An Unbreakable American-Israeli Bond? Maybe Not

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People take pictures of decorated cars in a small car parade to celebrate Israel's Independence Day, which marks the 73rd anniversary of the creation of the state, in Times Square in New York City, U.S., April 18, 2021. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs
A car parade in Times Square in New York marking Israeli Independence Day, April 18, 2021.Credit: Caitlin Ochs/Reuters

About a decade ago, I asked readers of Haaretz to imagine an alternative universe in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leader of the Republicans in the U.S. Congress exchange roles. In this scenario, Netanyahu would have become a Republican leader “committed to the concept of the free market and a hawkish foreign policy, focusing on the Israeli-American alliance, and a supporter of partnership with the religious right and the populist movements.”

The Republican leader who switched with Netanyahu would immigrate to Israel, join the Likud leadership and do in Jerusalem almost exactly what the American Netanyahu would do in Washington, replacing the support of the Tea Party members – Evangelical Christians and marginal white voters – with the support of West Bank settlers, ultra-Orthodox politicians and alienated Russian voters.

A young American who is not particularly well informed as to what is happening in the Middle East, and keeps track of events in Israel via the commentary, spin and manner of speech of Netanyahu and the ambassadors he sends to Washington, “Michael” Oren and Ron Dermer, is likely to reach the conclusion that it is one of the states in the United States, which. like Utah, Louisiana and Mississippi, is permanently in the electoral pocket of the Republicans. “Is Mr. Netanyahu the Republican governor of Israel?” I was asked at the time by an American student during a political science lesson that I taught.

The “Republicanization” of Israel under Netanyahu reached a peak when, with the support of the Republican majority, he addressed Congress in 2015 and called on the legislators to oppose the nuclear agreement with Iran being promoted by Democratic President Barack Obama. The entry of Donald Trump into the White House and the strong friendship that was formed between him and Bibi, and the pro-Israel policy of the Republican administration, created an impression that the Republican Party had turned into a branch of Likud in Washington, and vice versa.

In this narrative, the Democratic Party turned into a power hostile to Israel, and the advancement of the Republican Party became an Israeli interest. In the Democrats’ mirror image, Israel was portrayed as an ally of Trump and the American right.

According to the present conventional wisdom in Israel, Trump’s and Netanyahu’s loss of power and the change in the balance of power in Washington and Jerusalem are creating an opportunity to mend the rifts with the Democratic Party. All we have to do is explain to the Democrats, and in particular to the progressive wing, that Netanyahu and the Israeli right represent a political minority and that the (alternative) prime minister Yair Lapid shares the Democrats’ liberal views and is interested in working with Israel’s friend President Joe Biden, to advance the shared interests of the two countries. We’re not like Bibi, you’re not like Trump. Let’s turn over a new leaf.

It sounds like a reasonable plan of action, but it ignores the political changes in Israel, in which the political right is not in retreat – after all, the present prime minister is a religious nationalist – and in the United States, where the veteran pro-Israel echelon of the Democratic Party represented by Biden is stepping aside in favor of left-wing activists. At best they no longer consider Israel a historical ally, and in the worst case they share hostility to the Jewish state and its nationalist movement.

Let’s be fair to Netanyahu: The end of the love affair with the American left and the distancing of the Democratic Party from Israel didn’t begin during his tenure, though he accelerated it. He wasn’t even the first Israeli politician to “interfere” in American politics alongside a Republican president: In 1972, after the forces of the New Left, a type of ideological forerunner to Alexandra Ocasio- Cortez, took over the Democratic Party and chose George McGovern as the party’s presidential candidate, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Yitzhak Rabin, told anyone who cared to listen that he hoped that Republican President Richard Nixon would be re-elected (and in fact, Nixon rather than McGovern was in the White House when Israel was attacked in 1973).

Nor should we forget the growing conflict of interest between the United States (regardless of the dominant party), which is gradually severing itself from the Middle East, and Israel, whose leaders, from the left to the right, are finding it difficult to become accustomed to that. In this new situation, as opposed to Netanyahu’s delusions, even under Trump the United States was unwilling to go to war against Iran. And as opposed to the fantasies of the left, it isn’t planning to invest time and effort in renewing the “peace process.”

So let’s imagine an alternate universe in which Nitzan Horowitz is elected prime minister, Pnina Tamano-Shata is appointed foreign minister and Ayman Odeh is Knesset speaker, and the new left-wing government declares its willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians based on the two-state plan.

Ostensibly, that could be the Israeli dream of progressive Democratic activists, until they wake up and claim that an LGBT prime minister, a black foreign minister and an Arab Knesset speaker is no big deal. And what about the right of return? And the Law of Return? With or without Netanyahu, Israel to them is a racist colonialist country that has no right to exist as a Jewish state. So it’s true that it was easier to promote this narrative in the era of Netanyahu and Trump, but anyone who hopes that the Israeli-American love story will be renewed under the present Democratic administration can expect to be disappointed.

Hadar is a senior analyst at the geostrategic consulting firms Duco and Wikistrat.

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