Mondoweiss / February 23, 2023
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides did a podcast with David Axelrod last week and was more candid than ever — – and the takeaway is astonishing: Israel is now “on fire,” and Palestinians don’t have equal rights. But Palestinians don’t need rights, they just need “money.”
And what keeps Nides up at night? What is his “biggest fear”? Israel has “lost the narrative” on college campuses in the United States, including among young Jews!
So, Palestinians are being killed right and left because they’re resisting occupation, and the ambassador’s worry and fear is that the pro-Israel story isn’t being told right on campuses. That people who support Israel are afraid to stand up!
I don’t think you can get a better demonstration of the narcissistic role of the Israel lobby than the Axelrod-Nides exchange on February 16. Nides is a nice guy, an affable businessman from Duluth whose family connections in the official Jewish community propelled his career in the Democratic Party, all the way to a position of great trust by Joe Biden. And what does he really care about? Promoting Israel on campuses!
He really is just a pro-Israel hack, but so is Axelrod: Both these powerful insiders in their 60’s jump over one another to show their emotional attachment to Israel as a supposed democracy, all but leaving out the killings of Palestinians. Maybe the most upsetting thing in this performance is when Nides brags about going to every shiva for every Israeli killed by “terrorists” and then laments that innocent Palestinians are also killed — and nothing about their funerals, because he doesn’t go.
This anti-Palestinian racism is baked deep into our politics, but the fact Nides brags about it ought to be embarrassing. And he’s a “liberal”! Who tells us that Palestinians want “money” not rights.
Let’s hear what Nides and Axelrod have to say.
Nides criticizes the Netanyahu government for pushing ahead plans to strip the judiciary of powers and legalize settlements. “We’re telling the Prime Minister, as I tell my kids, Pump the brakes, slow down… You’re going way too fast.” That was the headline in the news.
Axelrod says that the criticism by an ambassador and President Biden too is “highly unusual.”
Nides gushes over Israeli democracy, and explains how important that perception is to the sales job, and the U.S. defending Israel.
First of all, this is a vibrant democracy, as proven by the tens of thousands of people who are protesting every Saturday… The reality of this is that 72 percent of this country voted for the fifth time in two years. It’s unbelievable. We can only dream of that in America…
At the end of the day the United States is not going to be in the position to tell and dictate to Israel how they pick their Supreme Court…. To be clear, the one thing that binds our countries is a sense of democracy, a sense of democratic institutions.
That’s how we defend Israel at the U.N., that’s how we stand up for the values that we share.
And the U.S. will never not stand up for Israel. Biden says so. Nides:
“Listen, the most important thing is that this relationship between the United States and Israel is unbreakable, which is the direction I got from the president when I took that job…. As you know, David… Joe Biden really really cares about Israel. He believes in his heart and his soul, in his kishkes, as us Jews would say…. He would say, You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist.”
“We Jews” is a signal; both men let their hair down. Axelrod and Nides exchange their Zionist bona fides and mutual “pride in Israel.” Axelrod, 68, former top aide to Barack Obama, says he grew up in New York in a family of immigrants– and they pooled money to send their grandparents to Israel. “Something my family and I always took pride in was this vibrant democracy… a flourishing democracy in a part of the world that really hasn’t seen a democracy.” And wouldn’t it damage “Israel’s soul” if the judiciary loses its independence?
“I care deeply about Israel,” Nides says. He first visited the country at 15 in the late 70s. And right now American Jews are worried that Netanyahu’s changes are going to undermine Israeli “democracy”: “American Jews and not just Reform liberal Jews like me, but moderate and conservative Jews are quite worried.”
(FYI, Peter Beinart blew up the idea of Jewish democracy in the New York Times this week. “You Can’t Save Democracy in a Jewish State.” Not all American Jews are dumb and bought.)
Axelrod asks if Nides worries about the “fraying” of that American Jewish support if Israel takes an undemocratic turn, if Israel’s expansionist policies are pursued (as they have been for 56 years)? That’s what keeps Nides up at night:
What I really worry about, David, what keeps me up at night is what is going on on college campuses. That’s what really worries me… If you stand up and you’re a Jewish kid or a non-Jewish kid and you talk about Israel, it’s very difficult. We’ve lost the narrative of college campuses and we’ve got to focus on that… I did a tape for Hillel… I said, Listen guys, we’ve lost this narrative, You can be pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian people! Somehow we’ve missed that narrative on college campuses. You can have the discussion saying I care about the Palestinian people and care about Israel. That’s OK, there’s nothing wrong with that!
Axelrod pitches in, You can be “opposed to terrorism and the brutality that Israelis have known and be critical when human rights are abridged of Palestinians.” Abridged — nice euphemism!
Nides confesses his biggest fear:
What worries me more than anything is the next generation–OK? The next generation of kids who are on college campuses and grad schools. That to me is my biggest fear. Yes, Israel has to do a better job of communicating. They have to communicate in a way that young people believe Israel is a democratic country, they’re protecting the rights of people.
The two insiders discuss the two state solution. “It seems like an empty kind of phrase at this point,” Axelrod says; and Nides says it’s a “vision,” but money is more important to Palestinians.
Listen, I’m not dreaming. I’m not a dreamer…. That’s why I am focused on the things that make a difference, guys. I wake up every day and try to do things that help the Palestinian people. That’s money…. As you recall, under the Trump administration they cut off all the funding for Palestinians, everything. Under the Biden administration the last two years we’ve given them about $750 million of direct assistance to the Palestinian people. That’s real, that’s material. That’s something that actually makes a difference…
People don’t care about politics but money: “The average person does not wake up… and say oh where’s my two state solution. No, they wake up and say, Where do I get a job, can I make a living, can I buy a car. Those are real things.” A lot like the Trump/Kushner belief in “economic peace,” not rights.
Nides says defensively that he spends most of his time trying to get material things to Palestinians.
As we chase this kind of idea of a two state solution…. . I spend 60 percent of my time trying to help the Palestinian people. OK? I spend my time trying to get the Allenby bridge open 24/7… I push aggressively to get agreement on 4g, so the Palestinians have 4g not 2g on their phones… It’s about doing things for the Palestinian people. They say, oh Tom, it’s incrementalism… I don’t care. Education, health care… The average Palestinian wakes up every day, just like the average Israeli, and all they want is security and job and freedom and opportunity, nothing more complicated than that…
Nides thinks Netanyahu will pull back because of the economy: “The one thing that is getting the attention of the prime minister, as it should is, the economic impact this can have…. I believe, maybe I’m dreaming, maybe, but I believe that cooler heads will prevail.” (Just what BDS does when it targets apartheid.)
Twice Nides says that Israel is on fire. “As I said to the prime minister 100 times, we can’t spend time on things that we care about together, if your backyard is on fire.” And when Police Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir went up on to the Noble Sanctuary– “to stir up trouble in my view… ..this is the kind of nonsense in my view that lights things on fire.”
Don’t worry, no matter what Israel does, the U.S. will defend it:
Just so there’s no misunderstanding about that. We’ve got Israel’s back, both on security and at the U.N.
Nides then boasts that he’s been “Been to every shiva of every family of every Israeli killed by a terrorist in the last year and a half… I understand the threat Israel is under.
And what about all the Palestinians killed? Axelrod refers to the “excessive use of force in the West Bank.”
It breaks my heart–OK– it breaks my heart when an innocent Palestinian gets killed but it certainly breaks my heart when an innocent Jew is leaving a synagogue and gets mowed down by some terrorist… It’s terrible.
Those Palestinians don’t have rights, but don’t talk about giving them rights because that would end the Zionist dream. Nides:
Ultimately, the reason I support a two state solution– it maintains Israel as a Jewish democratic state. Until someone comes to me and says Hey Tom I’ve got this new idea that you could have a one state and you could keep a Jewish democratic state– that’s great, show it to me. It’s not possible, and until someone shows us a way that you can have 3 million people who live in the West Bank have the same rights as the 9 million people who live in Israel, that you can pull that off, then let’s have a conversation. But sadly that’s not the case. But that’s why it’s important to keep the vision of a two state solution alive.
So: I’m against equal rights. And 2 million people in Gaza are beneath my concerns. And I’m a liberal. And Joe Biden needs the Israel lobby.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006