Former U.S.-Israel advisers Yaacov Amidror and Tom Donilon share tips on getting along

Ron Kampeas

Against the U.S.-Israel tensions of recent weeks, AIPAC sought out two officials of both governments who got along in their day to host a discussion Sunday at its conference.

They didn’t have to go too far back: Yaacov Amidror and Tom Donilon were respectively the national security advisers to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama earlier in this decade; Donilon from 2010 to 2013 and Amidror from 2011 to 2013.

They agreed that the best way to get over differences was to air them, as soon as possible.

“There was a secure phone on his desk, on my desk,” Donilon said. “If there was a disagreement,” he said, the key was “to confront those disagreements professionally, not to let them fester.”

Amidror agreed. “There was no mistake of what our views were after such conversations,” he said. Also, keep others out of the conversation. At the end of long days in the company of others, Amidror recalled Donilon would invite him to dinner. “We [would] just speak between us for two-three hours,” he said.

So what’s going wrong now? Amidror and Donilon did not directly address the current crisis during their AIPAC appearance, but they might not have had much to contribute; by all accounts their successors, Yossi Cohen and Susan Rice, get along famously.

The problem may be that the Iran talks and the proximity of a possible nuclear deal with the country have driven their bosses, Netanyahu and Obama, to disagreements to deep to resolve over dinner.

Or it also may be the vituperative tone that creeps into the exchange, thanks in part to enthusiastic supporters of either leader.

Amidror sought me out after his and Donilon’s presentation, in order to speak out about an ad this week that cast Rice as unmoved by the prospect of genocide and the dangers that Iran posed to Israel. Shmuley Boteach, a rabbi who has been a strident critic of the Iran talks and a defender of Netanyahu, placed the ad in the New York Times.

“I want to be precise, this ad is unacceptable morally, a huge political mistake and missing the point,” said Amidror, who overlapped with Rice for about half a year.

“There are many differences between Israel and America on the Iran issue, but no one should think the United States of America wants the annihilation of the State of Israel,” he said. “It’s unacceptable and stupid to think so.”

Ron Kampeas is JTA’s Washington bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter at @kampeas