US-Israel Rift Undermining Some Long-Standing Taboos

The rather extraordinary dust-up between the U.S. and Israel has,
among other benefits, shined a light on two of the most taboo yet
self-evidently true propositions: (1) our
joined-at-the-hip relationship with Israel is a significant cause of
anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, fuels attacks on Americans,
and entails a very high price for the U.S. on multiple levels; and (2)
many American neoconservatives have their political beliefs shaped by
allegiance to Israel.

The rather extraordinary dust-up between the U.S. and Israel has,
among other benefits, shined a light on two of the most taboo yet
self-evidently true propositions: (1) our
joined-at-the-hip relationship with Israel is a significant cause of
anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, fuels attacks on Americans,
and entails a very high price for the U.S. on multiple levels; and (2)
many American neoconservatives have their political beliefs shaped by
allegiance to Israel.

As for the first: not only did Joe
Biden tell Prime Minister Netanyahu
that Israel's actions are
endangering U.S. troops in the region, but -- more important -- as Foreign
Policy
's Mark Perry reports
, both Adm. Mike Mullen and Gen.
David Petraeus within the last couple of months stressed the same causal
connection to Obama officials: "Israel's intransigence could cost
American lives." It's rather difficult to maintain the fiction that
only fringe Israel-haters see the connection between our support for
Israel and Muslim hatred toward the U.S. when two of America's most
respected military officials are making that case explicitly. Moreover,
the Mullen/Petraeus alarm is almost certainly what accounts for the
Obama administration's sudden (and commendable) willingness to so
publicly oppose Israel. As Perry says: "There are important and
powerful lobbies in America: the NRA, the American Medical Association,
the lawyers -- and the Israeli lobby. But no lobby is as important, or
as powerful, as the U.S. military."

As for the second point: I've previously
noted
the glaring contradiction among neoconservatives, whereby
they simultaneously (a) tell American
Jewish voters
to vote Republican because
the GOP is better for Israel
and (b) insist that
it's anti-Semitic to point out that neoconservatives are guided by their
allegiance to Israel when forming their political beliefs about U.S.
policy. Obviously, anyone who does (a) is, by logical necessity,
endorsing the very premise in (b) which they want (when it suits
them) to label anti-Semitic. Neoconservatives constantly make political
appeals to Jewish voters expressly grounded in the premise that American
Jews are guided by allegiance to Israel
(vote Republican
because it's better for Israel
), yet then scream "anti-Semite" at
anyone who points this out. When faced with this glaring contradiction,
their typical response -- as illustratively
voiced
by Commentary's Jennifer Rubin, after she
argued in a 2008 Jerusalem Post column
that American Jews
should vote against Obama because he'd be bad for Israel -- is to deny
that "that the interests of the U.S. and Israel are antithetical" and
insist that "support for Israel in no way requires sacrificing one's
concerns for America's interests." In other words: to advocate for
Israel is to advocate for the U.S. because they're interests are
indistinguishable
.

Yet here we have a major split between the U.S. and Israel, with
key American military and political leaders explaining that the opposite
is true: that Israeli actions are directly harming U.S. interests and
jeopardizing American lives. And what is the reflexive, unambiguous
response of virtually every American Israel-centric neocon? To side
with Israel over the U.S. AIPAC,
the
ADL
, Elliott
Abrams
, AIPAC-loyal
Democrats in the House
, Marty
Peretz
, Commentary,
etc. etc.
all quickly castigated the U.S. Government and defended
Israel, notwithstanding the dangers to Americans posed by Israeli
conduct and the massive price paid by the U.S. in so many ways for this
relationship (by contrast, J Street called the administration's anger
towards Israel both "understandable and appropriate"). There's nothing
wrong with taking Israel's side per se -- one is and should be
free to criticize one's own government in its foreign policy -- but
incidents like this make it increasingly futile to try to suppress what
is glaringly visible: that (as is true for numerous groups in the U.S.)
a significant segment of the neoconservative Right (which includes some
evangelical Christians and some American Jews) are guided in their
political advocacy by their emotional, religious, and cultural
attachment to another country, and want U.S. policy shaped in order to
advance that devotion.

On a related note: there has been a long-standing effort to equate
those who make this observation with anti-Israeli hatred or even
anti-Semitism. Two widely-cited reports did exactly that with regard to
me recently: this pseudo-scholarly
report from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
and this post
on the blog
of the American Jewish Committee
, both of which hurl all sorts of
ugly though trite accusations at me for daring to suggest that some
American Jews are guided in their political advocacy by allegiance to
Israel. I'll just note that the author of both "reports" is someone
named Adam Levick, who -- with extreme, unintended irony -- lists this
as his biography
on his Twitter account
:

I'm an American who just made Aliyah (moved to Israel), and love
America and my new country.

If you're going to try to render unspeakable the observation that
some American neocons are devoted to Israel, it's probably best to have
the crusade led by someone with a different biography. As I've said
many times, there's nothing wrong per se with harboring
cultural affections for other countries -- many individuals in
the culturally diverse U.S. do -- but stridently denying what is so
obviously true, and smearing those who point it out, does more than
anything else to make something innocuous seem nefarious.

Finally, the reason Israel engages in this conduct is because it
believes (with good reason) that U.S. officials will never (and
cannot) take any real action against it, and the Obama administration --
as reflected by the excellent
questions posed yesterday to David Axelrod by ABC News' Jake
Tapper
-- at this point still seems far from ready to do so. Still,
there's no denying that the very public condemnation of Israel by the
Obama administration is unprecedented at least over the last two
decades, will produce benefits on its own (including sentiments like this
and this
being increasingly expressed even among those Obama supporters who
don't typically speak out about this issue), and will subject Obama
officials to serious political pressure and attacks, from which they
ought to be defended. It's true that none of this will ultimately
matter unless the administration is willing to back this up with
meaningful action -- i.e., serious threats to change policy --
but this last week was an important and substantial first step toward
that vital goal.

Many of the issues I write most about here -- from civil liberties
erosions and radical, lawless National Security State policies to the
wars that justify them -- have their roots in our involvement in
the Middle East, and our self-destructive, blind support for Israel
actions is a major (though not the only or even primary) factor in all
of that. It's impossible to care about the former without wanting to do
something substantial about the latter.