The Israel Lobby, Netanyahu and Their Shaky Alliances

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu before the U.S. Congress last month Photo by Jonathan Ernst for Reuters

I’m going to draw a parallel, here, between ISIL and the Israel lobby in America, so please go ahead and get it out of the way: call me a simple-minded, anti-semitic, bigoted, godless communist.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu
before the U.S. Congress last month
Photo by Jonathan Ernst for Reuters

Done? Good. Now let’s discuss why such a person as I, a high school graduate, would dare say such a thing. It’s because ISIL, very quickly, and the Israel lobby, at long last, have overestimated their power and stepped into territory that will weaken them politically. ISIL has done it by beheading and burning people, which will turn most Middle Easterners against it, joining official Jordan. The Israel lobby has done it by encouraging (if not inciting) House Speaker John Boehner’s outrageously unilateral invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the lower chamber, and then threatening the political life of any member, of any party, who failed to show up for the event.

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The parallel ends here. It, is, however perfectly legitimate, so far as it goes. It’s an old story. Lyndon Johnson thought his hold on the country, and the Democratic Party’s hegemony, were permanent. He went for guns plus butter and made his presidency untenable.

In Great Britain, Winston Churchill thought the same thing after World War II and was cast aside, along with his party. Success breeds confidence and, sometimes, overconfidence.

Here in Pennsylvania, former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, savagely slashed funds for public education, as he had promised to do. He was replaced by a Democrat in the 2014 election, a very big year for Republicans elsewhere.

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Indiana Governor Mike Pence

And in Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence and his Republican allies in the legislature had their heads handed to them by the business community after passing the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would have expanded the ability to discriminate, especially against the gay community, to any company, closely held or not. The controversy was the latest exposure of the rift in the Republican coalition, between the economic royalists who own the party and the social-issue bigots who vote for the royalist candidates.

Netanyahu and Israel have a price to pay for they way he won re-election: renouncing his commitment to a two-state solution to the endless conflict with the Palestinians, from whom Israel took Israel. In the United States, the price could be very high, indeed. By treating Democrats as they have, Israel and its supporters have very nearly made Israel a partisan issue. Here’s the problem with that:

Up to now, the Israel lobby has enjoyed a bipartisan fealty among members of both houses of Congress rivaled only by insurance companies, Wall Street and the “defense” industry. If it runs off Democrats by demanding they support even Israel’s most outrageous behaviors – including the almost unprecedented speech to Congress – then it is left with Republican support.  Republicans are in charge of Congress now, but the day will come when they aren’t. That worm always turns.

Republican support for Israel, moreover, is largely a matter of a fundamentalist Christian faith that appears to be rock solid, but in fact is shaky. It’s shaky because the fundamentalists may say they love Israel, but there’s no evidence that they like Jews very much; quite the contrary. Moreover, while the Christian fundamentalist wing of the Republican Party pays a great deal of lip service to Israel, it turns out to be mostly just that: lip service. The issues that really move these people are the social questions, like guns and gays, on which their party leaders talk but seldom moves

So it’s a dangerous game Netanyahu and his radical lobby are playing in Congress. A fool’s game.