(November 7, 2021 / JNS) Israel’s new something-for-everyone coalition government prides itself on its emphasis on restoring bilateral political support for Israel in the United States.
Of course, this is a not-so-subtle slap at former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom they perceive to have unduly favored the Republicans—meaning former U.S. President Donald Trump—thereby “endangering” longstanding bipartisan American support.
In this regard, they are half-right. Clearly, any leader who was seen to be even civil to, let alone appreciative of, Trump, was regarded with suspicion by progressives. Thus, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s explicit posture of not being in the mold of Netanyahu was a start in clearing the air for Israel among Democrats.
But going in a different direction from Netanyahu fails to address what it is that Israel would have to do in order to win Democratic support.
It now gets tricky, because while there is still a significant amount of support coming from the Democratic rank and file, the headline-grabbing and seemingly agenda-setting group among the Democrats has been the hard-left bloc, guru-ed by Bernie Sanders and spearheaded by the Squad, with “amen” echoes from much of the media.
This is a group that believes in intersectionality, which holds that there are good victims and bad oppressors. The good victims are all in common cause, intersecting in their virtue and victimization against the wiles of the oppressors.
Take a wild guess where Israel falls out in this landscape. It is right up there with the most nefarious oppressors (and the Jews, as a people of privilege, are trailing not far behind).
Given this state of affairs, it seems hard to imagine what Israel could do to curry favor with the progressives, short of abandoning its principles, values and most sacred tenets, not to mention strategic policies and priorities.
In other words, Israel’s leaders have been looking for love in all the wrong places. This quest might seem to come naturally to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who seems capable of singing by heart all the lyrics of the progressive hymnal.
But it has been an acquired taste for Bennett, who must, in the still of the night, worry that he is betraying everything that he told his constituents, and the rest of the Israeli public, that he stood for.
Having invested in talking the progressive talk and walking the Western walk, Israel’s leaders need to know that they might be on the verge of chasing yesterday’s fashion.
The results of Virginia’s gubernatorial election last week—giving Republican Glenn Youngkin a win over Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe—were of tectonic significance, showing the widespread disinterest, and in many cases disgust, with the progressive agenda. When given the chance, critical race theory, defunding the police and marginalizing parents of school children were all roundly rejected.
What Israel’s leaders need to see is that even though Trump was not reelected, the American public is not at all interested in endorsing his progressive nemesis. U.S. President Joe Biden might be having buyer’s remorse for ceding the policy field to the hard-left, as the outcome in Virginia showed the Democrats to be in significant danger of losing both houses of Congress come next November.
How does this impact Israel?
For one thing, there might be shifts and moves that could have an indirect, yet nevertheless profound, impact on the administration’s attitudes towards Israel. If the Squad is discredited as the moving ideological force at the White House, it could take the wind out of some of the diplomatic sails that are currently blowing against Israel.
Such issues as knee-jerk condemnation of building in Judea and Samaria, the questioning of Israel’s designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations and, of course, the intention to open a consulate in downtown Jerusalem to service Palestinians might all be sidelined if the administration comes to believe that it is only adding to the perceived toxicity of the progressive agenda.
In other words, just as support for Israel was tainted by association with Trump, so, too, could the pressure on and condemnation of Israel become tainted by association with all things progressive.
The possibility of this occurring should encourage Bennett to recognize that he should not charge into an embrace of the American wish list; quite the opposite.
It behooves Bennett, Lapid and all those engaging with American decision-makers to be politely noncommittal. Above all, now is the wrong time to consider compromising Israel’s vital interests in the name of currying favor with a point of view that might be reassessed.
Another aspect of the Virginia election that should be informative to Israeli leaders relates to their possible interest in regarding Israeli voters as if they were Americans.
While an anecdotal and non-scientific observation, my sense is that Israeli leaders have been wondering if they should be introducing certain issues in the country to mirror the priorities that they have been seeing in many Western societies.
Climate change is an example of such an issue. Simply stated, there is virtually nothing that Israel can do or refrain from doing that will move the needle ever so slightly in terms of global warming. Israel probably pollutes less in a month than China does in half an hour.
It was one thing for Israel to engage in virtue-signaling by wringing its hands with other Western countries at the 26th U.N. Climate Change Convention (COP26) in Glasgow last week. It would be quite another to actually stop pumping natural gas, as Israeli Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg, former chair of the left-wing Meretz Party, suggested.
American voters have just shown the common sense—the pragmatism and realism—for which Americans have been famous. This description also applies to the majority of Israelis, and Israel’s leaders would be well advised to use the Virginia election as a parallel.
A lot of skilled dancing is required to maintain Israel’s interests while simultaneously seeking to appear cooperative, or at least not antagonistic, to the interests of its allies.
Part and parcel of this dancing is to understand when the music has changed—both abroad and at home.
Douglas Altabef is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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