The rapturous reception afforded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he ascended the dais to address a joint session of Congress was like the triumphs Roman generals were honored with as they returned from their wars of conquest. It’s true “Bibi” didn’t have President Obama trailing behind him in chains, as the Romans dragged Vercingetorix, the king of the Gauls, but then again, that wasn’t really necessary. Only hours before, Sen. Harry Reid had denied his own president and the leader of his party, distancing himself from the Obama administration’s Mideast peace plan, and reiterating his support for Netanyahu, while other Democrats ran for the hills. Netanyahu’s triumph – after 56 standing ovations – was complete.
The content of the Prime Minister’s speech was almost irrelevant: it was the usual panoply of lies, “spin,” and vaunting. Lies about how great the Palestinian economy is doing, spinning (i.e. glossing over) Israel’s criminal occupation of conquered territories, and vaunting of Zionist power – not the Jewish state’s military power, but its political power right here in this country. When it comes down to a contest between the chief executive of the most powerful nation in the world, and the Prime Minister of a country that would fall into the abyss without US support, the latter proved his superior potency.
“In an unstable Middle East, Israel is the one anchor of stability. In a region of shifting alliances, Israel is America’s unwavering ally. Israel has always been pro-American. Israel will always be pro-American.”
Only in a Bizarro World alternate universe is Israel “the one anchor of stability” in a volatile region. Quite the opposite is true: the Jewish state is the primary source of regional instability, due entirely to its ruthlessness and inhumanity in enforcing a military occupation that weighs heavily on the conscience of the world.
Netanyahu has it backwards: America is and has been Israel’s unwavering ally, and yet, as Vice President Joe Biden found out on his last trip to Israel, this doesn’t preclude the Israelis’ open hostility. Ambushed and humiliated by his most ungracious hosts – who announced a new round of settlement-building the day the Vice President arrived – Biden learned first hand that this arrangement doesn’t work both ways.
“My friends, you don’t need to do nation building in Israel. We’re already built. You don’t need to export democracy to Israel. We’ve already got it. You don’t need to send American troops to defend Israel. We defend ourselves. You’ve been very generous in giving us tools to do the job of defending Israel on our own. Thank you all, and thank you President Obama, for your steadfast commitment to Israel’s security. I know economic times are tough. I deeply appreciate this.”
How many lies can one speechwriter pack into a single paragraph? We are engaged in “nation building” in Israel – how else are the Israelis spending that cool $3 billion a year in “aid”? “We’re already built” – so does that mean we can cut the Israelis off the dole, and stop borrowing from the Chinese in order to placate Tel Aviv? Surely that isn’t what Netanyahu meant to say.
As for the boast that we needn’t export democracy to Israel – because “We’ve already got it” – what can one say to the ruler of a country that has established a two-tiered tyranny, granting the members of one religious group voting rights and the ability to move freely, and relegating the rest to a political limbo, and the status of helots imprisoned in their own land?
What can one say, except: You lie?
Netanyahu, whose first response to the upsurge in Egypt was to support Mubarak and cavil at the specter of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Cairo, had the nerve to hail the “epic battle now unfolding in the Middle East,” which, he averred, is “between tyranny and freedom.” Yet, in this battle, Israel is on the other side – the side of the tyrants – and always has been. “Millions of young people are determined to change their future,” he pontificated, to ringing applause. “We all look at them. They muster courage. They risk their lives. They demand dignity. They desire liberty.”
That these very young people are risking their lives, demanding dignity, in the occupied territories is what Bibi forgot to mention. He dares evoke those “extraordinary scenes in Tunis and Cairo,” likening them to what happened in Berlin and Prague in 1989. Yet surely he knows they are mustering their courage against the IDF, which is shooting them down in the streets of occupied Palestine. Somehow, I don’t think Bibi means to praise these brave souls.
Bibi praises the “Arab spring” of democratic hope, and goes on to bemoan the snuffing out of hope “in Tehran in 1979,” the year the mullahs triumphed in Iran. “You may remember what happened then.” Yet does he remember the role played by Israel in those events? The Mossad helped set up the dreaded SAVAK, the Iranian Shah’s ruthless secret police, which tortured and imprisoned many thousands, and crushed all opponents of the regime. This bit of history is neglected by the Prime Minister, whose memory is necessarily selective.
To hear Netanyahu’s hypocrisy applauded – and so loudly, so insistently, even a bit hysterically – has brought shame on the United States of America, especially when such blatant falsehoods as these are uttered without apology: The Prime Minister spoke of “the path of liberty,” and opined,
“This path is not paved by elections alone. It is paved when governments permit protests in town squares, when limits are placed on the powers of rulers, when judges are beholden to laws and not men, and when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule.”
What protests are permitted in the town squares of Palestine, where IDF thugs regularly murder and maim peaceful demonstrators? What limits are placed on Israel’s rulers when they can take an olive grove that has been Palestinian for thousands of years and proclaim it a lawful “settlement”? And is Netanyahu really complaining about “tribal loyalties” – he who stands at the head of a tribe whose claim to the land is based on ancient superstition?
A more egregious and obnoxious display of unmitigated chutzpah has never before been given a platform by the US Congress: naturally, it sent them into ecstasies of approbation.
The message Netanyahu sent Congress, the President, and the American people in his address is quite simple: there will be no negotiations. Period. And more: that this intransigence is backed by the leaders of both parties. While practically every Republican candidate for President took Netanyahu’s side against the administration, as could probably be expected, both Senator Reid and House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer went before AIPAC and declared that there must be no “preconditions” for negotiations, i.e. the Israelis can build all the “settlements” they want with our tax dollars, and safely ignore the President’s call to cease and desist. When it comes to a choice between their President – the leader of their party – and a foreign ruler, it’s not even a close contest: Bibi wins, hands down.
This is the great danger of having – being – an empire: foreign lobbyists, who have a vital interest in what course American foreign policy takes, have every incentive and opportunity to seize control of the policy-making apparatus. The national security and interests of the US are only of secondary concern to them, if these even come into the picture at all: first and foremost, it’s Israel all the way – in Congress, in the leadership of both parties, and in key sectors of the national security bureaucracy itself.
This fifth column actively undermines distinctively American interests in the region – fighting terrorism, securing access to oil, maintaining good relations with our Arab allies – and it does so as part of a well-coordinated and well-funded campaign to ensure Israeli objectives. Tel Aviv is working the American political system for all its worth: billions in “aid,” deference to the point of servility, and a blank check to do as it pleases.
The UN is moving ahead, come September, with plans to inaugurate an independent Palestinian state, and this is what the President is seeking to avoid. A unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence – supported by many if not most of our allies – will bring the issue to a head, and underscore Israel’s status as an international pariah. In the process, it will similarly highlight America’s isolation as Israel’s chief benefactor and protector.
So what’s the anti-interventionist solution to this eternally insoluble problem?
In this case, “non-intervention” is a meaningless phrase. We’ve been intervening, for many years and on a massive scale: arming the IDF, supporting Israel in the UN, apologizing for every atrocity committed in the name of Israel’s right to “self-defense.” To say, now, that we must let the Israelis and the Palestinians come to an agreement on their own, when we’ve already stacked the deck in Israel’s favor, is to add insult to the many injuries sustained by the Palestinian people.
This is a matter of some urgency. Israel is, quite simply, an enormous liability to the United States, not only financially, but also in terms of our actual interests in the region and throughout the world. Through its actions, the Jewish state has declared war on the entire Muslim world – over a billion people, a third of the earth’s inhabitants – and has succeeded in dragging us into that unwinnable conflict.
Israel is also a tremendous moral liability – a ruthless Sparta that treats its Palestinian helots with brazen cruelty, bulldozing their homes, seizing their lands, and doing everything possible to drive them out of the “Promised Land.” Decades of constant warfare have radicalized the Israeli electorate and thrown up creatures such as Avigdor Lieberman, a virulent racist and ultra-nationalist, a man who once advocated blowing up the Aswan dam – and who now serves as the Jewish State’s foreign minister!
The uglification of Israel has been a long, awful degenerative process. While propagandists paint the usual picture of the Jewish state as a green island in a sea of Arab despotisms, recent history shows this scenario operating in reverse: it is the Arab world that is freeing itself of authoritarianism, and Israel which is on the road to reviving an old tribal despotism.
The Israel lobby, as everyone knows, wields enormous – and, I would say, decisive – influence on US policy in the Middle East, and this has distorted the policy-making process, rendering it dysfunctional. Our unconditional support for Israel is the source of much of our problem in that area: it is the main recruiter for al-Qaeda, and the primary reason why we lack all credibility in the Arab and Muslim world. For a long time, America’s Arab allies – Mubarak, the kings and emirs of the Gulf, the Jordanian monarchy – held back the tides of history and ameliorated an aggrieved nationalism. That tide has now broken free, and threatens to overwhelm not only the region’s decadent potentates but also Israel – and our interests – as well.
The Israeli strategy of huddling under the umbrella of the West has worked, up until this point, but that phase of the Jewish state’s evolution is rapidly coming to a close. With the economic crisis in America and Europe, the West can no longer afford to pay out the enormous subsidies which are all that stand between Israel and the desert. Morally, too, Israel is losing its formerly high standing, with the Europeans ready to wash their hands of these bothersome colonists, and many in the US questioning – for the first time – the ethical status of a nation that holds an entire people captive within its de facto borders.
So let Netanyahu enjoy his moment of triumph, and let his amen corner in the US and internationally howl with joy – because Israel’s time is running out. The crisis may not come tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow, but come it will – and when it does, just remember: the Israelis had their chance. They had a chance to negotiate, an opportunity to make their peace with the Palestinians – and the world – which they refused. What follows is upon their heads, not ours.
It’s time Israel paid the price for its defiance: while the fervor of our solons’ enthusiasm for Netanyahu would seem to rule out a cut in US aid, I wonder how many of these brave politicians will stand up and justify sending billions to Israel while our own oldsters are being deprived of their Social Security checks. Ambitious outsiders who look longingly at seemingly “safe” congressional seats will eventually be emboldened to challenge the sacred cow of aid to Israel. Senator Rand Paul, the Tea Party hero, has openly called for ending that aid – an unlikely happenstance, at the moment, but an important precedent-breaking position which paves the way for a debate over reducing that aid.
Israel has been called “the 51st state,” by friend and foe alike, and yet we have to face the consequences of such a “special relationship” without illusions or emotional histrionics. Are we really willing – and able – to ensure the survival of a settler colony which has implanted itself like a tick in the midst of the Arab world, and not only that but expanded in size and aggressiveness over the years – to the point where it has become a giant irritation, glistening with the infection of hate and ready to erupt at any moment?
Is this really to be our burden – and for how much longer?