I really did not want to write about Israel again this week, but the outrageous manipulation of the Democratic Party platform, moves in California to make any criticism of Israel a hate crime, and news that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had dressed down the U.S. ambassador in the presence of a congressman before insisting that the United States has no moral right to judge Israel has made it unavoidable to go “once more into the breach, dear friends.”
There is a fundamental issue at stake here. That is, does the United States have a national interest in its dealings with the countries in the Middle East that is fundamentally distinct from the Israeli interests? It is a question for dummies, as the answer is clearly yes. Well, if the answer is yes, why are leading politicians and talking heads insisting that the answer is no? Why are so many prominent Americans prepared to ignore the U.S. national interest in support of a foreign nation that has been the source of numerous armed conflicts, that has spied relentlessly on the U.S., and that is a serious drain on the U.S. Treasury? One might add that Americans have become terrorist targets as a consequence while the sharp decline in the favorable views of the United States around the world is largely attributable to the ties to rogue state Israel, even if the Bushes and Obamas have no doubt done their bit through the policy of unrestricted preemptive warfare that has evolved over the past11 years.
The ability of the Israel lobby and of the government of the state of Israel itself to interfere with the U.S. political process has never been more evident than in the past few weeks. At the Republican convention in Tampa, the following appeared in the party platform:
We affirm our unequivocal commitment to Israel’s security and will ensure that it maintains a qualitative edge in military technology over any potential adversaries. We support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state … the Palestinian people must support leaders who reject terror…. We call on Arab governments throughout the region to help advance that goal. Israel should not be expected to negotiate with entities pledged to her destruction. We call on the new government in Egypt to fully uphold its peace treaty with Israel … elements like Hamas and Hezbollah must be isolated because they do not meet the standards of peace and diplomacy of the international community.
In Charlotte a week later, the text of the Democratic Party platform on Israel initially appeared to reveal a shift in thinking in the White House. Coming on the heels of a “significant” scale down in planned joint military exercises with Israel and Gen. Martin Dempsey’s comment in London that “I don’t want to be complicit” in an attack on Iran, it seemed to signify that Obama might be interested in recalibrating the relationship with Tel Aviv. Unlike the 2008 platform, the 2012 version omitted a declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, did not rule out that some future peace settlement might find Palestinian refugees resettled in the their former homes in Israel, and did not specifically call for the “isolation” of Hamas.
Rep. Eric Cantor, speaking for the Romney campaign, attacked the Democrats on Tuesday and called on “all friends of Israel to condemn the president’s abrupt break with our closest ally in the Middle East.” Romney also chimed in: “It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Four years of President Obama’s repeated attempts to create distance between the United States and our cherished ally have led the Democratic Party to remove from their platform an unequivocal acknowledgment of a simple reality. As president, I will restore our relationship with Israel and stand shoulder to shoulder with our close ally.”
Then AIPAC and its friends in the Democratic Party struck back. On Tuesday night former Florida congressman Robert Wexler spoke in defense of Israel, citing America’s “unflinching commitment” to that nation. He told a reporter, “The speech I delivered was not a typical convention speech. It was actually a significantly substantive speech, in terms of foreign policy about a particular country. To my knowledge, it was the first time that a speech of that nature has been made at either a Democratic or Republican convention outlining an administration’s policy about Israel.”
That Jerusalem is and should be the capital of Israel was re-inserted into the draft on Wednesday, leading to a ridiculous voice vote presided over by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in which the amendment was clearly voted down three times before Villaraigosa announced that it has passed by the necessary two-thirds. It was a procedure somewhat reminiscent of Stalin standing in front of the Supreme Soviet and calling for a vote. Thanks to the intervention, the final plank on Israel in the Democratic platform now includes: “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.”
And it didn’t end there, lest anyone think that the Dems were not sufficiently hewing to the Israeli line. President Obama made it known that he had personally been supportive of the reinstatement of the Jerusalem language. Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz noted that the Democratic platform was “100% strongly pro-Israel,” adding how proud she is to be “the first Jewish woman to represent Florida in Congress.” She claimed the missing endorsement had been a “technical omission,” but her veracity is questionable. A couple of days earlier she had stated that she’d “heard no less than [Israeli] Ambassador Michael Oren say this, that what the Republicans are doing is dangerous for Israel.” An angry Oren denied that he had ever said anything such thing.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York also weighed in, calling the affair “a mistake” by platform drafters, “an act of omission, not commission.” AIPAC, which had denied any hand in the changing platform, was smug in victory. In a statement on the brouhaha, it affirmed, “We welcome reinstatement to the Democratic platform of the language affirming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Together, these party platforms reflect strong bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Note that no other country friendly to the United States was the subject of a laudatory convention speech. Nor did any other nation receive similar special consideration from the platform writers of either party. Israel stands alone, as if it were the key U.S. relationship in the entire world and, unfortunately, for many politicians who ostensibly represent United States congressional districts, that just might be true. And there is no mercy for those who deviate from the agenda. Ron Paul, who has said that the nation’s dysfunctional foreign policy motivated him to run for president, was humiliated by the GOP during his visit to the convention but was given a parting nudge as he went out the door by way of a 15-minute video that very carefully did not mention his views on America’s overseas involvements. But even the careful parsing of Paul’s career was not enough for those for whom Israel is deeply ingrained in their political psyches. The Republican Platform committee was immediately attacked by the National Jewish Democratic Council for “Paying tribute to this man who disparaged the U.S.-Israel relationship on Iranian television and empathized with Iran’s nuclear weapons program — on top of the history of his hate-filled newsletters — is a national disgrace. Romney and the RNC should cancel the tribute and end this dangerous strategic partnership once and for all.”
Most of the attention on Israel and the U.S. was understandably centered on the two conventions, but Israel and its allies have clearly been pushing forward on a number of other fronts. On Aug. 28, California HR 35, entitled “Relative to Anti-Semitism,” was passed on a voice vote in the Assembly after no debate with 66 out of 80 assembly members signing on. The resolution is ostensibly intended to prevent harassment of Jewish students on campus over their political views. But it cites in its “whereas” portion seeking to make the case for the resolution: “(4) student- and faculty-sponsored boycott, divestment, and sanction campaigns against Israel that are a means of demonizing Israel and seek to harm the Jewish state; (5) actions of student groups that encourage support for terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah and openly advocate terrorism against Israel and the Jewish people; and (6) suppression and disruption of free speech that present Israel’s point of view.” It unambiguously equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Many student and civil liberties groups find the equation a deliberate attempt to stifle free speech. Cecilie Surasky of Jewish Voices for Peace notes, “This resolution wants the University of California system to treat Israel differently from virtually every other country in the world, including the United States, by claiming much criticism of Israeli policies is hate speech.”
And it has just been reported that late last month Rep. Mike Rogers, Republican from Michigan, sat in on a meeting in Israel that included Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro. Rogers confirmed that the Israeli PM engaged in a sharp confrontation with Shapiro, saying he was at “wit’s end” over the Obama administration’s lack of “clarity” on red lines for Iran. Rogers, in a radio interview, basically agreed with the Israeli position, saying that the White House had not “outlined an endgame” and made it clear to the Israelis (or the Iranians) that any proposed military action is actually on the table.
And that was all before Netanyahu denounced Washington publicly during a press conference on Tuesday while on a visit to Bulgaria, saying pointedly, “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.” The Israeli newspaper Haaretz interpreted the language to be a demand that the United States give Iran an ultimatum that would likely result in war. Haaretz called the prime minister’s precise words “an unprecedented verbal attack on the U.S. government.”
Why is all of this important? It is important because a serious debate about an asymmetrical bilateral relationship in which Benjamin Netanyahu is now demanding that the United States enter a war in which many Americans will likely die and the U.S. economy will be devastated is not taking place. Instead, our political and chattering class think it is better to go with the flow. Would I describe the politicians and journalists who are along for the ride as Quislings? Probably, but the label is not as important as an understanding of the damage they are inflicting on our country. Congressmen like Mike Rogers should think first of the people who elected him, not Israel. Mitt Romney, who has never served his own country in uniform, appears prepared to go to war at the behest of a not completely rational Benjamin Netanyahu while America’s two major political parties, at the national and state levels, are seeking to outdo each other to accommodate Israel at every turn. Perhaps it is time for the American people to begin to recognize that these fifth-column politicos are betraying our country and its vital interests. But maybe it is too late for that. The propaganda mill in favor of Israel and all its works has been grinding for far too long, and too many people appear to be convinced that what is good for Israel is good for the United States.