“Israel is America’s most reliable friend,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee states on its website. This notion has been put to the test in recent weeks, as Israel has parted ways with the United States on the major issue of how to respond to Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.
Israel refused to support an overwhelming, American-led condemnation of Russia at the United Nations General Assembly and has adopted a neutral posture regarding the conflict, marking a rare departure from the nearly automatic mutual support Israel and the United States provide each other in the international arena. And this has angered Washington and perturbed some Israel advocates.
“We are shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Dan Arbell, a former senior Israeli diplomat who now teaches at the American University in Washington. “Representatives of Israel always say that Israel is the only country in the region and one of the few in the whole world that always votes with the U.S., and now we see this change.”
Arbell called the Israeli vote “a big mistake.”
Israel chose to sit on the fence, officials explained, out of concern that condemning Russia would sour relations with a nation playing a key role in Syria’s civil war and in nuclear negotiations with Iran, two issues of top concern for Israel.
It is too early to judge whether this policy regarding the Russian-Ukrainian conflict reflects a major shift in Israeli orientation or just a short-term tactical maneuver. Even the latter outcome, however, could spell trouble for Israel advocates in America.
The shift “just plays into the hands of those who want to make the case against us,” said an official with one pro-Israel group, who would not speak on record because of the organization’s policy. But the issue has yet to be raised where it would matter most, he said: by lawmakers or their staff members on Capitol Hill.
The communal official added that American support for Israel is multifaceted and does not depend solely on Israel standing alongside the United States in the international arena.
A spokesman for AIPAC declined to comment on the impact Israel’s position on Ukraine could have on the pro-Israel lobby’s work or on making the case that Israel remains America’s closest ally.
Israel’s decision not to participate in the March 27 U.N. General Assembly vote condemning Russia for annexing Crimea triggered significant tension with Washington. One hundred member nations backed the resolution, which the United States drafted, with only 11 voting against it. Israel did not participate in the vote.