columnU.S.-Israel Relations

Democrats should stop meddling in Israeli democracy

The Biden foreign-policy team is just the latest Democratic administration that has sought to interfere with the politics of the Jewish state to undermine Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the nation on March 1, 2023. Credit: GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the nation on March 1, 2023. Credit: GPO.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) Credit: U.S. Senate Photo Office.
Tom Cotton

There is one foreign leader for whom the Democratic Party seems to reserve special scorn. Leading Democrats have called him a “reactionary,” a “racist,” an “ethno-nationalist.” They’ve accused him of committing “war crimes” and of leading an “apartheid state.” President Joe Biden has called him “extreme” and said they don’t agree on “a damn thing.” Strong words.

Who is this monster, you may ask? Were the Democrats talking about Russian President Vladimir Putin? Or China’s Xi Jinping? Or perhaps Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran? No, they were referring to Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and one of America’s best friends. Once again, these Democrats have proven their tendency to coddle our enemies and condemn our friends.

But Democrats don’t stop at mere words. They’re working right now to undermine Netanyahu and his government.

The Washington Free Beacon reported on March 6 that the U.S. State Department is funneling tax dollars to Netanyahu’s domestic opponents. Since 2020, State has sent more than $38,000 to something known as the “Movement for Quality Government” for so-called “democracy education.”

So, what is the Movement for Quality Government and how good is this “democracy education”? This “movement” is an activist group that’s fomenting unrest against the Israeli government and demanding Netanyahu’s resignation. In recent days, left-wing demonstrators associated with this group have protested the government’s proposed judicial reforms. Last week, hundreds of protesters harassed Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, forcing police to intervene and escort her to safety.

Far from staying neutral in Israel’s domestic affairs, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken lectured Netanyahu about the judicial reforms to his face, tacitly siding with the demonstrators. Some Democratic senators have also condemned the reform proposals. Which is awfully rich coming from the Democrats, who have voted to shred this Senate’s ancient rules to pack our Supreme Court and to rewrite our founding documents. I guess when American liberals want to change the courts, it’s the only way to save democracy, but when Israeli conservatives want to, it’s a threat to democracy. Go figure.

The State Department doesn’t even deny that it’s funneling money to these left-wing activities, by the way. Which is troubling, because it’s a clear violation of the usual State Department policy against funding foreign partisan organizations. Not only is this U.S.-funded organization subverting a foreign government, it’s subverting the government of one of our closest allies. Blinken should immediately apologize to the prime minister of Israel, demand your money back and open an investigation into how this happened.

But then again, I suspect we already know how this happened. After all, the Democratic Party has been meddling in Israeli democracy to undermine Benjamin Netanyahu for more than a quarter-century.

By his own admission, former President Bill Clinton intervened in the 1996 Israeli election to support Netanyahu’s opponent, Shimon Peres. Clinton met with Peres, dispatched his own campaign advisers, dangled policy shifts to Israel—all to get Peres across the finish line. Netanyahu prevailed, nevertheless.

Team Clinton intervened yet again in 1999. The Clinton White House reportedly urged Democratic donors to give money to Netanyahu’s next opponent, Ehud Barak. And it didn’t stop there. Clinton’s political advisers again campaigned against Netanyahu, while the Clinton State Department allegedly spread falsehoods about the Israeli government and Netanyahu himself. Netanyahu lost this time around, though he was more a victim of his own success against Palestinian terrorism than Barak and Clinton’s campaign against him. But he returned to the Knesset just three years later and became prime minister again in 2009.

The Obama State Department was, if anything, worse than Clinton’s, funneling hundreds of thousands of American tax dollars to a group called the “OneVoice Movement.” Not coincidentally, OneVoice partnered with an organization running anti-Netanyahu ads advised by, you guessed it, a top Obama campaign operative.

Of course, Democrats will insist they’re innocent of these charges and aren’t meddling in Israel’s democracy. But Israelis know the truth. Obama’s meddling was so pervasive that an astounding 62% of Israelis thought he was interfering. Indeed, one Foreign Policy magazine headline read, and this is a quote: “Obama is pursuing regime change in Israel.” Not Iran, our mortal enemy. But Israel, mind you.

Now Joe Biden is simply following in Obama’s footsteps by trying to sabotage Netanyahu. In 2021, the Biden administration reportedly pressured the United Arab Emirates to cancel an Abraham Accords Summit—all to deprive Netanyahu of a diplomatic victory ahead of that year’s election. And after Netanyahu won the 2022 election, the Biden administration immediately sought to undermine his coalition government by trying to veto key cabinet appointments.

This most recent scandal is not an aberration, therefore. It’s been the de facto policy of the Democratic Party for a quarter century to beat Netanyahu, though he keeps beating the Democrats. Though it does provide more evidence yet again for the old saw that while it’s dangerous to be America’s enemy, it can be fatal to be America’s friend—at least when Democrats are in charge.

Instead of trying to topple the democratically elected government of Israel, I would suggest we should support it. Israelis are more than capable of managing their domestic affairs without Democratic meddling. But they need our help to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb; they need our help to achieve peace with their neighbors; and they need our help to defeat the terrorists threatening both our nations.

Yet they don’t get that from the Biden administration, either. Iran is racing towards a nuclear breakout while the president dithers. His administration can barely utter the words “Abraham Accords.” And the president is breaking U.S. law to subsidize the Palestinian Authority’s support for terrorism.

A few years back, Congress passed the Taylor Force Act, which prohibits non-humanitarian aid to the P.A. until it ends its so-called “martyr payments”—a euphemism for bounties given to Palestinian terrorists or their families for maiming and killing Jews. So, the administration has instead funneled tens of millions of your tax dollars to non-governmental organizations to build roads, sidewalks, parking lots and other infrastructure projects on behalf of the P.A. As a result, since money is fungible, the P.A. can ignore these basic responsibilities of government and instead keep pouring more money into its pay-for-slay program.

The contrast couldn’t be starker. If the P.A. wants to bankroll terrorists and their families, the Biden administration will contort the law beyond recognition to fund the Palestinians. But if a center-right government gets elected once again in Israel, the Biden administration will work overtime to undermine it.

This is exactly backwards. We should demand the P.A. stop subsidizing terrorism before it gets another penny of U.S. tax dollars. And while we’re at it, we should pass the Taylor Force Martyr Payment Prevention Act, which I’m reintroducing this week to sanction foreign banks that process these so-called “martyr payments” for the P.A.

Meanwhile, Biden and his administration should quit treating Netanyahu like he’s a rival or even an adversary and start treating him as he is—a war hero, a courageous patriot, a towering figure of modern Israel, and most important for us, a great friend of America.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton is the junior senator of Arkansas. This was originally delivered as a speech on the Senate floor.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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