Media Analysis

U.S. must save Israel ‘morally’ so as to save the U.S. — liberal Zionists’ circular argument

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Israel’s liberal supporters in the United States are organizing against a calamity, the plans from Israel’s rightwing leaders, encouraged by Trump, to annex portions of the West Bank. So they have mounted a campaign to stop annexation.

The liberals’ main concern seems to be Israel’s image, the threat that annexation poses to Israel’s “standing as a respected member of the family of nations,” to Israel’s status as “democratic homeland of the Jewish people,” and therefore to the special relationship between the United States and Israel. They’re warning, Do this and more U.S. Jews and politicians will turn against you.

Palestinian human rights don’t really figure in this liberal Zionist campaign. Though that’s surely the reason the global community and even some Democratic presidential aspirants are angered by Israel’s endless expansion of occupation, the effect on Palestinians. The 13 American Jewish signatories mostly talk about Israel’s future as a democracy.

“We need Israel to live up to the Zionist dream” is the core sentiment of the dozen statements here. Only Daniel Sokatch of New Israel Fund and Jill Jacobs of T’ruah speak about Palestinian persecution and lack of human rights.

This realpolitik, or self-involvement, was evident in a recent Democratic Party conference call with two liberal Zionists who sought to quash the burgeoning argument by progressives to condition U.S. aid on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Daniel Shapiro, Obama’s former ambassador to Israel who now works for an Israeli thinktank, and Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum argued that the special relationship between the two countries is a “moral” cause that must never be endangered. The United States needs Israel strategically, so it needs Israel to continue to be a beacon of democracy in a bad neighborhood. The thought that the U.S. should cut Israel loose if it continues its Jim Crow policies and make do with other allies simply never crosses these experts’ minds.

Here’s their argument.

Shapiro said that the U.S. military assistance of $3.8 billion a year is based on “common values and common interests” going back more than 70 years.

Common values means that Israel is a “moral” cause. It is “the only civil democracy” in the Middle East, and the U.S. long ago made a “moral commitment to… a democracy that has faced different threats since its founding.” The threat used to be Arab armies. Now it’s the threat of Iran seeking nuclear weapons or arming “terrorist organizations and other proxies around the region with precision guided missiles to attack Israel… from Hamas to Hezbollah to Isis to al Qaeda.”

As for common interests, Iran threatens the United States, too. “You look at a region that is rife with threats that also threaten US interests, US troops, other U.S. allies,” Shapiro said. So making sure Israel can deter those threats serves the United States. “The US assistance to Israel is not an act of altruism.”

Michael Koplow said that annexation was a “giant step” that would threaten or erode both that U.S. moral commitment and strategic interest.

From the aspect of the United States’s moral commitment to Israel, obviously we support Israel as a democracy and as a Jewish homeland, and annexation would threaten Israel’s ability to be both Jewish and democratic at the same time, and it would certainly raise questions for some about the US commitment to Israel and whether the strength of that moral commitment still should exist in the same robust manner following annexation.

Annexation would bring huge costs to Israel. It would cost billions to maintain a larger occupation. And it would be politically costly too, in the way progressive Democrats look on Israel.

[It] will put a lot of stress certainly on the US-Israel relationship, and it’s certainly something that will bring this discussion of conditioning aid, which has so far been somewhat limited, will bring it to the forefront.

Shapiro also spoke of what annexation would do to the “picture of Israel” in America.

Unilateral annexation…. probably puts the two-state solution into the dustpile, and it puts the picture of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in a high degree of uncertainty, maybe even makes it impossible for it to sustain its Jewish and democratic character, and that becomes a major negative factor toward the US Israel relationship, whether we can sustain the common values that undergird the relationship, and upon which we’ve built the security partnership, if Israel doesn’t have that same Jewish and democratic [character], I’m very much in question. So it’s very much in US interest that annexation not occur and we should be active and vocal in making that clear to Israelis.

Again, I’d point out that these men simply don’t consider the possibility that if Israel chooses to go that way– as it has chosen expansion and segregation again and again– we should just say, We need more distance in this relationship! And have cordial, not special, relationships with lots of countries in the region, including Iran and other violators of human rights. After all, countries don’t vow, Till death do us part. And an evenhanded U.S. policy might well lead to less violence in the region.

No, for these Israel lobbyists, continuing U.S. support is the ultimate cause, no matter the moral or strategic circumstances. So somehow it’s always in the U.S.’s strategic interest to maintain Israel’s moral edge. Do you see the circular logic?

When any realistic look at the region would suggest that a big reason Israel faces these never-ending threats going back to its founding in such a terrible neighborhood is its treatment of Palestinians, which is a very unpopular policy. That is the moral question progressive Democrats are struggling with: justifying the special relationship.

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For Zionists it’s all about:
– maximizing Jewish / “Jewish State” supremacism; and
– minimizing (to the point of entirely eliminating) justice, accountability and equality.

Not going to look it up, but a few weeks ago Roger Cohen in the NYT was writing about the protests in Lebanon. Like many Western reporters/pundits (hard to tell the difference sometimes) he portrayed it as a revolt against the sectarianism of Hezbollah. I gather from reading other people that this isn’t exactly correct. But the funny thing was he was arguing that people in the Mideast are revolting against sectarianism and he obviously… Read more »

Dan Shapiro is quoted: it puts the picture of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in a high degree of uncertainty, maybe even makes it impossible for it to sustain its Jewish and democratic character, and that becomes a major negative factor toward the US Israel relationship, whether we can sustain the common values that undergird the relationship, and upon which we’ve built the security partnership, if Israel doesn’t have that same Jewish and… Read more »

Phil, not sure what you mean by “an evenhanded approach” Day by day, month by month and year by year, our policies, foreign and otherwise, continue to be dictated by the Israel Lobby in ways that are inimical to US interests, particularly with respect to the billions we give to Israel without asking anything in return, like reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians, pulling back the settler project, stopping confiscation and destruction of Palestinian… Read more »

A must read. Once again, Professor Davidson nails it! “The Problem of Localized Ethics—An Analysis” (12 November 2019) by Professor Lawrence Davidson “Part I—A Local Legal Hero: Meir Shamgar “On 19 October 2019 Meir Shamgar died. He was 94 years old. Shamgar is not exactly a household name here in the West, but he was renowned in Israel. He was given a state funeral that was attended by most of Israel’s top Zionist leaders. Benjamin… Read more »