It is decidedly uncommon to watch a nation self-destruct by making series of bad decisions, each one worse than the one that preceded, eventually leading to a complete loss in both credibility and respectability. One might argue that the United States has been proceeding down such a path since 9/11, boxing itself into a corner where it has become a state with a single mission externally, perhaps best summed up as imposing an American model of pseudo-democracy worldwide without regard for local preferences. The strains of continuous warfare and conflict overseas have resulted in a domestic governance that mimics the foreign and defense policies, with great reliance on executive authority, coercion and overriding of constitutional principles.
The self-destructive impulse since 9/11 has brought ruin and instability to the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa in the mistaken belief, apologies to both George Orwell and Tacitus, that “war is peace.” Rather than retrenching to correct course and mitigate the vast costs of empire, the United States is currently embarking on a new wave of engagement on a number of fronts, upping its involvement in Afghanistan and in the Iraq-Syria theater of operations while increasing military presence in Africa and Asia. No one is immune from being admonished by the US government, most recently NATO member Hungary while pivots and White House enforced doctrines have combined to unnecessarily turn competitors into enemies. Russia and China now have more in common in their opposition to unrelenting American pressure than they ever had under communism.
As the United States is a vast country with a diverse economy and a large population decline and fall will inevitably be measured, but without adjustments in the way that American politicians view and interact with the rest of the world it will proceed unabated. Not so necessarily for Washington’s most preferred client state Israel, which is in free fall as it moves towards national elections on March 17th. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will likely shape his campaign around fear mongering over national security, casting himself as the protector of Jews against homicidal Muslims.
While Netanyahu-fatigue could mean that his Likud Party might suffer losses, probable gains by his even more hardline coalition partners likely will move the new government even farther to the right. The latest crisis began when Netanyahu fired two of his own moderate centrist coalition cabinet ministers Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid for openly speaking out against the government supported nationality law which would make Israel a Jewish State both practically and legally.
Inevitably, not much of the mainstream American media has taken note of what a bizarre place Israel has become, a nightmare vision of mob rule democracy. The country’s president Reuven Rivlin has recently called his nation a “sick society.” Four American journalists who have been paying attention to what has been happening are David Rosenberg a business editor for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Peter Beinart author of “The Crisis of Zionism,” Max Blumenthal author of “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” and Phil Weiss of the Mondoweiss website. All four are themselves Jewish, demonstrating how the diaspora has grown increasingly disenchanted with developments in Israel. Rosenberg has, in fact, written on that very subject, describing the side of Israel that is “paranoid, angry and uncompromising,” while Phil Weiss has explored the dilemma for progressive American Jews when confronted by the reality of today’s Israel.
As Weiss describes it Israel is “going crazy.” There has been a virtual avalanche of bad news, including reports of a book burning at one of Israel’s few bilingual schools. Non-Jews are already systematically de facto discriminated against in Israel but the new nationality law defining Israel as “belonging to Jews around the world” will codify the second class status of Christians and Muslims, making Israel a faux-democracy at best. Avigdor Lieberman, the former Moldovan bouncer who has been serving as Foreign Minister, has proposed paying Israel’s Arab citizens to leave the country permanently while Netanyahu is promoting the idea that the Palestinian flag is an enemy banner, making those who display it subject to legal penalties. Another proposal by Netanyahu would permit the deportation of Arab citizens of Israel to Gaza for committing unspecified crimes.
Israel is also getting a lot of bad press for other reasons. It is refusing to cooperate with a United Nations investigation into war crimes in Gaza. The UN has also passed by a large margin a resolution calling on Israel to open up its nuclear facilities to international inspection. There have also been reports of a new Israeli spying operation at CalTech’s Jet Propulsion Lab seeking to steal US high technology that the university and Justice Department were characteristically reluctant to investigate, leading to punishment of the whistleblower rather than the Israeli scientist involved.
In addition, former Mossad officer Rafi Eitan has blown the lid off of the plausible denial exercised by Israeli politicians over the Jonathan Pollard spy case. Pollard, who was twentieth century America’s most damaging spy, is up for parole next year. In spite of agreements to do so, Israel has never returned the roomful of highly sensitive documents that Pollard stole and has maintained public ambivalence about him while also granting him Israeli citizenship and naming a Jerusalem city square after him. Many Israelis regard him as a hero and requests for a pardon have been a regular feature of meetings between Israeli prime ministers and American presidents. Eitan has now revealed that the Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin knew all about Pollard and approved of his recruitment, meaning that far from a “rogue” operation it was a deliberate plan to steal US defense secrets.
Meanwhile as the preferred narrative erodes the defenders of Israel become ever more shrill. Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz is now arguing that Israel “has to” preemptively attack nuclear Iran if no deal can be reached prohibiting the development of nuclear weapons. For Dershowitz, Iran is a “culture of death” so Israel must attack if “Iran…is on the threshold of making a nuclear bomb.” As Iran is already technically at that point, the Dershowitz message is clear, though he avoids articulating it fully. Because Israel cannot succeed alone it is Washington that should be doing the attacking. To bolster his case, he fantasizes that Iran will develop suitcase nuclear bombs that will then be given to Hezbollah for use against the United States. He also cites Neville Chamberlain because, of course, it is always 1938, Hitler is threatening and the Holocaust is about to begin.
Some might argue reasonably enough that what happens in Israel stays in Israel, but it would be naïve to believe that. Israel has both the ability and the inclination to drag the United States into its disputes and that is precisely the problem. That Israel and the United States are indissolubly linked is deep in the DNA of all aspirants to high office in Washington and it is equally taken as a given by Israeli leaders. President Barack Obama, surely no admirer of Netanyahu and his policies, constantly asserts how the US nevertheless “has Israel’s back” while the incoming Secretary of Defense Carter Ashton visited Israel last year and enthused “Protecting America means protecting Israel…,” surely an interesting assertion for the defense secretary of one sovereign nation to be making regarding another.
That senior US government officials feel compelled to sing the praises of Israel without any shame or embarrassment is precisely what is wrong because they know perfectly well that disaster awaits if the leaders in Tel Aviv do not come to their senses and seriously address their nation’s rogue status. President Barack Obama has more than once suggested as much while characteristically packaging the issue with vows of eternal and immutable support. Given the realities of domestic politics, it is perhaps too much to expect that any US Administration should put pressure on Tel Aviv to force it to perform a serious assessment of its priorities and pull back from the brink. That is unfortunate but Washington has long since abdicated any serious role in either reining Israel in or encouraging a political settlement that would benefit every state in the region. The reality is that fear and loathing will likely dominate the upcoming Israeli elections, just as they did in the United States post 9/11, leading to a loss in liberties for everyone involved and the further strengthening of an authoritarian and reactionary government. It will not be a good outcome for anyone.