My initial reaction to Trump’s not-so-subtle message to Netanyahu was one of disgust. While I passionately believe that both Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Democratic Rep. Rep. Ilhan Omar are virulently anti-Israel, and through their continued use of antisemitic tropes and support for Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS, whose founder, Omar Barghouti, has repeatedly denied Israel’s right to exist), must at least be considered as anti-Semites, I thought barring their entry into Israel was a mistake. It has caused yet another large wound to open in the previously solid bipartisanship of the US government towards Israel.
I hate giving any credit to Trump for intelligence, so let me say that, at the least, his timing and comments on this have resulted in exactly what he wanted to happen – the Democrats turn on Israel and some Israel-supporting Democrats are now caught in a bit of dilemma (for your information, the author has no such dilemma. I don’t believe Trump is good for Israel and, more important, I damn well know he isn’t good for America or for Americans, including America’s Jews).
It was not until I read Daniel Gordis’s opinion column in The Times of Israel that I had the right words to explain Netanyahu’s caving in to the “appears weak” taunt from Trump. “And as for the US, he [Netanyahu] will do or say whatever he has to do in order not to arouse the ire of a president who is wholly uneducated about the region, entirely un-strategic, unpredictable, narcissistic and vindictive. Israel, Bibi understands, cannot afford to be on Trump’s bad side, and there are therefore no depths to which he will not stoop in order to remain in the president’s good graces.”
And there, in a very tight-fitting nutshell is the problem. As long as it is a problem owned by the conservative/right leaning PM of Israel and caused by the capricious, narcissistic, and Republican President of the United States, the Democrats have a wedge issue to rally their progressive base. And Netanyahu, running in a new election and Hamas rockets firing into southern Israel, really did not have much room to maneuver politically
But why would this so move progressive Americans, other than the obvious dis of two female, minority, Muslim members of Congress (which, by the way, pisses me off as well)? Because the progressive/Palestinian narrative goes like this (very simplified): The white, western, colonizing Jews that dominate Israel have oppressed the non-white Muslim population of the West Bank and Gaza since 1968 and this action has cost Israel its moral imperative. Thus, Israel is an illegitimate nation state and Zionism is a racist endeavor and should not be allowed to stand.
The only problem with this story is that it is wrong on the facts and wrong on the history. I encourage you to read Bret Stephens op-ed in the New York Times. Please remember that this is the NY Times, so that any mention of the progressive’s racial undertones is avoided. Scratch the surface and my version is what you will find.
I will not rehash Stephens, who states many of the facts better than I could. I will, however, point out that the “white vs people of color” progressive story is simply wrong. Of the 9 million Israelis, 60% of them are people of color – that group made up of 35% Muslims/Arabs and 65% Mizrahi (Sephardic) Jews, primarily from pre-state Israel and Jews fleeing Muslim Arab oppression following the 1948 and 1967 conflicts as they were expelled from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt among others. And, even excluding non-Jews, the Mizrahi make up half the Jewish population.
The progressive narrative on Israel is wrong. They deny that anti-Zionism is inexorably linked to antisemitism, but it is, on the facts. Those facts include the simplistic – as in being anti-Zionist means you do not believe the state of Israel should exist. There are currently 6 million Jews living in, and citizens of, Israel. Res ipsa loquitur.
The more complex is that anti-Zionism denies the historical tie that Jews have in Israel, (and Judea and Samaria, but that is a vastly different topic). What could be more antisemitic than denying the Jewish people’s history? The added complexity is that this denial has provided cover for every single Arab/Muslim oppressive dictatorship in the Middle East since post-World War II. Economic problems, blame it on the Israel. Political instability, talk about Israeli hegemony and nuclear power. Civil unrest, invoke the boogeyman that is Israel. Every time one of those dictators needs an enemy, there is Israel.
The even further complexity is that many of the anti-Zionist groups express that sentiment by attacking Jews in France, Germany, Argentina, the United States, and elsewhere not in Israel. Jews are not Israelis. Proof of their antisemitism is in who they choose to attack as part of demonizing Israel. They betray their inherent antisemitism through their indiscriminate attacks on Jews everywhere.
Progressives accuse Israel of being a western, colonizing state and it is neither western nor a colonizer. Progressives conveniently ignore the fact that the Palestinians have rejected not one, but two peace deals for the land areas that Israel controls – areas that the Israelis took over after conflicts with Arab States and continue to hold to ensure Israeli security. These were never “Palestinian land” – Jordan having administrative control of the West Bank and Jerusalem and Egypt had the Sinai Peninsula, returned to Egypt by Israel, and the Gaza Strip, which the Egyptians did not desire. And before World War I this land was held by the Ottoman Empire. And before that, going back into antiquity, it was the Jews, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans among many others, but never “the Palestinians.” And, as noted above, the progressives have the Israeli demographics plain wrong, but that does not fit their mindset, so it is conveniently forgotten.
If you really are a progressive Democrat, I urge you to consider the following in determining your support for the State of Israel, separate from the current Prime Minister or the policies of the current conservative Israeli government. Ask yourself which country in the middle east best fits your “progressive” values. Which country:
- Is a true democracy?
- Supports women’s rights?
- Support minority rights?
- Allows and protects freedom of religion?
- Supports LBGTQ rights?
- Allows free and fair elections?
- Has an independent Judiciary that provides a check on government?
- Allows protest and dissent?
- Has freedom of the press?
I can tell you which countries do not do those things or have those values. The Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Syria, Egypt Iraq, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, among others in the Middle East, do not. So why, oh why do so many progressive Americans buy into the narrative that Israel, the Middle East’s only functioning democracy, the only country in the Middle East that shares many of their values, deserves to be boycotted, sanctioned, and shunned? Because it fits the fantasy they have chosen to believe, and that eliminates the need for facts and reality.
As an aside, there is an old saying, “You can be smart, or you can be right.” Netanyahu chose to be right (in terms of the Congresspeople’s real motives). But I wish he had been smart. Progressives Americans are proving to be neither.