Ambassador Tom Nides on Tuesday morning told Army Radio that there’s no crisis in Israel’s relations with the US, refuting claims that the US is no longer Israel’s closest ally. He also said that Prime Minister Netanyahu will probably meet with President Biden after Passover.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid has been claiming that relations between Israel and the US are at a deep low over the judicial reform. Lapid tweeted recently that “Israel is no longer the closest ally of the US. The Americans say they have no shared values with the government. It affects every aspect – their attention and their willingness to leave their comfort zone for Israeli interests – they will not do it with the most extreme government in the country’s history.”
Turns out they will after all.
Asked if he was optimistic following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suspension of the judicial reform Monday night, Ambassador Nides said cheerfully: “To be clear, we welcome the move. As President Biden has said numerous times, we wanted to hopefully have some compromise and dialogue and I applaud the Prime Minister for announcing that, and I’m always optimistic … President Biden cares deeply about the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and given that, any compromise is something the president supports.”
Is the US concerned about Netanyahu’s dismissal of Defense Minister Gallant? The ambassador answered: “I have enormous respect for the defense minister, I’ve worked with him closely since he’s been named.” However, “I’m not the prime minister and I can’t determine who is in this position, but the United States has enormous respect for him and the role he’s done.”
Nides then praised Israeli democracy for the fact that for 12 weeks, protesters from both sides had taken to the streets time and again, with virtually no one being injured and very few arrests. “This democracy is alive and well,” he said. “It’s something all of us can watch with admiration.”
The interviewer challenged Nides’ statement, pointing out that the Biden administration has been very much involved in internal Israeli politics, especially regarding the judicial reform.
“Listen, we’re a friend of Israel,” the ambassador responded. “As you know, President Biden refers to himself as a Zionist.” He added that, yes, he is engaged every hour of every day along with Israeli officials in taking care of Israel’s wellbeing, and so this is not interference but support.
Nides elegantly avoided a question about the relationship between the White House and Ministers Smotrich and Ben Gvir, saying his relationship was primarily with the prime minister. “As he points out to me on a daily basis, he has his hands on the wheel. He’s the prime minister. He’s had a personal relationship with President Biden going back almost forty years. They’re personal friends. I have a very good relationship with him and his immediate staff. … That’s who I work with and that’s who I will continue to work with.”
“He’s the prime minister, he is in charge, he was democratically elected, he is the prime minister of this country and the president has confidence that he will do the right thing which he obviously announced yesterday, and we’ll continue to work with him on the things that are important to the average Israeli. The average Israeli wakes up every morning and wants to live in this beautiful place in a peaceful way, in a democratic way, and we’ll continue to work collectively to do that.”
So, when will Prime Minister Netanyahu be invited to the White House?
“As you know, the prime minister has been to the White House probably fifty times,” Nides answered. “Obviously he’ll be coming, I’m sure he’ll come relatively soon. … I assume after Passover, the date hasn’t been set yet. But look, there’s no question that the prime minister will come and see President Biden, as I said, the prime minister and the presidents are friends for forty years, they will see each other personally I’m sure quite soon. … As soon as the schedules can be coordinated.”