MIDDLE EAST POLITICS-The California State legislature is about to adopt a bill heavily promoted by Santa Monica’s Assemblymember Richard Bloom to penalize criticism of Israel. Based on the false allegation that criticisms of the Israeli government are anti-Semitic (i.e. anti-Jewish), Bloom’s bill would forbid State of California contracts to private companies that subscribe to any tenets of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Bloom’s opponents have pointed out these criticisms, such as Israel’s construction of apartheid in occupied territories, are commonplace among Israeli Jews. They also point out that many American Jews criticize the Israeli government’s racist practices and support various consumer boycotts.
What Bloom is promoting in Sacramento mirrors similar actions in many other states and in Washington DC. In fact, U.S. government policy toward Israel will swerve further to the right on January 20, 2017, when either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is inaugurated President of the United States. Massive military aid and unquestioning diplomatic support of Israel will continue, and relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will become more cordial as Israeli and American policies become more closely aligned.
Israel’s Likud political party and its American proxy, AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), will still be in the driver’s seat. As the greater Middle East further unravels, Israel and its U.S. advocates will argue that Israel deserves still more U.S. government support because it is a rock solid, stable U.S. ally in a region filled with shaky authoritarian regimes.
But, for the reasons we outline below, either presidential administration will eventually discover that its pro-Likud position – similar to Richard Bloom’s -- is extremely counterproductive. President Clinton or President Trump will reap few benefits and many setbacks by doubling down on U.S. government support for the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, including the construction of an apartheid state in these areas. This is because the U.S. government has little to gain and much to lose from this continued approach.
As of 2016-17, AIPAC can still sway U.S. policy toward Israel, including in the California legislature, but AIPAC, like its Israeli puppet master, is a 97-pound weakling when it comes to stopping many long-term trends in the Middle East at odds with perceived U.S. and Israeli government interests. This is, in part, because Israel’s enormous military power, much of built through U.S. aid, has become irrelevant to U.S. concerns in the greater Middle East. For example:
- In Syria, Israel cannot directly attack the Assad regime or its enemies from the Islamic State (IS). Its participation would only sharpen the conflict and expose rifts within Israel and between Israel and the United States. This is because Israel discreetly supports jihadists in Syria to cement its backdoor alliance with Saudi Arabia, while the U.S., in contrast, is bombing these same jihadists.
- In Iraq, Israel cannot attack the IS for the same reasons. If it were to do so, it would jeopardize its hush-hush relationship with the Gulf monarchies and find itself in an awkward alliance with Iran, whose goal is to attack IS in order to prop up the pro-Iranian Shiite regime of Iraq.
- In the Sinai Peninsula, a hotbed of IS activity on Israel’s southern flank, the situation is no different. Even though IS is a sworn enemy of the U.S., Israel, and Egypt, another Israeli invasion of the Sinai Peninsula would undermine, not strengthen, Egypt’s pro-U.S. autocrat, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. An Israeli attack in Sinai could also draw in Hamas from the adjacent Gaza strip, resulting in a level of Israeli casualties that would again undermine the Netanyahu government.
- In Lebanon, another enemy of the U.S. and Israel, Hezbollah, has 50,000 missiles aimed at Israel. Even though Hezbollah has moved the bulk of its forces into neighboring Syria to fight jihadists and U.S.-supported secular forces attacking the Assad regime, it could still fire its missiles at Israel. While Israel has the military power to again attack Hezbollah in Lebanon, it does not have the military technology to block all Hezbollah rockets fired at Israel, or the political strength to absorb the many dozens of Israelis who would be killed in combat or by rockets destroying civilian targets.
- Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia are other Middle East hotspots where U.S. interests are militarily challenged and where Israel has the military power to intercede, but could not tolerate the blowback. Israeli intervention in those conflicts would inflame local jihadists and increase the flow of refugees northward, some of who would breach border fences to join other “infiltrators” already living in Israel. Furthermore, any casualties from these military adventures would jeopardize Netanyahu’s Knesset alliance.
If it were not initially clear, either Presidential administration would slowly realize that U.S. military aid and diplomatic support for Israel was restricted to the following:
- Quell Palestinian opposition to the construction of an apartheid state in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, including potential future Palestinian expulsions under the cover of a regional war.
- “Mow the lawn” in Gaza to periodically hobble a Palestinian force that could, at some distant point, challenge an apartheid state by going off their reservation/open-air prison.
- Attack Iran using F-35 stealth and other first-strike weapons the U.S. is supplying Israel. While such a neo-con inspired attack would unleash a tsunami of counterattacks against the U.S. and its regional protectorates, including Israel, such unintended consequences are of little concern to neo-cons, whether they reside in Washington, Riyadh, or Jerusalem.
Future U.S. Government Role in the Israel-Palestinian Conflict
With so many local conflicts weakening the overall U.S. military position in the Middle East, and with Israel of no help in these conflicts, we have a vantage point to foresee the future U.S. role in this critical geo-political region. Although we can expect more rounds of neo-con inspired military interventions throughout the Middle East, such as confrontations with Iran, they will not improve the situation of U.S., only drain the country’s economic and political resources further. It has already happened in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, where there is no light at the end of these tunnels. Furthermore, the one-sided U.S. alliance with Israel can only jeopardize its declining position throughout the greater Middle East.
This is one of reasons we can predict how, but not when, the Israeli government experiment to construct an apartheid state will eventually collapse. At some point the United States government either cannot or will not shield Israel from further international pressure, including sanctions, as well as local mass movements. This loss of critical external support from the U.S. will usher in swift changes, for either the better or worse.
That moment is now on the horizon due to three other political trends that are converging with declining U.S. military and political influence in the Middle East.
Foreign protection: The first trend is Israel’s increasing need for direct military support and diplomatic protection, especially at international forums, like the United Nations Security Council.
Israel’s transformation of its 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem into a full-on apartheid state requires greater, not less, shoring up from the United States to deflect growing domestic and international opposition. Despite one public relations offensive after another, Israel is increasingly isolated. It has now reached the point where the country has becoming a pariah state in many parts of the world.
Israel’s frantic pushback against this growing resistance now appears on a daily basis, such as ever more draconian undemocratic laws aimed at weakening Israeli, Palestinian, and foreign anti-occupation movements, even non-violent middle class ones, like Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).
American Jewish Disenchantment with Israel: The second trend is the weakening of the organized American Jewish community’s dedication to Israel. As a younger generation of Jewish American leaders comes to power, unlike Assemblymember Bloom, they are repulsed by Israel’s never-ending occupation, religious fanaticism, extreme nationalism, overt racism, repressive political climate, and alliance with the U.S. Republican Party. Furthermore, unlike Bloom, they do not easily confuse opposition to Israeli racism with opposition to Jews as Jews.
As the Jewish American community gets further removed from its immigrant roots, which directly witnessed the fate of powerless Jews during the Holocaust, and it becomes more integrated into the American intellectual, political, and financial elite, the more Jews question the need for a refuge in one of the most dangerous corners of the world.
In fact, Jewish elites have become well integrated into this American academic, economic, and political circles. In this process, anti-Semitism has effectively disappeared, and the need for a hasty mass exodus from the United States to Israel strikes most of them as ludicrous.
Weakening Israel Lobby: The stranglehold that the Israeli lobby has had on the U.S. government is weakening. Congress and all Presidential administrations since the 1960s complied with nearly all of Israel’s requests. But the cumulative efforts of the Israel government and the Israel lobby could not stop the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran, finalized in 2015 and already mostly implemented. Recently, the Bernie Sanders Presidential campaign brought the plight of Palestinians and Israel’s 50-year occupation into the national spotlight for the first time.
These three political trends together mean that Israel’s need for protection from accountability and opposition, such as BDS, will eventually exceed the United States’ capacity or commitment.
Like the nationalist government in South Africa, Israel will then have to adjust to a new reality, and that will usher in dramatic political changes. There are more and less desirable possibilities. The most likely non-violent path is that moribund Israeli peace forces regain strength and, together with Palestinian movements, find a way to end the occupation and establish a viable, sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The other options almost surely will involve violence. On one side, the formation of a South African-style, single democratic state with equal rights for all or a bi-national state could trigger a Jewish civil war. On the other side, if an American exit nevertheless leads to a full apartheid state and/or a massive expulsion of Palestinians, it will further isolate Israel, confront it with a massive Intifada, and finally trigger a regional war that could involve nuclear weapons.
A non-violent response to the fallout from an eventual U.S. departure must be the international goal.
(Victor Rothman is a California-based political analyst. Jeff Warner is the Action Coordinator of LA Jews for Peace. Please send any comments to i[email protected]. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.