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Larry Beinhart's Body Politic: Israel, Land of Ideals 

click to enlarge DION OGUST
  • Dion Ogust

Benjamin Netanyahu has won reelection in Israel. Along the way, he meddled in US politics, offended the current sitting president, and campaigned on fear of Arabs and expansion of Israel's territory.

Israel and the US quite famously have a special relationship. Will this affect it? The relationship is a three-legged stool: actual geopolitics, mythology, and the Jewish lobby.

In 1948, the UN proposed a division of the British Mandate of Palestine, aka Mandatory Palestine, or just plain Palestine, into Jewish and Arab sections. The recommended lines were as convoluted as a gerrymandered American congressional district.

The US supported the proposal. So did most of the Jews in the territory, though even back then there was a more radical element that wanted everything from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean. The Palestinians and the surrounding Arab states all rejected the proposal.

That would seem to have been a pro-Israeli position. But the Soviet Union also backed partition. In the bipolar world being instantly created, it was actually neutral in geopolitical terms. Also, there were plenty of people in positions of power in the US arguing that good relations with the states that had oil—the crucial ingredient in the Allied victory in World War II—and that sat on both sides of the Suez Canal. As for sentiment, the State Department and the military both had their full share of traditional anti-Semites and wannabe Lawrence's of Arabia.

In 1956, Egypt's Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. That made the French and British very angry. They conspired to have Israel invade Egypt. Which it did, and the Israelis took back the Canal quite handily. It was the US that made Israel withdraw and give it back.

Meanwhile, the Russians were cultivating relations in the region wherever they could. Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Afghanistan all associated themselves with the Moscow Pact, the competitor to NATO. The Soviets even had military bases in Syria and Egypt. The Palestinians, with their knack for always lining up on the wrong side of history, chose the USSR over the US, as they had the Arabs over the UN and would later choose Saddam Hussein over everyone else.

The US had Iran, where the CIA had helped overthrow a democratically elected government and replaced it with an autocrat who stayed in power through the use of secret police, torture, and assassinations. Saudi Arabia, an ultraconservative monarchy imposing an ultraconservative version of an eighth-century theology. Also with a secret police, assassinations, and torture.

That left only Israel to extol as a land of ideals, as an ally because of its politics rather than an ally in spite of its politics. That was a great relief when the US, for geopolitical reasons, was supporting the most reprehensible sorts of regimes all over the world.

The Israelis, God bless them, along with their Jewish supporters throughout the West, were masters of propaganda. While the Palestinians, and their ostensible Arab allies, were incredibly inept. The synchronicity of needs and the unity of efforts created the mythology of Israel. These are typical:

"Israel is the only Middle Eastern country to rate as 'free,' according to the latest annual report by Freedom House, a top US-based pro-democracy NGO" (The Israel Project). "The Israel-US friendship is rooted in these sister democracies' shared values" (Gil Troy, historian). "Israel shares much of western culture and respect for traditional ideals such as reason, individualism, happiness, and capitalism" (Conservativetribune.com). "Those who hate Israel also hate America" (Senator Tom Cruz). "Israel is perhaps the single most reliable, capable, and willing friend of the United States in its region and in the world" (Why the US and Israel Are Strong Allies, by Stephen D. Fried, The Tech Online Edition).

As summarized by AIPAC, Israel and the US are together in Pursuing Peace, Fighting Terrorism, they're in a Military Partnership, on the same page in Technology and Innovation, on Energy & Environment, and they have, of course, Shared Values: "Commitment to democracy, the rule of law, freedom of religion and speech and human rights are all core values shared between the United States and Israel."

There are, without doubt, elements of truth here.

Israel is a real democracy. Just as America was a real democracy went it practiced segregation, both by law and de facto. It could well be said that the US was a real democracy even when it practiced slavery, as were Britain and France when they had colonies, as was South Africa with apartheid. 

In the good guy / bad guy framework of American politics and American media all the excesses of the Israelis are treated like police shootings in the US, deplorable but probably necessary actions taken by brave men doing a dangerous but necessary job.

This requires more than a willful blindness to the facts that Palestinians in Israel are an oppressed and marginalized minority, that the West Bank is an occupied territory, an occupation that has been described by an ex-head of the Shin Bet, Israel's security service, as akin to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II, and that Gaza is something between a walled-in ghetto and a gulag run by the inmates. It necessitates seeing all the problems as the Palestinians' own fault.

To do that, one has to believe that Israelis are willing to treat Palestinians with Israeli citizenship as equals and that Israel is negotiating for peace in good faith. But Netanyahu has come out of the that closet. Voters of Arab background are to be feared. The two-state solution is off the table. The settlements already in place in Palestinian territory will be supported and there will be more to come. Any failure to achieve "peace" can no longer be ascribed to Palestinian intransigence. Israeli policy is occupation and only occupation.

Will that make a difference?

Probably very little.

Why do American politicians shriek mantras about their support for Israel? Less than 2.5 percent of the US population is Jewish. Even we're they concentrated, the numbers don't appear large—New York 8.9 percent, New Jersey 5.8 percent, Florida 3.3 percent, and California 3.2 percent. But Jews vote. Enough to swing those key states in a presidential election. They also give inordinate amounts of money. Most of them regard the survival of the state of Israel as their own existential issue.

Maybe the US will get out of the way and let the UN call for a two-state solution. Maybe the US will stop sending money to the Palestinian Authority, forcing Israel to give up the tax revenue that's supposed to go to them or let them collapse, which would make Israel get much more actively involved in the Occupation. But that's about it.

The roughly $3.4 billion per year in military aid will continue. The next Democratic candidate will swear fidelity to Israel because Jews are key to any Democratic victory. The next Republican candidate will out-Jew the Democrat because Republicans would love to have the Jewish vote, because they rely on the Christian right and their love of Israel's potential part in the End Times, and because they're rooted in the sort of segregationist culture that finds the Israeli attitude toward the Palestinians more than natural; it's necessary.

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