My initial joy over the Biden insult was not misplaced. The Israeli blunder has catalyzed a new moment in the US-Israel special relationship and maybe, just maybe the beginning of the end. The lead thinktank of the Israel lobby today proclaims that US-Israel relations are "perilous." AIPAC panicked last night. Michael Oren is alarmed.
The Obama administration seemed to relish the opportunity to distance itself from Israel almost as if it had been rehearsing for a break and was only waiting for the provocation. Everyone piled on. Hillary was sharply critical, Joe Biden was critical to Netanyahu’s face, on Saturday there is the General Petraeus leak, and on Sunday David Axelrod is critical on the Sunday talk shows.
Of course, the conditions that the Obama administration is criticizing have been there for years: four decades of Israeli expansion and American passivity. And of course, the criticism has been murmured even in Washington for four decades. The difference this time is that high level political people are willing to express it openly.
That hypocrisy is cracking because politicians sense that they can get away with being halfway honest. The Obama administration senses what we all sense, and that even Tom Friedman senses when he goes on Meet the Press and talks about how much money we give Israel: word is getting out about the special relationship, and Americans are beginning to ask questions.
When both Joe Biden and General David Petraeus are reported to say that the special relationship is endangering American soldiers, they are only saying what Walt and Mearsheimer said in their historic paper four years ago, and what Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, described as the blinding flash of the obvious. But remember, Walt and Mearsheimer could not publish their paper in the United States, and when their book came out, the joke was that a lot of people in D.C. were reading it in brown paper covers, lest they be called anti-Semites.
You could not say that Israel was hurting our interests because Abrams, Libby, Wurmser, Feith, Frum, and Wolfowitz were helping guide the ship of state through the seas of Islamophobia. And intellectuals were just as afraid of the policers of official understanding, of Alan Dershowitz, Jeffrey Goldberg, Larry Summers, Richard Haass, and David Remnick and Bob Silvers too–Silvers who has never run a review of The Israel Lobby.
Now that atmosphere is changing, even in power circles. Of course, the best reflection of the change is Andrew Sullivan’s remarkable shift. Sullivan was not deterred by Leon Wieseltier’s calling him an anti-Semite, because he knows, the issue is just too important to world peace not to keep talking.
I don’t think you can say enough about Gaza, Goldstone, and the grassroots. Gaza vindicated those of us on the left who said that Israel was treating Palestinians like animals; and instead of understanding the moment and engaging the critics honestly, Israel hunkered down and smeared the critics, thereby discrediting itself in Europe and among young American peace types. I can point to many important moments over the last year: we have the crazy video from Judaized East Jerusalem to thank, the young bloggers of the Gaza war, the suppressed Max Blumenthal video from Jerusalem, and the silent demonstration outside the Waldorf last week with its swarming pro-Israel loonies. BDS has played a role, too. It has upped the pressure and elicited more looniness: the Reut Institute’s bizarre allegation that BDS is working in tandem with Hizbullah.
Jeffrey Goldberg and Ethan Bronner have struggled to hide that looniness from Americans, still western awareness of Israeli looniness has grown. It has been fed by the Dubai hit captured on surveillance tapes and Netanyahu’s crude crackdown on dissent, and his ministers railing against intermarriage and assimilation. It has been fed by the hubris of Israel’s refusal to meet five congressmen sponsored by J Street; Politico runs Bob Filner’s piece on that diplomatic idiocy today, and Ahmed Tibi warned last week,"Through astonishing ineptness, rather than principled policy, Israel is risking the anger of its bankroller."
And today Netanyahu has exhibited more looniness, insisting on Israel’s right to East Jerusalem.
When the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs declares war on our president and then says his policy is "to make Israel cough up Palestine," any sensible person says I want nothing to do with these people. And when you remember that it was this very same thinktank that in Colin Powell’s view hatched the idea for the Iraq war, you say, Please get out of my life, now.
Suddenly the special relationship is embarrassing. Israel is like a bad party guest. We enabled its drunken behavior for years, now people are starting to talk.
It is only a matter of time before this new mood is reflected in the modern American ceremonies of scrutiny: investigative newspaper stories (catching up with Grant Smith), grandstanding op-eds that discover the existence of the Israel lobby, and more and more Congresspeople who dare to speak out. I’m optimistic. The high beams are on the special relationship, because it has done the unforgivable, it has damaged our pride.