Liberal Zionists worry: Annexation will make Israel a political issue in presidential campaign

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

After US Ambassador David Friedman gave a thumbs-up to possible Israeli annexation of portions of the West Bank last week, Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg seized on the threat for political capital, saying he would make Israel pay a price in aid for such a move. “If Prime Minister Netanyahu makes good on his threat to annex West Bank settlements, he should know that a President Buttigieg would take steps to ensure that American taxpayers won’t help foot the bill,” said the South Bend mayor.

In seeming to threaten sanctions against Israel, Buttigieg is leading the Democratic field– much as Beto O’Rourke jumped to the front on Netanyahu’s racism some weeks ago. Buttigieg is even ahead of Bernie Sanders. Though Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have co-sponsored a resolution condemning the idea of annexation because it is a threat to the two-state solution.

Liberal Zionists are caught in the middle here. Liberal Jewish supporters of Israel have long been critical of Israel’s occupation but they are even more concerned about preserving Israel’s good reputation in the west as an existential issue: because Israel depends on the west for supporting and preserving “the Jewish state” in the midst of millions who don’t like Zionism.

At the Israel Policy Forum, Michael Koplow says that Buttigieig’s statement is a dire warning that Israel could become politicized. Democrats have so far prevented Israel from being a partisan issue; but annexation is a “revolutionary” act that would end Israel’s impunity, Koplow says.

Partial annexation of settlement blocs threatens to create a tipping point that changes the political incentive structure away from constructive engagement with Israel and toward harsher criticism twinned with policies that will carry real costs for Israel….

[W]hatever Buttigieg meant, the takeaway is that a leading Democratic presidential contender – one who is viewed as a moderate, as pro-Israel, and someone who has gone out of his way in the past to defend Israel and Israelis – sees a clear political benefit in challenging Israel over annexation. It is naïve to think that this will be confined to Buttigieg, either among presidential hopefuls or among Democrats writ large. Rather than U.S. assistance to Israel being the rhetorical equivalent of a motion that passes with unanimous consent, it is now going to be an open question that is asked of politicians, brought up at presidential debates, and everyone will be forced to defend a position on it one way or the other.

Of course many on the left have sought just that: let’s debate US support for Israel, and let’s make Israel accountable for its human rights abuses. Koplow surely is more opposed to anti-Zionists than even Netanyahu. He warns that BDS (the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign) will benefit from Israeli annexation.

Making annexation a central plank of Israel’s politics and diplomacy is going to create protests against Israel on college campuses and in progressive enclaves around the country, and the BDS movement will be the greatest political beneficiary as it convinces more and more people that the problem to be solved is not the occupation but Israel itself.

Nothing about this benefits Israel, and it is entirely a result of Netanyahu and right-wing Israeli politicians advocating West Bank annexation, and American officials consistently refusing to voice opposition to it and implying that they will support it.

The obvious retort to Koplow from the left is: What has “constructive engagement” ever meant for Israel? Just complete impunity for its actions. The Israel Policy Forum itself applauded Trump’s move of the capital to Jerusalem. And I remember well ten years ago when J Street speakers praised Israel’s slaughter of Gaza– and anti-Zionists who thought they were included in the new group were banished to a side discussion. Liberal Zionists have always been more opposed to anti-Zionists than they are to rightwing Zionists, because they share their core ideology with the right, and fear that anti-Zionists will succeed in delegitimizing Zionism.

Annexation is a crisis for liberal Zionists because it makes them confront a reality: There is not going to be a two-state solution. As the left has been saying for 15 years now, There is just one state in Israel and Palestine. Go see for yourself: Israel has 600,000 colonists over the Green Line and whole cities that it will never uproot, not to mention military zones it will never leave.

Yesterday Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street warned supporters: “Members of the Trump administration are opening the door to a one-state scenario where Palestinians will live as second-class citizens.” But that scenario exists right now. Palestinians are second-class citizens under law inside Israel and completely without rights under occupation.

Ben-Ami also said that the U.S. policy must remain “opposed to settlement expansion and annexation.” But again one must ask: what have liberal Zionists done to try to enforce that policy? US policy has been to make noise about the settlements and do nothing;. At the same time as the Obama administration folded on settlements eight and nine years ago, J Street shifted its position from outright opposition to settlements to, Let’s talk about borders.

The BDS campaign began because governments were not enforcing laws against Israeli violations of international law. And Buttigieg’s leadership is more consistent with the BDS program than liberal Zionists. Yesterday Dylan Williams of J Street echoed Buttigieg by saying that US aid to Israel should be conditioned:

Some reacting to ’s position that US taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for the annexation moves promised by Netanyahu don’t seem to realize that aid to Israel – like military aid to other countries – is already subject to use restrictions such as the Leahy Law..

Discussion of whether additional restrictions should be put in place to ensure American taxpayer dollars are used by allies for actual defense purposes and not things that hurt US interests like unilateral Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory is absolutely warranted 2/2

Williams’s position sounds great (and I feel personal kinship with liberal Zionists in the liberal dimension). Except that Israel has clearly been in violation of the Leahy law for years and liberal Zionists have done nothing. They won’t even sign on to Betty McCollum’s bill saying money shouldn’t be spent to detain and interrogate Palestinian children. That would be real pressure and allow Democratic presidential candidates to get on board. Even now they are trailing behind Buttigieg’s vague threat without threatening real sanctions against Israel.

For instance, Peace Now says, vaguely, that Jewish groups must bring “pressure” on the Trump administration to fire David Friedman because he “is jeopardizing Israel’s future as a democracy and a Jewish state.”

Thus, we urge fellow American Jewish organizations who support the two-state solution – and most of them do – to join us in applying such pressure.

In appealing to Jewish groups to muscle Trump, Peace Now clearly believes in the power of the Israel lobby as much as I do! But again, where has the pressure been through years and years of Jim Crow and apartheid?

Annexation would be disastrous, I agree: It would further restrict Palestinian freedom in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and result in more ethnic cleansing. It’s a good thing that all these folks are opposing it. But annexation would not end the two-state solution. The possibility of a viable Palestinian sovereign was foreclosed years ago; and even if you hold on to that dream, only massive pressure is going to change the status quo. Liberal Zionists have long opposed that pressure more than they oppose Israeli policies. They made this bed, and don’t want to sleep in it.

Thanks to Scott Roth (who came to this understanding many years ago). 

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

A great and timely article.

Good time for Israel to work on legislation guaranteeing full freedom and equality under their law for all citizens and Palestinians to work on creating a government they and others can respect, with laws against political violence.

Thanks much, as always it’s great to see these simple facts stated clearly. My father would always order fish in a restaurant. If you had high blood pressure, it was the reasonable, responsible choice, and could be seen as a sacrifice compared to a burger, steak, or prime rib. Alcohol and tobacco, however, were not up for discussion–they weren’t on the table, so to speak. But everyone knew, my father first of all, that they… Read more »

I think it is unlikely that Bibi will annex anything before the presidential election of 2020. Of course the failure of his first attempt at building a coalition and the impending indictment mean that he might act in an uncharacteristic fashion. so my prediction based upon past performance might be proven untrue. (after 2020 and a trump reelection, god forbid, anything is possible.)

Not on topic, but most revealing re “Israel, a light unto nations, [not.]” “Tel Aviv University to Stop Sending Masters Students From Africa, Asia to Work as Laborers” EXCERPT: “Committee finds working conditions ‘improper’ after Haaretz investigation revealed studies at the university accounted for only one month of the 15-month program.” By Lee Yaron, June 16, 2019, Haaretz. Man, what a screwed up racist entity “Israel” is. No wonder ever increasing numbers of Jews… Read more »

The Zionist entity has established the colony of «Trump Heights» (רמת טראמפ) in the occupied Golan: