In 2001, Bibi Netanyahu paid a condolence call on a group of Israeli settlers in the village of Ofra, widows whose husbands had been killed in the Intifada: the videotaped conversation has just been leaked, and broadcast by Israel’s Channel 10, and it is a blockbuster. At one point, Bibi is telling the widows that the Palestinians “think they will break us,” but don’t worry, ladies, Bibi has a plan:
“To hit them. Not just one blow, but blows that are so painful that the price will be too heavy to be borne. The price is not too heavy to be borne, now. A broad attack on the Palestinian Authority. To bring them to the point of being afraid that everything is collapsing…
“Woman: Wait a moment, but then the world will say ‘how come you’re conquering again?’
“Netanyahu: The world won’t say a thing. The world will say we’re defending.
“Woman: Aren’t you afraid of the world, Bibi?
“Netanyahu: Especially today, with America. I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved. Moved to the right direction.”
A child speaks up, and, surprisingly articulate, avers: “They say they’re for us, but, it’s like…”
Yes, even the children are little ideologues. Today that boy is a teenager on the verge of adulthood, and likely a fervent supporter of Israel’s ultra-rightist government, led by Bibi, who, back then, quickly assured him: “They won’t get in our way.” The child, hardliner that he was and no doubt still is, seemed doubtful: “On the other hand,” the kid ventured, “if we do some something, then they…”
That’s when Bibi really let his hair down:
“So let’s say they say something. So they said it! They said it! 80% of the Americans support us. It’s absurd. We have that kind of support…. Look. That administration [Clinton] was extremely pro-Palestinian. I wasn’t afraid to maneuver there. I was not afraid to clash with Clinton.”
Of course he wasn’t, because he knew he’d win, what with the Republicans in Congress passing resolutions unconditionally supporting the Israelis and AIPAC and the rest of the Lobby going all out to mobilize their fifth column against Oslo and the very idea of a rapprochement. Oslo was a dagger placed against the throat of the hard-line Likud movement, which explicitly embraces the rather nutty idea of a “Greater Israel,” and there was no way Netanyahu or his party could accept it without betraying who and what they were and are. So when one of the women denounced the Accords as “a disaster,” Bibi agrees with her – and takes “credit” for neutering them:
“What were the Oslo Accords? The Oslo Accords, which the Knesset signed, I was asked, before the elections: ‘Will you act according to them?’ and I answered: ‘yes, subject to mutuality and limiting the retreats.’ ‘But how do you intend to limit the retreats?’ ‘I’ll give such interpretation to the Accords that will make it possible for me to stop this galloping to the ’67 [armistice] lines.’ How did we do it?”
Easy: the Accords had a loophole big enough to drive an IDF tank through, premising the handover of “land for peace” on the condition that the land in question encompassed neither settlements nor military sites, as Netanyahu explained to his adoring fans:
“No one said what defined military sites. Defined military sites, I said, were security zones. As far as I’m concerned, the Jordan Valley is a defined military site.
“Woman: Right [laughs]..
“Netanyahu: … How can you tell. How can you tell?”
Bibi goes on to boast of how he stood up to Clinton, insisting that it would be the Israelis, and not anyone else, who defined where and what was a “military site.” When the US balked, Bibi refused to sign on to the Hebron Agreement, stopping the peace process in its tracks: “Why does this matter? Because at that moment I actually stopped the Oslo Accord.”
The settler comes back at him, however, interrupting Bibi’s self-congratulatory rapture by reminding him of Hebron, and other concessions embodied in the Accord. Netanyahu’s answer sums up the current position of his government. He cites his father (“Not exactly a dove, as they say”) who advised him:
“It would be better to give two percent than to give a hundred percent. And that’s the choice here. You gave two percent and in that way you stopped the withdrawal. Instead of a hundred percent. The trick is not to be there and be broken. The trick is to be there and pay a minimal price.”
This limns the current state of the current political dialogue in the Jewish state: the debate is between those who want 98 percent and those who demand 100 percent. (The only difference today, as opposed to 2001, is that the latter seem to have the upper hand: witness the rise of Avigdor Lieberman and his party of nutcases, who are the Israeli equivalent of Al-Qaeda.)
What’s interesting – and embarrassing – about this leak isn’t the “revelation” that Israel’s amen corner in America exerts a decisive influence on US policymakers: who didn’t know that? The Israel lobby constantly boasts of it, while critics of US subservience to Tel Aviv consistently decry it. What we didn’t know, however, is how much the Israelis disdain us for it: “It’s absurd,” avers Bibi, and the settler lady, laughing, agrees with him. She, being an ardent nationalist, cannot conceive of a government that puts the interests of another nation over and above its own. Perhaps Bibi has a better idea of how the Israelis pulled that particular rabbit out of Uncle Sam’s hat, but emotionally it’s clear that he, too, finds the weakness of the Americans incomprehensible.
After all, it’s odd when you think about it: why would the mightiest empire the world has ever seen – a nation that spends more on its military establishment than all other nations of the world combined – kowtow before a country barely the size of Delaware? How is it that every attempt to heal this breach in our national security armor and our interests in the region – the running sore of the Palestinian question – has ended in utter failure, due entirely – as Bibi boasts – to the efforts of the Israelis to undermine it? How does the prime minister of a dinky little country almost entirely dependent on American largess stand up to the Emperor of the World – and win?
The answer is that American imperialism has spawned a global hegemon quite unlike the empires of the past: the British, the French, the Romans, the Macedonians, and as far back as it’s possible to know, all planted their flag on foreign soil to the glory and in the name of the nation. That is, they were nationalists, albeit of the dangerous outward-looking sort (as opposed to the inward-looking, contemplative variety that held sway in the US until the turn of the last century, commonly derided by our elites as “isolationists.”)
We, on the other hand, have a different self-conception. By no means do we ever acknowledge that we are indeed an empire, except when someone is trying to be provocative (or unless he’s a foreigner). We are supposed to be different from all the rest, because, you see, America – according to both neoconservatives and liberals – is a nation founded not on a sense of place, but around an abstract idea. To the neocons, it’s the idea of meritocracy (which, they figure, puts them on top), to the liberals it’s “equality” (which, they figure, puts them on top).
What they have in common, in spite of their superficial differences, is their insistence on deviating from the traditional concept of nationhood and, instead, conjuring up an ideological construct to put in its place, just as the Jacobins tore down the religious artifacts of Paris and erected in their place a statue to the Goddess of Reason. Thousands of lives were sacrificed on that bloody altar before it was over, just as many hundreds of thousands have been offered up to the American god of “Democracy” over the years.
Yet this democracy we claim to practice is the fatal chink in our armor, the means by which a much weaker enemy can easily manipulate and even fatally undermine us from afar, without any show of force except political strength. And this strength need not be derived from the support of the American majority. Since most could not care less about foreign policy matters, this indifference allows a weird coalition of pro-Israel neocons, Democratic party “liberals” in debt to pro-Israel donors, and fanatical Christian “Zionists” to dominate the debate, capture elite opinion, and set US policy on a course Bibi admits is “absurd.”
What this conundrum underscores is the truth of the Paulian–paleoconservative principle, repeated many times in many different ways in this space, that you can’t have a republic and an empire: it’s one or the other. This is true not only because empires are constantly defending and extending their frontiers, and are in a state of constant warfare, which requires a centralized authority and the consolidation of State power, but also due to the peculiar vulnerability of democratic institutions to foreign subversion. An America that refused on principle to interfere in the affairs of other nations would have little or nothing to fear from foreign lobbyists and fifth columnists: on the other hand, a “democratic” empire in which the emperor is subjected to all sorts of political pressures, including the necessity of raising obscene amounts of money just in order to keep his throne, is indeed “something that can be easily moved,” as Bibi put it.
Take, for example, this new “Emergency Committee for Israel,” chaired by Bill Kristol, Christian nutball Gary Bauer, and Rachel Abrams, wife of neocon heavy-hitter Elliott Abrams, which is running ads in Pennsylvania against Democrat Joe Sestak. Sestak’s crime: insufficient subservience to the Lobby. As an article in Politico put it:
“The new committee declined to disclose its funding – as a 501(c)4 advocacy organization, it isn’t required to – but said it had raised enough to air its first ad, starting this week, on Fox and CNN and during a Philadelphia Phillies game. The ad attacks Sestak for signing a letter criticizing Israel’s blockade of Gaza while not signing a defense of Israel circulated by the group AIPAC, and for appearing at a fundraiser for the Council on American Islamic Relations, which it describes as an “anti-Israel organization the FBI called a ‘front-group for Hamas’.”
Of course the new committee refused to disclose its funding – for the simple reason that a good deal of the money that fuels the pro-Israel lobby in this country comes from overseas. This was true in the early days of AIPAC and its predecessor, as Grant Smith’s invaluable research has underscored, and there is little doubt this tradition is continued unto the present day, with such groups as the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, JINSA, and the American “Friends of the IDF” having open links to the Israeli foreign ministry and the IDF leadership. Ostensibly “American” groups that subsidize Israeli settlements in the West Bank enjoy tax exempt status, while pro-Palestinian groups that try to operate similarly are shuttered and their supporters jailed as supporters of “terrorism.” Of the billions we send every year in “aid” to the Jewish state, a significant portion returns to us in the form of pro-Israel propaganda.
Legally, the “Emergency Committee” is not required to disclose its funding – but they ought to anyway. Unless, that is, they’re content to leave the impression Israel is directly intervening in American elections. Or maybe that’s precisely what they intend.
David Frum gleefully called the committee “The New In Your Face Israel Lobby.” As in-your-face as the anti-Americanism and outright contempt for Washington expressed in that candid video of Netanyahu. It’s as if they’re saying to this administration: “Go ahead and go after us. We dare you!”