The heads of a delegation from the Republican Jewish Coalition who visited here last week appeared very upset when we met early Wednesday morning. "Explain why your government is surrendering to terror," one of them demanded of me, adding "there has never been such sympathy for Israel on Capitol Hill and understanding of its needs. There has not been any pressure by the administration on Israel. On the contrary. During Bush's years in office it was possible to win American support for a determined fight against terror, for preventive action. Someone on your side failed big when it comes to understanding the administration and Congress in Washington... You missed a rare opportunity to leverage the centers of support in post-9/11 America."
"And what is particularly strange is that we need to persuade you that your are making a mistake," said another member of the delegation, reporting on an Israeli minister, one of the most senior in the government, who lately met with leaders of the pro-Israel Christian camp and tried to persuade them of the logic so well-hidden behind the plan to unilaterally withdraw. "You are barking up the wrong tree," they told him, politely explaining that his position was simply unacceptable.
Israel's sworn friends are embarrassed, confused and find it difficult to deal with what they understand to be the country's feebleness. For years I have maintained close contact with senators, congressmen, administration officials and leading journalists (some of whom were student colleagues of mine at MIT in Boston), and with Jewish community leaders and leaders from the Christian camp - all Israel supporters and sympathizers. We discuss problems, the past and the future.
In recent months, I have been hearing a single, worrisome message: For decades, Israel was for them the Six Day War, the Entebbe rescue, and the attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor - examples of the war on terror and standing up to pressure. Now it has become a paradigm of surrender to terror and pressure. The erosion in its credibility is deep and continuous, especially among our sworn allies. It is impossible to understand you, they tell me. After three years of blood-soaked terror to declare concessions without anything tangible in return? To give in to the megalomaniacal demands of Nasrallah, freeing masses of terrorists for one Elhanan Tennenbaum and the corpses of three soldiers? To promote a unilateral withdrawal, which really means rewarding the terror groups, without any political or security compensation?
Up until recently, those senators and representatives would have laid down on the fence for us, fought for whatever we defined as a red line. "We fought," they say "and you surrendered. You don't have any more red lines." Now they doubt our determination, our commitment to the war on terror, and they doubt the strategic judgment of the country's leaders.
They don't understand Washington in Israel. They hear Congressmen and think MKs. The truth is that the power of a senator, a representative, is much greater than any MK's. A Senate committee is not the same as a Knesset committee. Their authority has teeth. They can approve or disapprove a budget and legislation that would prevent the administration from executing a policy. In times of need, when administrations in Washington wanted to apply pressure on us, they struggled on our behalf. Often they succeeded. And now they are disappointed with us.
Our friends in America add that the officials conducting contacts with the American administration are novices who do not understand the system. They neglected the power bases friendly to Israel. They go to an America where the slogan is undying war against terror and speak of the fatigue of the Israeli public; the need to concede. Instead of forcefully demanding what Israel deserves, they knuckle under to Palestinian demands. Instead of speaking of Israeli justice, they present Israel as inferior - morally, politically and strategically. They want to be liked and win the opposite result. They speak good English, but don't understand American language.
"Never," say these friends, "has an Israeli government been so efficient at pulling the rug out from under the feet of its sworn supporters and strengthening its opponents in the U.S.
The writer is a minister in the Prime Minister's Office and responsible for the preparation of a strategic dialogue with the U.S.