20 May 2011

The manufactured outrage over Israel

At the risk of being tarred as an anti-Semite for my lack of reflexive, unqualified support for everything Israel does, my reactions to President Obama's speech yesterday, and the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations generally:

1. Obama's speech was an unremarkable extension of the Bush and Clinton doctrines and broke very little new ground. A two-state solution is something that both Presidents Clinton and Bush pushed and has been at the heart of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for two decades. I appreciate the president's willingness to state the objective publicly, but for either side -- liberal or conservative -- to suggest the president's speech marks a change in mid-east policy is silly.

2. Let's keep in mind the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the first place. Israel was created by a U.N. charter in 1948 in the wake of the Holocaust. While the land was of course historically the Jewish homeland, the Bible references a Palestinian presence there at least 500 years before Christ. So this idea that the Palestinians have no claim to any territory whatsoever -- especially when Israel the nation-state is only 60 years old -- is truly absurd.

3. How do Republican-AIPAC conservatives (Bill Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Mike Huckabee) expect to achieve peace in the Middle East, other than by carving out a small Palestinian state? They are in favor of expanded settlements, they are in favor of the blockade of Gaza (which also, arguably, violates international law), they were in favor of the flotilla raid, and they are stridently opposed to a two-state solution. So I'd posit this question: How do you plan to achieve peace? And as a follow up, for what reasons are Palestinians not entitled to a separate state?

4. Israel is not owed America's unfettered, reflexive support. Last May, the Israeli navy attacked a flotilla off the coast of Gaza in international waters, killing citizens aboard a ship carrying a Turkish flag. The attack happened in international waters and violence only started when the Israeli commandos stormed the tiny ship. This was an act of war, no matter who perpetuated it. We wrote here at the time that if the flotilla had entered Israeli waters, then the commandos' actions would have been taken in defense of the Israeli homeland. But the attack did not happen in Israeli waters. If you supported the Israeli navy in that endeavor, then it demonstrates that you put the interests of Israel over the rule of international law. And it demonstrates that you are a fanatic. To hold that Israel is above the scope of international law is deeply offensive, because I doubt that you would even make such a claim about America.

5. I am an American. I love my country. I view the world through American-tinted lenses. If a country's strategic interests are aligned with America's, I'd like the president and the State Department to cultivate a positive relationship with that country. I'm all for international engagement, free trade, free-flowing diplomacy, and the like -- and yes, that includes a close, vibrant relationship with the State of Israel. But when a country's interests diverge with America's -- and where that country, like Israel, takes explicit steps to break international law and infuriate critical allies in the Middle East, such as Turkey and Egypt -- that country deserves a rebuke. It is no different than Hosni Mubarak -- an American ally for three decades -- deserving a similar rebuke for his violent crackdown on the Egyptian protests several months ago. American support for Israel -- just like American support for every other country on the face of the planet -- should only extend as far as Israel's conduct furthers America's strategic interests. To argue otherwise is to argue that Israel's interests are superior to those of America's. And to argue otherwise calls your patriotism into serious question.