The policies of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister are starting to bear an eerie resemblance to climate change: The critics all look like a bunch of whining scaremongers prophesying an implausibly apocalyptic ruination that’s sure to come in some fuzzily distant end-time. Even if it’s true, it’s too far away to worry about. That is, until one day the oceans overflow, and here we are.
Not that the arrival of payday alters anyone’s behavior.
In the case of Israel, the past week brought three headline events that look like important turning points in Israel’s growing international isolation. Two were genuine canaries in the coal mine, signals that we’re entering a new and sharply more perilous period for the Jewish state. The third was a farcical episode that doesn’t signal much of anything, except as an anecdotal mile-marker of how far we’ve slid down the slippery slope.
So which one made us sit up and take notice? Why, the third one, of course. The farce.
That would be ChickenshitGate, the international furor over an unnamed U.S. government official’s description of Benjamin Netanyahu as a bit of poultry-poop. It erupted Tuesday night, when the quote appeared online in an essay by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, “The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here.” Goldberg followed the “chickenshit” quote with a list he’s kept of other insults Washington officialdom has directed at Netanyahu in recent years (“recalcitrant,” “myopic,” reactionary,” “obtuse,” “blustering,” “pompous,” “Aspergery”) before proceeding to explain how and why relations between the two allies have gotten worse than ever.
When you think about it, “chickenshit” wasn’t really the worst insult on the list. Most of the others describe worse qualities than timidity. What caused the uproar over this latest entry was the locker room language. Apparently Israel’s leading defenders were, to quote from “Casablanca,” “shocked! — shocked!” — to find that Washington bureaucrats use dirty words when the microphones are off.
The shock was strangely lacking in self-awareness, given the fact that Israeli cabinet ministers had been directing an open stream of personal invective at Secretary of State John Kerry since January. It began with Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon calling Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic.” Yaalon got paid back in October with humiliating rejections of his requests for meetings during a Washington visit with Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Susan Rice. And yet he still managed to find time while he was in Washington for one more insult, telling the Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth in an interview that the Obama administration’s Middle East policies were based on “ignorance” and “naivete.”
Well, here it is, Saturday night. Some time around 8:30 I observe that Shabbes is over, so I crank up the old laptop to see what’s new and catch up with my Forward fan mail. My latest column on Palestinian statehood had some pretty lively back-and-forth going on as of Friday evening, and I’m eager to see what new pearls of Torah have been shared while I was off-line.
One comment sort of took my breath away, I must admit. A faithful reader named Howard informs me that I am “an enemy of G-d, Torah and Judaism.” This comes as a shock. I take the Good Book pretty seriously, as those who know me are aware, and I go to considerable lengths to stay on the right side of the Big Guy. It would be a drag to discover that all my efforts were so unappreciated.
But then I look again, and I see that Howard’s comment was posted 22 hours ago, or about 10 or 10:30 Eastern Time. Unless Howard lives in Hawaii, he’s been posting on Shabbes. So now I’m wondering, what Torah is he such big friends with that I’m not?
The truth is, I sort of know the answer. It’s no big secret that much of today’s Judaism consists not of Judaism per se but of political support for Israel. But not merely support for Israel. It’s the right kind of support for Israel. It’s commonly described as support for the government of Israel and its policies, but that’s not it either. The same mentality that attacks you if you criticize the policies of the Netanyahu government just as vehemently attacked you if you supported the policies of the Olmert government.
The bottom line is, you are judged not by how much you love Israel but by how much you hate its enemies. If you can see common cause or shared interests between Israel and the Arabs, you are a traitor.
Jeffrey Goldberg blogged the other day about Richard Goldstone, speculating on what made the judge recant. Among other things, Jeffrey asks, rhetorically, whether Goldstone was “really naive enough to believe that people in ‘his community’ wouldn’t be upset with him” for the accusations in the Goldstone report. To shed some light on this, take another look at Howard’s comment to me. There’s upset, and then there’s loony-upset. We all expect robust debate, even sliming, but as a wiser man than I once said, Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
Now that we’ve all had a couple of days to enjoy the prospect of a sunny 2011, it’s time to get back to the worrying. In that spirit, here’s a thought to start us off: Some of Israel’s staunchest supporters in the American media are beginning to wonder openly how much longer they’ll be able to support the Jewish state.
Shmuel Rosner, the Jerusalem Post blogger and former Haaretz Washington correspondent, offered some startling names, referring readers for more details to a thought-provoking rundown of critics and defenders posted on TheAtlanticWire.com by Max Fisher (no, not that Max Fisher). Included on Fisher’s list were some eye-catching names. One was Jeffrey Goldberg, whose December 27 post on TheAtlantic.com was titled “What If Israel Ceases To Be a Democracy?” Another was Thomas Friedman, whose December 12 New York Times column, “Reality Check,” included the warning to Israelis and Palestinians alike that America needs to “stop being their crack dealers.”
The big fish, though, was New Yorker editor David Remnick, who complained in an interview published in Hebrew in the Yediot Ahronot Friday supplement of December 24 (the juicy portion was translated back into English by Didi Remez at Coteret.com) that he and others like him look at the unending occupation and “can’t take anymore.”
A news analysis by Yaakov Katz in today’s Jerusalem Post makes the very sensible point that the Wikileaks super-dump evidently vindicates Israel’s arguments that the Iranian nuclear project is everybody’s problem, not just Israel’s.
Progressives and isolationists have been claiming more or less since the Iraq invasion in 2003 that the constant brouhaha over an Iranian threat is just Israel and its neocon friends trying to reprise the Iraq mess by pushing for an attack on Iran that would help nobody but Israel, while leaving the rest of the world in an unwanted mess. The Wikileaks documents indicate that Israel’s fear of Iran is widely shared and that whatever the consequences of a possible military strike, it has wider support than you might think.
For years now, top Israeli political and defense leaders have warned the world that a nuclear Iran is not just a threat to the Jewish state but is a threat to the entire region.
“If only we could say publicly what we hear behind closed doors,” Israeli officials would comment, following off-record talks they held with Arab leaders throughout the Middle East.
Well, now they can. According to one cable published by WikiLeaks on Sunday, Saudi King Abdullah “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program” and to cut off the head of the snake.
According to another cable, King Hamad of Bahrain, a country with a majority Shi’ite population, urged in a meeting with former CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus that action be taken to terminate Iran’s nuclear program. …
Jordan is also cited at some length as eager to see the Iranian nukes stopped. Katz continues:
The Atlantic has posted a compelling article by Jeffrey Goldberg, who for the record is not me, on the prospects of an Israeli military strike against Iran. It’s based on extensive on- and off-the-record interviews with Israeli political and military leaders, Obama administration officials and Arab diplomats. He puts the likelihood of an Israeli strike within the next year at higher than 50%.
He does a good job of laying out the thinking behind Israel’s fears, as well as showing the ambivalence in Washington, the arguments for giving sanctions a chance and the defensiveness of the Obama team in the face of skepticism about its resolve. He also paints a fascinating picture of Bibi Netanyahu’s relationship with his 100-year-old father, suggesting a deep need for respect from the old man (although, given the stakes for the world in this very human psychodrama, a bit more exploration would have been helpful).
A great deal of attention is devoted to Bibi’s and other Israelis’ sense of obligation to Jewish history and the lessons of the Holocaust — meaning, when somebody threatens Jews with annihilation and has the means to do it, take it seriously. He also makes a convincing case that leaders of Arab states in the region fear Iran almost as much as Israel if not more, though it would have been nice to hear more about why they’re afraid — what a nuclear Iran would mean for Arab society. It would helpful, too, to explore how they can be, on the one hand, sufficiently alarmed to favor a military strike with its possibly terrible consequences, and on the other hand blasé enough to contemplate fleeing into the Iranian camp if somebody else doesn’t come to save them. Maybe it’s simply a weakness of character on their part, but I wonder if there isn’t something else going on that we’re not hearing. On this score, Goldberg (the other guy, not me) raises as many questions as he answers and makes me hungry to know more.
In a posting about the piece on his blog, Goldberg writes that he will be blogging soon about his “own personal opinion” on hitting Iran, which “involves deep, paralyzing ambivalence.” It’s too bad he didn’t put that ambivalence into the piece, which basically lays out the case for an attack with only cursory attention to the case against.
You can hear the counterarguments at length if you talk to just about any senior European diplomat. Or, for that matter, to a serious Israeli military figure who isn’t in favor of the military answer. Yes, there are some, as Goldberg notes in passing. They reportedly include the enormously respected military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, which helps partly explain Ashkenazi’s ugly tensions with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, including the fact that Barak has been unceremoniously and insultingly pushing him under the bus as his term of office prematurely winds down.