'When we have problems, we have to work it through'

US envoy Nides: Despite occasional disagreements, support for Israel is ‘rock-solid’

Amid ongoing tensions between Biden’s White House and Netanyahu government, Washington’s ambassador strikes an optimistic note

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides speaks in Jerusalem, April 27, 2023 (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post/pool)
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides speaks in Jerusalem, April 27, 2023 (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post/pool)

United States Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides gave an optimistic account of the state of Israel-US bilateral ties in Jerusalem on Thursday, saying that “this is like family.”

“It’s like mishpocha,” he said, using the Hebrew word for family. “We all sit around and argue at the table, the dinner table, that’s okay. But on the fundamental issues — which first, second and third is security — that’s where we agree.”

“We can agree and disagree, but at the end of the day, the support for the State of Israel is rock solid,” he continued at a Jerusalem Post gala celebrating Israel’s 75th anniversary, sitting onstage alongside his predecessor David Friedman. “It’s important, but it’s like any great relationship, we got to keep working and nurturing it. And when we have problems, we have to work it through.”

Nides’s remarks came after four months of rocky relations between Joe Biden’s White House and Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government.

In March, Biden publicly urged Netanyahu to “walk away” from his government’s since-paused legislative push to overhaul the justice system, saying he was “very concerned” about the health of Israeli democracy, and warning that Israel “cannot continue down this road.”

Biden also gave an emphatic “no” when asked whether he would be inviting Netanyahu to the White House, adding: “Not in the near term.”

US President Joe Biden speaks to the press at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in Morrisville, North Carolina, on March 28, 2023. (Jim WATSON / AFP)

“Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends,” Netanyahu responded at the time.

Other US officials, including National Security Council spokesman John Kirby and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have publicly criticized the legislation.

The US has not hidden its displeasure with other government policies. Washington summoned Israel’s Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog to the State Department for a private dressing-down over the Knesset’s passing of a law allowing the resettlement of northern West Bank areas evacuated by Israel in 2005.

It has also avoided meeting far-right ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition, including Public Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and  Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

There have also been positive signs. This week, the Biden administration expressed its satisfaction with Israel over the latter’s handling of security tensions during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a press conference in Jerusalem on January 30, 2023. (DEBBIE HILL / POOL / AFP)

Nides stressed on Thursday that the two countries are in “lockstep” on security matters.

“The relationship between our security operations, between the Department of Defense and the IDF and Shin Bet and the CIA — it’s unbelievable. It’s not just the top echelons, it’s in the kishkes of these people,” he said, using the Yiddish slang for one’s guts. “It’s really part of who they are.”

He also offered rare praise for the Donald Trump administration: “They deserve an enormous amount of credit for the Abraham Accords,” the series of US-brokered normalization agreements between Israel and Arab neighbors.

“The Biden administration has embraced it and is developing it and nurturing it in hopes that the idea of a relationship with Saudi Arabia will normalize,” he said. “Saudi Arabia would only enhance this.”

Nides also said he has been surprised as ambassador to see “how much people care about this place.”

“I can’t tell you how overwhelming it is,” he said. “Every member of Congress, every single member of Congress, every governor, every mayor, every Jew who’s given $4 to UJA has wanted to come see us, okay? And that’s the beauty of this relationship. The Diaspora community is completely and utterly engaged.”

Nides warned that this support wouldn’t necessarily last forever, however, alluding to rising anti-Israel sentiment among younger academics.

“What’s going on on college campuses today has to be solved or we’re going to wake up ten years from now and have an enormous problem with the Congress that we have today,” he said.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report. 

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