The NRA Is America's Curse. And the Settlements Are Israel's NRA

The NRA and the settlements movements divide us as few movements can. Both have come to believe that they should in no way be curbed. Both have come to believe that they cannot be stopped.

Bradley Burston
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

A lobby is not supposed to run your life. Nor ruin it.

Having grown to the stature of a government apart from government, however, the National Rifle Association has become a curse to its beloved America. And, in its extraordinary clout, in its ability to arouse and withstand reproach, in its fierce divisiveness, in its underground ambivalence about the authority of an elected government, and in its skill at leveraging the systems of democracy to weaken and corrupt and distort a democratic society, the settlement enterprise has become Israel's NRA.

Both have come to believe that they should in no way be curbed. Both have come to believe that they cannot be stopped. And, in that last sense, both may be right.

They divide us as few movements can. They thrive on fear. They wail for how they're demonized, but their zeal feeds on condemnation. Citing the best in us, they serve to protect the worst in us. They are a danger in the guise of a savior.

Both will tell you that theirs is the bedrock patriotism, the essence and the guardian of the national character. They will tell you that their message and their mission are one with the very founding of the country. Whether brandishing the Bible or the Bill of Rights, they will tell you that their mandate comes not from fleeting and fashionable statutes and regulations, but from the unimpeachable source, the nation's founding charter.

Whether by stealth or in full storm, they will deflect any outcry, resist all compromise, move not one inch. It's not numbers that are on their side, nor overwhelming public sympathy and support. But they are more focused than the rest of us. More willing to use any means necessary. More threatening by far to politicians.

They run our lives, in ways we cannot moderate or, in many cases, even detect. In ways the rest of us cannot approach, they know precisely how the system works. It works for them.

The similarities of the movements, and the harm they do, have not been lost on at least one prominent member of the American Jewish community.

In a June opinion piece , arguing that settlement expansion and its harm to peace prospects were pushing American Jews to feel a mounting disconnect from Israel, former Union for Reform Judaism president Eric Yoffie observed in passing that the settlement movement was the NRA of Israel, with the danger that the agenda of the Jewish state might be set by its most radical elements.

The comparison bears further study, if only to begin to explore where both lobbies may be changing, and how both, swollen rigid with past success, may be growing brittle, exposed, vulnerable.

Until now, it was assumed that the NRA was invincible. But a groundswell of outrage over the Newtown massacre has forced the NRA onto the awkward, unaccustomed defensive. Jonathan Tobin,writing in the right-wing Commentary Magazine, called the NRA's much-criticized response to Newtown "a memorable disaster."

The settlement lobby, meanwhile, has been trumpeting a final and permanent victory, which, in its view, has rendered a Palestinian state impossible. "Trying to stop settlement expansion is futile," wrote settlement leader Danny Dayan in The New York Times in July. "The settlements of Judea and Samaria are not the problem," he concludes, "they are part of the solution."

Just as the NRA has gained little traction by arguing that adding guns will solve the problem of a society suffering from too many guns, the settler lobby can hope to persuade only the faithful, when it suggests that one way to solve the impasse with the Palestinians is to move more settlers into their midst.

"Settlements don't kill peace with the Palestinians," the pro-settlement right insists in essence. "Palestinians kill peace with the Palestinians."

Deep down, Israelis know that it's not that simple. Just as American know that it is the combination of guns and people which kills people, Israelis know that the death of peace is not simply an outgrowth of Palestinian inaction, disunity and extremism. They know better than anyone that pro-settlement activists have done everything in their power to actively foil a solution and quash all possibility of progress.

Israelis learned that early on, when one of the first and most telling death blows to the peace process was dealt by an American-born settler, in an American-style mass killing, using the same type of American-made assault rifle used in Newtown.

At this point, America is showing signs that it is ready to begin to stand up to the NRA. In Israel, though, the signs are few. A recent poll indicates that a clear majority of Israelis favors a two-state solution and has little enthusiasm for settler proposals to annex settlement areas to Israel.

Still, history shows something else: Unless and until a hawkish leader with extraordinary backbone and vision, makes a clear choice for peace over the settler lobby, the public will let the settlers do pretty much as they please.

Backbone and vision. We may have a long, long time to wait.

Settlers marching in the West Bank last year. Credit: Daniel Bar-On
A group of protesters calls on the NRA to get out of the way of gun control.Credit: AP