September 29, 2011

Binyamin Netanyahu

Binyamin Netanyahu

The problem is that Israel is no longer the secular state it once was. If the Israeli religious parties could have their way, Israel would by now be an ethnocracy with theocratic leanings. Then there is Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and leader of an extreme nationalist party. Lieberman is a former Soviet thug and nightclub bouncer who says he believes the West’s hegemony has come to an end and that the future lies with autocratic governments such as Russia and China. His constituents are primarily Russian and hard-line, although secular. Netanyahu, who more and more resembles a Chicago political ward boss shifting alliances and counting votes to remain in power, is caught in between. This is no way to run a country that owes its very existence to Uncle Sam and the international Jewish community’s generous donations.

To Uncle Sam, Israel can do no wrong, even when it slays an unarmed American citizen in international waters as it did last year. Criticism of Israeli heavy-handedness or brutality is a no-no in Obamaland: Witness the 29 standing ovations that Congress gave to Netanyahu after he told the president to shove it. AIPAC can be extremely dangerous for any American politician’s health, and everyone knows it. Evangelical Christian voters comprise thirty million more reasons that no one in America will read the riot act to a so-called loyal ally who is regularly caught spying on Uncle Sam.

The Palestinian Authority is now asking the UN to recognize it as a legitimate state. Although long promised by the international community, the Anglo-Saxon powers’ reaction has been muted: “Well, yes, of course, but, ah, not right now….” The Palestinians have heard it all before.

But look at the record: According to the World Bank and the IMF, the Palestinian Authority has been remarkably successful in building Palestinian public institutions. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has pursued Palestinian goals nonviolently and diplomatically, yet the Israeli response has been to stick their head in the sand and announce that everything you have is mine, and everything I have is mine also. A Palestinian friend of mine told me this week: “Everyone, starting with the Egyptians, Tunisians, and the Libyans, is entitled to be free except for us.”

The hypocrisy over Palestinian statehood is astounding—even for politicians, whose careers are built on hypocrisy. Israel’s prime minister has used any excuse he can find to avoid negotiations, and Washington’s Republican leaders have encouraged him to resist sitting down and talking peace. Obama could not deliver a promised settlement freeze once AIPAC issued a veiled threat concerning the 2012 election. The Israeli hard-liners, mostly American religious zealots and expatriate Russians, are engaged in a new system to terrorize local Palestinians—one they call “price tagging,” in which they attack Palestinian property—and occasionally the Israeli military—in response to Army actions against their illegal building or other anti-Palestinian activities. This world’s Avigdor Liebermans see price tagging and settler violence against unarmed Palestinians as perfectly normal. Those who enable settlers to continue their colonization now rule Israel’s political landscape. The rest of us should be ashamed of ourselves.



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