Within the Democratic Party a progressive guilt trip about how the Israelis have treated the Palestinians has been growing. One recalls how at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte a voice vote on including the usual party platform plank affirming that an undivided Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel received many more “nays” than “ayes” three times in a row but was nevertheless passed anyway on an incomprehensible call by the presiding chair Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles. The audience of loyal Democrats booed when the “result” was announced.
Since that time, Israel’s government has astonishingly moved even farther to the right and, lest there be any confusion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that he is not interested in permitting the creation of a Palestinian state. He is, however, anticipating a promised call from President Hillary Clinton in January 2017 to arrange his visit to the White House as a first step in moving the U.S.-Israel relationship to a “whole new level.”
The recent firing of Israel’s respected Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon by Netanyahu and the naming of the astonishingly unqualified Avigdor Lieberman as his replacement has motivated a number of Israeli generals and senior politicians to condemn the direction the country is moving in, citing the surfacing of fascist tendencies in the latest political developments. Yaalon spoke of a “rising tide of extremism” while former Prime Minister Ehud Barack warned that the country has been “infected by the seeds of fascism.” A group of more than 200 ex-miitary officers has demanded serious peace talks to create a Palestinian state.
More credit to them, the critics are actually using the politically radioactive word “fascist,” which most U.S. mainstream media would be unwilling to touch with a barge pole when describing Israel. In fact, the American media has largely ignored the entire political drama playing out in Tel Aviv, avoiding any heavy handed criticism while self- censoring some of the more lurid details regarding the life and career of Mr. Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer from the one-time Soviet Republic of Moldova.
Lieberman is famously witty, having in the past colorfully expressed his disdain for Palestinians and Arabs in general. He has called for Israeli-Arabs who are disloyal to have their heads chopped off with an ax, has proposed paying Arab citizens to emigrate and has suggested requiring a loyalty oath from Arabs before allowing them to vote. Lieberman has described Arab members of the Israeli Knesset as “terror collaborators” and has called for their execution. He has advocated bombing the Aswan Dam to create a massive flood that would potentially kill hundreds of thousands if Egypt were to step out of line. While Transport Minister he offered to provide busses to take 350 Palestinian prisoners to the Dead Sea to drown them “because that is the lowest point in the world.”
Avigdor Lieberman has also suggested that nuclear weapons might be used against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Now that he is Defense Minister one might reasonably want to know if his finger is on the nuclear trigger. He will also have control of security arrangements on the occupied West Bank and recently indicated his strong approval of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who was videoed while he shot dead a wounded and incapable Palestinian. Some suspect that Lieberman will give the army more freedom to shoot to kill demonstrating Arabs.
Lieberman is also notoriously corrupt , having received payments from unknown overseas sources while in office. He has been convicted and fined for beating a 12 year old boy and has been linked to Meir Kahane’s openly racist Kach Party which has been banned both in Israel and internationally as a terrorist group.
It is to be presumed that U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter will be able to hold his nose while having warm and friendly exchanges with Avigdor Lieberman and Hillary Clinton will likewise find him completely unobjectionable out of respect for her good friend Bibi, but many Democrats are finding the whole Stand by Israel package hard to swallow. The New York Times is reporting that there is sure to be some pushback against Israel in the upcoming meetings of the Democratic Party Platform-Drafting Committee, which Times journalists Jason Horowitz and Maggie Haberman oddly describe as a threat to “Democratic Party unity.” The threat comes from three of the five Bernie Sanders appointees on the Committee, journalist James Zogby, Congressman Keith Ellison and activist Dr. Cornel West, all of whom have denounced Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and have made the point that the Democratic Party’s base has moved away from the party leadership’s staunch support of the Israeli government no matter how it behaves.
To be sure, the rebuke to Israel, if it passes, will be incredibly mild, merely observing that there is international disapproval of the settlements and occupation, but it will be hotly opposed by the six Hillary Clinton appointees on the Committee, to include Wendy Sherman and Neera Tanden. Hillary Clinton has herself affirmed that there should be no change in the party position regarding Israel. As there are also four members appointed by Hillary’s lapdog Party Chairman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the odds are not good for any actual shift in the platform, but if Zogby, Ellison and West push the issue they will be able to force something amounting to a public hearing on it and possibly even a floor vote. West in particular has been heavily engaged in arguing for Palestinian rights, accusing Netanyahu of carrying out war crimes and also denouncing the ability of the U.S. Israel Lobby to leverage its significant financial resources to influence policy.
The appointment of West, Zogby, and Ellison to the platform committee has visibly annoyed Israel’s friends. Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations finds the inclusion of West particularly “troubling” as it threatens the “principles of the Israeli-U.S. relationship that have been bipartisan for decades.” That translates as “never criticize Israel.”
To be sure there is something like a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party going on. Hillary Clinton is the chief proponent of the old school, thinking that you can’t go wrong by always citing your support for Israel with great enthusiasm and as often as possible. She without a doubt has benefited materially from that inclination even if the connections are sometimes shady. Her principal financial supporter Israeli-American Haim Saban, who once confessed to a Senate panel that he exploited fake investment losses to avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, recently used a controversial Panamanian law firm to set up offshore companies for tax avoidance. Saban has contributed $3.5 million to Hillary’s current campaign as well as $15 million to the Clinton Family Foundation. Saban describes himself as a “one issue man” and “that issue is Israel.”
Other Democrats, almost certainly a majority, have been inspired by Bernie Sanders and are keen to move away from the Clinton brand of insider political corruption and cozy relationships that are not justified by any actual American interests. If change is coming, debating the Israel relationship might well serve as a catalyst. And beyond that, if the election comes down to Trump vs, Clinton the issue of insider against outsider will almost certainly be exploited as will claims about corruption. It will be interesting to see how it plays out both between the candidates and with the public but it might also to an extent determine the future direction of the Democratic Party.