Israelis are always kvetching, says journalist Herb Keinon.
Even the rain (“Thank God we had a good winter,” he said) is a matter of contention, with some arguing that while it undoubtedly fell, “it didn’t fall in the right places.”
Still, said Keinon – a longtime writer for The Jerusalem Post – while his fellow countrymen tend to “look for a cloud in the silver lining,” there is good reason for concern right now as regards U.S.-Israeli relations.
“I’m not an alarmist,” said Keinon, who will speak at both the Jewish Community Center of Paramus and Teaneck’s Cong. Rinat Yisrael on April 18. “The relationship between the United States and Israel is multi-faceted; there’s a huge fabric to it. But that being said, there are serious disagreements.”
Keinon – a diplomatic correspondent who spent 10 years covering the travels of Israeli prime ministers, beginning with Ehud Barak – said he has never seen the kind of ill feeling that now exists between the governments of the two nations.
“I don’t remember anything like this,” he said. “I don’t remember this level of tension.”
He attributed the problem to differing mindsets.
“So much of what Israel does and what the public expects of the government” is a result of what happened between 2000 and 2005 during the height of the second intifada, he said. “There was a fundamental change of perception.” While many Israelis in the early 1990s had embraced the Oslo accords, “those horrible five years flipped [the Israeli position] on its head.”
Concluding that “that paradigm didn’t work and isn’t going to work, [Israelis] went through a huge transformation,” said Keinon. “Everybody was bitten. Everybody was feeling the insecurity of putting a kid on the bus and wondering if he would get back. It’s not theoretical. Buses were blowing up. It transformed the country’s mindset.”
Israel was “mugged by reality,” he said.
Illustrating the nation’s change of heart, he pointed to the 1992 elections in which Meretz and Labor, which endorsed the concept of land for peace, won 56 seats. In 2009, he said, they won only 16.
The problem, he said, is that the new administration in Washington has not freed itself from the Oslo paradigm.
“They still want to go down that road,” he said. “That’s the root of the problem,” he added, not the settlements in east Jerusalem. “There are serious conceptual differences between Israel and the United States.”
While the United States is hopeful that the proximity talks will lead to direct talks and then to peace, “Israelis are extremely skeptical. It’s done this before. What changed?”
“Every [American] administration thinks it will rediscover the wheel,” said Keinon. “President Obama has to do something, but there are only a finite number of possibilities, so he will try to do this again.”
Keinon noted that while neither Obama nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forthcoming about what occurred at their recent meeting, the fact that no photos were taken or statements put out are important indicators.
“The atmospherics were very bad,” he said. “That’s all I see. It’s also what the Arabs are seeing.”
He said people would inevitably compare that with what he expected to be a warm reception for Jordanian King Abdullah II in Washington on Monday.
“It adds insult to injury and it’s the second time it happened,” he said, noting that Netanyahu’s last visit also did not result in a press conference.
“There’s a certain pattern,” he said. “It’s not all about settlements. There are deeper issues [such as] whether or not [Israelis and Palestinians] can quickly come to an agreement, and whether the priority should be Israel or Iran.”
Keinon noted the unusual speed with which Vice President Joseph Biden’s affirmations of friendship for Israel degenerated into Hillary Clinton’s “dressing-down” of that nation shortly afterwards.
While the timing of the east Jerusalem settlement announcement, during the vice president’s visit, was “incredibly stupid,” he said, most likely someone in Washington “made a decision that we can take advantage of this situation for our own purposes.”
Still, said Keinon, while the situation is undoubtedly serious, “it’s not something Israel can’t deal with. We have a tendency to go nuts and think every crisis is end of the world. But there’s no reason to panic. We have incredible abilities and control our own destiny.”
On a lighter note, Keinon spoke about his book, “Lone Soldiers: Israel’s Defenders from Around the World” (Devora Publishing, 2009), which “deals with good things, something positive.”
“Kids come from abroad to serve with the Israeli army,” he said, whether because of idealism or the search for adventure. “It’s a reaffirmation of Zionism. Many leave comfortable surroundings.”
According to the author, such youngsters are coming in higher numbers, as many as 3,000 a year from all over the world, with about 500 from the United States.
“The whole phenomenon is gaining steam,” he said, noting that some of the newcomers have Israeli parents, demonstrating that even though their parents left the country, they never lost the connection.
Originally from Denver, Keinon has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. He has lived in Israel for 26 years.
His talk in Paramus, at noon, will be on “The Obibi Era: American-Israeli Relations in the Age of Obama and Netanyahu.” For information, call (201) 262-7691.
His presentation in Teaneck, called “Between a Rocket and a Hard Place: How Terror Has Changed Israel, Its Politics, the Zionist Dream, and the Path to Peace,” will take place at 8 p.m. For information, call (201) 837-2795.