They Still Don’t Get It

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May 31, 2021 2:12 p.m.

Here’s an article in Ha’aretz describing concerns about Israeli national security and foreign policy officials about the extent of damage to the country’s relationship with the Democratic party during Benjamin Netanyahu’s long reign. Not surprisingly they are less concerned about the high profile criticism of AOC or Rashida Tlaib than the uncharacteristically muted and equivocal support from stalwarts like Jerry Nadler and Robert Menendez.

From the Israeli point of view, this is an important and correct distinction. But it’s clear in reading the piece that the Israelis don’t really grasp the multiple lines of fracture and damage that have built up in the relationship over the last 20 years. And here I don’t mean Israelis in general. I mean the political, diplomatic and national security communities. Quite a lot of it is tied directly to Netanyahu and secondarily the forces in Israeli politics he represents, forces which both created him and which he has cultivated. But they are certainly not exclusively bound up with him. They are tied both to demographic and ideological changes within the United States and the Democratic party and with the fundamentally different nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict after the First Lebanon War (1982), the First Intifada (1987-93) and the failed Oslo Process (1993-2000) – all of which occur over a comparatively brief decade or so.

It is also inextricably tied up with the increasingly fractured relationship with American Jews, who are of course overwhelmingly associated with the Democratic party. What adds an additional dimension to the story is the degree to which American Jews have both been part of the rupture between Democrats and Israel but far more the most conspicuous voices warning about the breakdown.

Here Netanyahu’s record, nowhere represented more jarringly and with greater damage than in the calculated affront to the dignity of a Democratic president in 2015, is so central. He represents the cocky and contemptuous response to quite literally a generation of American Jews warning about the folly of Netanyahu’s more or less open alliance with the Republican party. This not only aggrieved many Jews, who are after all mostly Democrats. But they were in the best position to see the brittleness of that alliance for Israel itself. There is a particular mix of pathos, anger and regret tied to being the party warning a family member of danger while having that person shower you with contempt … and yet still feeling the need to persevere in the warnings.

Again, reading the discussions in the Israeli press, it’s clear the people charged with understanding these things only barely grasp its dynamics.

A generation of American foreign policy officials operated on the assumption that America’s role in creating the climate and prerequisites for a global settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict was to provide sufficiently fulsome support for Israel that Israelis felt secure taking the risks necessary to achieve such an agreement. In the event, however, that only enabled the most pernicious tendencies in Israeli political culture and led to ignoring the developments that make the conflict increasingly intractable. As long as the global superpower offers support which is total and limitless why abide any limits?

Why, indeed?

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