The "Israel Firster" Brouhaha

I wonder what
happened to Israel, by which I mean the actual country and its seven million

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

Take the
brouhaha 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-Israel

This would, of
course, be big news if it were true.

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

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

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

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

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. How can it be that the prime
minister is always right but the president is always wrong?

But I need to
offer a clarification. By the term "Israel Firster, I do not mean that right-wingers
and neocons who advance bellicose Middle East policies are putting the
interests of Israel first.

Far from it. They
are putting the interests of Binyamin Netanyahu and his hardliners first. After
all, 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 very
easily lead to Israel's destruction or, at least, to its losing its Jewish

The people I
call "Israel Firsters" are, in fact, Netanyahu Firsters.

After all, many
of these people were anything but "Israel Firsters" when the late Yitzhak Rabin was
pursuing peace with the Palestinians or when Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert were
considering plans that would have returned most of the occupied territories to
the Palestinians with Jerusalem converted into a shared capital. On the
contrary, they fought these prime ministers, usually in conjunction with right-wing
Republicans in Congress.

One might ask: why
are progressives who care deeply about Israel never deemed Israel Firsters. (Think
of people like those in J Street and Americans For Peace Now who devote their
lives to achieving peace for Israel.)

The answer is
simple. Peace in the Middle East is clearly in the interests of both the United States and Israel.

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

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

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

The bottom line
here 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's
regional hegemony, and fighting a civilizational war with Muslims.

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

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

The hawks don't
care much about that.

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