The virulent anti-Americanism of the Israeli government, underscored by its recent very loud slap in the face of the Vice President of the United States, is nothing new. Yet many are shocked – shocked! – at Israel’s behavior. The official spin out of Tel Aviv is that the announcement of more settlement-building — at the very moment when Biden was pleading with his good friend “Bibi” to cease and desist – is all due to a single minister in a very fractious cabinet: yet Netanyahu and indeed the entire Israeli government supports this move to throw more Palestinians off their land and build exclusively Jewish settlements.
What gives this public rebuff a particularly sharp sting is that it subverts the very idea of the “special relationship,” which Biden cravenly insisted on even as he was being humiliated:
“Israel’s unique relationship with the United States means that you need not bear that heavy burden alone. Our nations’ unbreakable bond borne of common values, interwoven cultures, and mutual interests has spanned the entirety of Israel’s history. And it’s impervious to any shifts in either country and either country’s partisan politics. No matter what challenges we face, this bond will endure.”
The extended fawning was given an edge, however, by the most controversial part of Biden’s longwinded remarks, when he openly referred to the rebuff he’d just suffered. Referring to the West Bank Palestinian Authority’s leadership of President Abbas and his government, Biden said:
“Their commitment to peace is an opportunity that must be seized. It must be seized. Who has there been better to date, to have the prospect of settling this with?
”But instead, two days ago the Israeli government announced it would advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. I realize this is a very touchy subject in Israel as well as in my own country. But because that decision, in my view, undermined the trust required for productive negotiations, I – and at the request of President Obama condemned it immediately and unequivocally.
Biden seemed baffled, and was probably genuinely hurt, at how deliberately his hosts chose to insult him, but it’s no mystery as to why this occurred. As Biden put it early in his stem-winder, all the benefits Israel receives via its alliance with the US are “impervious to any shifts” in American politics. There are no consequences for subverting the American agenda, or even for humiliating the Vice President (as he begs for more).
US policy in the region is not only impervious to partisan politics, it is invulnerable against any consideration of American interests. Unlike our other satraps, Israel is accorded not mere respect, but deference: they’ve been given a blank check, and they fully intend to cash it.
The reason for their arrogance is the unrivaled power of Israel’s potent lobby in the US, a well-coordinated and generously financed interest group that doesn’t brook any disagreement or deviation from its relentlessly consistent advocacy of the line that what’s good for Israel is good for the US. That this has never been true, and is even less true today, hasn’t stopped the entire US political and journalistic establishment from strenuously trying to enforce this fact-free orthodoxy — and smearing anyone who dares disagree as an “anti-Semite.”
This smear-and-fear strategy hasn’t worked so well lately, due in part to the efforts of professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, whose book, The Israel Lobby, shattered the taboo against even mentioning the often decisive power of what is among the most powerful lobbies in Washington. Mearsheimer and Walt, however, appeared with their trenchant critique at a time when the objective conditions lent them momentum: after 9/11, it was imperative that al-Qaeda be deprived of the Palestinian issue, as part of a larger effort to win over the Muslim majority worldwide. The breakdown of the unwritten code that used to restrict the policy debate naturally followed.
The old narrative – let’s call it the “Exodus” narrative — which portrayed Israel as a beleaguered and victimized nation, heroically fighting – against all odds – to preserve the beacon of democracy in a sea of autocracies and Arab revanchists, is no more. In its place is what we might call the “Israel-gone-bonkers” trope, and it goes something like this: while the Israelis used to be the unalloyed Good Guys in the region, something happened on the way to the peace process that drove them over the edge. Maybe it was the pressure of being subjected to constant attacks, or simply the result of demographic changes in the electorate: in any case, for whatever reason, the Israelis seem to have gone nuts – and are damaging their own interests in the process.
This is an equally mythological view of US-Israeli relations, one rooted in simple ignorance of Israel’s past actions. The fact is that Israel has been treating us as an adversary since the mid-eighties, when Jonathan Pollard was caught stealing closely-held classified information on Tel Aviv’s behalf. At the same time, the Israelis were pilfering trade secrets, too, as well as sensitive defense data and other intelligence. And then, as longtime viewers of Fox News will attest, there’s this….
The truth is that Israel is neither the noble warrior of Exodus, nor the rampaging madman of the “gone bonkers” narrative, but rather a skilled and ruthless executor of a policy that puts Israel – its survival, its expansion, and its national glory – first, over and above the perceived interests of the US.
This is entirely natural — which is a lot more than can be said of US policy toward Israel.
Decades of unconditional support for the systematic expropriation of the West Bank and Gaza, many billions in military and economic “aid,” and ceaseless kowtowing before the whims of successive Israeli leaders, produced in the Israelis a sense of entitlement – and resentment. The former because we spoiled them, and the latter because any dependent naturally resents his benefactor and is constantly looking for signs that his independence has been compromised.
While George W. Bush steadfastly supported Israel in spite of the weight of the burden it imposed, in the end the Israelis and their American supporters turned on him, too, when he failed to strike at Iran — and allowed a major Israeli spy ring in the US to be broken up.
The Obama administration will have no better luck with them for all the reasons elaborated above, and more. Our insistence on the creation of a Palestinian state is creating a whirlwind of anti-Americanism that infuses Israeli politics, and the political backlash has just begun. Openly racist and authoritarian politicians, such as foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, represent Israel’s ever-darkening future.
Having backed ourselves into a corner with our mindless support of indefensible Israeli policies, we are now trying to make up for it by presiding over a “peace process,” and ushering in a Palestinian “state” that is neither representative of the Palestinians, nor even a real state – unless a state can be such without an army, without control over contiguous territory, and without an independent foreign policy.
The only alternative to this nonsense is to treat Israel as if it were a normal country: not the fifty-first state, not a spoiled child, and not an issue impervious to reason or change. The “special relationship” has distorted our policy long enough: it is time to, finally, normalize relations with Israel. This means cutting off all aid, including the loan guarantees: that will put an end to the hypocrisy, the resentment, and the rising tide of anti-Americanism fueled by our meddling. If the Palestinians want their own state, let them create it – or declare it – on their own. We can support that project more effectively and directly by refusing to finance and arm the main obstacle in their path.