Sunday, Oct 17, 2021

Progressive Democrats Challenge U.S. Support for Israel

In the latest in a series of open attacks and deliberate slights intended to undermine US support for Israel, Senator Bernie Sanders, the leader of progressive Democrats in the Senate, demanded in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that the US provide $1 billion in reconstruction aid to the Palestinians in Gaza to rebuild areas destroyed during the war in May, which Hamas started by launching more than 4,300 rockets at civilians in Israel.

Sanders insisted that the US is morally obligated to match the $1 billion which Congress approved last month to replenish Israel’s depleted stocks of Iron Dome interceptor missiles. The missiles shot down more than 1,400 of the 1,500 rockets fired from Gaza that Iron Dome’s computerized radar system had predicted were likely to hit their targets in populated areas of Israel.

Sanders and other leading Democrat progressives, including New York City Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ignored the fact that as a highly effective and wholly defensive system, Iron Dome saved many lives that would have otherwise been lost during the Gaza fighting in May. By keeping Israeli casualties from the rocket attacks to a minimum, Iron Dome enabled the IDF to reduce the duration and intensity of its military response to the rockets. And by avoiding the need for a ground invasion of Gaza, Iron Dome saved many Palestinian as well as Israeli lives.

If the Democrat progressives had succeeded in preventing the US from funding the replenishment of Israel’s supply of Iron Dome rockets, they would have increased the civilian casualties in Israel and the destruction in Gaza due to the Israeli retaliation when Hamas inevitably starts its next round of attacks on Israel from Gaza.

ENABLING THE CYCLE OF GAZA VIOLENCE

In his letter citing the need for US reconstruction aid, Sanders cited the extent of the damage done in Gaza last May, including the destruction of more than 1,000 homes, the displacement of 72,000 people, and damage to its critical infrastructure facilities including water and sewer lines. But his demand ignored the fact that Hamas repeatedly triggered wars with Israel several times since it wrested control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, by launching sustained missile attacks on Israeli civilian targets. The attacks made necessary the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

Each time, after the fighting ended, the US and the international community supplied hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction and humanitarian aid, which Hamas then tried to divert for military purposes, and which enabled it to launch its next major rocket war aimed at killing large numbers of Israeli civilians. This strongly suggests that Sanders’ demand that the US again pay to rebuild the damage done to Gaza would only enable Hamas to launch yet another barrage of missiles on Israel when it felt the time was ripe.

THE VALUE OF IRON DOME

Fortunately, ever since the Iron Dome system became operational in 2011, it has, with Hashem’s help, been able to intercept 85-90% of the rockets fired from Gaza, drastically reducing the total amount of damage and casualties inflicted upon Israel. If Israel had not had the Iron Dome system, Hamas would have reduced some of Israel’s largest residential areas to rubble, and rendered unsafe the southern parts of the country within missile range of Gaza. This May, the further enhanced Iron Dome again proved itself to be successful in keeping residents of the cities of southern Israel relatively safe, despite Hamas efforts to overwhelm the system by firing barrages of rockets at Israeli targets simultaneously.

Iron Dome is Israel’s only effective line of defense capable of preventing Hamas from launching yet another large-scale missile assault from Gaza. One could make the legal argument that the House progressives turned themselves into willing accomplices to Hamas attempts to commit the international war crime of using indiscriminate rocket fire against a civilian population.

A large supply of Iron Dome interceptors would also be needed to enable Israel to survive another attack by Hezbollah using its huge stockpile of Iranian-supplied rockets in hidden storage depots throughout southern Lebanon. Those rockets devastated much of northern Israel as far south as Haifa during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

The long-term US investment and technical cooperation in the development and production of the Iron Dome system, which began in 2010, is now also making a significant direct contribution to the defense of the US homeland. In 2019, the US Army announced it was buying two complete Iron Dome missile batteries from its manufacturers, US defense contractor Raytheon and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries.

HOW IRON DOME BECAME A POLITICAL PAWN

Iron Dome’s wholly defensive nature and its impressive performance made it a difficult target for progressive enemies of Israel in Washington to attack when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi added the $1 billion interceptor missile replenishment item, at the last minute, to a continuing resolution that needed to be passed by Congress before the end of the 2021 fiscal year on September 30. During Israeli Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett’s visit to the White House in August, President Biden publicly announced that, “I fully, fully, fully support replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome system.”

Nevertheless, eight progressive Democrats, led by AOC and the members of her squad, plus one Republican congressman, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, threatened to defeat the continuing resolution, triggering a partial federal government shutdown, over their objections to the Iron Dome funding. Because Pelosi and the House Democrat leadership needed the progressive votes to overcome Republican opposition to a debt ceiling extension which had also been added onto the continuing resolution, the leadership was forced to remove the Iron Dome funding from the continuing resolution to get it passed before the deadline.

Alarmed by the unexpected success of the progressives in blocking the first attempt to get Congress to approve the additional Iron Dome funding, Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign minister, personally called Steny Hoyer, the number two leader of House Democrats behind Speaker Pelosi. Hoyer assured Lapid that the House would quickly vote on a separate measure for Iron Dome funding which would surely pass. In fact, a few days later, the $1 billion for Iron Dome rockets passed by the overwhelming margin of 420-9 thanks to near unanimous Republican support, but not before there several moments of drama on the House floor which illustrated the depth of opposition by the Democrat progressives to any further US support for Israel, no matter how worthy in its own right.

THE FALSE MORAL EQUIVALENCE ARGUMENT

During the debate preceding that vote, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the American-born daughter of Palestinian parents and a member of AOC’s progressive squad, rose to attack the Iron Dome funding. “We cannot be talking only about Israelis’ need for safety at a time when Palestinians are living under a violent apartheid system and are dying from what Human Rights Watch has said are war crimes,” Tlaib declared.

Tlaib has also been spreading the modern version of a classic anti-Semitic libel, claiming that rich and powerful Jews are behind the oppression of the world’s minorities. Last month, Tlaib told a meeting of the Democratic Socialists of America that certain people “behind the curtain. . . make money [by oppressing people] from Gaza to Detroit,” and left no doubt in the minds of her listeners that the “certain people” she was referring to are Jews.

Tlaib’s statement on the floor of the House triggered an angry response from Ted Deutch, a Jewish Democrat representing Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, which includes Fort Lauderdale, Deerfield Beach, and Boca Raton. Deutch said he could not allow “one of my colleagues to stand on the floor of the House of Representatives and label the Jewish democratic state of Israel an apartheid state. To falsely characterize the state of Israel is consistent with those who advocate for the dismantling of the one Jewish state in the world. When there is no place on the map for one Jewish state, that’s anti-Semitism, and I reject that.”

Other members of the House Democrat leadership, including Speaker Pelosi and Rosa DeLauro, the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, also spoke on the floor of the House before the vote in favor of the Iron Dome funding. They argued that the system is crucial to protecting the lives of Israeli civilians when they come under terrorist missile attacks. They also referred to the promise by President Barack Obama to continue US funding for Iron Dome as part of the 10-year, $38 billion memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreement the Obama administration signed in 2016 with Israel for US military funding.

“This bill demonstrates that Congress’ commitment to our friend and ally Israel is bipartisan and ironclad,” Congresswoman DeLauro said. “It fulfills our moral imperative to protect the lives of innocent civilians and helps build the foundations for peace.”

On the other side of the House aisle, Congressman Steve Scalise, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican, also recognized that the imminent vote would be a clear litmus test of Democrat support for Israel. “By blocking funding to resupply the Iron Dome,” he warned, “Democrats made the choice to abandon an opportunity to stand with Israel and its citizens,”

THE SQUAD’S ANTI-ISRAEL AGENDA

At that point, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, another original member of AOC’s squad, rose to argue against the Iron Dome funding, and that Congress should halt all additional funding for Israel until it addresses “the underlying issue of the occupation. This is not about one country. If human rights are truly to guide our foreign policy, we need to act like it everywhere. Otherwise, our words ring hollow,” Omar declared.

The members of AOC’s squad have been outspoken in their blanket condemnations of Israel and their support for the anti-Semitic BDS movement. They jointly introduced a resolution in Congress which declared their proposed boycott of Israel to be as morally righteous as the historic boycotts against Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Omar became particularly notorious after issuing her anti-Semitic tweet in 2019 claiming that congressional support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins [$100 bills].”

Omar also said that whenever she hears people call Israel a democracy, “I almost chuckle.” She has claimed that “Israel has hypnotized the world” and that she prays that her Muslim deity will “awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” She has compared Israel to the Taliban, and shared an anti-Semitic cartoon on social media that was drawn by the second-place winner of Iran’s Holocaust denial cartoon contest.

OMAR REWARDED FOR HER BIGOTED REMARKS

Yet, in 2019, when friends of Israel in Congress from both parties urged that Omar be publicly condemned for her anti-Semitic tweet, Democrat progressives in the House insisted that the original text of the censure resolution against her be watered down to the to the point that her offensive comments were never directly mentioned.

Earlier this year, House Speaker Pelosi made a show of stripping a Republic maverick in the House, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, of her committee assignments as punishment for her controversial public statements. But instead of punishing Omar for her outrageously anti-Semitic slurs by removing her from her committee assignments, Pelosi promoted her to become the vice chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s human rights subcommittee. Rather than being chastised for her blatant bigotry, Omar has been rewarded for it with a higher post in the House Democrat leadership.

Omar’s elevated committee assignment is also notable because she and the other members of AOC’s squad were instrumental in ousting the former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, who had, for many years, been one of Congress’ most outspoken supporters of Israel. Back in 2019, Omar accused all American politicians who support Israel of “push[ing] for allegiance to a foreign country.” Engel took personally Omar’s suggestion that as a supporter of Israel, his loyalty as an American was suspect, and condemned Omar for using “a vile anti-Semitic slur.”

TARGETING ISRAEL’S FRIENDS IN DC

But today, due to an effort led by AOC, Omar, and the other members of the squad, Jamaal Bowman, a progressive Democrat, now sits in Engel’s former House seat, representing the north Bronx and southern Westchester County. Not only did Bowman vote against the $1 billion House measure to replenish Iron Dome interceptors, but he declared in May that, “The Palestinians are an occupied people. Innocent people and children are suffering as America supports the [Israeli] occupation and denies Palestinians freedom.”

Bowman is one of 18 House Democrats cosponsoring a bill that would prohibit Israeli security forces from using US aid to detain Palestinian children on the West Bank, or for any Israeli move to unilaterally annex any part of the West Bank. Aipac has denounced the bill, which was originally introduced by Democrat Congresswoman Betty McCollum of Minnesota, as a “baseless libel against Israel.” The bill is also endorsed by the ultra-liberal J Street lobby and the IfNotNow group, which support the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the moribund two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

AOC played a key role in Bowman’s successful 2020 Democrat primary campaign which ousted Engel, replacing an influential, highly-placed congressional supporter of Israel with one of its enemies. According to many reports, AOC is now planning to do it again by mounting her own statewide Democrat primary challenge for the Senate seat of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is up for reelection in the 2022 midterm.

This might help to explain AOC’s curious behavior when the time came for her to cast her House vote for or against the stand-alone version of the $1 billion Iron Dome measure. When the voting began, AOC, as expected, joined with the other members of her squad and a handful of other progressives to vote “no” on the Iron Dome funding. But then AOC seemed to become upset, and after briefly huddling with her progressive allies, she tearfully announced that she was switching her vote to from “no” to “present.”

BEHIND AOC’S CROCODILE TEARS

Many suspect that AOC shed those crocodile tears to show her political distress at being caught in the middle between her knee-jerk progressive opposition to any measure in support of Israel, and New York’s Jewish Democrat donors who support US funding for Iron Dome, even while disagreeing with Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. The clumsy vote change failed to satisfy either group, and AOC’s belated rambling non-explanation changing her vote didn’t help her either.

In a lengthy statement released the next day, AOC explained she was still with her fellow Israel-hating progressives by opposing “the substance of” the Iron Dome funding bill and the rushed process for bringing it to a stand-alone House vote.

As to the motivation for her tears during the vote, AOC claimed: “I wept at the complete lack of care for the human beings that are impacted by these decisions; I wept at an institution choosing a path of maximum volatility and minimum consideration for its own political convenience.”

How odd this sounds coming from a brash young woman who has distinguished herself by her rapid and ruthless rise from utter obscurity four years ago to nationwide prominence today, and who now is well into the process of trying to force this country to accept her radical, socialist-inspired policies and priorities for the future.

If AOC does mount a primary challenge for Schumer’s seat, one can easily imagine him responding in campaign attack ads using footage of AOC’s tears of indecision about how to vote on the floor of the House, and drawing a sharp contrast to Schumer’s long congressional record of firm support for Israel. Even if AOC had voted “yes” in support of Iron Dome funding, it is hard to believe that any traditional pro-Israel New York Democrat would vote for her over Schumer in a primary, if only because of the strong anti-Semitic taint she has acquired from close association with her “squad” fellow travelers.

AOC has other items on her congressional record that will be difficult for her to explain to traditional pro-Israel New York Democrats, including an amendment she introduced in September to the National Defense Authorization Act to block the sale to Israel of kits that make ordinary bombs and artillery shells precision guided. While AOC and her progressive colleagues may have ultimately failed to block the Iron Dome funding, it is almost certain they will try not hesitate to try again the next time that Congress is asked to approve any form of additional US military support for Israel.

The only thing more politically embarrassing than AOC’s inadequately explained tears and change of vote was the rush of many Jewish Democrats to her side with increasingly dubious claims that their party’s traditional support for Israel’s legitimacy and security remains unshaken, The New York Times also embarrassed itself with its initial report claiming that AOC had changed her vote due to pressure from “powerful pro-Israel voices” which included “influential lobbyists and rabbis.” That was itself a blatantly anti-Semitic slur, which someone at the Times stealthily edited out of later versions of the story.

Anyone who still harbored any doubts that the mindless hatred for Israel displayed by progressive-socialist true-believers such as Senator Sanders and the followers of AOC is not an isolated phenomenon in today’s Democrat Party did not have to look very far to find confirmation.

KAMALA HARRIS’ KNEE-JERK TOLERANCE FOR PROGRESSIVE LIES

Vice President Kamala Harris, the only nationally prominent Democrat liked and respected even less than Joe Biden today, gave us a vivid example of her careless acceptance of vile anti-Semitic accusations against Israel in an appearance before a group of college students at George Mason University, a few days after the Iron Dome funding was approved.

During a question and answer period, one of the students, who described herself as part-Iranian and part-Yemeni, told Harris, “You brought up how the power of the people and demonstrations and organizing is very valuable in America. I see that over the summer, there have been protests and demonstrations and astronomical numbers [on behalf of] Palestine. But then just a few days ago there were [Iron Dome] funds allocated to continue backing Israel, which hurts my heart because it’s an ethnic genocide and a displacement of people — the same that happened in America and I’m sure you’re aware of this,” the student said, as a masked Vice President Harris quietly continued to nod her head in apparent agreement. “And I feel like there’s a lack of listening, and I just feel like I need to bring that up because it affects my life and people I really care about’s [sic] life…” the student continued.

When the student finished her question-statement with a parting shot at Congress for “sending taxpayers’ money overseas” while Americans were “struggling with healthcare,” Vice President Harris responded by immediately adopting the characteristic progressive attitude of moral relativism by refusing to take sides, even against exaggerated accusations against Israel that she knew, or should have known, were wrong. Harris told the student she was “glad” to hear what she had just said, and reaffirmed, without any qualification, the “truth” of the baseless accusation of “ethnic genocide” that the student had just lodged against Israel.

“This is about the fact that your voice, your perspective, your experience, your truth [emphasis added] cannot be suppressed, and it must be heard,” Harris insisted. “Our goal should be unity, but not uniformity,” the vice president continued. “And the point that you’re making about policies that relates to Middle East policy, foreign policy. We still have healthy debates in our country, about what is the right path. And nobody’s voice should be suppressed on that.”

Harris made no attempt to defend the Biden administration’s public support for the House measure which granted Israel $1 billion to replenish the supply of Iron Dome missiles. She also failed to push back against the student’s outrageous ethnic genocide claim, which is an updated version of the classic blood libel circulated by anti-Semites against Jews since the Middle Ages. Harris should have immediately challenged the false accusations by clearly stating the facts, instead of allowing the student’s lies about Israel to go unchallenged.

BIDEN’S 25TH AMENDMENT INSURANCE

Nobody was really surprised that Harris had once again embarrassed herself and the Biden administration. This was only the latest in a long series of messaging blunders and politically clueless missteps she has made during the nine months since she took office.

These have given Harris a reputation among fellow Democrats for political ineptitude as vice president unmatched since the days of Dan Quayle. Some say that Harris is the real reason why Democrats aren’t interested in using the 25th Amendment to remove Joe Biden from the White House on the grounds of incompetence, even if his dismal job approval ratings sink even further. They fear that Harris’ performance as a replacement president is likely to be even worse.

The timing of Harris’ latest gaffe, alienating friends of Israel, was particularly inconvenient for an administration already in deep trouble due to multiple domestic and foreign crises spinning out of control, including the awkward dispute between progressive and more traditional Democrats in the House over the Iron Dome funding.

The belated attempt by Harris’ staff to clean up the impression that the vice president was, at best, indifferent to, or at worst, in agreement, with the student’s scurrilous attacks on Israel did more harm than good.

A Harris spokeswoman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “Throughout her career, the vice president has been unwavering in her commitment to Israel and to Israel’s security. While visiting George Mason University to discuss voting rights, a student voiced a personal opinion during a political science class. The vice president strongly disagrees with the student’s characterization of Israel.”

WHAT HARRIS SHOULD HAVE SAID

The problem was that the statement failed to explain why Harris had said nothing in response to the student’s accusations at the time, or why she had waited so long before clarifying her own position in support of Israel. An immediate apology to Israel’s friends and a frank admission by Harris that she had made a mistake might have defused the problem, but by the time the statement appeared, it was too late for that.

The student had actually given Harris an opportunity to act like a leader by promptly standing up to speak the truth about Israel. Instead, her passive endorsement of the student’s right to tell those lies gave them validation and further undermined the vice president’s own credibility.

Few of Harris’ critics think that she is a really committed anti-Semite. She is, after all, married to a Jewish man. Instead, Harris appears to be another intellectually lazy Democrat politician who is unwilling to challenge the anti-Semitism, thinly disguised as anti-Zionism, which is now deeply embedded in progressive Democrat thinking.

The Palestinian national myth has become an integral part of the progressive ideological narrative, which is dominated by the alleged oppression by America, as well as Israel, against an ever-expanding list of aggrieved racial, ethnic, and identity groups. Woke progressive activists consider both Israel and America to be proven guilty, without the benefit of a trial, of the same unpardonable crimes: imperialism, settler-colonialism, white racism, and genocide, and are unwilling to consider the ample evidence that contradicts those now largely false accusations.

HARRIS PARALLELS TO JEREMY CORBIN AND HILLARY CLINTON

Harris’ insensitivity to blatant lies about Israel anti-Semitism is reminiscent of the casual anti-Semitism of disgraced former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was ultimately rejected because of it by UK voters.

Harris’ failure to respond to the anti-Semitic comments at George Mason University also closely parallels the failure by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, during a 1999 goodwill visit to Ramallah, to respond to accusations by Suha Arafat, Yasser Arafat’s wife, that Israel was deliberately poisoning Palestinian women and children.

Mrs. Clinton was also photographed hugging and kissing Mrs. Arafat after she made those accusations, which eventually caused problems with Jewish voters for Mrs. Clinton’s 2000 campaign in New York State to replace retiring US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Mrs. Clinton would later claim she had not closely followed the simultaneous English translation of Mrs. Arafat’s Arabic language remarks to her audience, which is why she failed to raise any objections to them at the time.

Unfortunately for Vice President Harris, she can’t use the same excuse for failing to push back against the accusations by the student at George Mason University, who was speaking in plain English. To make the incident even more politically embarrassing, the Iranian government is now distributing a video clip of her conversation with the college student as part of its anti-Israel propaganda campaign.

PRO-DEMOCRAT JEWISH LEADERS EMBARRASS THEMSELVES

The leaders of several pro-Israel and Democrat-affiliated Jewish communal organizations who responded to calls for help from Harris’ office with public endorsements of its claim that the vice president has always been a loyal supporter of Israel only embarrassed themselves rather than convincing anyone.

Halie Soifer, the CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, tweeted, “Just spoke with @VP office. Glad to hear her confirm she is proud of her record supporting #Israel, and knows claim it is committing ‘ethnic genocide’ is patently false.” Spoiler alert: Soifer used to work as a national security advisor to Harris while she was a senator from California.

Jonathan Greenblatt, who worked as a special assistant to then-President Obama for two years before being named the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League in 2014, tweeted, “Just spoke with @VP office. Glad to hear her confirm she is proud of her record supporting #Israel, and knows claim it is committing ‘ethnic genocide’ is patently false. Looking fwd to a clearing of the record so there’s no ambiguity that what that student said was hateful/wrong. . .

“Making accusations of Israel committing genocide — an incendiary claim that is patently and demonstrably untrue — needs to be called out because it’s that demonization that has led to [anti-Semitic] violence as we saw in the United States earlier this year,” Greenblatt added.

Mark Mellman, president of the Democratic Majority for Israel and a former pollster and advisor for Democrat candidates, said, “We were pleased Vice President Harris’s senior staff reached out to us today to confirm what we already knew: Her ‘commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering,’ and she ‘strongly disagrees with the George Mason student’s characterization of Israel.’ The Biden-Harris Administration, as well as President Biden and Vice President Harris personally, have exemplary pro-Israel records, for which we are immensely grateful.”

The only hint of criticism of Harris came from William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “There’s a recognition,” he told CNN, “that the impression left by her failure to correct the student is problematic and does not reflect her commitment to a strong US-Israel relationship, nor that of the president and the administration.”

PRIME MINISTER BENNETT’S LESSON LEARNED

Meanwhile, Israeli reporters accompanying Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett during his visit to New York City on Chol Hamoed Sukkos were told that the lesson he learned from the attempt by progressives to block funding for the Iron Dome missiles was the need to further strengthen the Israel’s economy “so that we are never dependent” on American support to defend Israel.

During a meeting between American Jewish communal leaders with Bennett, along with Israeli Ambassador to the US and UN Gilad Erdan, the diplomat blasted the behavior of the progressive squad for endangering the lives of countless Israeli civilians. “Iron Dome saves Israeli and Palestinian lives. If Israel didn’t have Iron Dome [in May]… we may have had to respond with a ground operation, which may have ended with many more lives lost.

“It’s one thing to criticize Israel — that is legitimate,” Erdan added, but, “it is a completely different thing to oppose protection for Israel from thousands of rockets fired by a terrorist organization: That verges on anti-Semitism.”

In a speech to the leaders of Jewish Federation across North America, Bennett emphasized that Israel’s contribution to American security goes far beyond the capabilities of the Iron Dome system. “It’s like [President] Biden says again and again: If there weren’t an Israel, we would have to invent one. That’s right on,” Bennett said. “We [Israel] are nine million boots on the ground fighting day in day out, making contact with those terrorists and gaining intelligence. We’re fighting [terrorists] without asking Americans to send even one [soldier], and we never will.

“We are not the problem: We are the solution, in the middle of the toughest region in the world. We’re not going anywhere; we’re here to stay. That’s why it’s not only about Iron Dome. The very essence of us here means the terror is at bay,” the prime minister concluded.

But the reporters traveling with Bennett were also told that he believes that Israel must now follow a much more bipartisan approach with members of Congress, “to strengthen ties with Republicans, where they are already strong, but also with Democrats. In Zoom meetings for now — and when corona calms down, in person, as well.”

RESPONDING TO BIDEN’S WRONGHEADED MIDDLE EAST POLICIES

Bennett is facing a delicate task as the Biden administration continues its efforts to resurrect the failed Middle East policies of the Obama administration. These range from a joint initiative with European allies to persuade Iran to reinstate and renegotiate the flawed 2015 nuclear deal in return for the lifting of the sanctions which Trump had reimposed, to yet another US effort to revive the long moribund peace negotiations seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian, which neither side wants at the moment.

So far, neither the Iranians nor the Palestinians have shown any inclination to cooperate with Biden’s initiatives. Iran is in no hurry to renew the latest round of negotiations with the US and its allies which were cut off in June, just before Ebrahim Raisi, a new, more hardline Iranian president was elected. Meanwhile, the Iranians keep violating the limitations on their nuclear program in the 2015 agreement, enabling them, according to US experts, to build a functional atomic weapon within “a few months,” if they wanted to, which threatens to make the original nuclear deal effectively moot.

Last week, the White House sent National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to confer with his Israeli counterpart on the status of efforts by the US and its European allies to get Iran to return to the indirect negotiations in Vienna, aimed at reviving compliance with and updating the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal. A White House statement said that Sullivan emphasized in his talks with Israel that President Biden still stands by his “fundamental commitment to Israel’s security and to ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon.” Sullivan explained that “this administration believes diplomacy is the best path to achieve that goal, while also noting that the president has made clear that if diplomacy fails, the United States is prepared to turn to other options,” which US officials have stubbornly refused to elaborate on.

Meanwhile, Israeli military planners have reportedly been busy reassessing and developing their capabilities for mounting an effective preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear program before it is too late, with or without US help or permission.

TWO-STATE SOLUTION STILL STUCK IN LIMBO

The Biden administration also sent Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr to the region last week to meet with government officials and civic leaders with the goal of obtaining “equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity, and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians,” according to a State Department spokesman. However, whether Amr met with any success seems highly doubtful.

The State Department said that Amr discussed “the challenges [Palestinian] activists and journalists are facing with freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration,” under PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ rule, especially in light of a brutal crackdown on protesters against the Palestinian Authority earlier this year, and the accusation that Abbas ordered the killing of his most prominent Palestinian critic, Nizar Banat, while he was in the custody of PA police.

Given these more immediate American concerns over Abbas’ authoritarian tactics, it is not surprising that Amr was unable to make much, if any, progress during his meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials in pursuit of his larger task of trying to revive US-sponsored peace talks on the two-state solution.

A statement issued on his activities by the US Embassy in Yerushalayim was positive but deliberately vague. However, it was clear that when Amr returned to Washington after four days, Abbas was still resisting calls by the Biden administration to put an end to the PA’s generous monthly payments to terrorists in Israeli jails and their family members, which totaled $185 million last year. Abbas’ Israeli critics call that policy “pay for slay,” and say that as long as it persists, it disqualifies Abbas and his PA government as legitimate peace partners.

BIDEN RESTORES US FUNDING FOR THE PALESTINIANS

Mahmoud Abbas has also remained unresponsive to Biden’s actions to restore significant US funding for Palestinian aid projects that President Trump had cut off.

Last month, Jim Risch, the ranking Republic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, agreed to release the last $20 million of a $75 million aid package that Biden had promised to the Palestinians. Risch exercised his senatorial privilege to hold up distribution of the funds pending Biden administration assurances that the money would not find its way into the hands of terrorists.

Risch had delayed the funds for months, but relented after 145 House Democrats wrote him a letter in June urging him to release them to assist in the rebuilding of Gaza in light of the damage done there during the May war between Israel and Hamas. Initially Risch agreed to release $25 million of the money to be spent by independent non-governmental groups to shore up the Palestinian hospital network, followed by another $30 million to repair war-damaged water supply and sanitation facilities in Gaza. Risch most recently agreed to release the remaining $20 million in the package to be spent on food aid.

Altogether, the Biden administration had restored a total of $400 million in humanitarian aid for the Palestinians through a variety of US programs. They had been all but shut down by President Trump in retaliation for the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to participate in the regional Trump peace initiative that ultimately resulted in the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and several Muslim states in the region.

RESPONDING TO BIDEN PRESSURE ON WEST BANK SETTLEMENTS

Biden has also stepped up pressure on Prime Minister Bennett to continue delaying any significant new construction in the existing Israeli West Bank communities. According to a report by Axios, Biden told Bennett during their face-to-face talks at the White House in August that he expected Israel to “show restraint” in the West Bank, to which Bennett replied that any new housing construction would be limited to the amount need to meet the demands of the “natural growth” of West Bank Jewish communities.

If this sounds familiar, it is because it is the same evasive answer that former prime minister Bibi Netanyahu had given in response to similar demands from Presidents Obama and George W. Bush. However, according to a report by the Times of Israel, Bennett subsequently reassured his political allies in the pro-settlement Yamina party that he had said “no” to Biden’s demand that further construction in the West Bank be halted, and that it would continue despite US pressure.

According to Axios, when the White House learned Bennett’s conversation with the settlement leaders, Biden dispatched the chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Yerushalayim, Michael Ratney, to tell the senior officials in the prime minister’s office that Biden expected Bennett to keep the promise he made to him in August. Ratney raised particular concerns over any plans Bennett may have to authorize new construction in the highly sensitive E1 area, the last large parcel of undeveloped land between the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Yerushalayim and the nearest Palestinian villages in the West Bank.

All previous American presidents since Bill Clinton, with the notable exception of Trump, have insisted that E1 remain clear of new Israeli construction, so that it might serve as a land bridge between any future Palestinian state on the West Bank and a Palestinian capital established in East Yerushalayim. For the same reasons, pro-settlement politicians like Bennett have always sought to find some way to get the US to tolerate Israeli construction on E1 to foreclose the possibility of ever using it to connect a Palestinian capital in Yerushalayim to the West Bank.

The Times of Israel reported that Bennett had hoped to make a simultaneous announcement that 2,000 new Jewish housing units and 1,000 new Arab housing units had been approved by the Defense Ministry department responsible for West Bank construction permits just before his visit to the White House in August. Bennett planned to present Biden with a fait accompli, but his plan was foiled by a worker’s strike in that department, enabling Biden during their White House meeting to demand that no new Israeli construction permits in the West Bank be issued.

Neither officials at the prime minister’s office nor officials at the US Embassy were willing to comment on these reports, other than a statement familiar from past administrations reissued by the US Embassy spokesman, calling on “all parties to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution. That includes settlement activity.”

BIDEN TO REOPEN THE US CONSULATE FOR PALESTINIANS

In May, Biden’s secretary of state, Tony Blinken, announced plans to reopen the independent US consulate building on Agron Street in downtown Yerushalayim. The building had been dedicated to serving Palestinian interests before Trump ordered it to be closed in 2018, shortly after he and his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to West Yerushalayim.

During Bennett’s visit to the White House in August, he explained that he was opposed to allowing the State Department to reopen the consulate, because it would be widely seen as a de facto act of recognition by the Biden administration of the Palestinian claim to the East Yerushalayim as its capital.

Even former Yerushalayim mayor Nir Barkat, a member of the Knesset opposition to Bennett’s coalition government, has been lobbying in the United States in support of Bennett’s efforts to prevent the consulate from reopening, because it would be seen as another a step towards international recognition of a Palestinian state by Israel’s enemies — both in the region, and among the Democrat progressives in Congress.

Mike Pompeo, former secretary of state, also said in a podcast interview that he opposes reopening the consulate on Agron Street because he claims it is against federal law to operate an American embassy and consulate in the same foreign city.

“It’s unnecessary and counterproductive, and I think, frankly, sends the wrong signal to the Palestinians as well,” Pompeo said. “It signals to them [that it’s] back to business as usual, back to the kleptocracy, and ‘pay to slay’ and all the horrors that the Palestinian leadership and the West Bank [has] imposed on its own people as well.”

The bottom line is that despite the Biden administration’s rhetoric about reviving peace talks and the two-state solution, its generous unilateral concessions and renewed payments to the Palestinians, and the pressure it has been applying to the Israeli government, it has very little to show for its efforts so far.

It is clear that both Bennett and Biden have their hands full with domestic political problems, and neither wants to start a public squabble over their longstanding disagreements on the bilateral issues between the US and Israel.

SHOULD ISRAEL WALK AWAY FROM US MILITARY AID?

With regard to the significance of increasing opposition by Democrat progressives to US military assistance for Israel, former Ambassador to the US Michael Oren thinks it is time for Israeli political leaders to do some “soul searching and serious, long-term strategic thinking” about whether it is wise for Israel to continue seeking military support as part of the US foreign aid budget, when South Korea and Germany are currently getting more US military aid taken directly out of the US defense budget, which is much less vulnerable to partisan political pressures.

Oren suggests that it may be time for Israel to explore developing “more cooperative” avenues for the next stage of the long-standing US-Israel military alliance.

In an essay published last month in the Tablet, Oren, who is also a respected Middle East historian, took a look at how US military assistance to Israel first developed. President John F. Kennedy broke the initial US arms embargo on Israel which started in 1948 by selling it Hawk anti-aircraft missiles in the early 1960s. President Lyndon Johnson then allowed Israel to purchase American-made Patton tanks and Skyhawk jet fighter-bombers.

The Israeli military won the 1967 Six Day War primarily by relying on French-made AMX tanks and Dassault Mystere fighter planes, but was left vulnerable when French President Charles de Gaulle cut off all French military exports to Israel after it won that war.

At that point, Israeli leaders decided that the country needed to become self-sufficient in the manufacturer of the high-quality weapons it needed to maintain its qualitative military edge over its Arab opponents. Israel developed the Merkava tank, designed specifically to meet the military conditions that the IDF was facing. Israel also stole the blueprints for the advanced French fighter-bomber, the Mirage V, and its jet engine, so that Israel could produce its own version of the plane known as the Nesher.

At the time, Israel was still buying the American-made weapons that were made available to it using its own money. It did not receive any large-scale US military assistance until the Yom Kippur War, when President Nixon ordered the US military to immediately replace the huge quantities of planes, tanks, and military supplies that Israel had lost during the first days of fighting.

President Jimmy Carter first offered Israel large annual grants of military aid as one of the conditions of the 1979 Camp David peace treaty with Egypt, as compensation for Israel agreeing to return its military bases in the Sinai desert, which it had captured in 1973, to Egypt.

US AID COMES WITH STRINGS ATTACHED

The size of the annual US aid package grew steadily over the years, but there were always significant strings attached. One of the conditions is that Israel must spend at least three-quarters of the US aid money on US-made military equipment, providing a large captive market for US defense contractors.

The US has frequently turned down Israel’s requests for some of its most advanced weapons, including the F-22 fighter plane, long range Tomahawk cruise missiles, and huge bunker busting bombs with which Israel could attack Iran’s underground nuclear facilities. While Israel has been allowed buy the F-35 stealth fighter plane, it has not been given the technical information it needs to modify the F-35’s sophisticated internal computer operating system to meet Israel’s own specifications.

In addition, American presidents have repeatedly used Israel’s reliance on US military equipment and economic aid to pressure Israel’s leaders to change their government policies on settlement construction and cancel the sale of Israeli-made military equipment using US technology to other nations.

RESPONDING TO US POLITICAL CHANGES

Oren also notes the rise of progressive Democrats who support a more pro-Palestinian foreign policy and a much tougher attitude towards Israeli requests for additional US assistance. During one of the 2020 Democrat presidential candidate debates, the question was asked whether they would use American aid as leverage to force Israel to make diplomatic concessions. In addition to Bernie Sanders, those who answered “yes” to that question included Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, and Pete Buttigieg.

In light of this developing American political trend, Oren asks, “Why should Israel, still a vulnerable country in the world’s toughest region, allow itself to be seen as open to progressive arm-twisting? Behind closed doors, Israelis are questioning why a country as militarily and economically robust as theirs should continue to appear dependent on any foreign power. . .

“Isn’t it time,” Oren asks, “with the Obama MOU set to expire in 2027, to begin asking whether Israel can continue to depend on US military aid, whether its downsides outweigh its benefits, and whether or not more secure and mutually advantageous alternatives exist?”

TIME FOR ISRAEL TO BECOME MORE INDEPENDENT?

Oren’s answer is to suggest that the US-Israeli relationship move “from the current donor-to-recipient model to a collaborative relationship based on both countries’ interests and strengths. Such an arrangement would provide for investment in joint research in artificial intelligence, directed energy (lasers), and cyber — all fields in which Israel excels. Such cooperation would bring immediate benefits to American and Israeli security and strengthen their abilities to counter common threats.”

At the same time, it would remove the Israeli-American relationship from the current partisan American political debates, and reestablish a true friendship based upon a mutual respect for each nation’s independence, as well as a commitment to a shared set of democratic principles and values.

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