Israel: America's Bad Brother

Most families contain a problem relative: an addled elder, schizophrenic sister, or troubled brother. That's the status of the state of Israel: a member of the US family but, these days, the bad little brother who is a constant headache.

Since the 1948 founding of the modern state of Israel, most Americans have felt protective of it, as if it is our 51st state. Out here on the Left Coast, in the sixties, many of us envied Israel; we were enamored with the idea of building an egalitarian, liberal state.

In 1978, when the Camp David accords were signed, many Americans felt that a lasting middle-east peace was inevitable. Then, for many reasons, the situation deteriorated.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, indicated that he no longer supported the two-state solution, no longer endorsed one of the pillars of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war peace accords. Writing in The New Yorker David Remnick observed that Netanyahu then took a page from Richard Nixon, "He went racist...Netanyahu, a student - practically a member - of the GOP, is no beginner at this demagogic game." "Netanyahu, sensing an election threat from the a center-left coalition...unleashed a campaign finale steeped in nativist fear and hatred of the Other."

As a consequence, Netanyahu retained his role as Prime minister, but the already strained relationship between President Obama and Netanyahu took a turn for the worse. And Netanyahu lost the respect of many Americans, Jews and Gentiles.

In the US and Israel, Netanyahu is a divisive figure. But his bellicosity doesn't mean that America no longer supports Israel. Instead, it's a further indication that Israel can no longer viewed as a reliable member of the family. Still blood kin but troubled.

Few American families abandon members who are sick or disabled. But some shun the relative who becomes a troublemaker: who gets drunk and picks fights at family gatherings; who is always borrowing money and never repaying it; or who sleeps with the wife or husband of a family member.

The relationship between the US and our brother Israel is troubled, but no sensible American would suggest that the US shun or abandon Israel. The problem is what to do to help Israel handle its problems.

First, we must acknowledge that many of the things we accuse Israel of, we are guilty of ourselves. We don't like Netanyahu's bellicosity, but US foreign policy is also bellicose. We, of course, stirred up the Middle East by invading Iraq.

We may believe that Israel is an authoritarian state, but many Americans believe that the US is an authoritarian state, witness our huge military expenditures and the level of surveillance on average citizens.

We may believe that Israel spies on us, but there's ample evidence that the US has spied on Israel.

We disapprove of Netanyahu's prejudice towards Palestinians, in specific, and Arabs, in general, but many Americans don't trust Palestinians and Arabs. Netanyahu may seem racist, but many Americans are racist.

We don't like Netanyahu's policies about Israeli settlements, confiscating Palestinian lands and building Israeli settlements across the green line. However, around the world, American corporations routinely bribe local governments so that the corporation can seize land and build factories and office buildings. Going further back in US history, our government seized the lands of native-Americans.

We disapprove of the hostile nature of the Israeli border security, but our own people, who man the US-Mexico border, are notoriously hostile to visitors who don't appear to be "real" Americans.

In fact, the US government is guilty of most of the actions that Americans disapprove of when conducted by the state of Israel.

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Israel may be a troubled member of our family, but certainly not the only one. What about Texas?

So what should the US do about Israeli? It's too facile to suggest: Do an intervention. In most families interventions don't work with a member who is a serious troublemaker. Besides, what are we to say to Netanyahu: Do as I say, not as I do? That would be hypocritical.

We should continue to do as President Obama has done. Reaffirm our support for the state of Israel; reaffirm that the Israelis are our brother and sisters. And we should set limits with Prime Minister Netanyahu and those who support his positions.

We should continue to support the two-state solution, the "green-line" boundaries set in 1949, and the principles of the Camp David accords.

We should continue to pursue a reasonable nuclear accord with Iran.

We should continue to pursue peace with Israel's neighbors.

We should continue to regard the state of Israel as our brother. Troubled or not.