Thursday, March 11, 2010

Joe Biden & Israel's Disgraceful Avarice

Let's get the part about me being proud of my Jewish heritage and being willing to defend Israel with my life out of the way up front, because the rest of this post is going to be yet another rant about how Prime Minister Netanyahu has squandered Israel's moral high ground in the service of nonstop bellicosity and a zealous ultra-Orthodox minority. Of Netanyahu only one thing is certain: He will make sure there never is a serious effort to reach a two-state solution with the Palestinians, let alone a measure of comity with the greater Arab world.

But sandbagging visiting Vice President Biden -- as loyal a supporter of Israel as there has been for decades -- through an announcement by his interior minister that that 1,600 new households would be built in the occupied West Bank is a new low.

Israel has increasingly portrayed itself as the Jewish mother in the oft-told joke who prefers to sit in the dark rather than replacing a burned-out light bulb since Barack Obama became president because he -- and Biden as well -- have leavened the usual American ring kissing with some fairly strong language about the repeated Israeli backsliding on settlements that are illegal by any calculus except the Likud government's.

"I condemn the decision," Biden said in undiplomatic language. "[This is] precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I've had here in Israel."

The upshot of the blowup is, of course, exactly what Netanyahu wants -- scuttling prospects for U.S.-mediated talks with the Palestinians and a further opportunity to sit in the dark and whine about how nobody understands Israel.

Hamas is evil. Got that? Hamas is evil. And the Palestinians have done their share of backsliding. But by beating up on Arabs to prove that it's still tough is doubly problematic for Israel: It has created a global public-relations disaster and further reveals that it has squandered the moral high ground not by accident but by willful miscalculation.

By building settlements in the Occupied Territories, which it had no right to do. By a policy of pushing back against Hezbollah in Lebanon and more recently Hamas in Gaza by inflicting maximum pain and suffering on civilians, including the probable use of weapons banned by treaties that it refuses to sign. By adopting the worst of American neoconservative talking points, including arguments eerily similar to those proffered by the White House when the U.S. invaded Iraq. By launching its 2008 Gaza offensive before the Bush administration skulked into the sunset since hardly any other foreign power of consequence would support it. By sending assassination squads to take out Hamas officials in third countries.

The notion that real Americans defend Israel is badly frayed. While many people like myself support it and even the obscene amount of U.S. aid it gets, the capital of sympathy for Holocaust survivors has pretty much been spent. What we're left with is a government in Tel Aviv that is good at only one thing -- bellicosity.

The Biden incident is just the latest evidence that it is time for a sweeping change in the America-Israeli relationship. May it be the catalyst for that finally happening.
Top photograph via Getty Images

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