Mondoweiss / January 13, 2023
The religious and authoritarian character of the new Israeli government has given some American supporters the opportunity to hit Reset on the special relationship, and call for U.S. governmental measures to punish Israeli actions.
That alarm increased this week as the new government moved to grant itself power to override supreme court rulings, so as to legalize land theft from Palestinians and exonerate Premier Benjamin Netanyahu from corruption charges. There are mass demonstrations against the changes, while opposition leaders accuse Netanyahu of destroying institutions that preserve civil rights.
But U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides sees his role as cheerleading Netanyahu, and he appeared to side with the government over any protesters during an interview this week with an Israeli broadcaster, stating repeatedly that the government has a mandate from the public.
Israel is a “thriving democracy,” Nides said. U.S. support is “unbreakable,” because the two countries have shared values. Netanyahu is firmly in control and can be completely trusted, I am not going to lecture the Israeli people, I’m not going to “boycott” any ministers. “We are going to work with the Israeli government.”
And the efforts to override the supreme court that so many are protesting as a crisis— “judicial reform.”
Israeli journalist Gili Cohen of Kann TV began the Jan. 10 interview by asking Nides about upcoming visits by Biden’s national security adviser and Secretary of State. What’s the message?
Nides says it’s all positive, Israel’s a thriving democracy.
Listen, the messages of any U.S. officials will be quite simple. Which is, This is a thriving democracy. We’re here to support the government. To work with them collectively on the values that we share…. As Joe Biden has said, this unbreakable bond.
(Human rights groups widely describe Israel as an apartheid state where Jews have dominance over Palestinians.)
“What about talking to Itamar Ben-Gvir?” the openly-racist police minister who has been convicted of inciting terrorism. Nides ducks the question by saying Netanyahu has his hands “firmly on the wheel.”
My interface is with the prime minister. The prime minister as he has told all of us has his hands very firmly on the wheel. OK? That’s who we’re dealing with. I’m not going to say we’re not going to meet with people or we’re going to meet with people. My interlocutor is the prime minister and the prime minister’s office. He’s in charge of the government.
But Ben-Gvir made a provocative visit to the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount, stirring wide fears of violence, Cohen says. Nides:
[Netanyahu] has said over and over again that he’s not going to allow the status quo to change on the Temple Mount, and we take him at his word.
Some countries are boycotting Ben-Gvir, will you?
There’s no boycotts. I don’t do boycotts, this is not what I do. We are going to work with the Israeli government. This is a democratically elected government. 72 percent of the people showed up for the fifth time in two years. It’s remarkable.
FYI, the U.S. refuses to cooperate with Hamas though it was democratically-elected by the Palestinians in 2006.
Will you cooperate with all Netanyahu’s ministers?
We will work with everyone, but in principle what I’ll be working with is the prime minister.
But the coalition agreements Netanyahu struck with rightwing parties call for advancing illegal annexation of West Bank lands.
Again he’s assured me he’ll work with the U.S. government. Obviously we have shared values. He understands the position of the United States. We want to keep a vision of a two state solution alive. Massive settlement growth won’t achieve that goal…
I don’t do red lines or yellow lines, I’m just telling you what our values are.
Nides goes on to say that “legalizing outposts and massive settlement expansion will not keep a vision of the two state solution alive” and that the U.S. will oppose such actions. As if there’s any difference between “massive” settlement expansion and what Israel has done for 55 years.
Nides was then asked about the government’s plans to pass laws to override high court rulings, plans that are producing massive protests in Israel.
I am not here to involve ourselves in the judicial process. The Israeli people don’t want to be lectured by America, OK? We have shared values. We’ll let the Israeli people articulate their support or dismay, that’s up to them, it’s not up to the United States to be commenting about the judicial issues they face.
But overriding the court undermines those common values, no? Cohen says. Nides speaks of “judicial reform.”
Again, we share values. Democracy is one of those values, OK? We care deeply about the democratic values that the United States has and what we share with Israel. Again, I go back to, 72 percent of Israelis showed up to vote. Israelis care–they care, and they’re going to care about different things and they’re going to articulate their concerns. Our job is not to impose our will on every decision this government makes vis-a-vis issues like judicial reform.”
The Times of Israel says that Biden intends not to apply any pressure, though Nides is slightly out of step with Biden administration talking points. “On Friday… the State Department issued a vague statement calling ‘Israel’s independent institutions… crucial to upholding the country’s thriving democracy.”
Nides is under pressure from liberal Zionists to do something more than roll over for the Israeli government. “Ambassador Nides is very responsive to calls and letters from American constituents,” the Israeli civil rights activist Noa Sattath told Americans for Peace Now last week. “And I can tell you that on the day after the elections [November 2, 2022], I texted him, and I said, ‘I have really great news for you.’ And he said, ‘Really, you have great news today?’ And I told him, ‘You are now the most important U.S. ambassador to Israel in history. What are you going to do about it?’ I think that he hated that question but we need to keep asking him exactly that.”
Nides, a banker, comes out of a Zionist background. His father and mother were active in the Duluth, Minnesota, Jewish community, and his father headed the Jewish Federations, a pro-Israel charity arm.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006