The Illusion of Unconditional American Support

Netanyahu believed that he could turn his back on liberal values of Democratic America and still win its automatic support; his dramatic defeat over the Iran deal is a wake-up call.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) attends a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 21, 2015.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) attends a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 21, 2015.Credit: Reuters
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

WASHINGTON — For many weeks now, the political arena has been focusing on Chuck Schumer. Both U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were doing all they could to lobby New York’s senior (Jewish) senator to adopt their positions on the Iran nuclear deal. Both the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office assumed that Schumer’s vote would be a decisive one. It was presumed that whichever way Schumer went, dozens of Democratic members of Congress would follow.

And indeed, two weeks ago Schumer decided. He capitulated to the indirect and sophisticated pressures exerted on him by the Israeli prime minister and came out against the position of the president of the United States.

But to everyone’s great surprise, there was no ensuing “Schumer effect.” Contrary to expectations, masses of Democrats did not stream after the man who is meant to be the future leader of the Senate’s Democrats. On the contrary; one after the other, even hawkish Democrats and Jewish Democrats have been siding with the White House.

Why? Because over the past six years the Israeli government has insisted on turning Israel into another red (Republican) state. Because Netanyahu and his patron, Sheldon Adelson, have forged a dangerous link between Zionist issues and conservatism. Because at the moment of truth, Israel-loving Democrats who feel battered by Israel’s policies (occupation, settlement, exclusion of women and discrimination against minorities) were not prepared to put their political futures at risk for Israel. After Jerusalem turned its back on the liberal values of Democratic America, Democratic America decided to turn its back on Israel’s existential anxiety.

Let’s go back for a minute. Let’s assume that in the spring of 2009, Netanyahu saw the Iranian challenge more clearly than any other world leader. Let’s assume for a moment that Netanyahu at the time was a rational strategist who really believed that all threats to Israel began and ended with Iran. Such a strategist ought to have known that the fate of this existential campaign would be decided by an American president committed to peace and human rights. That same strategist ought to have understood that the fulcrum of such a campaign would be the American Jewish community, most of which is also committed to peace and human rights.

Accordingly, Netanyahu should have understood — if only as a cold calculation made by a farsighted chess player — that it was incumbent upon him to pursue peace, respect human rights and capture the hearts of the new, open and progressive America.

But Netanyahu did exactly the opposite. He believed that he could get away with everything; that he could build settlements, give in to all the religious parties’ demands and still win the automatic support of both Jewish and non-Jewish Democrats. That he could embrace Adelson, insult Obama and still expect Washington to support him.

This was a mistake. Now, at the moment of truth, Washington is simply exhausted by Netanyahu. Even when he’s telling the truth — and Netanyahu is right about many aspects of the Iranian issue — Washington isn’t listening to him. The disgust that many feel for the Israel of Danny Danon is blinding them to the danger posed by Hassan Rohani’s Iran.

The writing is on the wall, in really big print. If Israel seeks life, it’s going to have to redefine itself. If Israel wants a true alliance with the American democracy, it’s going to have to prove that it is truly a democracy. The era of using unconditional American support and unlimited American money to realize the vision of Gush Emunim is over. Gone must be the illusion that America will always be with us, even when our values conflict with its values.

Life on the wrong side of history is getting dangerous. Netanyahu’s dramatic defeat in Washington is a wake-up call.

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