This is discouraging. I thought we were having a little perestroika in these parts. But no, Foreign Policy yesterday ran a piece of pure propaganda by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren saying that the U.S. and Zionists have had utterly-overlapping interests since the days of George Washington and forever after, and who did it ask to respond in “rebuttal”? Aluf Benn of Haaretz, Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (a lobby group), and Jeffrey Goldberg of the Iranian frenzy patrol. I can’t motivate myself to read the Goldberg and the Satloff, but how’s this for a rebuttal, from Benn:
Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, asserts rightly that in view of the current political upheaval, America has no better or more trustworthy friend in the Middle East than Israel.
Oh and Steve Walt. Who cleans the floor with Oren in a long piece that combines realism with a fullthroated human-rights argument. Excerpt:
Oren would prefer that the United States continue backing Israel to the hilt no matter what it does. His first line of argument is the odd suggestion that Americans have been Zionists ever since the Founding Fathers (i.e., even before modern Zionism existed). Some early U.S. leaders did have biblically inspired notions about “returning Jews to the Holy Land,” but that fact tells us nothing about the proper relationship between the United States and Israel today. America’s Founding Fathers also opposed colonialism, for example, so one might just as easily argue that they would oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and support the Palestinians’ efforts to secure their own independence. George Washington also warned Americans to avoid “passionate attachments” to any foreign nations, in good part because he believed it would distort U.S. domestic politics and provide avenues for foreign influence. Thus, Oren’s highly selective reading of past U.S. history offers little grounds for unconditional support today.
Oren’s second line of argument is the familiar claim that the United States and Israel share identical “democratic values.” Yet this argument cannot explain why the United States gives Israel so much support, and gives it unconditionally. After all, there are many democracies in the world, but none has a special relationship with the United States like Israel does.
It is true that both states are formally democratic, but there are also fundamental differences between the two countries. The United States is a liberal democracy, where people of any race, religion, or ethnicity are supposed to enjoy equal rights. Israel, by contrast, was explicitly founded as a Jewish state, and non-Jews in Israel are second-class citizens both de jure and de facto. To take but one example, Palestinians who marry Israeli Jews are not permitted to become citizens of Israel themselves. This may make sense given Israel’s self-definition, but it is wholly at odds with deep-rooted American values.
Just as importantly, Israel’s democratic status is undermined by its imposition of a legal, administrative, and military regime in the occupied territories that denies the Palestinians there basic human rights, as well as by its prolonged, government-backed effort to colonize these conquered lands with Jewish settlers.
In the end, it is hard not to see Oren’s article as a sign of desperation. A more open discourse about Israel is beginning to emerge in the United States, and that will gradually make it harder for American politicians to continue their craven subservience to the lobby. Furthermore, younger American Jews are less enchanted with an Israel that is drifting steadily rightward and whose political system is increasingly dysfunctional and ridden with scandal. Autocracies like Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt actively colluded with Israel, but future Arab leaders are likely to be more responsive to popular sentiment and less tolerant of Israel’s brutal suppression of Palestinian rights. If the United States wants these countries’ policies to be congenial to its core interests, it will have to make its own policies more congenial to Arab peoples, not just their rulers.