Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Disturbing Developments

Israel’s increasing militancy, reflecting the traction that conservative movements are enjoying all over the world, has resulted in a reinvigoration of construction of Jewish settlements deep within the Palestinian West Bank, a wedge that makes Palestinian independence at any level that much more difficult to achieve. But if you look at the solidarity between Israeli PM Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and his right wing Likud Party, on the one hand, and the Evangelical Tea Party, now embraced by the entire Republican Party, on the other, you would think U.S. Israeli relations are as strong as they could be. There are signs, even within the United States, that Israel is increasingly viewed as an isolated, rogue state on the wrong side of history. Globally, that perception appears to be increasingly held by more and more people.
Opposition by a lame duck President with a Congress that is dominated by the GOP seems futile… at least from the American perspective. Obama’s refusal to allow Netanyahu to restate his earlier refutation of a Palestinian state clearly strained relations between the two countries. Still, the GOP has pretty much ignored this schism, making it clear that they are with Israel all the way.
So things could not be going better for Israel, right? Except for an occasional disagreement, from the aggressive advancement of Israel’s nuclear program against American resistance and this constant expansion of West Bank Jewish settlements, Israel has been our best and most reliable ally in the Middle East. Her Iron Dome missile defense system, laced with American technology, has been relatively effective against Hamas’ recent rain of rockets upon civilian targets across Israel. And should some nation attempt annihilation against our Jewish ally, we will be there in an instant to defend her shores. Yet Israel’s position on Palestine is the source of so much global friction.
Despite her strong ties with the United States, Israel is not viewed well by the majority of nations on earth. Most countries view her retaliation against Hamas rocketry as excessive, taking out civilian targets (school, hospitals and even U.N. installations) with their counter attacks. They side with a minority peoples yearning for independence. That Hamas used such facilities as human shields seems not to excuse Israel’s extreme responses to the world. And that after ISIS engaged in mass genocide and ugly executions of innocents, Bibi screamed that ISIS was just a side show to Israel’s confrontation with Iran and its nuclear program, was universally derided and rejected. His attempt to influence American elections, with a public address to Congress that skipped over the Obama administration, also generated animosity among Democrats.
To understand how isolated Israel truly is, particularly over the issue of Palestinian statehood, you merely have to look to a 2012 United Nations vote. Knowing that achieving true “full recognition” status within the General Assembly itself would generate an American veto if the issue were brought before the Security Council, Palestine managed to bring vote recognizing their statehood at least to an “observer status” within the 193-nation General Assembly. The result was a staggering blow to Israel. Within such limitations, the General Assembly recognized the Palestinian state with a vote of 138 for, 9 (including the U.S.) against with 41 abstentions.
The news keeps getting worse for Israel: “The Vatican announced [May 13th] that it would soon sign a treaty that includes recognition of the ‘state of Palestine,’ lending significant symbolic weight to an intensifying Palestinian push for international support for sovereignty that bypasses the paralyzed negotiations with Israel… Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it was ‘disappointed’ by the Vatican’s decision, and that the recognition would ‘not advance the peace process.’ That echoed similar statements after a wave of European Parliamentary resolutions on Palestinian statehood last fall, but some Israeli analysts said the Vatican’s step hurt more.” New York Times, May 13th. The world seems to be decreasingly willing to give Israel the benefit of the doubt anymore.
Right here in the United States pressures are growing among younger Americans to make clear to Israel that her push back against Palestinian statehood is not acceptable. Some of it sounds like the kind of anti-Semitism we are seeing in Europe. A Jewish UCLA student council member was denied a vote (subsequently reversed) on an issue because she was perceived as being unable to be neutral about Israel.
But although the cry of “anti-Semitism” is overused, attached to any assault on Israeli policies regardless of the reason, there are signs that Israel just might not be able to count on the same level of American support in the future she has enjoyed in the past. And yes, we know or should know, not all Israelis support Netanyahu harsh methods against Palestinian aspirations. But the little signs here in the U.S. cannot give Israel comfort for her long-term relationship with America.
“At dozens of college campuses across the country, student government councils are embracing resolutions calling on their administrations to divest from companies that enable what they see as Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians… And while no university boards or administrators are heeding the students’ demands, the effort to pressure Israel appears to be gaining traction at campuses across the country and driving a wedge between many Jewish and minority students.
“The movement is part of the broader Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, or B.D.S., which has spread in recent years both in Europe and the United States. The issue has received intense attention on campus particularly since the conflict in Gaza last summer, which killed hundreds of Palestinians. The movement’s goal is to isolate and punish Israel for its policies toward Palestinians and its occupation of the West Bank.
“There are now Israel-related divestment groups at hundreds of major colleges, including the University of Michigan, Princeton, Cornell and most of the University of California campuses. Their proposals are having mixed success: So far this year, students have passed them on seven campuses and rejected them on eight…
“Everywhere, the discussions are long and tense: At Michigan, where the student government narrowly defeated a divestment resolution this year for the second time, university staff members were on hand to talk to students and help if they needed a break from the debate. At several schools where divestment proposals have been considered, swastikas have been painted on the doors of Jewish fraternities.
‘There’s more poison in the rhetoric than we’ve ever felt before,’ said Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, the executive director of Hillel at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has worked on college campuses for more than four decades. ‘There are so many students who now see Israel as part of the establishment they’re against. What’s alarming is this gets deeply embedded and there’s no longer room for real discussion.’” New York Times, May 9th.
While much of this is not remotely anti-Semitism, it is often hard to draw the line. The problem seems, however, to devolve into a strong negative feeling about Israel itself with too many young people, but where that morphs into a negative feeling about Judaism itself, that nasty line is definitely crossed.
Both Israel and the United States need to look carefully as this nascent anti-Israeli sentiment and begin (i) to recognize that their efforts to stifle Palestinian aspirations for independence are completely unsustainable and (ii) to embrace and respond to legitimate criticisms before anti-Semitism finds any genuine levels of acceptance. We need Israel, and Israel needs us. We need to find new ways to keep our relations strong and growing. What’s really happening now is moving in the wrong direction, despite that apparent solidity between the GOP and Likud.
I’m Peter Dekom, and Israel is bringing so much of this unjust negativity upon itself, taking a position that wins fewer and fewer sympathetic hearts and minds every year.

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