Netanyahu’s costly detachment from America

"Although I oppose the settlement movement, it must be clear to even those who don’t that the close relationship with the US is incalculably more valuable than an apartment complex in Itamar."

November 3, 2015 20:52
3 minute read.
abbas netanyahu

srael's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) gestures beside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before their meeting in Jerusalem September 15, 2010. (photo credit: REUTERS)

At first, I wasn’t quite sure what made me think of Benjamin Netanyahu when I read an editorial on The New York Times website entitled, “A Step Toward Justice in the Release of 6,000 Prisoners.”

The editorial concerned a recent decision by the United States Sentencing Commission, which resulted in the retroactive reduction in sentences for thousands of people convicted of non-violent drug offenses.

Perhaps I was suffering from what the historian and conservative commentator Ron Radosh has termed “Bibi Derangement Syndrome,” a state of mind in which ordinarily levelheaded people lose touch with reality when the subject of a conversation turns to the Likud leader.

If this is the case, I assure you it was Netanyahu who infected me with this debilitating malady.

But, alas, there is indeed something concrete connecting the issue of criminal justice reform in the US and Netanyahu: the changing face and values of the American body politic. Last month, Netanyahu’s campaign against the Iran deal ended in humiliating defeat with only four Senate Democrats choosing to oppose the deal. To add to the humiliation, longtime supporters of Israel, including Manhattan congressman Jerry Nadler, voted to allow the deal to proceed untethered.

Netanyahu must realize by now his approach to the US has been reckless. Associating Israel with the political Right, which Netanyahu has done by instigating a partisan battle against the Iran deal and appointing a conservative political operative as ambassador to a liberal US administration, is perhaps the most significant mistake an Israeli prime minister has made in the 21st century. The relationship with the US is Israel’s greatest foreign policy asset and it was carelessly put at risk.

In order for Netanyahu to begin repairing relations with not only the administration but with ordinary Democrats, he must first realize that America has changed since he served as ambassador to the United Nations in the late 1980s. If 6,000 federal prisoners were to have had their sentences reduced then, there would’ve been mass political turmoil; after all, “tough on crime” was the political motto of the day. Today the news is met with mostly little opposition and editorials declaring the release not large enough.

The political force which successfully reacted to the social revolution of the 1960s – –an alliance between the religious Right and working class conservatives – is quickly declining in strength, and a new consensus is taking its place: a consensus which is more progressive, secular and less white. The emerging society will not be one that tolerates the leader of a close ally warning his supporters on election day that “the Arabs are voting in droves.”

Nor will the US unconditionally veto UN Security Council resolutions condemning settlement construction.

Yes, it is true that there are and will be more pressing issues for the US in the region. But there has been another development Netanyahu and his supporters have missed: young Palestinians, including Palestinian-Americans, are not content with allowing the occupation to become permanent and have swapped the traditional and abrasive rhetoric of Arab nationalism for one of human rights (a fact Peter Beinart has tried to get across to the American Jewish community for many years). Some in Israel may wish for the issue to settle onto the back burner, but Palestinians will no longer allow for that to be easy.

Israel cannot rely on the support of the American Right alone. Not only does the modern manifestation of the Right represent an aging and declining worldview, but its values are in direct contradiction to those of Israel’s most steadfast supporters: American Jews who will not start supporting a Republican Party that opposes women’s reproductive rights and whose leading presidential candidate routinely demonizes undocumented immigrants and refugees.

The notion that Israel is strongest when it has bipartisan support is no mere platitude; it is absolutely essential.

Sometimes maintaining this dynamic requires compromise from Israel, whether it is a settlement construction freeze or not launching futile battles on Capitol Hill.

Although I oppose the settlement movement, it must be clear to even those who don’t that the close relationship with the US is incalculably more valuable than an apartment complex in Itamar. And with Jerusalem being threatened by a recent uptick in violence, resuscitating the alliance is more important than ever. The prime minister’s upcoming appearance at the left-leaning Center for American Progress is an opportunity for him to repair this essential bipartisan support.

The author is a writer based in New York City. His work has previously appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Daily Beast and NOW Lebanon.

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