Choosing Hagel Sends An Important
US interests are being damaged by Israel's current shift to the extreme Right, so why not nominate Chuck Hagel?
By MJ Rosenberg
January 05, 2013 "Al Jazeera" -- Thus far, President Barack Obama is sitting out the January 22 Israeli elections. There is no indication about who he hopes to see as the next Israeli prime minister. His noninterference, even disinterest, is not surprising except when contrasted with Prime Minister Netanyahu's open preference for the Republicans in the US election two months ago. One might have thought that a little payback would be in order.
One reason for Obama's apparent indifference may be that there is almost no possibility that Netanyahu will not be the next prime minister. The only question is whether Netanyahu's next government will be as far right (and pro-settlement expansion) as his current government or much farther to the right.
To put the
Israeli election in US terms, it is as if the choice
two months ago was between the right-wing Republican
Party and the ultra-right-wing Tea Party with the
Democrats merely hoping to win enough support to
compose a credible opposition or to get a cabinet
But that is the case in Israel where Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Likud-Beytenu coalition is being challenged by a new party to its right, the Jewish Home party. The Jewish Home party is led by 40-year-old Naftali Bennett who is running on an openly annexationist platform, in contrast to Netanyahu and Lieberman who, although also expansionist, occasionally pay lip service to the idea of reaching a two-state agreement with the Palestinians.
Less attention to the Israeli election
Bennett favours the immediate annexation of 60 percent of the West Bank immediately which would make the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible. His 60 percent plan is rejected by other leading figures in his party - even more radical - who favour a 100 percent annexation just to make sure.
Inside Story US 2012
Needless to say, the new party is dominated by ultra-nationalist settlers and religious fanatics who, in addition to supporting land grabs, vehemently oppose equal rights for gays, women, Arabs and non-Jews in general. Nonetheless, Jewish Home is the first choice of Israelis under 30, who are abandoning the old right-wing parties for the extreme right.
Perhaps the craziest thing is that the new ultra-right party is rising as the Netanyahu/Lieberman party has shifted rightward, too. Gone are the more pragmatic Likud types like Benny Begin and Dan Meridor. In their place are the likes of Moshe Feiglin who told the Atlantic's Jeff Goldberg:
"Why should non-Jews have a say in the policy of a Jewish state?" Feiglin said to me. "For two thousand years, Jews dreamed of a Jewish state, not a democratic state. Democracy should serve the values of the state, not destroy them." In any case, Feiglin said, "You can't teach a monkey to speak and you can't teach an Arab to be democratic. You're dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers... The Arab destroys everything he touches."
alone either. Take
a look at this list of rightist extremists who
top the Netanyahu-Lieberman list, yet who are seen
as too moderate for voters drawn to the up and
coming new party.
The interesting thing is that few Americans are paying any attention to the Israeli election, a sign that even the pro-Israel community is losing interest in and hope for Israel. A country that once was a source of joy for so many Americans is now a source of pain; the prevailing attitude seems to be to just look away and hope that things will improve by the next time they pay attention.
But then it doesn't really matter what most Americans think or don't think about what is happening in Israel. Except for one.
of the United States matters very much. Every
Israeli is aware that without the support of
President Obama, Israel would be in desperate
straits. The United States provides Israel with
billions of dollars of aid a year, aid which is used
to purchase the weapon systems that sustains
Israel's "military edge" which enables it to both
maintain the occupation and defend itself.
That aid also provides Israel with the economic cushion it needs to preserve its immunity to the recession that has afflicted most of the world. It is the President of the United States who decides whether to stand (virtually alone) with Israel at the United Nations, using our veto to block any resolution that Israel opposes. It is the President who has adopted Israel's position on Iranian nuclear development as our own, leading the effort to punish Iran with sanctions and reiterating Israeli threats that there will be war if Iran develops nuclear weapons (despite the fact that Israel is said to have some 200 warheads).
Dependent on the US President
In short, Israel is almost entirely dependent on the President of the United States. As for Congress, it matters too but, on all foreign policy matters, it is the President who leads. That is how the United States Constitution works. It is the President who defends the national interest abroad.
"An Israeli government dominated by ultra-nationalists, racists and fascists impacts on our standing throughout the world."
And the fact
is that US interests are being damaged by Israel's
current course. Whether we like it or not, the
United States is viewed as linked at the hip with
Israel. An Israeli government dominated by
ultra-nationalists, racists and fascists impacts on
our standing throughout the world. After all, the
world (and not just the Muslim world) understands
that we are Israel's enabler.
That is why it is time for President Obama to send a clear message to Israel by nominating former Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defence. That is not because Hagel is anti-Israel. He isn't.
The reason to nominate Hagel, in addition to his qualifications for the post, is that the Israel lobby has decided to demonstrate its clout by preventing his nomination. Like the National Rifle Association, the lobby has an intense need to demonstrate that it's in charge. It does not like Hagel, so he will not get the post. Successfully blocking him will demonstrate that no matter how far Israel lurches toward the right, no matter how many settlements are built, no many how many Palestinians are thrown off their land or just abused, the United States will simply grin and bear it.
of course, issue a statement or deliver a speech
re-stating US policy on settlements, a Palestinian
state, and the need for peace. But the sad fact is
that no one believes that this administration will
ever back up its fine words on Israel and Palestine
with deeds, not after the past four years of giving
in to Netanyahu over and over again. There is only
one way to send a message to Israel that will be
heard: It will be by nominating Hagel. It is Israel
and the lobby that created the Hagel issue. Why not
use it to America's advantage? And Israel's too.
After all, it is Israel not the United States that
seems to be going over a cliff and, sadly, it is not
Mr President, nominate Hagel. And fight for his confirmation. As for the lobby, let it do what it wants. Out in the open, for a change.
MJ Rosenberg served as a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow with Media Matters Action Network and prior to that worked on Capitol Hill for various Democratic members of the House and Senate for 15 years. He was also a Clinton political appointee at USAID.
Follow him on Twitter: @MJayRosenberg