According to many, the United States, perhaps Israel’s best friend in the world, is justified by virtue of its friendship when it publicly calls the Jewish state to account for its civilian presence and military activities in Judea and Samaria, areas presumed to be a part of a future Palestinian state. Serious reflection, however, will demonstrate that the “friends can tell each other anything” argument is not only flawed, but damages the friendship itself.
Last week, speaking about Israel’s long friendship with the United States at the Israeli embassy’s annual Yom Ha’atzmaut party, Ambassador Ron Dermer listed the “countless ways” that the friendship, while tested, remained strong: “generous military assistance,” “loan guarantees,” “vital support at the United Nations,” “bipartisan support” in Congress, Israeli actions against terrorism, intelligence sharing, etc. Acknowledging disagreements over last year’s nuclear deal with Iran, he said that “the test of a relationship between two countries is not how strong it is when their two governments see eye-to-eye, but rather how strong it is when they don’t — and the relationship between Israel and America has passed that test with flying colors.”
Dermer was right, but the real test of a friendship during periods of disagreement is not whether the friendship makes it through to the other side. It is how each party behaves during the fight. And the last year has been a study in how friends should not behave.
Contrast that with the impressive showing Sunday night by an organization literally built upon the idea of friendship.
At the annual Mid-Atlantic regional gala of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, close to 600 people — the region’s largest gathering — demonstrated how the strongest acts of a friend are in deeds, not words. The funds raised are still being tallied, but the dinner in Tysons Corner revealed that the organization’s Northern Virginia chapter had adopted the Nachal Brigade Headquarters battalion of the IDF. The news came on the heels of Executive Director Ari Dallas announcing that the Baltimore chapter was hosting 40 children who had lost a parent in the IDF for a 10-day program at Capital Camps this summer.
“One of the greatest motivators for a soldier,” said Sgt. Eliana Starr, a native of Silver Spring who serves as a lone soldier in the IDF, “is the knowledge that the community at home supports us.”
Ironically, Bill Clinton made a similar statement late last week when defending his record and that of his wife, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Addressing a heckler at a rally, the former president burnished his pro-peace credentials by blaming the Palestinians for not agreeing to his and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of a state in the waning days of his presidency.
Clinton then turned to the 2014 Gaza war in which Israel, targeted by rockets and infiltrated by cross-border tunnels, faced Hamas terrorists holed up amidst a civilian population. The Palestinians, predictably, faced heavier casualties, while Israel stood up against a flood of international condemnation.
“There’s nobody who’s blameless in the Middle East, but we cannot really ever make a fundamental difference in the Middle East unless the Israelis think we care whether they live or die,” said Clinton. “We can’t get anything done unless they believe, when the chips are down, if somebody comes for them we will not let them be wiped out and become part of the dustbin of history.”
Say what you will about the 42nd president or the former first lady and secretary of state hoping to become the 45th. The fact of the matter is that conveying that sense of support, come hell or high water, is the true mark of friendship.
If only Clinton’s sentiment or the FIDF’s open-armed embrace of those putting their lives on the line for America’s steadfast ally in the Middle East was an attitude shared by all decision makers and political aspirants in Washington! But there’s a message for each of us, as well: Those of us who call ourselves friends of the Jewish state, of her military and of her people, sometimes are all too quick to qualify our stance, to modify our support by publicly calling her to task. Well-intentioned dissent among friends is all well and good, but so is knowing when to bite our tongues. When the chips are down, our friends in Israel must never question that we have their backs.
Joshua Runyan is editorial director of Mid-Atlantic Media, publisher of the Washington Jewish Week.