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The All-Purpose Mashup Smear, con’d: …, Anti-Israel, Anti-Semitic, America-hating… [Part 2]

July 21, 2019

Trump and Netanyahu celebrating US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights, 3/15/2019

Now for the “anti-Israel” part. When Trump and Graham say the congresswomen “hate Israel” or they’re “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic”, this is what they’re really saying:

  • Israel, uniquely among all the countries in the world, cannot be criticized, and the policies of its government must be endorsed by all Americans.
  • American national interests are identical to the interests of the Israeli government. 
  • If you criticize Israeli government actions or policies, you are supporting hatred and violence against Jews everywhere. 

This is both logically absurd and offensive in a democracy, but it has become virtual dogma in much of the American political spectrum, especially on the right, and it needs to be called out.

There is no moral clarity in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jews have built a vibrant and successful nation in Israel, with massive support from the US government and from Jewish communities abroad, particularly in the US.  But Israel’s establishment in 1948 also entailed the dispossession of non-Jewish Palestinians whose ancestors had lived there for centuries and permanent exile of hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighboring countries. Wars in 1967 and 1973 expanded Israel’s effective borders to include all of former Palestine and the Golan Heights , and turned Israel into an occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza, where it encouraged and subsidized further Jewish settlement on what had been Palestinian Arab lands. Violent rebellion in Gaza led Israel to withdraw its forces and settlements there, but it keeps a stranglehold on everything that goes in or out which it tightens at will, leaving Gaza with massive unemployment, scarce resources, and no hope for real economic development. Hamas, backed by the Muslim Brotherhood and supported by Syria (and formerly by Iran) has exploited this power vacuum and hopelessness to become the de facto power there. When Hamas-supplied rockets have been launched from Gaza into Israeli towns, Israel has responded with massive retaliation bombing of civilian communities resulting in hugely disproportionate numbers of Palestinian vs. Israeli casualties.

On the West Bank, Israel has formally and unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem, including the Old City which includes the holy religious sites of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It has also fostered and expanded strategically located Jewish settlements which have effectively sliced up the West Bank into disconnected chunks of territory which are under de facto Israeli military control. Movement within the West Bank is controlled by Israeli military forces which force non-Israelis to go through humiliating and time-consuming searches at internal checkpoints when traveling from one town to another. When tensions exploded into the second intifada rebellion in 2000 and suicide bombers set off bombs smuggled into Israel proper, the Israeli government responded with increased repression and the construction of a wall or “security barrier” inside the internationally-recognized 1948 boundary between Israel proper and the West Bank, which effectively incorporated significant amounts of the latter into Israel. As in Gaza, Palestinian casualties of violent conflict have far outnumbered Israeli casualties.

Israel has a robust free press, an independent judiciary, and it is a democracy–but with important caveats. Palestinian residents of the occupied territories of the West Bank and in Gaza have no right to vote in Israeli elections or hold office in Israel, but Jewish settlers in the West Bank can do both. This means that the 4.6 million Palestianian residents of the West Bank and Gaza have no voice in the government that has controlled most aspects of their lives for more than 50 years, while the 500,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have full rights of Israeli citizens. Arab-Israelis (about 20% of the 8.6 million people in Israel proper) can vote and hold office in the Knesset, but in practice have generally been excluded from positions of power and, according to Freedom House, face various forms of discrimination.

Israel has long struggled with how to reconcile its identity as a Jewish state with recognizing the rights of non-Jews. In 2018, under Netanyahu’s Likud government, it passed a controversial “nation-state law”, which was widely seen as strengthening the primacy of Jewish citizens over all others. The new law:

  • states that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people,”
  • establishes Hebrew as Israel’s official language, and downgrades Arabic — a language widely spoken by Arab Israelis — to a “special status,” and
  • establishes “Jewish settlement as a national value” and mandates that the state “will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.”

Not surprisingly, Palestinians–including Arab-Israelis–see this as a major step to assigning them permanently inferior status and, in the case of West Bank Palestinians, making them essentially stateless if Israel continues on its apparent trajectory of rejecting a two-state solution and asserting sovereignty over all of Palestine plus the Golan Heights.

Why should Americans care about this? For one thing, the US government has supported Israel financially far more generously than any other country in the world. Until fairly recently (when aid to maintain the US-supported governments in Afghanistan and Iraq was drastically increased), aid to Israel was orders of magnitude greater than to any other country. For FY2017, the amount was $3.2 billion, almost all of it military aid–or about $400 for every Israeli man, woman, and child. American military assistance–including access to advanced armaments and missile defenses–has been a key factor in making Israel the dominant military power in the region.

The US has traditionally given Israel diplomatic protection in the UN and other international organizations as well, often at considerable cost to US relations with other countries in the region. Last year, for example, the US used its veto in the UN Security Council to kill a resolution condemning excessive Israeli force against Palestinian civilians which was supported by France, Russia, China, and Sweden (among others–the UK and Netherlands abstained). 

Then there is the little-discussed issue of Israel’s nuclear weapons program. Israel is the only–if  officially unacknowledged–nuclear power in the Middle East and is believed to possess scores if not hundreds of nuclear warheads since the 1970s.  The US never seriously tried to use its leverage to dissuade Israel from developing nuclear weapons, as it has with other countries–most notably recently with Iran. Israel’s status as a nuclear power obviously is a major factor in the decisions of other regional countries, like Iran, on whether to pursue a nuclear weapons program.

Israel also directly affects US domestic politics to an extent unmatched by any other country.  Trump’s and Graham’s accusations are actually proof of this.  Imagine them saying that Rep. Omar is anti-[insert any other country here] and expecting it to have a similar impact–you simply can’t. Traditionally,  full-voiced support for Israel was not a partisan issue–a legacy of sympathy (and perhaps some guilt) over the Holocaust, a claimed Christian religious affinity with Judaism (and suspicion of Islam), and not least, a desire to tap the US Jewish community for fundraising.  The pro-Israeli lobbying organization AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) has been stunningly successful at delivering its message and directing support to cooperative members of Congress of both parties, and they in turn were (and many still are) eager to appear at AIPAC’s annual conference to demonstrate that they were on board.  (For an inside look at how this system of reward and retribution works, click here.) AIPAC was the “fight club” of lobbying operations; the first rule is that no one was supposed to talk about it or acknowledge its influence. By contrast, the Palestinian cause had virtually no champions in the US congress.

All that began to change around the turn of the century when the Iraq war brought an unprecedented level of direct US military intervention in the Middle East, and the WMD lies used as its rationale were exposed. This prompted, at least in some quarters, a broader look at US policy toward Israel and Palestine, and a less one-sided view of the consequences of unconditional support for Israeli policies, including greater media attention to Israeli repression in Gaza and the West Bank. The increased pace of Jewish settlement of East Jerusalem and the West Bank suggested that the strategy of the Israeli government, dominated by Netanyahu, had changed and that the goal was really permanent Israeli dominion over all of Palestine. When the Obama administration attempted to impose some conditions on US aid, the hostility broke into the open, especially over the Iran nuclear agreement. And it became more partisan, with Israel and AIPAC increasingly aligning with Obama’s Republican opponents. In March 2015, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell arranged (without consulting Obama) for Netanyahu to address congress in a transparent attempt by both Israel and congressional Republicans to derail the Iran deal, and perhaps more importantly, to undermine and embarrass the president. Obama and Democrats were outraged. Obama refused to meet with Netanyahu, and the President and Vice-President did not attend the speech as did a number of Democratic members of congress.

This deliberate intermingling of both US and Israeli domestic politics with critical foreign policy issues thus became blatant, caused many commentators to openly express that an important line had been crossed and that the client state had acquired greater influence over its patron than the other way around.

With the election of Trump, the capitulation of the US to Israeli government goals has become virtually complete. The Trump administration has abandoned decades of US policy (as well as international consensus) by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and, just recently, by explicitly recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. And, of course, Trump has reneged on US adherence to the Iran nuclear agreement. The US has thereby squandered any possible leverage and received nothing in return, giving Netanyahu and his allies in the Knesset a huge political boost as well as a green light to do whatever they want.

And, of course, Trump’s trashing of previous US policy toward Israel has to be read as yet another example of destroying everything associated with Obama.

All of these issues are legitimate subjects for debate and discussion among American officials, media, academic experts, and the public. The US Jewish community is itself divided over Israeli government policies and includes many voices and organizations that are deeply critical of the direction that the Netanyahu government is going. For Trump or Graham to accuse members of “The Squad” of anti-semitism for having the temerity to criticize Israeli government policies and speak of its influence is false, cynically manipulative, and two-faced.

As New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg put it:

This is a president who regularly deploys anti-Semitic tropes and whose ex-wife said that he slept with a volume of Hitler’s speeches by his bed. When speaking to American Jews, he’s called Israel “your country” and Benjamin Netanyahu “your prime minister,” suggesting that in his mind, we don’t fully belong here any more than Omar does…Trump and his accomplices are simultaneously assaulting the political foundation of Jewish life in America and claiming they’re doing it on the Jews’ behalf…

“It’s worth thinking about how we got to a point where anti-Semitism can be exploited as it has been this week. What we’re seeing is the absurd but logical endpoint of efforts to conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, and anti-Zionism with opposition to Israel’s right-wing government. Only if these concepts are interchangeable can Jewish critics of Israel be the perpetrators of anti-Semitism and gentiles who play footsie with fascism be allies of the Jewish people. Only if these concepts are the same can an evangelical group claim that Jews are being anti-Jewish when they protest Trump, because Trump loves Israel.”

Anti-semitism certainly remains an endemic danger in America, as the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh tragically proved, and its most virulent form co-exists with white nationalism directed against blacks, latinos, and other non-white groups.  These were the ones who marched in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” in violent protests ostensibly to prevent the removal of Confederate monuments. They are inspired by and support Trump and his allies, and Trump cannot quite ever bring himself to denounce them.

It is also possible for criticism of Israel to spill over into anti-semitism, and this needs to be called out when it happens. But what Trump and Graham were responding to wasn’t that, and what they were doing was simply a revival of the despicable red-bating and race-bating tactics that have always stained American politics at its worst.






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