Naftali Bennett’s Meeting with Joe Biden Began to Repair the Cracks in the U.S.-Israel Alliance

October 12, 2021 | Eran Lerman
About the author: Eran Lerman is vice-president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and teaches Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Shalem College.

On August 27, the Israeli prime minister met with the American president in the White House, in what the former hoped was an opportunity to move away from the tensions between Washington and Jerusalem—and specifically between Jerusalem and the Democrats—of the past twelve years. Eran Lerman is sanguine about the meeting, but notes there are serious threats to the Jewish state’s most important alliance.

Israel’s new prime minister, despite being politically identified with the right wing and with Judea and Samaria settlements, has been given an opportunity to shake off his predecessor’s “baggage,” as it is referred to in American political jargon. . . . As far as we know, Bennett did find common ground with Biden. On a personal level, their interaction was amicable. Bennett is not perceived by the president and his staff as tainted by overidentification with Republicans. Although Biden was distracted by the Afghanistan crisis, he spent longer than expected in conversation with Bennett and reportedly found in the prime minister an attentive listener.

[Moreover], it can be argued the prime minister’s visit to Washington at this sensitive time reminded the public, the professional echelon, and U.S. politicians of Israel’s value as a democratic, reliable, and strong ally that does not ask American soldiers to bleed in its defense. In other words, Israel is everything that Afghanistan never was and never could be. Therein lies the importance of the U.S.-Israel “special relationship,” now more than ever.

Nonetheless, Lerman writes, the Jewish state faces a serious challenge from the growing influence of anti-Israel sentiment in the left wing of the Democratic party, which it “needs the help of American Jews” to counter. But getting this help requires:

an intensive and consistent effort to restore significantly Israel’s relationship with American Jewry, which has reached a dangerous threshold of erosion. . . . Improvement in the Washington-Jerusalem relationship has implications for the atmosphere in ties with members of the Jewish community.

Israel’s top political leadership must be harnessed for this effort, alongside relevant ministers and ranking professionals in the [government]. It must also be reflected in policies on sensitive issues in Israel, especially the Western Wall question and attitudes toward non-Orthodox denominations. Only if a strong foundation of support is rebuilt within American Jewry and with both sides of the party divide that is tearing America apart will the Israeli government be able to conduct a pragmatic conversation [with the U.S.] on the complex subject of Iran.

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