By: Shlomit Ebbin  | 

Former U.S. Amb. Daniel Shapiro Speaks About Obama, Netanyahu and Israel at Crisis and Hope: YU Voices Event

Former United States Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro spoke to about 50 YU students about his time as an ambassador during President Barack Obama’s administration in a Zoom interview with Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, on Wednesday, Mar. 16 at noon. 

This event was part of a series titled “Crisis and Hope: YU Voices” — a project that “brings today’s topics to life through in-depth interviews with leading experts in Jewish Studies and beyond from Yeshiva University.” The series is sponsored by Judaic Studies at YU, the YU Center for Israel Studies, the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs and the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. 

Shapiro was appointed ambassador of the U.S. to Israel under Obama in 2011 and served until the end of Obama’s term in 2017. At the event, Shapiro spoke about his role as an ambassador, which included being the intermediary between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Shapiro also discussed his predictions about how some of the policies instituted under past U.S. presidents will play out under President Joe Biden. 

“A US ambassador, any ambassador for their country, has one primary responsibility and that is to promote and protect and advance the interests of their country,” shared Shapiro at the event. “It’s an incredible honor and responsibility … to stand before the American flag on behalf of the president of the United States, the secretary of state, the American government and the American people, and articulate what’s important for the United States’ interest. But it is a special pleasure and uniquely fulfilling opportunity to do that hosted by a close ally, a close partner. And in my case, I can say a country with which I have a deep personal connection.”

During the program, Rabbi Blau asked Shapiro how he handled the “difficult relationship” between Obama and Netanyahu, which reached points of tension during Obama’s two terms. Shapiro responded, “At the time there were very public disagreements between our governments. My job of course was to explain our policy and make sure it was understood, but it was also my job to be a channel through which the Israeli government could communicate their views back to Washington.” 

On the topic of Obama’s decision to abstain from using the U.S.’s veto power on United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 — which condemned the Israeli settlements in the West Bank — Shapiro, though having advised Obama against abstaining, said, “My understanding of his policy was that the U.S. and Israel are close allies and work together on many, many things and that’s always going to be the case. There will be many things at times that we disagree on, and close friends can disagree. And it is not something that needs to be shied away from or ignored.”

He added, “A strong, durable relationship can deal with those kinds of differences.” 

During the event, Rabbi Blau said Shapiro was “unique” as a former ambassador in that he decided to stay in Israel after his resignation. Shapiro has three daughters and currently lives in Ra’anana, Israel. Shapiro noted that he still frequently travels to Washington, D.C. and advises members of Congress. 

“The Biden administration is rethinking American foreign policies. Yeshiva is the most important institution of Modern Orthodoxy and it has to be the location for the discussion about American’s interaction with Israel and its neighbors,” Rabbi Blau told The Commentator. “Ambassador Shapiro is a friend of Israel and has a knowledgeable and balanced perspective.”

Jess Olson, an associate professor of Jewish History, facilitated the Q&A at the end of the event and added that he hoped the university would be able to host Shapiro again in person in the future. 

“I appreciated the opportunity to speak with the Yeshiva University community about U.S. policy in the Middle East as the Biden-Harris Administration gets underway,” Shapiro told The Commentator after the event. “Rabbi Blau's incisive questions, and those sent in by the audience, generated opportunities to delve into a number of important topics, from the U.S.-Israel security partnership, to the threat posed by Iran, to prospects in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, to the opportunities created by the normalization of relations between Israel and Arab states.” 

Shapiro also said, “I look forward to visiting Yeshiva University in person in the future to continue the discussion.”

Photo Caption: Shapiro was appointed ambassador of the U.S. to Israel under Obama in 2011 and served until the end of Obama’s term in 2017.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia