Dividing the U.S. on Israel

My father, Chaim Herzog, first went to Washington in 1950 to help open the Israeli Embassy. Throughout his life, he was committed to the American-Israeli alliance and did his utmost — as a general, diplomat and president of Israel — to maintain the deep bond between the Jewish democratic state and the United States.

He realized that the intimate relationship between the two countries was based not only on immense strategic interests but also on shared core values. He also knew that Israel must always be grateful to America, which has stood by us since the moment our country was born, and that support for Israel must always be a nonpartisan issue in the United States. We Israelis must be allied with all Americans — seeking their support while offering them sincere, profound and loyal friendship.

As I compete against Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel’s 2015 elections, I am as committed to the bipartisan approach as my father and Israel’s other founding fathers and mothers were — for example, David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres.

That is why I strongly believe that Mr. Netanyahu’s planned speech to the Republican-controlled Congress next week — an invitation he accepted without consulting America’s Democratic president — is a major mistake. It will only undermine Israel’s ability to influence the critical issue of securing a genuine guarantee that Iran will never gain access to nuclear weaponry. Such an outcome is what Israel needs, but it can be achieved only through a full and trusting dialogue with the American administration, based on broad bipartisan support.

I too am concerned about the possibility that American diplomats could be tempted to accept an insufficient guarantee of our safety. But those concerns can be fully expressed without injecting ourselves into America’s own politics, and that respectful approach would foster a healthier dialogue about the issue among Americans. We should never have reached the point at which President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, would say publicly that an Israeli prime minister has done something “destructive of the fabric of the relationship.”

Instead of creating the false impression that our interests are allied with only one American party or interest group, we should be reaching out to all Americans — Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, hawks and doves. Israel is, after all, not only a rock-solid ally in a stormy Middle East, but a fellow democracy that upholds the self-evident truths that America is based on, and it has a historical obligation to uphold: freedom, human rights and the pursuit of peace. Facing such ghastly phenomena as the Islamic State and the human catastrophe in Syria, Israel is an oasis of liberty that has the right and the duty to defend itself. But it should always remember the moral debt it owes its older sibling, which has stood by it for more than half a century.

Americans also need to understand another point about our boisterous democracy. However deeply I disagree with Mr. Netanyahu on many issues — the peace process, settlement policy, social justice issues and his coming speech to Congress — on one thing there is no daylight between us: Israel’s security. No Israeli head of state will tolerate terrorist rockets raining down on our children. No Israeli head of state will turn a blind eye to the dangers posed by the new, chaotic and violent Middle East. No Israeli head of state will ever tolerate a nuclear Iran.

Especially on the Iranian nuclear threat, Israelis are one. We know that the theocracy in Tehran combines hegemonic and nuclear ambitions that pose a strategic danger to our small nation.

But a nuclear Iran would endanger not only Israel. If it goes nuclear, the Middle East will go nuclear, putting world peace itself in jeopardy. This is why the Iranian nuclear challenge must not be seen as Mr. Netanyahu’s obsession, or anyone’s partisan issue, but as a central issue for the whole international community to address.

Indeed, my countrymen are joined by many Arabs who are likewise concerned about the centrifuges spinning at Natanz and Fordow. Israelis and Arabs live in the Middle East, and know the Middle East. Facing a dangerous Iran as well as the violence of Islamists at their most extreme, we are willing to work together to stabilize our region and offer it a better future. When reasonable Israelis, Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians and others sound the same alarm bells about Iran, everyone should pause and beware of accepting an irreversible deal we might live to regret.

I do support a diplomatic endeavor that effectively blocks Iran’s path to the bomb. But that effort also must keep all options on the table, deny Iran a pass on its destabilizing regional policies and support of terror, and be accompanied by an international demand that Iran abandon its threat to the existence of Israel.

This is my plea: for us all to rise to the Iranian challenge. Iran is a danger not to Israel alone, and it must not be made a partisan issue. Iran is a critical international issue that the nations of the world should defuse.

As an Israeli and as a citizen of the free world who always has believed in American leadership, I hope that America will lead once again with assertive, bold and creative diplomacy. Let us work together as allies to guarantee our children’s future.

Isaac Herzog is the leader of the Israeli Labor Party and of the opposition at large in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament.

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