Tag Archives: Israel

Trump And Netanyahu

Every once in a while, we Americans need to remind ourselves that our problems are not unique. As we agonize over the daily offenses against sanity, humanity and ethics emanating from the Trump White House, other countries are also suffering under “leaders” concerned more for their personal aggrandizement than the interests of their citizens. Some of them–like Trump– were even elected.

Which brings me to the recent acquiescence of Israel’s Netanyahu to Trump’s demand that Israel bar two American lawmakers from entering the country.

Trump babbled nonsense about his support of Israel and the “weakness” Bibi would show if he allowed the two to enter the country. The reality–as usual with Trump–was far different; refusing U.S. lawmakers’ entry was an unprecedented and offensive act against elected officials of a close ally. In fact, it was so unprecedented–and so harmful to Israel’s own interests–that even AIPAC issued a reproof. (If you are unfamiliar with AIPAC, it is Israel’s most devoted lobby in the U.S., known for slavish defense of virtually anything Israel does.)

I think it is notable that some of the most severe criticisms have come from AmericanJewish organizations and pundits. If Trump assumed he would get plaudits from American Jews, he was sadly mistaken. (That mistake probably explains yesterday’s anti-Semitic outburst questioning the loyalty of any American Jew who dares to criticize his position on Israeli leadership or policies, let alone any American Jew who has the gall to vote Democratic.)

Tom Friedman pulled no punches in the New York Times:

Trump — with the knowing help of Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — is doing something no American president and Israeli prime minister have done before: They’re making support for Israel a wedge issue in American politics.

Few things are more dangerous to Israel’s long-term interests than its becoming a partisan matter in America, which is Israel’s vital political, military and economic backer in the world.

I particularly liked this column by Josh Marshall. Marshall is Jewish, and the editor of Talking Points Memo. 

Let me comment on Israel’s apparent decision to bar entry to Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

Israel is supposedly doing this because the two support BDS. As it happens, I’m not even sure this is entirely true. Tlaib, who is Palestinian American and has relatives in the territories, does. Omar has actually made contradictory or equivocal comments about BDS. Regardless, it simply doesn’t matter. They are elected members of the United States Congress. They are part of the US government and their treatment bears directly on the respect accorded our system of government or interference with our democratic system. The idea that a government which has long benefited from US protection and aid would do such a thing is outrageous….

This betrays an established and dangerous pattern with Donald Trump: his personal alliances always come before allegiance to country, law and Constitution. This is not surprising and it is of a piece with his collusion and tacit alliance with Russia during the 2016 election.

What you think about Omar and Tlaib is irrelevant. I have criticized Omar when I think it is merited. All that matters here is that they are elected representatives. Punishing or excluding them is a strike against our democratic system. An ally should never do such a thing.

Marshall also pointed out that this pettiness was emphatically not in Israel’s own interests.

One final, important point. This does not even make sense from the point of view of narrow Israeli self-interest – not in Israeli or Zionist terms. The US has two major parties and they frequently rotate in power. Omar and to a lesser extent Tlaib are controversial in US politics but they have many ardent supporters in the Democratic Party. They are both women of color. The Israeli government under Netanyahu has increasingly identified itself with the GOP and actively worked with the GOP against Democrats as the GOP has become more associated with white nationalism. Democrats will be back in power again. The party is increasingly based on a multiracial political coalition. Sowing antagonism at a level so deep and visceral is obvious folly.

Marshall’s final paragraph draws a painfully obvious parallel to the occupant of the Oval Office:

The truth is that this isn’t Israeli policy or even precisely Netanyahu policy. This is an electoral gambit. Israel has an election next month and Netanyahu is in a fight for his political life. He may even be in a fight for his freedom since remaining in office is his best play to delay or quash corruption charges. This is an effort to juice outrage and support from the Israeli far right.

When countries are governed by people whose mantra is “It’s all about me,” the interests of the country take a back seat.

Far, far back.

 

 

Behavior Is Fair Game–Identity Isn’t

The horrific attacks on Mosque worshippers in New Zealand are more evidence–as if we needed more–of the global eruption of tribalism and bigotry.

That bigotry has been encouraged, and defended, by Donald Trump and his supporters, who traffic in stereotypes and like to shrug off criticisms of slurs based on race, religion and sexual orientation as “political correctness.” They deliberately ignore the very consequential difference between legitimate criticisms of behavior and illegitimate accusations based upon identity that fuel intergroup enmity.

It’s a crucial distinction, and one with which even well-meaning Americans struggle, as we’ve recently seen in the debate triggered by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

I hadn’t posted about the explosive reactions to Congresswoman Omar’s comments, for a couple of reasons: first, there have been plenty of columns, blog posts and Facebook rants without my adding my two cents; and second, because I know very little about the Congresswoman and thus lack a context within which to evaluate whether her use of a couple of old anti-Semitic tropes was inadvertent or purposeful.

That said, I tend to give her the benefit of the doubt. I have a sneaking suspicion that she wouldn’t have been subject to such blowback had she not been Muslim. (It took years of overt hate speech before Steve King’s vitriol bothered his fellow Republicans. Islamophobia isn’t any prettier than anti-Semitism.)

Inadvertent or not, the reaction to her remarks makes it important to emphasize that criticism of Israel is not in and of itself anti-Semitic.  Plenty of American Jews are highly critical of Israeli policies and Netanyahu. I am one of them. Josh Marshall, editor of Talking Points Memo, is another.

As Marshall recently noted,

the Israeli right and its supporters in the US (who are overwhelmingly evangelical Christians) have reaped the whirlwind by making the Netanyahu government’s meddling in US politics so frequent and expected. It is not only wrong on the merits. It is insanely shortsighted for Israel. It also endangers American Jews.

As he concluded,

There is nothing wrong with criticizing Israel. I agree with many of the main criticisms. There’s nothing about criticizing Israel that is anti-Semitic, though the two things can overlap. And the history of anti-Semitism being what it is, it behooves critics to stay their criticism in ways that doesn’t easily play into anti-Semitic stereotypes. But the Israeli right and its American allies have made all of this more difficult for American Jews, who are overwhelmingly identified with the party the current Israeli government considers itself opposed to.

When critics suggest that Israel doesn’t have a right to exist, when they are conspicuously silent when far less democratic countries in the region like Saudi Arabia oppress women or kill journalists, or when they signal that their animus toward Israel extends to American Jews–yes, that’s anti-Semitic, and they should be called out on it.

For that matter, no one should be surprised that people who have a five-thousand-year history of hatred and discrimination would be a bit… sensitive… when old tropes play. But criticism of Israeli actions and/or policies is fair game, and it shouldn’t be deflected by unfair charges of anti-Semitism.

On the other hand, sweeping characterizations of Jews–or Muslims, or African-Americans or any other group–is bigotry. Condoning it–let alone tacitly encouraging it, as Trump clearly does– leads to tragedies like the massacre in New Zealand.

 

 

 

Jerusalem

From climate deniers who base their rejection of science on biblical passages, to the “pastors” who excuse Roy Moore by pointing out that Joseph was older than Mary (I am not making that up), to bakery owners who defend bigotry as “sincere religious belief,” America is awash with zealots who debase both authentic religion and core American values.

Which brings me to the Evangelical Christian Zionists who represent a disproportionate percentage of Trump supporters.

It is tempting to see Trump’s decision to move America’s embassy to Jerusalem, a break with decades of American Middle-East policy, as a gift to the Evangelicals who believe that, in order to bring on the Rapture, Jews must be gathered in a secure Holy Land. (Lest anyone mistake this belief for pro-Jewish sentiment, they also believe that Jews who do not accept Jesus will burn in hell for eternity.)

However, The Brookings Institution has a different explanation.

A University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll (among a national sample of 2,000 American adults, fielded by Nielsen Scarborough November 1-6 and released at the Brookings Institution last Friday) found that 59 percent of Americans said they preferred that Trump lean toward neither side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In contrast, 57 percent of Americans, including most Republicans, said he is in fact leaning toward Israel. Our poll also shows that 63 percent of all Americans oppose moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, including 44 percent of Republicans.

Furthermore, Evangelicals aren’t all of the “Christian Zionist” variety.

Two-thirds of Evangelicals say Trump’s policy is already leaning toward Israel—a proportion that’s even higher than that of the rest of the population. Even on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the support is hardly overwhelming: While 53 percent of Evangelicals support the move, 40 percent oppose it.

So why is he taking a step that knowledgable advisors like Mattis are said to oppose, a step certain to destabilize one of the world’s most dangerous regions? Why take a step that will make his (ridiculous) promise of a “deal of the century” bringing lasting peace to the Middle East impossible?

From the outset, most experts understood that the “deal of the century” was most likely beyond reach and that its collapse may lead to President Trump lashing out with such moves as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and giving the green light to expand Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The fact that the White House may take a controversial step on Jerusalem now, before he even has a chance to unveil his plan, means one of two things.

The first is that his advisers live in their own bubble, reinforced by unprecedented inexperience. In fact, this is already a public fear. Despite deep partisanship on almost every issue, Americans come together on this issue: 81 percent of all Americans, including 71 percent of Republicans, prefer Trump relying on experts in his Middle East diplomacy, not on inexperienced family members and personal lawyers.

But there is a second possibility: That the Trump administration has already given up on its “deal of the century” and is looking for ways to pin the blame on someone else.

CNN agrees.

The ramifications of an embassy move would be felt far outside of Jerusalem. It would overturn 70 years of international consensus, and, many argue, would effectively signal the end of moves to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The status of Jerusalem is an issue that was supposed to be left to negotiations between the parties, as part of a peace agreement. Moving the embassy is seen as America pre-judging that delicate issue. The obvious wisdom of leaving the issue open is why 86 countries have embassies in Tel Aviv–and none have embassies in Jerusalem.

In 1995, in response to intense lobbying by “pro-Israel” interests (including those Christian Zionists),  Congress passed a law requiring America to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Every President since then, Republican or Democrat, has refused to move the embassy, citing national security interests. Every six months, each of those Presidents has used a presidential waiver to circumvent the embassy move.

 

A number of American Jewish organizations have criticized Trump’s decision, accusing the President of ignorance and of ‘irresponsible’ decision-making. Polls show only 20% of American Jews supporting this decision.

The eruptions throughout the Arab world that have already occurred as a result of Trump’s rash, uninformed announcement–and likely future reactions that will endanger Israel and trigger more violence– are among the many negative consequences of electing a profoundly unfit, uninformed, mentally-incompetent narcissist to the Presidency.

Why Ignorance is So Dangerous

There is evidently a widespread belief that–while your dentist should know what amalgam to use in filling a cavity, and your car mechanic should have at least a passing familiarity with automobile parts–anyone who can fog a mirror can run a government agency, or the country.

Surprise! Public officials actually need to know stuff.

Understanding complex global interrelationships, for example, matters. As Fareed Zakaria pointed out in a column for the Washington Post, Trump’s inability to “connect the dots” (or even see dots) could be the best thing that has happened to his nemesis China in a long time. China plans to

exploit the leadership vacuum being created by the United States’ retreat on trade. As Trump was promising protectionism and threatening literally to wall off the United States from its southern neighbor, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a trip through Latin America in November, his third in four years. He signed more than 40 deals, Bloomberg reported, and committed tens of billions of dollars of investments in the region, adding to a $250 billion commitment made in 2015.

The Huffington Post had another example, in an article focused on Trump’s intent to make significant changes in U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians.

President-elect Trump and his surrogates are dropping heavy hints about plans to break with longstanding U.S. positions vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the direction of changes that both Israelis and Palestinians would view as turning away from a negotiated peace agreement…few people today seem to grasp the consequences – entirely unrelated to Israel and the Palestinians – such changes are set to unleash, or the profoundly negative implications they would have for all Americans.

It’s hard to argue with the assertion that most Americans haven’t the foggiest notion that such policy changes would affect anyone outside the Middle East. Knowledgable people, however, know better.

it seems that in the early 1990s Congress passed laws requiring the U.S. to de-fund any United Nations (UN) agency that admits the Palestinians as a member. Unfortunately, de-funding requires giving up any U.S influence over the agency in question.

Back then, nobody gave the laws a second thought, since in those days it was considered beyond the pale to suggest that there might ever be a Palestinian state. Today, things are very different. Support for a two-state solution has been U.S. policy since 2002, and in 2012, the Palestinians were admitted to the UN as a non-member observer state. This status grants them the right to join specialized UN agencies – a right the U.S. cannot block, and admission in many cases is either automatic or requires only a simple majority vote.

Pursuant to the law, when Palestinians joined UNESCO, America withdrew.

The law is still in effect, so Trump’s proposed changes would trigger some very unpleasant consequences, totally unrelated to Israeli-Palestinian relations. As the writer explains,

Take, for example, the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA). Americans already feeling threatened by the nuclear programs of countries like Iran and North Korea will have even greater reason to worry when the Trump Administration has to de-fund the key watchdog monitoring civilian nuclear programs around the world (the U.S. is the IAEA’s largest donor, so de-funding would be devastating to its operations).

Or what about the World Health Organization (WHO)? After being forced by Zika and Ebola to accept that borders can’t stop the spread of deadly diseases, Americans will have greater reason to be fear for their own well-being when Trump is forced to cut off funding to the key international body charged with dealing with international epidemics and pandemics.

Then there are the immediate concerns to most Americans: jobs and the economy. Here let’s consider the impact of the U.S. de-funding the World Food Program (WFP) and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Rural America may not care about the Israelis or Palestinians, but American farmers and shippers will be shocked when agricultural export programs specifically designed to benefit U.S. farmers and shippers suddenly end.

And then there is the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). While threatening to pull out of trade agreements and organizations like these may seem like smart politics in an election season, America’s businesses may be less sanguine when, because of actions taken on Israel-Palestine, Trump literally has no choice but to give up all influence in organizations from which US businesses derive real benefits when it comes to defending their rights and equities around the world.

I would be willing to wager that Trump and his inexperienced advisors are entirely unaware that the law exists, let alone its likely consequences.

I wonder if the supporters who keep giving him a pass would be equally supportive of a dentist who used lead to fill their cavities…..

War and Peace and Chickenhawks

I rarely write about foreign affairs, because it is a complex policy arena in which I have little or no expertise, but the current right-wing hysteria over the (not-yet-fully-fleshed-out) deal with Iran is incredibly troubling for a number of reasons.

Part of the push-back, of course, can be attributed to the Right’s pathological hatred of Obama. But a lot of it goes well beyond that and into the psyches of the GOP’s “Cheney wing”–those saber-rattling lawmakers who enjoyed multiple deferments or otherwise avoided military service themselves, but who sneer at diplomacy and seem bound and determined to send other people’s children into combat.

That “ready, shoot, aim” approach cost us dearly in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention that it decimated and destabilized large portions of an already volatile region. You’d think we might have learned a lesson…

Of course, American Right-wingers aren’t the only paranoids participating in the debate. Netanyahu (Israel’s Dick Cheney) isn’t helping matters. To the contrary, he is inflicting significant damage on the American-Israeli partnership that is critical to Israel’s continued survival.

As Political Animal reports

As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to decry the landmark deal between the U.S. and Iran, more evidence is emerging that Israel’s current leadership is alienating Americans in droves:

The number of Americans who view Israel as an ally of the United States has sharply decreased, according to a new poll published Thursday. Only 54% of Americans polled said that Israel is their country’s ally, a decline from 68% in 2014 and 74% in 2012.

It isn’t just non-Jews who find Netanyahu’s positions counter-productive and ultimately dangerous to the Jewish state. J Street, a Jewish, pro-Israel lobbying group, is alarmed by his rhetoric, as are numerous Israelis in and out of that country’s defense forces. His unseemly and partisan alliance with Congressional Republican hawks is nothing new, nor is his track record of being wrong about pretty much everything.  His narrow re-election  has made rational debate much more difficult.

Early indications are that the deal struck by Kerry is better than most experts had hoped for. That doesn’t mean it should be uncritically endorsed; the details to be worked out are important, and the stakes are too high for an agreement based only upon “trust me.” That said, the current status is promising, and neither Bibi’s longstanding paranoid fantasies nor the wet dreams of American chickenhawks should derail continuing work on a comprehensive agreement.

As they said in the 60s, all we are asking is to give peace a chance.