I like when readers respond in letters to the editor to what I have written, particularly when they take the time to disagree with me. That includes letters that have challenged my columns on a number of occasions.
Taking note of my past criticism of the Trump administration, a letter writer claimed that since the 11-day barrage of rockets that Hamas directed at Israel in May, I had not been inclined to write about it or about what he called the Biden administration’s “bland response.”
We may reasonably disagree over American or Israeli policy, but one can hardly claim that I ignored the May war in my column. And I certainly couldn’t have ignored it in real life.
As I described in a May column, I spent the first evening of the war in an underground parking garage at my Tel Aviv office as a barrage of rockets showered the entire area, and I was awakened that night and the night after by rocket alert sirens, warning me to take shelter. I also described how I had to drag my wife out of the shower when one siren sounded.
So what’s the writer’s point? He has every right to voice his opinion about Israeli government policy and about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, but his letter seemed to imply that I, living in Israel, was less outraged by Hamas’ rocket attacks than he was sitting in Beachwood. Or was it only that I had ignored what he called the Biden administration’s “bland response”?
The unstated subtext here is that the Biden administration is bad for Israel and the Trump administration was good for Israel. But Biden is a longstanding friend of Israel, who gave Israel time to hit back at Hamas after the Islamist group’s massive rocket attacks, before the United States sought an end to the fighting.
Trump was good for Prime Minister Netanyahu, acceding to the Israeli prime minister’s every whim, but not good for Israel. Netanyahu, who has finally left office after 12 years as prime minister, thought he could make peace with the rest of the Arab world while sidelining the Palestinian issue and undermining the Palestinian Authority. And he got Trump to go along.
The barrages of rockets fired at Israel in May in blatant disregard for basic international norms were a stark reminder to Netanyahu, who was still prime minister, that the Palestinian issue could not be ignored. They were also a reminder that by undermining the standing of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Netanyahu only strengthened the more radical Hamas movement in Gaza.
Israel is in a better place with Naftali Bennett as prime minister, even though Bennett is no left-winger. If anything, he is to the right of Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s response to rocket fire and incendiary balloons launched at border communities in Israel was generally more restrained. Bennett vowed not to tolerate any hostile activity on the Gaza border and has made good on the threat since taking office, bombing targets in Gaza in response.
By sidling up to Trump and the Republicans and to American Evangelical Christians, Netanyahu also undermined decades of bipartisan support for Israel in the United States. Thankfully, Israeli-U.S. relations have gotten a fresh start with the election of Bennett. He understands the importance of bipartisan American support for Israel.
I welcome criticism from readers of what I write, but this letter was divorced from the facts.
Cliff Savren is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Ra’anana, Israel.