The reaction to the Admin’s justified lack of support for Netanyahu’s policies are a sign of the imbalanced madness in the relationship.
For the last eight years, we’ve all watched as the right wing has constructed an elaborate fantasyland around President Barack Obama, creating a wholly-fictional character that wasn’t just at odds with his personality and likeability (something that can, I guess, be subjective) but with objective fact. It’s axiomatic on the right that Obama is feckless and unconcerned with ISIS or al-Qaeda, to the point of essentially aiding and abetting their caliphatic dreams, even while he’s actually droning and bombing half a dozen countries and arming a dozen more.
But nowhere is this more obvious, and in a particularly maddening way, than when it comes to Israel. By most objective measures, Obama has been an enormous friend to Israel, providing more military aid than any other President and strengthening intelligence ties to an unprecedented degree. However, the caricature of the relationship is that Obama is anti-Israeli, hates Israel, and has left in hanging, strictly because he doesn’t get along with, and is in fact disdainful of, their Prime Minister, the loathsome Bibi Netanyahu.
That came to a head in the last week, when the US abstained from a historic UN vote which condemned illegal settlements in the West Bank. The US had previously vetoed every other attempt to condemn illegal settlements, so this was a huge deal. It opens Israel up to more international action and gives the Palestinians a legal leg to stand on. It is doubtful that this will change Israeli behavior in the short term, and will certainly embolden their right wing, but it was also undoubtedly the right thing to do. The settlements are (again) illegal under international law, and perhaps more importantly, an incredible obstacle to peace and to the two-state solution.
That they are an obstacle to the two-state solution is exactly why the Israeli right likes them, of course, and why Bibi has been so prolific in their promulgation. He’s essentially rejected that course of action, which has been US foreign policy for over 20 years, spanning Presidents from both parties, and which is basically agreed upon on a bipartisan basis.
But you wouldn’t know that from the reaction to the vote, and to John Kerry’s speech in which he very elegantly laid out why the settlements were damaging, and why their continuation would ruin the two-state solution, the pursuit of which (again) is official US policy. It’s the kind of speech that should be praised as a way forward. Right?
“Secretary Kerry’s speech today was at best a pointless tirade in the waning days of an outgoing administration,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. That he avoided saying “Munich” is a minor miracle, and I expect a correction today. But it took a Democrat to really drive it home.
Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called Mr. Kerry’s speech “gratuitous” and “wrong.” “There doesn’t seem any purpose to this other than to embarrass Israel,” Mr. Engel said.
Well…yeah, sort of. And Israel should be embarrassed. Because their actions are entirely wrong. But it isn’t about embarrassing “Israel”- it’s aimed specifically at the government of Netanyahu, and its actions. The problem is that among American conservatives, and more and more centrist Democrats, Bibi and Israel are inseparable.
It was a few years ago, when the rift between Bibi and Obama really started to become public, when Obama was criticizing Netanyahu for continuing to build settlements and Netanyahu was basically supporting Mitt Romney that they GOP decided Bibi was the global spokesperson for all the Jews, and that instead of being a politician in a secular state, he was the living and unquestioned embodiment of Israel. This was smart politics on their behalf, because then any disagreement with Netanyahu became an explicit breaking of the ties between the US and Israel.
And I have to remind readers, that this was blitherlingly insane. Netanyahu is nothing more than a particularly unprincipled politician. He isn’t a member of the heroic generation, he isn’t a spiritual leader. He’s just a politician. But he is extremely Republican, in the very modern sense of things. He sees eye-to-eye with the GOP over both policies and politics. (See, for example, his election last year, in which, as Jeffery Goldberg reported, “…he played the role of demagogue, warning his right-wing base that the left was encouraging Arab Israelis to vote, in order to sink his government.” Sounds familiar!)
They are pretty similar in hysterics too. Take the shameless and terrible Avigdor Lieberman.
Israel’s defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, earlier this week called it “a modern-day Dreyfus trial,” referring to the 19th-century French conviction of a Jewish Army captain for treason in what was widely seen as a case study in anti-Semitism.
“There’s only one difference,” Mr. Lieberman said. “This time, instead of the defendant being one Jew, it will be the entire nation of Israel and the state of Israel.”
I can think of another difference, which is: Dreyfus was innocent, and he was arrested and convicted solely because he was Jewish, and not because of his demonstrable and widely-publicized actions. But the rhetoric is very familiar.
So you have an alignment of hard-right, ruthless politicians who have decided to align their destinies, to the point where last year Netanyahu had pride of place in the US Congress, invited to speak against US policy. This was somehow accepted as normal, and even just, because 1) Israel is our friend; and 2) Netanyahu IS Israel.
But that’s not the way it is, and it shows the madness of our Israeli relationship. I don’t think it is AIPAC, or the “Jews run things!”, or anything like that. It is that Israel has become, like Keystone XL or saying “Islamic terrorism”, a fetish symbol, something to worship, and to do so ostentatiously, to point yourself in opposition to Barack Obama.
Because Obama treats Israel the way it should be treated: as the smaller partner in a one-way relationship. We give the Israelis more money than any other country, and have shielded it diplomatically for decades, since George HW Bush (Reagan, it should be remembered, really didn’t care for Israel). And since that time, the two-state solution has been informal, and then formal, US policy. And Bibi explicitly rejects that.
So it takes an enormous amount of gall to say that the US shouldn’t lecture Israel. Jokers like McCain, who firmly believe that the US has a moral duty to tell every other country what to do, seems to think that we shouldn’t say peep when a client state acts against our stated policy and our clear interests. These America-firsters think that Israel should dictate the terms of our relationship.
And I mean “client state”, because this is the caricature. Even in the “everyone hates this” sturm und drang, the Times pointed out that “At least one member of Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet suggested that some people in the prime minister’s party were worried about going too far in attacking the United States, which, under Mr. Obama, just agreed to a record $38 billion, 10-year security aid package.” Right. Obama is sending 38 billion, and the official GOP position is that even in doing so, the President of the United States has no right to add any strings, even ones as basic as “try not to hamstring our decades-long policy for your own political gain.”
It’s madness, and while it has been long-brewing, it was exacerbated by generalized Obama madness. Because everything he did was wrong, and deeply un-American, it is now the point of utmost patriotic pride to make sure Bibi has the unfettered ability to marshall extremists in order to win elections. And needless to say, that’s backed up by Trump, who is encouraging him to wait until January 20th, when everything will change. Bibi, of course, already knows that.
(And don’t think this isn’t a boon for Trump, who can claim that he loves the Jewish people, and they love him, even as his vocal and welcome neo-Nazi supporters plan a march in their leader’s hometown aimed specifically at Jews. This is great cover.)
Anti-Obama madness, in all its forms, is official US policy now, backed in this case even by members of his party, who have somehow internalized the skewed nature of our relationship. The same forces that Bibi rides are the ones that have lifted Trump. Bibi will keep pushing, and Trump will keep backing his moves, and Palestine, which has been on the backburner given the Syrian tragedy and the general dissolution of the region, will flare up again. We’ll see then that allowing Israel, made flesh by Bibi, to do whatever it wants in flagrant opposition to US policy, was a historic dereliction of duty.
(This was like a million words, but as always, it was summed up a few years ago by The Onion, in “Obama Sarcastically Asks How Israel Afforded Such a Great Missle System”)