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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The 2020 U.S. Elections and the Jewish Vote

Filed under: U.S. Policy

I’ll start from the processes that the United States has undergone and the importance when we answer this question on how these elections affect Israel. I think it’s very important that we reflect on these processes and not only what binds us together, so some of the similarities in the processes that Israel has been through, but also what sets us apart. I think that it’s very important to differentiate those. I think that we very oftentimes, because we have such incredibly deep shared values, mission and vision between the two countries and in those important relationships, we sometimes confuse the differences as well and they’re important to note in the context of what these elections bring with them, so that we can improve and deepen the engagement between us.

And when I say between us, it’s not just Israel and the United States, it’s also Israel-diaspora relations or maybe Israel and North American Jewry, because I believe that those processes have also affected the relationship between us and we’re at a really historic moment, an opportune time to engage with all of them. So if I begin with that and with both what binds us together and possibly the acknowledgement of what sets us apart, then I would say that the first and most important thing to me and – I mention this in every context as a result of these elections – is of course the importance, the imperative for bipartisan collaboration and continued engagement between Israel and the United States in truly advancing our shared values because they are there. And the politicization of those shared interests or values and their personalization actually undermine our ability very often to work together. So when I reflect on the changes and President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris, who, it’s also noteworthy, is the first vice president of the United States as a woman – just to take a moment and pause on that as well – as part of the changes that may be the processes that we see or the changes that we see in America and in Israel as well, the importance of engaging through that understanding of de-politicizing and de-personalizing that relationship and maintaining that bipartisan commitment and not allowing Israel to become a wedge issue is really part of the opportunity that I think we have to both identify and grasp in every possible way.

I spoke on another panel and my dear friend Gil Troy spoke about the election results and about the power of moderation. And not only did I reflect on the importance of his observation regarding the power of moderation but really where it takes me as an Israeli politician, is to the responsibility of moderates. And perhaps if we focus on the responsibility of moderates and engage in that responsible way, then I’ll bring a few of the issues that I think highlight the way forward.

The first is of course the imperative to note the potentially historic end to the Arab-Israeli conflict as we know it. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention it in this context as well. The reason for its potential, although we have had peace agreements with other countries, but the reason that there is a sense that there is a possible real potential for a shift, or the way that I at least analyze it, is this pivot away from rejectionism to normalization but through a process of what I call the shift away from the three no’s of Khartoum 1967 – no to recognition, no to negotiation, no to peace with Israel – to the three yeses – yes to recognition, yes to negotiation, yes to peace with Israel. And I would say in that order, because I believe and that the fundamental paradigmal shift that we can observe is the first step towards peace and reconciliation and prosperity in the region or anywhere, is recognition. It’s a first step. It sounds so basic but the recognition of the other’s right to exist – in this case the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state that it was founded to be 72 years ago – that’s no small task.

There is something in the flapping wings of history that we have felt. We spoke in the plenum when the UAE agreement was ratified and then Bahrain. In fact, an institute within Bahrain and adopted the IHRA working definition for anti-Semitism. When I think of recognition, which enables negotiation, which paves the path to peace and prosperity and the fundamental understanding that the IHRA working definition including the three d’s – delegitimization, demonization, and double standards towards the State of Israel -highlights the way or shines the path forward to peace with all peoples, with all countries that are willing to go through that transition or are able to identify that transition. I say “peoples” purposely and not necessarily leadership because it may require a transition of leadership.

 Here I would say that the bipartisan relationship between the United States and Israel are not only an opportunity but a responsibility, because when we speak about the responses to this historic pivot or change, we also look at the countries and the variance of both complete rejection of this transformation or transition and also the vehemence with which it’s spoken. And I speak directly about Iran of course and I think that the United States has a very critical role, whether we re-enter JCPOA or not and in what format. Renegotiating the JCPOA requires a whole new understanding of what was missing and we know already what Iran was not held to account for, and also the widening of the lens from strictly the issues that the original JCPOA held, to what I would call a redefining of what we have to hold to Iran to account for, whether it’s human rights violations, whether it’s what we know about the rights of women and the rights of journalists.

I think that the United States also has to in many ways hold Iran to task for issues that thus far, even if we were just to reissue the same or the need for accountability and safeguards along the way which were not assured and which we know were ignored, there has to be an identification of the additional issues that have to be a part of any kind of interaction. That’s our role in that bipartisan relationship and engagement, of bringing this to the fore and maybe in many ways exposing the double standards that have thus far enabled and I would say empowered the culture of impunity of the Iranian regime.

From there I would move on to the area at large and the region because if we talk about enabling the culture of impunity by not exposing or addressing double standards, of course we know that in international institutions as well – in international institutions the United States is involved in less or more. Just today we held in the Knesset a first time informative session for MKs regarding the ICC actually based on my appointment as the official representative in the Knesset to the issue of the ICC internally in the Knesset and in our engagement with parliamentarians around the world, and we do have many of those opportunities to engage.

In addition to understanding the imperative to address that double standard, I think that there is something to be said for the engagement with international law or what I would call the imperative for the State of Israel to rise from the docket of the accused by reaffirming international law and utilizing the language of rights, the lingua franca of the rest of the world, and making accessible the case and cause of the State of Israel that comes into play. It’s been a long process, but it comes into play and or is highlighted by many cases.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one here, also because of the United States involvement and that is a case that I have actually had the privilege of assisting the families of two deceased soldiers and two Israeli civilians held in standing violation of international law and morality, of course – to which an international humanitarian ceasefire to which the U.S. actually brokered and to which the United States was actually committed. So as we engage with the imperative to expose double standards and address double standards while at the very same time the State of Israel is expected and actually expects itself to grant and give humanitarian aid, the involvement with the United States really lends itself to the ability – based on our shared values, based on our shared commitment to human rights and to international law – really bring to the fore the issues that enable us to expose and address those double standards.

Finally, I would speak about the possibility for shining the path forward very directly with the Palestinians and indirectly with other countries that may follow suit. If the United States was able to continue in this bipartisan collaboration, understand the fundamental paradigm shift that has occurred, then that would empower all parties and all peoples in the region to be able to use this momentum in order to really expand the possibility of peace and prosperity for all peoples in the region and beyond.