Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood before a special joint session of the United States Congress. A foreign leader, he looked at home as he thumbed his nose at US President Barack Obama. Just days before, Obama had reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to two states—one for the Palestinians, the other for Israelis—based on pre-Six Day War borders. Netanyahu defied Obama as he told Congress (and international audiences watching the live broadcast) that Israel would not withdraw to the 1967 lines.
Netanyahu’s words were the final nail in the coffin of the twenty-six year old ‘peace process’, which had begun under the sponsorship of his former archrival, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. They also marked a gulf between Congress and the President. And it is here, in this space, that a unique opportunity for the American public suddenly emerged.
But first, let’s better define the boundaries between Israel and the US: Israel is the largest, single, foreign recipient of US aid. In 2010 alone, for example, Israel received over 2.75 billion dollars in military assistance. While the American people face an economic crisis of staggering proportions, they also face a foreign leader who demands US funds and American diplomatic cover but ignores the US head of state.
You don’t have to be anti-Zionist to find this objectionable. An increasing number of American Jews don’t like what this communicates either, and are alienated not only by the Israeli government’s sense of entitlement, but its fundamental disregard for Palestinian rights. There’s also the issue of what Americans are getting from the US’s “special relationship” with Israel.
To put it simply, the US relationship with Israel has come to resemble the pre-Revolutionary War era American critique of colonial rule: That the British imposed taxation on the colonies, without according them equivalent political representation. American taxpayers are footing a multibillion dollar annual bill, while Israeli leaders and the pro-Israel lobby ignore the requests of the United States’ most important representative: the President.
In his speech to the US Congress, Netanyahu remarked that America has always been and will always be Israel’s friend. The statement, however, contradicts history. The US did not become closely allied with Israel until after 1967’s Six Day War, when it replaced France as the Jewish state’s primary patron. Anxious to rehabilitate its stature in the Arab world following its conduct in the Algerian war, France’s support of Israel’s occupation was considered problematic, to say the least. And when faced with the choice of withdrawing from the Occupied Territories, on pain of its military aid, Israel forfeited its relationship with France. As the world has seen time and time again, alliances shift with historical tides.
The Middle East is undergoing rapid, seismic change. In many ways, the present historical juncture is as significant as the era of decolonization, in the late 1960s—the period during which the European powers relinquished their colonies in the Mideast. Recently, the Arab people have taken to the streets and demanded freedom from tyranny and oppression. Although the US is still throwing its political weight behind Israel and its un-democratic occupation of Palestinian lands, it would be better advised to learn something from the French.
In an attempt to invoke American sympathies—to keep the US feeling psychologically close—Netanyahu says that Israel is like the US. Israel, he claims, is a vibrant democracy, an outpost of freedom in the Middle East. In reality, “the Jewish and democratic” state is only a democracy for its Jewish residents. Palestinian citizens of the country face institutionalized discrimination, limiting their access to the rights supposedly granted to them by Israel’s Basic Laws. Israeli Jews also complain that they are increasingly subject to ideologically-motivated harassment by the government and security forces. Israel itself faces a worrisome trend that could be called anti-democratic at best, proto-fascist at worst.
This gap between Netanyahu’s words and reality, between the US President and Congress, and the gap between Obama and Netanyahu offers the American public the space to step in, to speak up, and to tip the balance. Do US citizens want their tax dollars supporting a government whose values are so increasingly different from their own? Do Americans want to continue to subsidize a type of military occupation that the US would never commit to? Think, for a moment, what would happen in the United States if American Evangelicals decided God had instructed them to colonize Biblically significant parts of Afghanistan. The uproar would be unprecedented. People would think they were nuts.
As smug as Netanyahu might have looked standing before the US Congress, no doubt he knows the tide is turning, in the international community, inside the American Jewish community, and also amongst those in the US who are concerned about tax dollars.
With Israel feeling increasingly insecure, we might see it make some desperate moves. While an attack on Iran might be suicidal, it’s also just what Israel “needs” to keep America on its side. Relations between Israel and the US have been strained for some time. But this chill would thaw quickly if the region were to heat up. Israel would turn to the US, of course, for additional military support in its darkest hour. Obama—faced with a stagnant economy—would loathe losing a single vote. While American Jews are traditionally Democrats and are increasingly conflicted about the occupation, they wouldn’t stand for a cool relationship with Israel if it went to war with Iran. Obama would lose Jewish votes if he didn’t answer Israel’s call for help, even if Israel had made the mess with her own hands.
The American people would be well-advised to speak up and free themselves of this conflict before Israel drags them into one that might be harder for the US to extricate itself from—Iran.
This article is licensed to Souciant courtesy of Babylon Times.
Intriguing concept — that the United States deserves to be represented in Israel. Nor is it one that I disagree with.