Yesterday Alana wrote that Israel’s government urgently needs to improve its public relations. That’s just become a lot more urgent, and the first step is obvious: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should fire his defense minister immediately.
In an interview in today’s Wall Street Journal, Ehud Barak announced that Israel might ask Washington for another $20 billion in aid due to the unrest now sweeping the region. As an Israeli, I’m cringing in shame.
The U.S. currently faces a massive deficit that threatens the country’s very future, and Congress is slashing ruthlessly in an effort to curb it. Almost nothing has been spared the ax — with one glaring exception: a sweeping majority of Congress still opposes any cut to the annual $3 billion in American aid to Israel, because at a time when Israel is facing an unprecedented international delegitimization campaign, Congress doesn’t want to do anything that might imply faltering support for America’s longtime ally.
It’s an extraordinarily generous gesture, and as I’ve written elsewhere, the only proper response would be for Netanyahu to do what he did during his first term as prime minister 15 years ago: announce a phased, multi-year cutback in aid at a joint session of Congress. Precisely because it is such a tangible expression of American support, American aid sends an important message to Israel’s enemies; thus, eliminating it altogether might be unwise. But Israel’s economy is certainly strong enough to cope with a cutback, and if it were an Israeli initiative, it wouldn’t imply faltering American support. On the contrary, it would strengthen the relationship by showing that it’s not a one-way street, that Israel is also sensitive to America’s needs.
Instead, as if he were blind, deaf, and dumb to everything that’s happened in America over the past few years, Barak declared that he wants to seek an increase in aid. As if America were nothing but a cash cow, with no urgent monetary needs of its own. This is a public-relations disaster, one guaranteed to alienate even Israel’s strongest supporters in Congress unless Netanyahu makes it immediately and unequivocally clear that his defense minister’s proposal is unacceptable.
But it’s also a strategic disaster. Israel does not have so many allies that it can afford to alienate its best and most reliable friend. And someone so utterly lacking in strategic sense as to be incapable of grasping that the goodwill of Congress and the American public is worth far more than $20 billion in aid has no business being defense minister of any country, much less one as genuinely threatened as Israel.
If the American Jewish community yells loudly enough, Netanyahu will listen. So now it’s time to start yelling. Israel’s friends must push him to engage in damage control before it’s too late.