October 20, 2019
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It’s time to consider the costs of America’s Israeli policy

Sebastian Scheiner | AP
Sebastian Scheiner | AP
In this Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2109 file photo, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, right, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. For the sixth time in his lengthy political career, Netanyahu has been tasked by Israel’s president to form a new government.

As this is being written, the composition of the new Israeli government is still in doubt, with right-wing incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu and the “centrist” alternative Benny Gantz jousting for control.

What is not in doubt is that the key policy of every Israeli government since the 1967 War is certain to continue, involving expansion of settlements on Palestinian land that make a “two state solution” impossible. What will also continue is the ferocious response by the Trump Administration and the Israel lobby to any criticism of Israel.

It thus took great political courage for Rep. Chellie Pingree to cast her vote, in the name of free speech, to oppose a US House resolution that equated the peaceful Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement with delegitimizing Israel. Soon after, as if to enforce a gag order against criticizing Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu barred two US congresswomen from visiting the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Our ally’s leader then pledged to annex large parts of that territory, long seen as the core of any future Palestinian state.

Ever since the Holocaust and Cold War, our alliance with Israel has been a pillar of US foreign policy. This support has been strong, bipartisan and ought not waver. Yet, with little restraint imposed by the US, Israel has pursued policies that damage its own and American interests.

The most recent outrages by Netanyahu expose realities US leaders and our media seldom consider. Freedom of movement for Palestinians is severely limited, and protest against injustice is routinely met with overwhelming force. Homes are demolished without cause and resources like land and water are taken without pay.

Isn’t this a moment to consider the costs of such policies?

American taxpayers, struggling to sustain Medicare and Social Security, are sending more than $30 billion to Israel over the next decade. As Gen. David Petraeus advised Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen, Israel’s failure to resolve Palestinian calls for freedom jeopardizes US standing and security in the region. And prominent Jewish thinkers argue that Israel’s dehumanizing treatment of Palestinians has eroded Jewish moral traditions, as well as Israel’s reputation in the world.

As public reaction to Israel’s treatment of our two representatives suggests, the perspective of Americans, especially Democrats, is changing. In an April Pew survey, only 26 percent of Democrats viewed Israel’s government favorably. Bedrock GOP support, it is revealing to note, comes from “Christian Zionists” who favor Israel’s annexation of all Palestinian land as fulfilling Biblical prophecy.

Congressional Democrats might listen to party voters, 55 percent of whom, according to a 2018 University of Maryland Critical Issues poll, say Israel has too much influence on U.S. politics and policies. Sixty-seven percent of those voting for Democrats in 2018 congressional races favor cutting military aid to Israel over its human rights violations. Sen. Angus King (an independent who draws largely Democratic votes) and Rep. Jared Golden seem unaware of how their voters are shifting.

Why would Israel, one should ask — with vastly more power than Palestinians — change the status quo of occupation and settlement expansion if the US turns a blind eye to its behavior?

The majority of Americans want a foreign policy that upholds the universal values of equal rights and justice for both Jews and Palestinians. A good start would be for congressional representatives to respond strongly to Netanyahu’s recent attacks on freedom of speech and international law by pledging the following: First, not to travel to Israel until Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are granted unrestricted entry to Israel and the West Bank and the freedom to speak out as elected US representatives. Second, that all future congressional visits to Israel will include time in the Occupied Territories meeting with Palestinian representatives, who also deserve a voice.

If US policy on Israel and Palestine does not change, then it is unlikely that any Israeli election will actually move the cause of justice and peace in the right direction.

Tim Paradis, a Maine-based management consultant, served on the foreign policy staff of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

 



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