While it’s legitimate, and expected, for Israel’s opposition to criticize the government and try to bring it down — that’s how things work in a parliamentary democracy — a responsible opposition understands that there are times to hold your fire.
It is traditional, for instance, not to criticize the prime minister when he is abroad on a state visit. And when the country is at war, the opposition is expected to rally behind the government in a show of unity.
In the same vein, when Israel’s greatest ally has offered an unprecedentedly generous 10-year military aid package, it behooves the opposition not to engage in petty politics and attack the deal as inadequate. Of course, the intention was to cast Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, “Mr. Defense,” as a failed leader, whose decision to address Congress on the Iran deal last year in defiance of President Barack Obama cost Israel billions of dollars in military assistance.
But also being criticized, indirectly, is the United States. The implication is that Israel had been promised more, in compensation for the Iran deal, and was “shortchanged” due to personal animosity between Obama and Netanyahu.
This unspoken but very clear insinuation is unfounded and unfair and, worst of all, an expression of ingratitude that shames Israel and Jews everywhere.
For starters, on what basis do the critics say that Israel could have gotten a better deal, not $38 billion but $45 billion? True, that’s the sum that Netanyahu originally asked for at the start of the negotiations, at a time when the Americans were proposing keeping the $31 billion offered by the previous agreement. But that’s the nature of negotiations: The parties start out far apart and then settle somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t mean that there was ever a realistic hope of getting the asked-for $45 billion.
Second, with all due respect to the “experts” who have criticized the package — almost all of whom just happen to be political rivals of the prime minister — very, very few people are privy to the details of the long (three-and-a-half years), protracted negotiations. As National Security Director Yaakov Nagel, the man who led the talks for Israel, said, “The number of people in Israel who really knew what took place in the talks can be counted on, at most, the fingers of one hand.”
As one of the few who knows what happened at the negotiating table, Nagel states categorically that at no time was Israel offered a better package, even before Netanyahu’s controversial visit to Washington, and that “it was impossible to get more than the amount that was agreed upon.”
The critics are not only ignorant of what took place at the talks; they are ignorant of political and economic realities in the United States. When former Prime Minister Ehud Barak criticized the deal in an unprecedented op-ed in The Washington Post — he should use the political system in Israel to attack Netanyahu, not the pages of a prominent newspaper in a foreign country — he pointed out that with the 20-percent cumulative rise in the cost of arms since the last 10-year agreement, and the clause barring Israel from seeking further funds from Congress, the deal gives Israel “no greater purchasing power” than it had under the last accord.
So what? In the current economic reality, in which the United States is forced to cut its own defense spending, just “holding on” to the value of the last aid package is a huge achievement — and a huge act of generosity and friendship on the part of the United States.
Another critic, Moshe Yaalon, who was tossed out as defense minister in favor of Avigdor Liberman, likewise made statements that don’t reflect reality.
“I don’t think $38 billion will provide all the [required] capabilities or meet all our [defense] needs,” Yaalon told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy last week.
Again, so what? It is up to Israel to “make do” with $38 billion a year, because that’s what Washington can afford to give. The rest will have to come from its own resources. Baruch Hashem, Israel today is in much better economic shape that it was at the time of the Six-Day War or the Yom Kippur War and can adjust its own budget to come up with the funding to meet “all the capabilities” Yaalon says are necessary.
As the former defense minister himself said, Israel “will now have to go through a prioritization process … to see what we can get and what we prefer to leave [aside].”
What’s wrong with that?
(And if, chalilah, war breaks out, the United States will consider additional funding, according to the agreement.)
But, again, what is worse than being detached from reality is being an ingrate. This week’s parashah, Ki Savo, begins with the bringing of the first fruits, and the emphasis on expressing gratitude for all the kindness shown us.
One person who understands this is Nagel, the chief Israeli negotiator and a shomer mitzvos. “Throughout the entire process, I never wanted to call this ‘negotiations’,” he said. “Here we’re talking about a gift that they are giving us. I try to explain to them that it will also be good for the American taxpayer, but it is still a present.”
Nagel reflects the view of the vast majority of Israelis who feel shame at the unabashed attacks of Israeli politicians, which undermine Israel’s image abroad and the Jewish people’s ethos of hakaras hatov.