Israel Support Letter Unsupported by Reality
The Boxer-Isakson “Israel Support Letter” [.pdf] addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and currently signed by 76 senators [.pdf] answers a question no one needed to ask: Does the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have the support of the United States Senate? However, unlike the proverbial napkin former AIPAC bigwig Steven Rosen boasted that he could have signed by 70 senators within 24 hours, this particular piece of paper contains a slew of Likud talking points, few of which are supported by reality. Some read an implicit rebuke of the Obama administration in the letter for the administration’s alleged spat with Israel, though despite the new conventional wisdom that there’s a major schism between the two, it would be hard to point to on-the-record words or actions taken by the Obama administration that translate into substantive criticism of Israeli policies.
The letter states, “Despite your [Clinton's] best efforts, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been frozen for over a year.” If Clinton were truly making her best efforts to restart the peace process, she would wield the considerable U.S. leverage of aid to tiny Israel in order to rein in their increasingly extreme activities that violate even their own lukewarm prior commitments. One commitment, the so-called settlement freeze, involves the seemingly self-evident notion that if you are serious about good-faith negotiations over borders you do not continue to expand your territory into the ever shrinking piece that is well-established as belonging to the other side. Instead, Clinton bragged at her recent speech to AIPAC about the increase in U.S. aid to Israel in 2010 and the planned increase for 2011.
Several paragraphs later, the letter goes on: “Israel continues to be the one true democracy in the Middle East that brings stability to a region where it is in short supply.” How much of a “true democracy” Israel actually is is debatable, especially given restrictions on free speech, discrimination against Arab Israelis based solely on ethnicity, the disproportionate influence of the radical “settler” minority, and the apartheid system and blockade forced on Palestinians in the occupied territories. However, the real whopper in the sentence is the notion that Israel brings any sort of stability to the Middle East. Without a doubt the two most destabilizing forces in the Middle East are the tag team of the United States and Israel, which has a combined resumé that in the past four years includes full-scale wars waged on Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza; missile and bomb strikes on Syria and Yemen; assassination in the United Arab Emirates; and countless credible threats against Iran. Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal and refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty also undermine regional stability, especially given Israel’s penchant for disproportionate escalations of force against its neighbors.
Seventy-six senators want the secretary of state to remember that “Israel has been a consistent, reliable ally and friend and has helped to advance American interests. … We must never forget the depth and breadth of our alliance and always do our utmost to reinforce a relationship that has benefited both nations for more than six decades.” While it is very kind of the senators to at least pay lip service to the interests of the people they were elected to represent, unsurprisingly there are no specifics on exactly what Israel has ever done that “benefited both nations” or “advance[d] American interests.” Support for Israel has certainly exacted a heavy toll, though; from the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing to both World Trade Center attacks, most animosity toward the United States emanating from the Middle East is a result of unconditional support, supply, and diplomatic sheltering of Israel despite its constant deviation from international norms and standards of justice. The cost is also financial, with billions from the insolvent U.S. going to a nation that can even afford to provide universal health care. Furthermore, most people could safely expect a “consistent, reliable ally and friend” not to spy on them repeatedly or attack and kill them as in the 1967 U.S.S. Liberty murders.
Despite all the glaring errors and omissions in this latest statement of support, the senators are not completely incorrect; there is nothing wrong with the people of the United States and the people of Israel supporting each other if it truly benefits both nations (though George Washington warned in his farewell address against “passionate attachment” for an ally). However, in recent years the positions taken by Olmert/Netanyahu and Bush/Obama are desirable to no one but the “settlers” in Israel and the evangelical Rapture-seekers in the United States. If the United States Senate truly wants to express its support for the Israeli people, it will stay out of the way of the peace process and stop prolonging the unacceptable status quo with a steady stream of assistance to their intransigent government.