Where Was the U.S. Jewish Outrage Over Ya'alon?

American pro-Israel advocates should not have joined in Netanyahu's silence after his defense minister made unacceptable remarks that undermine U.S.-Israel relations.

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Moshe Ya'alon speaking at INSS, January 28, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon made headlines yet again in both Israel and the United States last week with his criticism of U.S. foreign policy and statements that Israel cannot depend on the United States when it comes to Iran. While some media outlets reported that Ya’alon apologized for his remarks to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel—he has issued a statement voicing regret for any offense his comments may have caused—the State Department said no apology has come. 

Forced apology or not, Ya’alon’s remarks were outrageous and unacceptable.

The U.S. has never been as invested in protecting Israel’s security as it is today. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself has frequently spoken of the unprecedented military cooperation between Israel and the U.S. under the Obama administration. For the defense minister to state that President Obama is not supportive of Israel is an affront not only to the president, but also to all those who have worked to ensure a strong, unshakable U.S.-Israel alliance through Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

It’s one thing to oppose U.S. initiatives; it’s another to do so in a manner that’s disrespectful, denigrating and threatening to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The timing of Ya’alon’s unwarranted attack is of particular concern. At a time when the Obama administration is deeply engaged in complex negotiations with both Iran and the Palestinians that have a direct impact on Israel’s security, the last thing that Israel’s defense minister should be doing is suggesting the U.S. is weak and ineffectual.

Most worrisome is the open question of whether Ya’alon has Netanyahu’s quiet support for his comments, and whether his remarks disparaging American legitimacy and authority were designed to undermine U.S. diplomacy. Ya’alon’s most recent comments come just two months after he personally attacked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in January, saying the secretary had an “obsession” with the peace process and a “sense of messianism.” 

With the U.S. preparing to present a framework for continued Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Ya’alon’s repeated remarks provide fodder for Israel’s detractors, who argue that the Israeli government is not sincerely engaging in the peacemaking efforts.

Netanyahu’s relative silence on Ya’alon’s comments is concerning, but so, too, is that of the American Jewish community. With the National Jewish Democratic Council a notable exception, organizations have been largely absent in condemning Ya’alon’s inappropriate and damaging remarks. Several American Jewish groups were vocal in expressing concern when Obama named Chuck Hagel as his nominee for U.S. defense secretary. It is ironic that Hagel has assiduously worked to deepen U.S.-Israel ties, while his counterpart in Israel — Ya’alon — has been undermining relations in the way that so many organizations erroneously feared Hagel would. But where is the outrage?

The U.S. is facing numerous, complex foreign policy challenges across the globe. Meanwhile, Israel is finding itself increasingly isolated in the international arena. The U.S. needs the support of its allies. And Israel, more than ever, needs the support of the U.S. Pro-Israel advocates have long worked to ensure that, at moments like these, we have each other’s back. Our rhetoric of an “unbreakable alliance” should not be just words. A strong U.S. means a strong Israel.

And yet, the minister tasked with overseeing Israel’s security and its defense ties with the U.S. seems hell-bent on undermining America's position and, with it, U.S.-Israel relations. It is impossible to imagine that these repeated outbursts by Ya’alon will not affect his working relationship with his American colleagues. How can he be trusted?

At such a critical moment for U.S.-Israel defense ties, this reality should be deeply concerning to all pro-Israel advocates. Most importantly, it should worry Prime Minister Netanyahu. But he has the power to do something about it. So will he?

Peter Joseph is Chair of the Israel Policy Forum.

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