Freshmen U.S. House members Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib came in for plenty of criticism from fellow Democratic caucus members, and even rebukes by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for expressing strongly held negative views of Israel and its U.S. lobbyist, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. But according to J Street, an American liberal-leaning Israeli advocacy group, even 59 percent of American Jews, up substantially since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s been in charge, do not perceive criticism of some or many of Israel’s policies as inconsistent with support for Israel itself.
The congresswomen’s mistake as with many others is that they conflated their criticism of Netanyahu’s abrasive policies and AIPAC’s enablers with anti-Semitic remarks.
In 1947, when the U.N. snatched 55 percent of historical Palestine out from under the Arabs to create the Jewish state for 30 percent of the population, it also envisioned a new Arab state that would be founded in the remaining territory. That didn’t happen, resulting in decades of predictable hostility, four Arab-instigated wars of aggression and Palestinian terrorism. Now who could have seen that coming?
So, don’t condemn Palestinians for refusing to negotiate away – or battling for – rights guaranteed to them by the U.N. It is Israelis’ arrogance, intransigence and sense of entitlement that’s gotten us here. Israel is the one with all the power. It could settle this conflict in a heartbeat simply by complying with UN Resolution 181, which created it, by ending its illegal occupation of Jerusalem and halting its criminal and obscene settlement policy and suppression of Palestine’s autonomy and fledgling economy.
Instead, Israel has chosen even more aggressive policies under Netanyahu, moving toward authoritarianism and away from negotiated peace and relying on ultra-nationalism tied to religious extremism and increased settler violence, confiscation of even more Arab land needed to build a viable Palestinian state, sabotaging the Mideast peace process by dragging its feet at every step, violating international law and U.N. resolutions, and most recently, passing its Nation-State law giving Israeli Jews more rights than other citizens, betraying the country’s 70-year democratic tradition.
Americans can’t appreciate the daily threat Israelis face from Hamas and Hezbollah. But if their response is an ultra-nationalist apartheid state they should know American support is not unconditional.
Now, in advance of the April 9 election Netanyahu has made a pact with the extreme far-right political party, Otzma Yehudit, or Jewish Power, an offshoot of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach party, which is designated a terrorist organization by the State Department. Kahane was an ultranationalist American-Israeli who was banned from Israeli politics for his racist opinions and assassinated in the early 1990s. The Jewish American magazine Forward compared the pact Netanyahu-Otzma Yehudit to striking a deal with Israel’s equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan. The deal was also condemned by the American Jewish Committee and, surprisingly, even by AIPAC.
Netanyahu has inserted himself into American politics as no other PM has done, openly wedding Israel’s government to the Republican Party and slathering sycophantic approval on Donald Trump; excoriating the Iranian nuclear deal in a partisan rant to Congress; pushing the U.S. to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, essentially sealing the demise of the "two-state solution;" and dissolving America’s historic, bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in favor of an unstable alliance of end-times Christians who see a unified Holy Land as a precursor to the Second Coming, ultra-orthodox Jews and right-wing billionaires.
There are some good reasons to shield Israel. It espouses many of the values we hold dear. But never forget Israeli interests and American interests, while often overlapping, are not indivisible. Israel’s unyielding belligerency may work for it but it is counterproductive to America’s goals in the Middle East and its standing in the 99 percent of the world that’s not Israel.
More than likely Netanyahu will be re-elected for up to four more years in next month’s election. But Americans will find it increasingly difficult to justify continued support of Israeli policies that are abhorrent to liberal principles.