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A (half-hearted) defense of the Congressional Democrats

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Like almost all serious critics of Israel and of U.S. policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, my initial reaction to the Congressional fawning over Netanyahu and the apparently unanimous standing ovations awarded to Netanyahu’s latest demagogic lies was one of outrage. It’s one thing for the Republicans to participate in this charade—nothing good on almost any issue can be expected from the current Republican party—but from the Democrats, the only rational political party in America, as well?

Yet, on further cold reflection, if I had been in Congress, I might have done the same thing, on the basis of the following premises:

1. Israel today is hopeless, beyond rational or elementary moral calculation. In the current circumstances, there is no chance that it will agree to a fair two-state settlement of the conflict and a less-than-zero chance it will agree—ever–to a one-state “solution,” a binational democratic Israeli-Palestinian state.

2. The only possible change in U.S. policies that would force Israel to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians would be for the U.S. to end all of its military, economic, and diplomatic support of Israel until it agreed to such a settlement.

3. However, even if Obama would like to adopt such a policy—itself hard to imagine—there is not the slightest possibility that Congress would go along.

4. Moreover, it is by no means obvious that serious U.S. pressures on Israel would result in serious changes in Israeli policies. Given the state of mind in Israel today, it might be equally possible that Israel would spurn even the United States, retreat even further into defiant isolationism and belligerency, and tell “the goyim”—that is, the US and the rest of the world–to go to hell.

5. Indeed, strong US pressures could even prove to be dangerous. An Israel armed with hundreds of nuclear weapons cannot be trusted not to resort to the Samson option if it felt itself alone, abandoned, and increasingly militarily vulnerable. In such a state of mind, it cannot be ruled out that Israel might quickly resort to nuclear weapons in any war with its Arab neighbors—or maybe even “preemptively,” especially if Iran should develop nuclear weapons and Israel decides that it can’t destroy hardened nuclear sites without using tactical nuclear weapons.

Given these premises, I am driven to the reluctant conclusion that the Democratic party stands to gain nothing but to lose a great deal if it even hints at pressuring Israel. It would lose a considerable amount of Jewish financial support and possibly enough Jewish votes to lose close elections—and not only in Congress but even in the 2012 presidential election, where Jewish defections could tip some states into the Republican column.

It is likely that Obama has reached this same conclusion, for much the same reasons. Even if his recent mild criticism of Israeli policies suggested that meaningful—or even meaningless—changes in U.S. policy might be in the offing, one of the safest bets you can make is that as the election approaches Obama and the Democratic party as a whole will flee from the suggestion—perish the thought—that it might apply even the mildest pressure on Israeli. In Obama’s shoes, I’d probably be driven–however reluctantly and with gritted teeth–to the same behavior.

This argument will not impress those who think that I am referring to mere “partisan politics.” In my view, however, what is at stake in America are liberal values and even rationality: I would go very far to avoid the risk that the next congress or president could be Republican.

In short, given the unlikelihood that any U.S. action could save Israel from itself, I would give priority to saving America from itself–which, the facts of life being what they are, means that the Obama and the Democratic party can’t abandon its near-unconditional support of Israel. At least, not until after the 2012 elections.

This is a crosspost from Jerome Slater’s blog.

Jerome Slater

Jerome Slater is a professor (emeritus) of political science and now a University Research Scholar at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He has taught and written about U.S. foreign policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for nearly 50 years, both for professional journals (such as International Security, Security Studies, and Political Science Quarterly) and for many general periodicals. He writes foreign policy columns for the Sunday Viewpoints section of the Buffalo News. And his website it

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