By Brown and White Staff

Students and faculty gathered in the University Center on April 3 to hear Republican congressman Charlie Dent of the 15th District of Pennsylvania speak about American-Israeli relations. The event was planned by Michael Lefkoe, '15, and Gideon Drucker, '14, co-presidents of Friends of Israel, along with a student from Muhlenberg College.

Dent expressed to his audience the strength of the American-Israeli relations and claimed that the relationship seems to only get stronger from an institutional point of view.

"The relationship between the United States and Israel is based upon shared values and common interests," Dent said. "Despite differences between the countries' leaders, they share a strong military, cultural and intelligence relationship."

"Israel is a country that has a genuine affection for the United States and its people," the congressman said.    

Dent sits on the sub-committee of the Appropriations Committee in the House of Representatives that deals specifically with the allocation of foreign aid to Israel. Dent said that Israel is the top recipient of American foreign aid, with close to $3.1 billion being awarded this year.

In addition, when an audience member inquired as to how the congressman received his information, Dent responded that being on this sub-committee gives him access to different classified briefings and hearings. 

The congressman expressed concern that the recent tensions between Iran and Israel will affect the American-Israeli relationship. 

"Israel seems to have a sense of feeling that Iran is on the cusp of developing a nuclear weapon," he said.

While the U.S. is currently opposed to action against Iran, Israel has expressed that it is prepared to prevent the country from further developing nuclear weapons.

Dent believes this difference of opinion may cause a strain on the relationship between the two nations.  All in all, the situation is very unpredictable, but if Israel is threatened, he is sure that they would act in their own interest, he said.   

The congressman stressed that the tensions between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will lead to problems, as it creates a lack of trust between the two countries. Dent said he is not sure how Obama would react if Israel attacked Iran and that this uncertainty threatens the strength of the countries' relationship.

Dent, however, also expressed an overall faith in the U.S. and its economy.

"I don't think America is in decline," he said. "I think we have a bright future ahead of ourselves."

Dent slightly addressed the Syria situation regarding its impact on Iran and, in turn, its impacts on Israel. He declared that while there was global consensus with what happened with Libya, such consensus does not exist in the case of Syria.

"As long as Russia and China have a seat at the table, the Syria situation will not be resolved," he said.

However, he expressed that if the Syrian regime were weakened, the surrounding Arab and Iranian regimes would be undermined.

Both Lefkoe and Drucker agreed that the event was a success.

"I hope everyone learned a little bit more about the importance of a strong American-Israeli relationship, and hopefully it encouraged students to become more involved in learning about the issues and supporting Israel in the future," Drucker said. 

Lefkoe reiterated Drucker's statement, hoping that students who attended learned about the issues going on in the Middle East and about the threat to the safety of Israel. 

Dent ended his talk with a question-and-answer session.

A Lehigh alumnus, Dent addressed the students, expressing his happiness at the success of the men's basketball and lacrosse teams this year.

"I did wear my brown tie in honor of Lehigh University," he said.