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November 22, 2014 / 29 Heshvan, 5775
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On Ukraine, Israel Parts Ways With Some Staunch American Allies

WASHINGTON – When it comes to Ukraine, Israel is parting ways with some of its staunchest American allies, namely neoconservatives – and it’s not the first time.

Israel’s reluctance to side too closely with the United States in its bid to isolate Russia is typical of an Israeli realpolitik that has led to past conflicts with the American neoconservatives, who prize humanitarian interventionism.

But Israel’s stance is not sufficiently consequential to set off a fight between friends, neoconservative scholars said.

“There’s generally, when it comes to the categories of differences of opinions between Israel and neoconservatives, two categories: the ones that directly impact U.S. policy and the ones that don’t,” said Seth Mandel, assistant editor at the neoconservative Jewish magazine Commentary.

Ukraine does not rise to the level of an Israeli policy that would rattle the relationship, Mandel said, as opposed to earlier examples of disagreements, including Israeli policy on the Arab Spring and the Israeli sale of arms to China.

An Israeli government official – one in regular contact with what he described as some of “Israel’s best friends” in Congress – agreed, saying that the Israelis had not heard complaints from neoconservatives, as they had in the past, like when Israel opposed the 2011 ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

“Israel is wrong on Syria, wrong on Egypt, wrong on lots of things,” Danielle Pletka, the vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, the flagship neoconservative think tank, wrote in an e-mail.

“It doesn’t affect support for the democratic state of Israel among American friends. That’s not the way it works. They’re an independent country, and have the right to be foolish; I don’t think anyone devotes even a minute to considering the Israeli position on Ukraine.”

It took nearly a week for Israel to issue a response to the Feb. 28 Russian takeover of Crimea.

The March 5 statement by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, himself a Russian-speaking native of Moldova, was terse and did not mention Russia, whose leadership Lieberman has long favored cultivating.

“Israel is following with great concern the events in Ukraine, it is anxious for peace for all its citizens and hopes that the situation will not deteriorate to a loss of human life,” said the statement published in the Israeli media. “Israel expects the crisis in Ukraine will be handled through diplomatic means and will be resolved peacefully.”

Israel abstained from a March 27 United Nations General Assembly vote condemning a March 16 referendum in Crimea in favor of joining Russia; it was virtually alone among American allies in not voting for the resolution.

Republicans in Congress allied with the neoconservative movement have blamed what they say is the Obama administration’s fecklessness for fueling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s boldness.

“On the issue of Ukraine, my hero, Teddy Roosevelt, used to say talk softly but carry a big stick,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) chastised Secretary of State John Kerry at a congressional hearing this week. “What you’re doing is talking strongly and carrying a very small stick – in fact, a twig.”

The United States has led the imposition of economic sanctions on Russia, but Kerry at the hearing rejected proposals to arm Ukrainians against the possibility of further Russian incursions.

An aide to a Senate Republican who, like McCain, has been critical of Obama administration Ukraine policy said it would not be fair to demand of a small country like Israel the confrontational posture that Republicans expect from the United States as a superpower.

The aide said Israel had to consider Russian cooperation in keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and in dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons capability.

“We just don’t know the underlying nature of the Israeli-Russia relationship,” the aide said. “It’s incredibly complex with secret intelligence deals going on, trade-offs for what Russia will or won’t do with Iran. In the end, I’m sure that’s what this is all about for Israel – but America doesn’t have that luxury; we are the superpower.”

Neoconservatives have clashed openly with Israel in the past, particularly in the early 2000s over Israel’s sale of weapons to China, which was seen as an affront to a bedrock stance of the neoconservative movement – defending the interests of Taiwan.

The arms sales led the administration of President George W. Bush to suspend its strategic dialogue with Israel from 2002 to 2005, until Israel acquiesced to a U.S. demand that the Pentagon vet Israeli arms sales to China. Bush’s decision to suspend the dialogue was made on the advice of prominent neoconservatives in his administration, among them Douglas Feith, then the undersecretary for defense.

In 2011, Mandel said, neoconservatives were dismayed again when Ehud Barak, then Israel’s defense minister, made the case against backing rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Hafez Assad at a time when American neoconservatives were arguing that it would make sense to assess which rebels deserved more robust U.S. backing.

In each of those cases, Mandel said, Israel’s posture had U.S. policy consequences – for instance, in the case of Syria, Obama administration officials could cite Barak’s argument in pushing back against intervention.

“That was a situation that directly impacted American policy,” he said. “It’s not clear whether Russia gets to that point.”

(JTA)

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4 Responses to “On Ukraine, Israel Parts Ways With Some Staunch American Allies”

  1. Chaiya Eitan says:

    What a shame that we have to 'rely' on Russia in regards to Iran. Russia is behaving like a neighborhood bully.

  2. There's more going on behind the scenes that most people are not aware of. Russia and Israel are getting rather cozy nowadays.

    They just negotiated a free trade agreement, I understand. Not only that, but both have removed visa requirements for travel between the two countries. It is now easier for Israelis to travel to Russia – and vice versa – than it is for Americans and Israelis to travel between their respective countries.

    Putin is a lot of things – a lot of rather ugly things – but he is not an anti-Semite. He is a cold, calculating pragmatist who sees that Israel can offer Russia things of value. Contrast that to Obama, who is an anti-Israel ideologue whose foreign policy revolves around humiliating/pressuring Israel and kissing Islamist tuchas.

    I'm sure whatever his flaws, Israeli officials nowadays feel more comfortable in the company of Putin & Co. than they do Obama & Co. That counts for something. At least whenever Netanyahu goes to Moscow – as he has multiple times since becoming PM – I don't think Putin badgers him incessantly about the Palestinians, the way Obama does.

    And what did Ukraine ever do for Israel? Or the Jews? I'm living in the U.S. today, because of the way Ukrainians treated my ancestors; i.e., like dirt. I don't think Israel owes Ukraine a thing. It sure isn't worth alienating Putin over, at a time when Israel's allegedly 'most important' ally is led by the likes of Obama.

  3. Hey, Roman. If you are looking for someone who needs to "shut up", who needs to think before they speak, maybe you should look in the mirror.

    Engaging in name calling – i.e., "dumb zhyd" – just proves my point. Nothing has changed, has it? Except that now, thanks to Israel, you try to persecute the Jews again, and we lay your country to waste. Got it, Roman?

    But, OK, let's leave aside the past for a moment…the pogroms, the enthusiastic support for and collaboration with the Nazis in raping and murdering Jews, etc.

    If you've got an intelligent argument to make for why, today, Israel should come out in support of the Ukraine in opposition to Russia, we'd all like to hear it. But I think you'll have a hard time making that argument, pal.

    'Cuz back in November of '12, you had the opportunity to prove that you were different, that you were on a higher moral plane that Russia. Y'see, there was this little vote in the UNGA, concerning upgrading the Palestinian Authority to "observer state" status. Ukraine voted IN FAVOR of this vile resolution. Your country voted to upgrade the status of an entity that is openly and utterly dedicated to the elimination of the Jewish state of Israel. You couldn't have even abstained like Poland? Nope. So, I'd say Israel owes you NOTHING.

    To be fair, Russia voted in favor of this, too. And I'm not exactly singing praises to Russia here, either. But since both Russia AND Ukraine suck on this issue, it just comes down to immediate material interests where Israel is concerned. And Russia has a lot more to offer Israel than does the Ukraine. So, it behooves Israel not to alienate Russia, at least not for the sake of YOUR sorry butts.

    If you manage to keep your independence, your leaders might want to consider that next time some anti-Israel vote comes up in the UN. Take a stand for Israel…and maybe Israel will take a stand for you. Take a stand against Israel…and don't come asking for favors. GOT IT?!

  4. David Zaslow says:

    Torah teaches us to be a light unto nations, and not to be a nation like other nations. I am always saddened when our beloved Israel calculates pragmatic foreign policies in the manner of other nations. For example, I remember in 1991 when I made my first trip to Israel and learned that official Israel policy did not recognize the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Turkey early in the 20th. century. Of course the foreign policy reasoning was good – Israel wanted good relations with Turkey. But such a policy does not follow deep Torah thinking which is based on a balance between the pragmatic and the ideal. Of all nations in the world, especially Israel that has such empathy when others suffer, how could it not recognize officially the attempted genocide by Turkey?

    My issue regarding Israel and its silence on Ukraine follows the same reasoning. Of course I realize that Israel needs Russia to support them in their effort against Iran exporting its weapons of terror to groups like Hezbollah. But of all nations in the world I have to ask how can Israel turn its back on Ukraine at its time of need? It's obvious to all people who love freedom and democracy that Russia is behaving as an aggressor, an invader, and as a nation that is stealing the land of the Ukrainians.

    By choosing the pragmatic path and staying silent on the invasion of the Ukraine, Israel is behaving like the other nations, and not as a light unto the nations. I don't think Israel should stay silent. It should speak with care to Russia and not use inflammatory language. But it should support all measures against the Russian invasion, and support the clear rights of the Ukrainian people and nation.

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