No one knows who will lead the next government of Israel, but American Zionists are exulting over the political blow to Netanyahu and the good chance that he will lose the prime ministership. Not that the most likely man to succeed him, Benny Gantz of Blue and White, will do anything to end the Israel-Palestine conflict. No, but Gantz is just a much better face for Israel.
Here are some of these views.
The New York Times editorial board says that that the most important thing about Netanyahu’s exit is that it would improve Israel’s image among Democrats so as to reverse the “dangerous shift” in American politics against Israel.
At the same time, elements of the Democratic Party have grown increasingly suspicious of Israel, if not hostile to it. Mr. Netanyahu’s exit, should it materialize, may halt this dangerous shift and provide a new Israeli government the opportunity to reclaim broad bipartisan support in the United States.
The Wall Street Journal ran a very similar sentiment from Mark Mellman, a pollster for Netanyahu’s opposition, and the leader of an AIPAC-linked lobby group, Democratic Majority 4 Israel. From Jewish Insider.
Democratic strategist Mark Mellman, who worked for Blue and White, told WSJ he has high hopes for Democrats’ ties to Israel in a post-Netanyahu era: “It’s a tremendous opportunity for Israel to reset its relationship with Democrats.”
New York Times columnist Bret Stephens in the New York Times says the same thing. Netanyahu “infuriated Democratic lawmakers” with “desperado” tactics. But Israel showed itself this week to be a model for the west, a democracy that has no tolerance for “demagogues.” Notice neoconservative Stephens’s breathless endorsement of Benny Gantz the warmaker:
Then there’s the success of Blue and White, which proves there’s a future for democratic centrism after all.
Gantz is a neophyte politician with the quiet charisma that comes with inner composure; the quality — so rare in modern politics — of not being perpetually frantic. He projects confidence without fanaticism. The far-right detests him because he appreciates the long-term necessity of separating from the Palestinians. The far-left dislikes him because he’s under no illusions about Israel’s enemies and understands the necessity of possessing and, when necessary, using force.
He seeks stable balances, not permanent solutions. He’s sane.
There you have it. The bottom line for the Times and the establishment Israel lobby is, They are having a rough go selling Israel to American elites so they want a new face on the product. There is not a word in these articles about Palestinian human rights. And btw, it is perfectly clear why the Times has an endless supply of Zionist columnists, who defend the killing of Palestinian demonstrators, and no anti-Zionist columnists. It sees its function as marketing Israel.
Michael Koplow of Israel Policy Forum spoke at a forum in NY and agreed that getting rid of Netanyahu would make Israel an easier sell to Democrats:
“For a lot of folks on the Democratic side, Netanyahu is a very easy and convenient punching bag. Democrats are still furious about Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in 2015. They view him as essentially a Republican in every thing but name. It makes Israel… an easy target on the Democratic side. I think if there’s a different prime minister in the short term, it will take a little bit of that heat off.”
For liberal Zionists, a Gantz government offers hope that there will be no annexation of the West Bank, thereby preserving the notion of a two-state solution.
Even though Gantz said he’s for annexing large portions, Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street says that was political positioning. “Blue and White is far more likely than Likud to listen to the protests of the Israeli security establishment and to be cautious in its actions.”
Ben-Ami acknowledges that a Gantz government would be a rightwing government:
While the positions of Blue and White on the Palestinian issue are still up in the air, any government that includes so many right-wing leaders and MKs is very unlikely to accept a move away from permanent occupation or toward a two-state solution.
It must be noted that the Palestinian issue, the Palestinian state, were never further from Israeli politics than in this election. Yossi Alpher of Peace Now:
the Palestinian issue was barely on the agenda for these elections. Other than Meretz-Democratic, no one talked about it. Netanyahu’s bluster about annexing territory and settlements and settling scores with Hamas generated protests from Ramallah and Gaza but did not promote an Israeli election debate.
There was a large rightward shift in the election, says Koplow in a post after the election. Don’t have any illusions that Blue and White– Kahol Lavan in Hebrew– is left of center, it’s not.
Then there is Kachol Lavan and its 32 seats [now 33], which is always put atop the left-center bloc in polls but is actually a right of center party…. The only clear left-wing seats left in the Knesset are the 11 that are split between Democratic Union and Gesher, and the Joint List’s 13. Even if you identify six individual Kachol Lavan MKs who are more comfortable on the left, you only get to 30 overall. This is an overwhelmingly right of center Knesset, and the Jewish Israeli left at this point is even smaller than the Arab faction.
Israel is a society that cares less about “democracy and equity” and more “about nationalism and identity,” former State Departent official Tamara Cofman Wittes explained at that forum in NY.
Israeli politicians are driving the breakup between Democrats and Israel, she said. Not just Netanyahu. Israeli voters used to punish politicians for alienating the U.S. Now they like it when Israeli politicians flip off Amerian politicians who try to tell them what to do. Like Obama.
And though “You are not going to see Benny Gantz doing to Trump what Netanyahu did to Obama in his second term,” Wittes said, U.S. Democrats aren’t going lukewarm on Israel because of Netanyahu, but because of Israeli policies.
“Growing constituencies in the Democratic Party expecially among younger Americans who identify as Democrats, Latinos and African Americans… look at the Israeli Palestinian conflict through the lens of human rights,” she said. Policies like “collective punishment, housing demolitions, checkpoints, separation wall….These resonate with these constituencies because of their own political lenses. That makes them more critical of Israeli policies.”
And the U.S. can point to no policy that it has in force to change these Israeli practices, Wittes added. (As the Democratic platform debate is sure to point out next summer.)
She went on to assure that the “imperative” of U.S. cooperation with Israel remains “very strong at the policy level.” When it comes to security, regional diplomacy, counter terrorism, military technology, there is a lot of mutual benefit. (No mention of the Israel lobby, of course; that would require reflecting on the role of Zionists such as herself in the power structure.)
The Times argument that Israel just needs a new poster child is also unconvincing to Koplow. He noted that a New York state Senate delegation said it is not going to Israel because of Israel refusing to let in Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. That strain is far deeper than Netanyahu.
Though liberal Zionists are exulting over the showing of the Joint List, the mostly-Palestinian parties. They imagine the 13 seats as a sign of greater Palestinian buy-in into Israeli democracy.
Koplow hopes that Palestinian legislator Ayman Odeh will lead the oppsoition.
This means that Odeh will have a formal position in the Israeli system, along with regular security briefings from the government, and an unprecedented public platform to raise attention to issues that have been neglected for decades. It would be a huge step forward not only for Arab parties, but for normalizing Arabs’ roles in Israeli politics and society. It would hopefully make the incitement and delegitimization of Arabs that has become so routine become beyond the pale of what is acceptable..
H/t Donald Johnson, Adam Horowitz and Scott Roth.