(March 11, 2013 / JNS)
The strong ties between the U.S. and Israel find expression in the traditionally bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and in public opinion polls showing that the majority of American voters consistently support Israel and the U.S.-Israel alliance. President Barack Obama’s relationship with Israel, however, has been rocky. His first term included a series of diplomatic snubs, policy statements, and actions regarding Israel that caused serious concern in the pro-Israel community.
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) has publicly raised questions about the Obama administration’s policies toward Israel in the past. Most recently, we strongly opposed the president’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, given Hagel’s record regarding Israel and Iran. We have also criticized the president for pressuring Israel to halt housing construction in its capital, Jerusalem, his treatment of Israeli leaders, and his administration’s failure to stand by Israel consistently in the United Nations and other international forums. Our scrutiny of his policies and our outspokenness will continue, because we believe that how the president conducts his Israel policy is of tremendous importance to America’s security.
In the coming year, the RJC plans to focus on three core priorities.
The first is to advocate for full funding for military assistance to Israel. In these difficult economic times, Israel’s opponents will try to make the argument that our foreign military assistance to Israel is too much. The facts argue otherwise. The vast majority of that aid comes back to the U.S. in the form of purchases of American technology and equipment, which create jobs here at home. The military and technological cooperation between the two countries is of great benefit to both. Also, given the serious threats Israel faces—Iran’s belligerent and genocidal regime, the chaos in Syria and instability in other countries bordering Israel, and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt—continued U.S. military aid to Israel, as promised in the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding President Bush put into place in 2007, is essential to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and maintaining our vital strategic alliance with Israel.
The debate over U.S. policy regarding Iran is another RJC priority. We strongly support enhanced sanctions, increased U.S. diplomatic pressure, and greater international pressure on the Iranian regime. The possibility of a nuclear Iran threatens not only Israel’s existence, but also vital American interests and the physical, economic, and political security of our European and Asian allies. President Obama’s choice of Hagel as defense secretary sent an unfortunate message to the Iranians that high-level members of the Obama administration are willing to allow them more time to pursue their nuclear agenda. The U.S. must make it clear to the Iranians that the pursuit of nuclear weapons comes at too high a price to pay.
Finally, the RJC will continue to actively support the efforts of Israel’s friends in Congress to strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance. We support the recent Senate resolution authored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), which says that if Israel is compelled to take preemptive military action in self-defense against Iran, the United States will provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to Israel. On the House side, a similar measure was authored by the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA). Royce is a steadfast friend of Israel and we anticipate that additional measures to enhance and strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship will be considered by the committee.
In the months ahead, the threats to American and Israeli interests will grow unless the United States demonstrates strong, effective leadership. At a time when urgent domestic economic issues are the focus of national attention—and the president seems more concerned with campaigning than problem-solving—foreign affairs may get short shrift. But for the pro-Israel community and all those concerned about our national security, it is clear that what happens in the Middle East will have a profound impact on our future. We must not let partisan fights or other priorities prevent us from maintaining America’s strength and our vital alliances in the global arena.
Matthew Brooks is the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, www.RJCHQ.org.