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OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

Voicing concern or crossing lines? The American role in Israeli affairs

It’s important to pay attention not just to the explicit expressions of critique but the subtler nuances of diplomatic conduct.

Anti-judicial reform protesters interrupt Knesset member Simcha Rothman during a panel on the Law of Return in Tel Aviv on April 24, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of the Jewish Federations of North America.
Anti-judicial reform protesters interrupt Knesset member Simcha Rothman during a panel on the Law of Return in Tel Aviv on April 24, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of the Jewish Federations of North America.
Jeff Seidel. Source: Facebook.
Jeff Seidel
Jeff Seidel is a prominent figure in the Jewish world, introducing thousands of students to Shabbat, giving free tours and classes through his Jewish Student Centers across Israel, and welcoming all to Israel. He is the author of The Jewish Traveler’s Resource Guide.

In the heart of Jerusalem, I stand amid the ripples of a political earthquake. The contentious storm that is judicial reform has not only enveloped Israel but also piqued interest among the international community. Prominent figures from around the world have voiced their thoughts on the reform’s developments, and perhaps the most influential voices belong to those in the United States. As these reverberations of commentary echo from Washington, D.C., to my own doorstep, I’m compelled to delve deeper. What does America’s critique of Israeli affairs signify, and what ripples does it send cascading across the complex web of international relationships, domestic politics and individual perceptions?

The U.S.-Israel relationship is longstanding and multifaceted, encompassing political, economic and military ties. Statements made by the United States—or any country for that matter—on Israeli affairs can influence both international perception and the domestic political discourse within Israel. It’s important to pay attention not just to the explicit expressions of critique but the subtler nuances of diplomatic conduct. For instance, U.S. President Joe Biden has yet to invite Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to the White House, a courtesy that is often extended to national leaders and a move that could only be perceived as a deliberate omission. Given the long-standing alliance between America and Israel, remarks and gestures from U.S. officials often receive considerable attention within Israeli media and political circles.

So what influence do these comments have on the perception of Israel among Americans? Will this commentary contribute to antisemitism or anti-Israel sentiment in the United States? Public discourse around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly when it comes to Israel’s policies and actions, can be contentious. Statements made by Biden and other high-ranking officials—or even U.S. news outlets—can very easily fuel the hate that already runs so rampantly across America.

Now, I also consider my Israeli counterparts. How do they feel about Americans commenting on the situation? While some Israelis may appreciate the concern of a close ally like the United States, others might perceive it as an infringement on their national sovereignty. Some wonder why these individuals, who are so far removed from the immediate circumstances, feel they have the right to comment on the situation. This phenomenon is not exclusive to the present situation; it mirrors the last major conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip, which became a widely debated topic on social media worldwide. While it’s crucial to foster global conversations about significant events, the question still remains: Should people not directly affected by the outcomes, living thousands of miles away, share their opinions?

A similar dilemma arises when considering the role of American Jews in Israeli affairs. What exactly is their role? Should they be able to vote in elections? Should they be required to join the Israeli military, as all young Israelis are? With a deep-rooted historical and emotional connection to Israel, should American Jews have a say in what happens in the Jewish state? Perhaps they should, given the implications of Israeli policy for Jews worldwide. However, since they don’t directly bear the consequences of these policies, maybe their involvement should be limited.

Furthermore, what implications does the American stance on Israeli issues have on international affairs at large? There are moments in history when the United States engages strongly and decisively, and others when its response seems muted. Notably, when it comes to Israel’s internal matters, the American voice is often loud and clear. When Washington reacts strongly to internal matters in Israel, but not as noticeably to similar situations in other countries, questions about inconsistency, bias and the real motivations behind these stances emerge.

These are the serious questions I find myself grappling with as I see our country being torn apart by different perspectives and ideologies. It’s clear that there are no easy answers—only layered complexities that require thoughtful and sensitive engagement.

In the end, my deepest hope is that the people of Israel and the Jewish people at large find the strength and resilience to navigate through these challenging times with respect for each other, as we always have throughout our history. We are a people defined by our tenacity, our ability to endure and thrive amid adversity.

And if that journey entails receiving support and assistance from our American friends, then let it be so. While it’s critical to navigate the delicate balance between autonomy and global support, there is a place for well-meaning, constructive engagement from our allies. Let us welcome this help as long as it fosters understanding, bridges divides and contributes to an enduring peace, justice and prosperity for all people in the region.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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