Special Interview Israel’s Image in the U.S.

Simcha Dinitz, who was Israel’s Ambassador to Washington from 1973 to 1978, believes that Israel’s image in the United States has eroded in recent months, following the war in Lebanon and the massacre of Palestinians in west Beirut.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Dinitz, who is now the vice president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and who was here on a two-week visit on behalf of the university, said that Israel’s image has been tarnished “particularly in the way it is reflected in American public opinion and Congress. Here we suffered.”

Explaining this, Dinitz said that Israel’s strength in the U.S. “has been based all along on a combination of moral and strategic values. American public opinion never perceived Israel merely as a tool for United States strategic needs The basis for Israeli-American special relations was the moral basis, Israel’s assets as a democracy and a free society. On this level some question marks have emerged.”

EXPLAINS CREDIBILITY GAP

According to Dinitz, Israel’s credibility has also been hurt because a feeling was created in the American public that Israel’s words do not always match its deeds and that “she is not always doing what she says she is going to do.” He stressed that this new image of Israel is “a perception not necessarily based on facts.”

Another reason for Israel’s diminished image in the U.S. is the feeling among some American legislators and laymen that “Israel no longer knows the limitation of power,” Dinitz said. He noted that in his talks with Congressmen, Jewish leaders and various other Americans, “there was a feeling that Israel feels more free now to use power and place less restraints on itself in that respect.”

A QUESTION OF STYLE

Dinitz, who represented the Labor government during his first four years in Washington and the Likud government during his last year, was critical of the “style” of the government of Premier Menachem Begin. Choosing his words of criticism very carefully, Dinitz said: “There are too many statements by the present leaders of the Israeli government which sound arrogant and convey the impression that they do not consider the needs and sensitivities of others, especially the American government.”

But Dinitz said that in his view the basic American support and commitment to Israel’s survival in peace and security remains firm and unquestioned. He warned, however, that there is a thin line between an erosion of Israel’s image and an erosion of American military, economic and political support for Israel.

“If Israel loses its position of strength in public opinion, the result can be that this would influence the American policy makers, ” he said. “It can happen easily in such a free and democratic country as the United States. Israel must, therefore, make all efforts to repair its image in the streets of America to avoid a change of attitude by the policy makers. This is a process that might happen one day.”

Dinitz noted that, contrary to previous years, Israel now enjoys more support in the Administration than it does in Congress. “Israel, therefore, cannot now stop any moves by the Administration it views as being against its interests as it did, for instance, in 1975, when 76 Senators demanded in a letter to President Ford to drop his reassessment policy toward Israel and avoid any policy that could harm Israel’s interests.” The Ford Administration announced its reassessment policy to pressure Israel to make concessions to Egypt during the negotiations on the disengagement of forces in Sinai.

Dinitz contended that Congress reflects in many ways American public and media opinions. “Israel must realize the importance of support for it in the Congress,” he said. “It is not enough that the President and the Administration support Israel. This support must always be accompanied by Congressional support.”

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