Spin Cycle

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Washington - Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, gave five House Democrats a history lesson over dinner on March23 to make the point that tension between U.S. presidents and Israel is nothing new.

“He went through every single president since 1948 and how in every administration there was a crisis in the relationship between the United States and Israel where people predicted an end to the relationship - and the relationship never ends,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), who organized the gathering.

This is the second meeting Rep. Israel has convened with Dermer and Democrats to try to ease the tensions created by President Barack Obama’s strained relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Dermer has been blamed for setting up the House GOP invite to Netanyahu without White House consultation - Rep. Israel calls him a close friend.

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But that meeting won’t be the last.

At the dinner at Dermer’s residence in Washington were Democratic Reps. Kathleen Rice of Garden City; Seth Moulton of Connecticut; Ruben Gallego of Arizona; and Gwen Graham of Florida.

The conversation did not focus on the March 24 speech to the liberal J Street, an American Jewish group, by Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough, Rep. Israel said. But Dermer defended his boss, Netanyahu, and his Israeli election-eve declaration dismissing the two-state peace strategy for now, and his post-election backtracking - saying Netanyahu's position had been distorted in the media.

Rep. Israel said he asked Dermer where to go from here, and Dermer said to build on and expand these dialogues, and to separate U.S. bipartisan support for Israel from Obama and Netanyahu’s disagreement over the talks on Iran and nuclear power.

Netanyahu and his newly forming Israeli government remains at loggerheads with Obama over the U.S. and P5 countries negotiations with Iran on restraining their nuclear enrichment program, Rep. Israel conceded.

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But that must be separated from firm U.S. support for Israel, the congressman said.

“He was also realistic,” Rep. Israel said of Dermer, whom he quoted as saying: “If the administration is able to get a deal with Iran, if they’re going to push it, we’re going to oppose it. And that just is what it is.”

Conversely, Rep. Israel said, “If there is not a deal with Iran, then I believe and he believes that tensions will self correct. They always do. Since 1948 there have been flashpoints between presidents and Israel. No question there is going to be a disagreement that has to be managed.”

Consider the history, mentioned by Rep. Israel and shown by news clips.

In 1948, Secretary of State George Marshall battled President Harry Truman over recognition of Israel, and later imposed an arms embargo on Israel.

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In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson was lukewarm about the Six-Day War.

In the 1981 and 1982, President Ronald Reagan pushed for an $8.5 billion sale of advanced AWACs aircraft to Saudi Arabia, over Israel’s objection, something that Senate Minority Leader Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) sharply criticized.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush threatened to withdraw $10 billion in U.S. loan guarantees to Israel over his disagreement with Israeli policy of building settlements in the West Bank, drawing sharp criticism from presidential candidate Bill Clinton.

But in 1993, President Bill Clinton reduced the same loan guarantee program in protest of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

In 2002, President George W. Bush slammed then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for launching a military offensive against Ramallah in the West Bank as Bush’s envoy was about to begin another peacekeeping mission – and blocked $800 million in new aid.