return or restoration envisioned by messianism is only in terms of a Jewish nation converted to Christianity. Hence, many Jews view messianism at best with suspicion and, at worst, as abhorrent.

So far there is no evidence to prove that John Kerry embraces messianic thought personally. However, there is no doubt that it is spreading in America. Last year George W Bush signed up for a fundraising event for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, an organisation which aims to promote the second coming of Jesus by converting Jews to Christianity.

In October 2013, the Pew Foundation found that twice as many white evangelical Protestants as Jews say that Israel was given to the Jewish people by God (82 per cent vs. 40 per cent). The study went on to assert that such Protestants are more likely than Jews to favour stronger US support for Israel.

In diplomatic terms Moshe Ya'alon's remark was "no less than an atomic bomb dropped on the sensitive zone of Israeli-US relations". Its impact will cast a shadow beyond Tel Aviv and Washington to include all the other capitals involved in the phoney peace process. When the dust settles, no one must be under or encourage any false illusions. For if Israeli officials can treat their "closest ally" in such a scornful manner, what will the future be like for the Palestinians?

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Asia & AmericasCommentary & AnalysisIsraelMiddle EastPalestineUS
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