Friday, March 20, 2015

The Honeymoon's Over

He can't fire Bibi
My comment on Thomas Friedman's column about the Israeli election yesterday was one of 21 designated as "NYT Picks":
Bibi can afford to be honest thanks to the sea change in U.S. attitudes. Israel's historic left-leaning U.S. supporters cared more about democracy for democracy's sake than do her new friends on the right, who don't seem to worry much about disenfranchised Palestinians on the West Bank. With a GOP Congress and a better than even chance for a GOP president, Bibi's sitting pretty for the time being as far as keeping the U.S. is concerned.

At home, if he's being honest about abandoning two states, he probably envisions a plan along the lines of Naftali Bennett's -- annexation of the West Bank with a glacial phasing-in of Palestinians' rights. Meanwhile the Palestinians will continue to lobby in international forums for de facto statehood. These visions will inevitably and perhaps violently clash. Maybe that's just what Bibi's evangelical end-time friends in the U.S. want.

Israelis can run their country however they want. But I'm feeling more and more like Israel is morally equivalent with China, Germany, and Japan as far as U.S. policy is concerned. Relations among countries need to be reciprocal and mutually beneficial. Since 1948, our main interest in Israel has been that we loved her for the sake of who she was and what she stood for. I still respect that, but the honeymoon's over. I don't have to love Israel's democracy if Israel doesn't. And I am not going to favor a Mideast policy driven primarily by end-timers. I don't like their influence in Iran, and I don't like it here.

5 comments:

bibliotechie said...

Changing American attitudes from a left that admired ‘Kibbutz Israel’ to cheering on a more hawkish militaristic Israel (6 day war, Entebbe), to the current levels of evangelical support, merely reflect American political trends. Looking at the Israeli election merely through the perspective of American politics, or the peace process ignores the complicated realities that really influenced the election. Moreover, the coverage in the New York Times or English edition of Haaretz, is merely telling the chattering classes what they want to hear resulting in the polling bubble-effect. (try Yediot Aharonot, Maariv, Arutz Sheva).

The peacenik Left (Meretz) is associated with the Oslo accords as and the Labor party (now part of Zionist Union along with the more dovish elements of Kadima). Both parties are associated with the secular anti-religious Ashkenazi (German/Eastern European) elite which for many years discriminated against Sephardi (Mizrachi) (Spanish diaspora and Arab world) Israelis. Neither party has reached out to Sephardim or the Soviet Jews in a meaningful way, especially as the former were cut out of the Histadrut (national labor union) leadership, and the latter are allergic to any party that smells of socialism. Many of the issues in the election were social and economic, not just security. Herzog (Bugie) himself has almost no charisma, Netanyahu is an even better speaker in Hebrew than English!

Most importantly, while Americans are already looking for the next Kardashian soap opera, Israelis see Hezbollah to the North, ISIS to the North East, and Hamas in Gaza. They know that the only reason there weren’t major casualties (in Israel) in the recent war was because of Iron Dome, and destroying the tunnels. The ‘lone wolf’ attacks (including where I lived in Har Nof) are a constant fear. Israel is a small country, and everyone knows someone scarred or killed in the conflict. (Bibi's brother Yonatan was killed in the Entebbe raid). Threats from Iran, and Hamas are taken seriously.

Finally, Obama has gone out of his way to squander any good will with the Israelis. By not visiting until his second term, by calling for a complete freeze (including natural growth in Jerusalem) that went even beyond the PA position, the hasty troop withdrawals and flexible red lines, has caused centrist Israelis to question his judgment. But more importantly, the snide ‘off the record’ remarks attacking Netanyahu ad hominem (i.e. Chickensh*t), and the seeming inability to call attacks against Jews abroad terrorism hits a sour note. State department funding for the “One Voice” movement, as well as Obama campaign advisors joining the Anti-Bibi campaign were major stories in the Israeli press. Bibi might be a jerk, but he is our jerk.

Bibliotechie said...

Take a look at the post election analysis of Ari Shavit (a center left Haaretz journalist)
http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/03/israeli-elections-israel-future-116266.html -- for a read that is paying better attention to what's really going on in Israel than Friedman who has too high of a profile to listen to man on the street concerns. As bad as Bibi's rhetoric, MK Haneen Zoabi (leader of Balad faction in Joint list) has made a name for herself calling the IDF worse than ISIS and describing the kidnapping and murder of the three Jewish teens as a heroic act).

It is not that Israelis are tribal xenophobes (as the American administration hints), but soured on a peace process that has brought neither peace, security, or acceptance.

Fr. John said...

I am sorry to have gone so long without acknowledging both these thoughtful comments. In retrospect, based on some polling I've seen, I may have been wrong to call so much attention to scripturally based evangelical support for Israel, which is significant but probably not even the most important reason why (as a friend of mine puts it) Israel lost the U.S. left and gained the right. I also don't think most Americans give enough to attention to the fact that a Palestinian state is essentially a crap shoot for Israel. I have moderate Palestinian friends who admit that they favor a Palestinian state next door to Israel as a stepping stone to a single Jewish-minority state. And yet Israel will have to do something, won't it, either to annex the West Bank and give its Arab citizens a path to Israeli statehood (which would have the same result as my friends anticipate) or to give it enough functional autonomy that the world (and Israel's founders, wherever heaven may find them) won't say that she's abandoned democracy? That it's potentially a no-win situation for Israel explains most of Bibi's behavior, as far as I'm concerned. Thanks again!

Fr. John said...

I meant to say "path to Israeli citizenship" in the comment above.

bibliotechie said...

Israel is in a position of what chess players call Zugzwang, the player is compelled to move, yet any move will weaken their position. Israeli policy is the result of cacophonous democracy and unstable coalitions, coupled with the trauma of war, terror, and Jewish history.

Yes, Netanyahu in particular over his entire career has cynically cultivated Evangelical support for Israel, but at the same time it should be noted that that the Christian right has very little say in Israeli policy for all their support (especially when it comes to things like proselytizing and visas for missionaries). I distrust the evangelical emphasis on Revelation and the end times, as much as the liberal bent that ignores the atrocities in Syria while condemning new apartments in Jerusalem. Yes, Israel is the beneficiary of American aid (much of which is reinvested in American military technology, and in developing shared defensive and intelligence systems), but it does not mean that they are a vassal state or willing to make critical sacrifices for the political fortunes of an American president (especially one who has squandered good will pandering to the Muslim world and engaging in a pissing match with their elected leader…). Remember, there once was a certain US President who changed the relationship from moral obligation to cold war asset, while undercutting his own State Deparatment (and using the Israeli ambassador to help get Jewish support in the election). This is also part of why Israel is winning the right and loosing the left--the left views it through the anti-colonial struggle, the right through security alliances.

The two state solution, is as you called it, a crap-shoot, and a democratic one state solution would be the end of a democratic Israel. Israel cannot tolerate a militant state on its border that is used as a staging ground for attacks on its people, nor can they tolerate a moderate state that uses nationhood and access to international fora to delegitimize it. How many of your moderate Palestinian friends would accept a compromise on the Jewish control of Jewish holy sites like the Western Wall, and at least joint custody in places like the Cave of the Patriarchs and Tomb of Rachel. How many would accept a deal that specified an end of conflict? How many could accept a symbolic number of family reunifications and compensation instead of a full right of return for all the millions of descendants of the original refugees who not only do not speak Hebrew nor have the skills to function in a western society, but are hostile to the State itself? A One State solution between the Jordan and Mediterranean with democratic rule would still have social, economic, and educational imbalances favoring Israelis (as happened in South Africa or reunited Germanys). Most likely there would be Quebec style laws favoring Hebrew and protecting Jewish culture—until there aren’t--and the resented Jewish minority face the fate of other Middle Eastern cultural and religious minorities (Copts, Bahais, Yazidis, Kurds, Chaldeans…).