Can American opposition to Ukraine harm Israel? - analysis

It is only one step from excusing Russia’s invasion to excusing Iran’s demand for nuclear weapons and its threats against Israel and the entire region.

 Russia's invasion of Ukraine, near Lviv (photo credit: REUTERS)
Russia's invasion of Ukraine, near Lviv
(photo credit: REUTERS)

A chorus of opposition to Ukraine – as well as US backing for the besieged country – has erupted in various parts of the US political landscape since Russia invaded its neighbor on February 24.

At the heart of the debate is domestic politics. Because US President Joe Biden has expressed sympathy for Ukraine, some on the American Right oppose that. However, the deeper meanings of this argument are rooted in the populist sentiments of former US president Donald Trump’s “America first” rhetoric.

Because major media are portraying Ukraine as a victim, fringe media, in response, assume this must be a conspiracy and that “the story is more complex: Russia was provoked, and there are two sides to the story.”

How does this affect Israel?

This domestic discussion has no real implications for US-Israel ties.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after Trump's address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after Trump's address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

The American Right has tended in recent decades to become more pro-Israel – which is, in part, a reaction to the fact that the Left is more critical of Israel. Therefore, by domestic political logic, if one side dislikes Israel, then the other side should like it.

There are also other deep connections to the Jewish state among those on the Right coming from Christian Evangelical support for Israel.

However, this support is not iron-clad, and it is clear from the change in Israel’s leadership – from former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a coalition led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett – that some Evangelicals had a personal connection to Netanyahu and saw him as a kind of “chosen” leader. This attitude does not extend to a government that is more diverse.

Another factor that links the discussion to Israel is the perception that Ukraine is a “woke” cause and that it is trying to “convince the US to fight a war against Russia.”

In this narrative, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is portrayed as “corrupt” and “backed by Soros, Obama and Biden” and part of the “globalist agenda.” Any support for Ukraine is viewed as a conspiracy to drag the US into “WWIII.” Calls for a “no-fly zone” are also supposedly part of the conspiracy.

Sebastian Gorka, political commentator and former deputy assistant to Trump, has built himself a following in the American Right. His social media is thus a bellwether of some of the feelings in that milieu.

When he expressed support for Zelensky, he faced significant push-back suggesting that the Ukrainian leader is actually pushing America into a war it does not need to enter.

What is the truth about the Russia-Ukraine war?

“None of us know the truth,” about what is going on, is the argument; “We can’t trust him or our media,” they say; “He’s trying to send our sons to fight his war”; there is “more to this story than they tell us; the Ukraine government is not innocent, it is corrupt.”

THE AMERICAN Right’s dislike of Ukraine can be found in other places as well, ranging from statements by members of Congress who allege that backing the Eastern European country is an Obama-era conspiracy, to those claiming that supporting it is an “emotional” thing and that Ukraine must be in the wrong for the single reason that American mainstream media care about it.

The anti-Ukraine voices claim that “millions of deaths” could result if the US gets involved in the war and that backing resistance to the Russian invasion is “virtue signaling.” Some have argued that since Ukraine had a “color revolution” against Russia in 2014, then it must be in the wrong.

The issue here is that some of these same trends regarding US backing of a foreign country can be tied to American support for Israel, specifically to a replenishment of the Iron Dome interceptors.

It wasn’t too long ago that one of the leading skeptics regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was also arguing that an “Israel lobby” is harmful to US foreign policy. In essence, this argument posits that it would be okay for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and that the West “provoked” Russia – and therefore, the US shouldn’t back Israel because it isn’t in American “interests.”

The result: suspicion of mainstream media.

This all comes together in a toxic mix for the American Right that blends suspicion of mainstream media with hatred of the Democrats, beliefs in thinly veiled antisemitic conspiracies about “Soros” and “Globalists,” and claims of a secretive cabal that runs the US and wants to send American soldiers to “die for others wars.”

It is no surprise then that not long ago, former CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson, who ended up running for Congress, was even posting about how “America’s Jews drive America’s wars.”

It is only one step from that argument to the idea that “Soros and Globalists want WWIII in Ukraine and they have installed Zelensky in power.”

What are the implications of the far-right turning against Ukraine?

The American far Right is quietly backing Russia, which means that one day, this same crowd could turn on Israel and back Iran (Moscow works with Tehran). It is only one step from excusing Russia’s invasion to excusing Iran’s demand for nuclear weapons as well as its threats against Israel and the entire region.

The only thing holding development back is that the Left remains critical of Israel, so the knee-jerk reaction on the Right is to back it. Israel is not yet portrayed as a “woke” cause.

However, Israel’s current government has less interest in cultivating ties with the American far Right, a trend that was more common during Netanyahu’s leadership.

It is plausible that Israel’s attempt to present itself as an island of democracy and human rights in the Middle East will one day run counter to right-wing talking points in the US. This is because Ukraine also presented itself as a cause for democracy, and the right-wing voices who hate it often say it’s a “flawed democracy” or “corrupt” country.

The American far Right has always had an isolationist wing, and it has always had antisemitic motifs lurking around its narratives. Though these have been reduced in the last decades, they can resurface quickly when people begin to talk about “globalists.”