WASHINGTON — With tensions between US and Israel running high after Israeli officials panned US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to broker a ceasefire, keynote speakers representing both governments issued strong proclamations of friendship and unity during a conference of national Jewish leadership Monday afternoon.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice addressed hundreds of the top Jewish leaders in the US, as well as a number of prominent members of Congress during a last-minute meeting billed by the organizer – the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations – as “a show of solidarity with the people and State of Israel.”
As other administration officials expressed open frustration with the way Israeli government officials responded to a US-conveyed ceasefire plan, Rice emphasized the closeness of the ties between Israel and Washington.
“I was late because I was on the phone in the basement with my Israeli counterpart,” said Rice after the crowd waited for her arrival. Rice described contact between the US and Israel as “constant and constructive” and cited the deaths of two US-Israeli dual citizens in combat in Gaza as a demonstration of the closeness of ties between the two nations.
“Israel is not alone – not in war and not in peace,” Rice stated, emphasizing that the current administration has achieved the highest funding levels ever for Israel, and remains committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative advantage in military aid. She also talked up Washington’s defense of Israel in international forums, including representing the sole vote on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees against the “Goldstone 2” report on Israel’s activities. “That’s what it means when we say we have Israel’s back,” she said.
At the same time, Rice addressed the ongoing tussle between Israeli and American government officials, acknowledging that “we have been dismayed by some press reports in Israel mischaracterizing [Kerry’s] efforts.”
Rice said that the “misleading press reports” have “raised concerns here in America” and protested that in fact, “Kerry has been working with Israel every step of the way.”
Earlier Monday, administration officials from both the White House and State Department sharply criticized Israeli officials for leaking the contents of a proposed ceasefire deal, as well as for maligning Kerry’s intentions in drawing up the plan. Israeli officials have privately fumed at Kerry over a proposal which the Israeli security cabinet rejected unanimously on Friday night.
Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, also defended the US-Israel relationship, and even Kerry’s efforts.
“I speak for my prime minister: criticisms of Secretary Kerry for his good-faith efforts to bring a cease fire are unwarranted,” he told the audience.
While assuring attendees that “Israel will continue to defend itself,” he also insisted that Israel “knows we have the support of America’s leaders.” He emphasized “the prime minister’s and Israel’s appreciation to President Barack Obama and Congress for their strong bipartisan support for Iron Dome.”
Dermer said that he “looks forward to continuing to work closely with the US to advance a ceasefire and a durable solution to the problems in Gaza.” He went on to delineate the Israeli perspective on what constituted such a solution – one in which terror tunnels are destroyed, rocket fire ceases, and mechanisms are established to demilitarize Gaza.