Crisis In U.S.-Israeli Relationship: Has It Really Come To This?

11163591_799928160090639_179906450_oThe apocalypse is coming! No, its not the Iran deal, its not Islamic State (IS), nor is it the Houthis in Yemen or Boko Haram in Nigeria. It is the fact that for the first time in history the relationship between Israel and the United States has reached an egregious state, perhaps its nadir.

The affair between Israel and the United States has been one of the perhaps lasting alliances in history. It was a relationship built on trust and plenty of financial support.

The United States has always looked after Israel’s interest and acted like an iron curtain, shielding it from the corrupt and chaotic region it inhabits.

From its infancy, Israel as a young democratic state in an authoritarian Middle East, was seen as the only possible ally for the United States. Both countries shared similar values, principles, common ground on democracy and a robust stance and presence in the Middle East. Although the United States had a string of other alliances in the Middle East, Israel was a consistent relationship.

A Camp David, Oslo Accords, Road Map and peace initiatives later, America’s relationship with Israel was going strong. America was there during peace talks with Arafat over the Palestinians and was there to defend Israel against a Soviet backed, Nasser’s Egypt when the Middle East turned into a playground between the Soviet Union and the United States. America was also there to reassure Israel of the toppling Arab Spring domino effect that was and still is taking place in the region.

One can quickly understand that this is not just a relationship and an alliance but a genuine friendship of trust that has secured Israel’s safety and reassured it its place in the international scene when the Arab states refused to make a place for it in the region. Therefore, running the risk of losing this friendship could be fatal.

Israel has made its sentiments over the Iran deal very clear. It has pointed out the flaws and concerns over bargaining for a better deal and perhaps lobbying Congress to condemn the recent talks and put a halt on diplomacy.

The Obama administration has issued numerous statements reassuring Israel that no harm will be bestowed on Israel through this deal and that they are taking the necessary measures to achieve a nuclear bomb free Iran. John Kerry has even recently claimed that what America has achieved through diplomacy, Israel wanted to go to war over. What looks like a successful outcome to the Iran deal was met with a bitter disagreement by the Israeli government, especially Netanyahu.

However, in the midst of Netanyahu’s dogmatic approach to the Iran deal, what has began to surface was an even bigger concern that was never there: losing the friendship with the United States. Days after Netanyahu’s persistence, the White House issued a joke about Israel’s concern with the Iran nuclear deal by drawing a bomb that is similar to the bomb drawing Netanyahu flashed at the United Nations speech when he discussed Iran.

Israel is not only risking a simple ridicule or a late April fools joke from the White House but rather a worse outcome: being ignored or even the beginning of a suspicious relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Of course this was not something that festered over night but it did gain momentum with the speech Netanyahu stubbornly made at Congress after Obama and other members urged him not to do so. It was the fact that Netanyahu and Obama openly showcased their distrust and animosity to each other and the fact that Netanyahu won’t back down and allow diplomacy to take its course over the Iran nuclear deal.

We have long abandoned the idea that peace with Arab countries in the region will be reached overnight but the idea that we are isolating ourselves, pariah almost, from the rest of the international community especially America is alarming. This is not to say that the international community including America is anti-Israel, no, it is becoming anti-Netanyahu. If Israel plays its cards right and backs down it might salvage a relationship that took years to build.

How much do we know about the Christian Arabs in Israel?

DSCN0018Hopping into a cab and driving to your destined location, seems a normal task as any. In Israel however, in most cases, it is a chance to get a glimpse of what the average Joe thinks about politics. Every time I am in a cab I find myself engaged in a conversation about politics, not because it’s what I really want to get into with a complete stranger, but it is a topic that in Israel everyone has a say about.

Heading home from Tel-Aviv, passing by the Shuk Hapishpeshim in Jaffa on a cool Friday evening I was asked by the cab driver what my plans were for the Passover (Peseach) holiday. Slightly off -put, I looked him in the eyes through the rear-view mirror and said: “I’m not Jewish, I’m Christian Arab”. He glances back before he turns his head to traffic and says: “What does that mean? Aren’t all Arabs Muslim?”. For a moment I did not pass judgment; after all, he might be someone who has not lived here for a very long time and might be a new ‘Olah’ to the country, so I asked him this: “For how long have you lived here?”, “For forty years” he shoots back.

I am not one to judge. After all I am judged by the way I speak, by the way I look and constantly haunted by the question: “you don’t look Arab” insinuating that there has to be a special Arab factor that singles me out or the fact that I am not wearing a headscarf is alarming. We are pointing out the stereotypes, no?

However, at that moment I did judge, I judged this Israeli taxi driver who has lived in Israel for forty years, had the radio on a news channel, politically aware, hard working man, a voter and a citizen, for not being able to tell me that he knew that there is a Christian Arab minority in his own country and not being aware of what it means.

Christian Arabs comprise around two percent of the Israeli population. Faith? Christianity. Ethnicity? Arab.  Confused as I was, his response startled me. Christian Arabs vote, go to university, work in this country and get married in it. Simply visit Jerusalem, Jaffa and Nazareth amongst other areas and you will find all of those facts to be true. After all, isn’t a Holy Land for all three religions?

Christian Arabs are always mistaken for being the same as Muslim Arabs. Although they share the same ethnic identity and language, Christianity dates back earlier than the rise of Islam.

Christian Arabs don’t only have a religious history that separates them from their Arab Muslim counterparts but also have a separate struggle that came after the newly independent state of Israel in 1948. In 1948 there were 150,000 Arabs that remained in Israel and out of those 150,000, forty percent were Christian Arabs. However, all throughout the 1940s and 1960s the Christian Arab population went through a struggle because the population was almost entirely wiped out.

Fast forward years later, the Christian Arab community still holds up with a small, almost two percent in Israel. It is a thriving small population that takes pride in its tight-knit community and preservation of its customs and habits. It is this time of year that the largest denomination in Israel, the Greek Orthodox, step out and showcase their pride, wear their traditional scouts costume for everyone to see at the annual Easter parade in Jaffa. Inviting over ten other scouts to participate, that display of a Christian tradition in Jaffa is loud enough in itself to attract attention to the community and exert its willingness to triumph on with pride despite its ill -recognition in the media and even almost the entire Israeli society of its existence.

Why is this important to know?

The key feature of a democratic state is being aware of its minorities and engaging them in society. It is vital to Israel’s democratic character and stability to be mindful of its minorities. However, in Israel either a large group of people clump the minorities under one category or repel the idea that different minorities exist in the country, the Christian Arabs being an example of this behavior.

The Christian Arabs, I see, are a voice of a community that is neglected. A voice that is as much part of this country as the Muslim Arab minority and the Jewish majority. We should stress hearing it because at the end of the day the minorities that live in this country are just as part of the rest. They make this country diverse, authentic and different. They hold the key to its potential and change. We shouldn’t repel difference but embrace it because it might be the solution to the aged long question of whether there can ever be peace in the region and in this country. The minorities hold the key to that problem. Respect the minorities, embrace them, engage them in society and you will hear compelling voices that make up the core of a functioning civic society that can exist in Israel. Otherwise, we will run the risk of hearing the same old arguments.

The last elections might have just proved one thing: there is a large number of people in this country that still believe in its tremendous potential. What I have seen was not a Likud victory but people campaigning, running to the ballot box, protesting and standing at Kikar Rabin, Arabs voting like never before, all for the sake of change and embracing the minorities in the country should be part of that change.

As things have dwindled down and conversations shifted to talks about the future coalition and the impact of the Iran deal, one can’t help but still have a will to fight on for a better change.

Arriving at my destination in the taxi, it seemed that I learned a thing or two as well. As we talked about Yemenis traditional cooked dishes and culture, politics and religious holidays, the differences and confusion aired away. I looked out the window at this beautiful country that has so much potential. People from all walks of life, aged old stories, memories, the smell of cooking in the air and the sound of the Muslim call for prayer on a cool Friday afternoon and then I remembered why I left this place with such a heavy heart because I always wondered deep down: why can’t we all just talk like this?

What Does The Iran Nuclear Deal Actually Mean To Israel?

AP118756213566-1074x483 In 1977 the Egyptian leader, Anwar Sadat did the unthinkable, stepped off a plane in Israel and faced the Israeli leaders and public in the midst of war. “Everyone in Israel was glued to the television” my mother recalls. It was a historic moment. An unforgettable one because it was the first time a leader from the Arab world came demanding peace. At the time people could not imagine peace with Egypt. Sadat stood in front of Knesset and faced the most challenging task that Israel still faces today: trust. Sadat’s historic speech at Knesset was one that perhaps laid the foundations of why Israel is unable to reach peace in its region. He spoke of psychological barriers, barriers that still exist today. Among the listed barriers mentioned was the lack of trust, fear and suspicion, which are perhaps the characteristics that come to mind among most Israelis when asked about Iran, Palestinians or any other Arab state. It is those characteristics that hinder negotiation talks and prevent us from electing anyone other than Netanyahu. It is those traits that the Israeli government brings to the table and it is with such attitude that we addressed our conclusion on the Iranian nuclear deal and probably sealed our own fate in alienating ourselves from the rest of the region and, to a greater extent, the world. The Iranian nuclear deal is celebrated on the streets of Tehran. Waving Iranian flags and dancing was the end result to what seems to most European and American leaders as a successful end to a difficult dialogue. If Iran holds its end of the bargain it is unlikely that anything negative would stem out of this deal. Iran holding its end of the bargain is actually what makes up the deal. In a nutshell, the nuclear deal seems to be something along the lines of: ‘you can have a certain amount of nuclear enrichment to perform research but not enough to build a bomb. Cross the red line and sanctions will be the least of your worries’. However, what perhaps impressed me the most was not only the fact that such a deal came through diplomatic means but rather the speech made by the Foreign Minister of Iran, Mohammed Javad Zarif, in making a reassuring statement that Iran’s purpose with the nuclear energy is not to build a bomb and concluding his speech with the statement of the rare occasion that such a deal was reached through diplomatic means. What seemed like the perfect end to a deal, the world held its breath for the outcome, was tainted with the only pessimistic Prime Minister, Netanyahu, to state that the deal is a “historic mistake”. I am here to say that Netanyahu is wrong. This is not a deal that is bad for Israel. This deal could potentially pave the way to dialogue with Iran, peace in the region and to come to an understanding. I am not saying that this deal could transform Iran’s regime, that is not in Israel’s policies, what should be Israel’s policy however, is seeing such a deal that was resolved through diplomacy as a golden opportunity to resolve other issues in the region through diplomatic understanding. What we could learn from Iran and particularly its Foreign Minister is that we need to perpetuate more speeches that have solutions through diplomacy and negotiations instead of speeches that involve deadlock, pointing fingers and firmly standing in place without compromise. Many claim we do not need this region because we have the rest of the world, but I say why not? The Middle Eastern region is not the same as it used to be. Events such as the Arab spring, the rise of ISIS and the plucking of authoritarian dictators have been a catalyst for crucial change. We are not dealing with the same Middle East that once housed dictators such as Saddam Hussein but rather a region that needs collective action against regional threats such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda. If Israel is worried about its survival then it needs to work with the rest of the region if it hopes to stay in place for generations to come. There was a time when Israelis never thought that peace with Jordan and Egypt was possible. There was a time when people would travel from Gaza to work in Jaffa and Tel-Aviv but there was also a time when Israelis did not think that all of that could happen, but it did. What this Iranian nuclear deal means to Israel is just that: possibilities. Not fear, but a gateway to begin to trust in diplomacy and regional partnership. If Iran is planning on building a bomb, it is highly unlikely to develop one with its first generation centrifuges and its low uranium enrichment. Only time will tell what the consequences of the deal might breed but for now I am optimistic in diplomacy and containment of Iran.