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by Allan C. Brownfeld
APPARENTLY, BENJAMIN NETANYAHU HAS WON the Israeli election and is likely to be prime minister once again. The day before the election, he was trailing in the polls. To ensure victory, he made his ultra-right wing plans clear: On Monday, March 16th, he declared that on his watch there would never be a Palestinian state. Among other things, he declared, “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to radical Islam against the state of Israel.”
Although in 2009 Netanyahu expressed support for a two-state solution in an effort to placate the U.S. and the world, he clearly didn’t mean it. He had opposed the Oslo Accords. When Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist because he was moving toward peace with the Palestinians, Leah Rabin, his widow, singled out Benjamin Netanyahu as having created an atmosphere of hate in Israel in which such an assassination could take place. By rejecting a Palestinian state, Netanyahu is returning to his traditional position.
A key U.S. goal in the region, supported by every administration, Republican and Democratic, is to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and create a Palestinian state, the so-called “two state” solution. This is not only a just resolution for both Israelis and Palestinians, but would also help to serve another U.S. goal, to counter Islamic extremism, which is growing in the region. One reason so many young people join groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda is their dismay at the mistreatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories, with Israel being financed by U.S. taxpayers to pursue policies we oppose, and which put Americans in danger. While Israel proclaims itself a “democracy,” the nearly four million Palestinians on the West Bank have no right to vote at all, while their neighbors in the burgeoning Jewish settlements, illegal by international law and in the eyes of our own government, vote in Israeli elections.
Another U.S. goal in the region is for Iran to rejoin the community of nations and abandon any plans for nuclear weapons. Benjamin Netanyahu, in an unprecedented interference in our domestic politics, called the President naive and ready to sign a “bad” agreement. Netanyahu’s apparent solution: war with Iran, a country that has not attacked us and has not attacked Israel. In 2002, Netanyahu testified before Congress advocating a military assault against Iraq. AIPAC, the self-proclaimed “pro-Israel” lobbying group, which often appears to act as an unregistered agent of the Israeli government, vigorously promoted war with Iraq in 2002, just as it is now calling for confrontation with Iran.
ISRAEL IS THE LARGEST RECIPIENT of U.S. taxpayer dollars in our history. From 1949 to 2008, the U.S. government provided Israel more than $103.6 billion of total official aid, making it the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in the post-World War II era. In 2007, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding providing for $30 billion of U.S. military aid from 2009 to 2018. Between FY 2000 and 2009, the U.S. gave Israel $24.1 billion of military aid. With this taxpayer money, the U.S. licensed, paid for, and delivered more than 670 million weapons and related equipment to Israel, including almost 500 categories of weapons.
In return for this massive aid, the Israeli government has rejected our calls for an end to illegal settlements in the occupied territories. It has blatantly interfered in our domestic political life, promoting a war in which Americans, not Israelis, would die, and is now pushing the U.S. to war again. It is doing so with the help of its well-financed American lobby. One of the major contributors to that lobby, the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, once lamented that while he once served in the U.S. Army, he wished he had served in the Israeli Army. And now Benjamin Netanyahu has proclaimed that no Palestinian state would be established while he holds power.
Netanyahu’s khutspe knows no bounds. In the face of terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, he called upon French and Danish Jews to abandon their countries and emigrate to Israel. He was sharply rebuked by, among others, the chief rabbis of France and Denmark. Before he came to Washington to address Congress, he said that he spoke for all the Jews of the world, not only for Israelis who had elected him. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) declared, “He does not speak for me.” She called his claim to speak for men and women who were citizens of other countries, “arrogant,” as did many respected Jewish voices around the world.
Israel’s policies are not only a threat to American interests in the Middle East, but to Jewish values as well. Rabbi Brant Rosen, one of the founders of Jewish Voice For Peace, laments that, “The State of Israel is now the living embodiment of Judaism as empire. It demonstrates, all too tragically, the consequences of this quasi-Faustian bargain we have made with political nationalism. The Jewish people, for centuries the victims of empire and the guardians of a sacred tradition that promoted a spiritual alternative to the veneration of human power, has betrayed its unique spiritual vision in favor of idolatrous nation-statism and militarism.”
Rabbi Rosen, and an increasing number of American Jewish voices, urge a rejection of nationalism and a return to Judaism’s traditional religious values. He urges, “Affirming, as I Samuel would have it, that the overweening desire for national power is itself a kind of idolatry and a turning away from God. It would mean responding to national tragedy as the rabbis did: with the affirmation that mighty empires may come and go, but the Jewish people have survived because we have affirmed a transcendent power much greater than any human power. And, conversely, it would affirm that when we put our faith in the power of empire, we may well be sowing the seeds of our own destruction.”
By voting for Benjamin Netanyahu — particularly just after he rejected the establishment of a Palestinian state — Israeli voters have sent us a message. Sadly, they seem not to be interested in democratic values when it comes to Palestinians. They have turned their backs on the humane Jewish tradition of treating all men and women equally. This, as voters in a sovereign state, is their right. But if Israeli voters reject American advice, values, and policy goals in the region, why do they not reject our financial aid as well?
American taxpayers must ask why, in the face of Netanyahu’s contempt for our own government, we should continue to finance his. If ever there was a time for Americans to re-think their relationship with Israel, that time seems to be now.
Allan C. Brownfeld is publications editor for the American Council for Judaism, founded in 1942, and a nationally syndicated columnist.