Mondoweiss / July 21, 2023
Liberal Zionists coalesced with right-wingers to celebrate the Israeli president this week, and Joe Biden said he’d meet with Netanyahu, ending tensions. Happy days are here again for the Israel lobby.
It was a great week for the Israel lobby.
Despite so much that is working against the Israel-U.S. special relationship — the blatant extremism and racism of Netanyahu’s government, the growing support for Palestinians in the Democratic base, and the progressive politicians who say Israel practices apartheid — despite all these headwinds, Israel had a great week.
Joe Biden talked to Netanyahu, and said he’d meet with him later this year, ending “months of tension.” Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke to a joint session of the Congress, and presented Israel as a light unto the nations, and only about ten progressive members boycotted the speech. A similarly-overwhelming majority of the Congress — 412 members — rebuked Rep. Pramila Jayapal‘s statement that “Israel is a racist state” at Netroots last Saturday, and Jayapal joined in her own rebuking, as did liberal Zionist groups.
And though Rep. Jayapal didn’t attend Herzog’s speech, all the liberal Zionists did. What a relief to have Herzog as the face of Israel and not that awful Netanyahu! J Street and Americans for Peace Now cheered Herzog, and showed that from AIPAC to the anti-Netanyahu bunch, the official Jewish community is united behind the idea that Israel must not become a political football.
The U.S.-Israel bond “transcends governments,” Herzog told a very official Jewish audience in New York.
“Herzog’s meeting with President Biden, his address to Congress, and his making the Jewish community rounds in New York were intended to signal that all is well while serving as an extended pep rally for pro-Israel politicians and voters who have not had much to celebrate during the tenure of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s current government,” Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum writes.
Why did the Israel lobby coalesce so happily ?
First, it must be acknowledged that the Jewish establishment is overwhelmingly Zionist. Despite the many young Jews who say that Israel is an apartheid state (38 percent) and has no right to exist (20 percent), older American Jews still idealize Israel, and the political ones give a lot of money on that basis.
This force in politics is now being channeled inside the Democratic Party by J Street, which — while working against Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul and annexationist policies — celebrates its efforts as a battle for the “Jewish homeland” and “the future of the entire Jewish people.” Zionist talking points.
This force is also channeled by Tom Friedman (“Israel had me at hello”), who at 70 has thrown himself into saving Israel and the special relationship with the U.S. since the hateful Netanyahu government came into power.
Friedman got a 75-minute meeting with Joe Biden this week, as he bragged in a column. Who gets over an hour with the president? That’s huge.
Biden is the other important driver here. The president is proclaiming that whatever differences he has with Israel over Netanyahu’s plans, he loves Israel, Israeli demonstrations show “the vibrancy” of its democracy… And Biden will talk to Netanyahu, even as he’s destroying the independence of the Israeli courts, and building more settlements than ever.
“The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem said the two leaders had a ‘long and warm conversation,’” NPR reports.
One influence on Biden is a big political story this week: the fact that No Labels, a third-party effort, held an event in New Hampshire with Joe Manchin, signaling that it might run a candidate in the 2024 election. Democrats are terrified by the possibility because No Labels says it will spend $70 million.
What is No Labels’s game? Everyone wants to know. “Where is your juice coming from? Where is your money coming from?… What [is it that] No Labels believes in?” David Remnick asked this week on a New Yorker podcast. Reporter Sue Halpern said No Labels is taking on the social-welfare/economic-justice faction inside the Democratic Party, the Sanders wing.
This is forcibly vague or naive. One thing that No Labels clearly believes in is Israel. Founder Nancy Jacobson, her husband, the pollster Mark Penn, and founding chairman Joe Lieberman are all devoted to Israel. “There is no middle ground” when it comes to Israel, says Jacobson, who has a prodigious record as a fundraiser. Mark Penn worked for Menachem Begin.
The move from No Labels clearly agitated Biden, who thinks he needs the Israel lobby and its donors on his side in 2024. So he took action. He will meet with Netanyahu. He gives Tom Friedman a long audience.
Goodbye to the tension and criticism. Leave that to a second term.
What a great week for the Israel lobby !
And yet the left must also be happy this week. The discourse in the U.S. continues to shift against Israel. When Markos Moulitsas praised the “two-state solution” at Netroots, the crowd booed. Brookings says that if the two-state solution is no longer possible (and it’s not) 80 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans “would choose a democratic Israel that’s no longer Jewish, over a Jewish Israel without full citizenship and equality for non-Jewish people living under its authority.” Take that, Jewish homeland.
The Israeli government continues to push extremist racist measures that arm its critics. Yesterday Sen. Chris Van Hollen indicated his willingness to cut U.S. aid that is used to abet the rabid settler movement in the West Bank, as well as the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Meantime, there was an unprecedented protest in New York City against U.S. non-profit organizations supporting the Israeli settlement project.
Young people, even in the establishment, are tired of Israel’s lies. As I always remind readers, polling shows that 44 percent of Democratic voters think Israel practices apartheid, and by 49-38 percent they have more sympathy for Palestinians. When Herzog came to DC, NPR had the temerity to interview Yousef Munayyer, who said the politicians are way behind the Democratic voters. Time Magazine ran a similar piece.
“The amount of churn around Israel is impossible to ignore or to paper over, irrespective of how many standing ovations were given in Congress,” Koplow observes.
It was a great week for the Israel lobby. And still the crackup continues!
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006