Reality Check: No more shared values

Israel is no longer a bipartisan issue in the US due to Netanyahu’s slavish support for Trump and his increasingly strident right-wing agenda.

April 29, 2019 23:29
4 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference, February 28th, 2019

Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference, February 28th, 2019. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a racist, who has sided with a far-right, racist party in order to maintain his hold on power. Israel is now run by a right-wing and, dare I say, racist government.

Not my words, but quotes from two of the more serious candidates vying to become the Democratic Party’s candidate for the 2020 US presidential election. The first sentence comes from former Texas Democratic rep. Beto O’Rourke, while the second was said by Bernie Sanders, who, with over $18 million in his war chest, has raised the most funds of any Democratic contender so far.

Four years ago, no American politician with an eye on the country’s top job would dream of making such remarks. Any criticism of Israel or its leaders would be delicately phrased and carefully wrapped up inside statements stressing the historic Israel-US alliance and the shared democratic values of the two countries.

Those days are long gone. Due to Netanyahu’s statements in favor of annexing West Bank settlements, his engineering the entrance of Otzma Yehudit into the political mainstream, and slavish support for US President Donald Trump – as well as the prime minister’s unprecedented and repeated attempts to undermine Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama – Israel is no longer a bipartisan issue in US politics.

For the moment, Netanyahu can argue that such niceties are unimportant. In terms of America, he bet big on Trump and won. With the US recognizing both Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Netanyahu has secured impressive diplomatic victories. Furthermore, Trump’s scrapping of the Iranian nuclear deal and his tightening of the screws on the regime in Tehran perfectly match Netanyahu’s agenda of weakening what he views as the major threat to Israel’s security.

BUT SUCH achievements come with a cost – and not just the stomach-churning flattery involved in Netanyahu’s proclamation of his intention to name a new community in the Golan after Trump. By so deliberately aligning Israel to one of the most divisive presidents in American history, Israel’s prime minister is severely damaging the country’s most important asset in Washington: the Israel lobby’s ability to win the support of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

Trump won’t be in power forever. Let’s not forget that the Democratic candidate has won five out of the last six presidential elections, and Trump’s popularity in polls has been consistently poor throughout his presidency. When the US political wheel turns, Israel will find itself increasingly out of favor.

A look at last week’s Pew Research Center report into American views of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples and their governments shows just how unpopular Netanyahu and his government is with Democratic voters. While majorities in both parties have favorable views of the Israeli people (77% in the case of Republicans and 57% for Democrats), this changes quite considerably when Americans are asked about the Israeli government.

Republicans, according to the survey, have a favorable view of Netanyahu’s government by a margin of almost two to one, but a staggering two-thirds of Democrats view Israel’s government unfavorably. When attitudes of American voters to Israel’s government are broken down by age, the picture becomes even more disturbing. A vast majority (63%) of young American adults under the age of 30 have an unfavorable view of Israel’s government, with only the 65-plus age group having a slight majority (57%) showing favorable sentiments.

These figures go a long way in explaining why Israel, and more particularly its prime minister, are no longer treated as sacred cows by leading Democratic politicians seeking the party’s presidential nomination. As Netanyahu this week steps up the coalition negotiations to form his next government, it’s hard to avoid the fear that this gap between Israel and one half of the American system – the half, it must be remembered, which is supported by the vast majority of US Jewry – is only going to grow wider.

And the prime minister shouldn’t count on these Jews coming to his rescue within the Democratic Party. In his last term as prime minister, Netanyahu did nothing to prevent a fissure with the majority, non-Orthodox US Jewish community, always preferring to side with his strictly Orthodox coalition allies in disputes over issues important to Diaspora Jews such as the egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall or the Conversion Law.

With politicians in his likely coalition like MK Bezalel Smotrich – a self-declared “proud homophobe,” supporter of segregation between Jewish and Arab women in hospital maternity wards, avid West Bank annexationist and a realistic candidate for a senior ministerial portfolio such as the Justice Ministry – not even as polished a salesman as Netanyahu will find it easy to convince a skeptical audience that his latest government still shares the same values as other liberal democracies around the globe.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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