The "Israel Firster" Brouhaha

Can anyone argue with the assertion that for neocons Obama is always wrong and Bibi is always right? Not only that, they denounce those who dare criticize Netanyahu over anything while never ever letting up on Obama.
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I wonder whathappened to Israel, by which I mean the actual country and its seven millionpeople.

It still exists,thank God, but one would hardly know it from the way its supposed supportersdiscuss it in the United States.

Take thebrouhaha last week that started with this article in Politico.Its thesis was that some leading progressives are no longer part of a "pro-Israel"consensus and are trying to move the Democratic Party in an anti-Israeldirection.

This would, ofcourse, be big news if it were true.

But it isn't andthe only evidence presented in the piece is that many progressive bloggers opposea preemptive war against Iran. Additionally some argue that many of the people whopromote military confrontation with Iran -- and oppose diplomacy -- are followingIsraeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's lead on the issue.

This is hardlycontroversial. No one seriously denies that AIPAC has been pushing "crippling sanctions" against Iran foryears with the insistence that, if those fail, war would be the only recourse. Alongwith its cutouts in Congress, it strongly opposes dialogue as a means of resolving U.S. differenceswith Iran over its nuclear program.

Additionally, manyprogressives make the indisputable case that many of the neoconservatives whoare itching for war with Iran are the same people who promoted the war withIraq. (The Council on Foreign Relation's Max Bootis perhaps the most obvious example.)

Another charge, madeagainst me, is that I habitually use the term "Israel Firster" to denouncethose who are promoting Israel's positions on Iran and other issues over thoseof the United States. For some reason, that drives the right crazy althoughthey consistently denounce both President Obama and his policies with almost obscene relish while consistently fawning over Netanyahu and his policies of themoment.

Can anyone arguewith the assertion that for neocons Obama is always wrong and Bibi is alwaysright? Not only that, they denounce those who dare criticize Netanyahu overanything while never ever letting up on Obama. How can it be that the primeminister is always right but the president is always wrong?

But I need tooffer a clarification. By the term "Israel Firster, I do not mean that right-wingersand neocons who advance bellicose Middle East policies are putting theinterests of Israel first.

Far from it. Theyare putting the interests of Binyamin Netanyahu and his hardliners first. Afterall, if they were putting Israel first, they would not be promoting policies(such as war with Iran or the perpetuation of the occupation) that could veryeasily lead to Israel's destruction or, at least, to its losing its Jewishmajority.

The people Icall "Israel Firsters" are, in fact, Netanyahu Firsters.

After all, manyof these people were anything but "Israel Firsters" when the late Yitzhak Rabin waspursuing peace with the Palestinians or when Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert wereconsidering plans that would have returned most of the occupied territories tothe Palestinians with Jerusalem converted into a shared capital. On thecontrary, they fought these prime ministers, usually in conjunction with right-wingRepublicans in Congress.

One might ask: whyare progressives who care deeply about Israel never deemed Israel Firsters. (Thinkof people like those in J Street and Americans For Peace Now who devote theirlives to achieving peace for Israel.)

In themid-1990's an American could have gone out to the town square shouting devotionto Rabin and no one would have blinked. And the reason was that Rabin wasalmost as pro-American as he was pro-Israel. He recognized that advancing anend to the Middle East conflict would have primarily benefitted Israel, butalso its best friend and backer.

That is why,shortly after his 1992 election, he told AIPAC that he would not be needing itsservices as interlocutor with the Bush (and later Clinton) administrations.Knowing that the agenda he intended to pursue (peace) would be stronglysupported by the United States, he intended to speak for himself. He did notneed anyone to pressure Congress. (See this in Jewish magazine, MOMENT).

In fact, thewhole business of strong-arming the American government only comes into playwhen the right is in power in Israel (unfortunately, that has been almost allthe time since an Israeli rightist murdered Yitzhak Rabin). An Israeligovernment that pursues peace does not need pressure tactics, achieving supportfor its goals and generous U.S. aid without them.

The bottom linehere is that it is important not to allow the right to highjack Israel's cause.For the right, Israel is all about maintaining occupation, ensuring Israel'sregional hegemony, and fighting a civilizational war with Muslims.

For us, Israelis about... Israel. Its creation in the wake of the Holocaust -- the return ofJews to the place where their history began -- was right and inevitable. Israel'ssole purpose, as I see it, is to be a sanctuary where Jewish children are safe.It has served that purpose well.

But that willnot continue if Palestinians continue to suffer under occupation or if Israeland Iran go to war. Jewish children will not forever be safe if Palestinianchildren aren't. Nor will they be safe if a war with Iran (and Hezbollah)spreads into the Israeli heartland.

The hawks don'tcare much about that.

For them, Israelis some kind of macho symbol rather than a place with real people who just wantto live in peace and security. That is why I have to conclude that the term "IsraelFirster" is a bit imprecise. There is no evidence that these people care about Israelat all.

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