By Akiva Eldar
Who is to blame for the latest dispute with the United States over the new neighborhood going up in Yerushalayim’s Sheikh Jarrah area? Mayor Nir Barkat? Certainly not. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who stood behind him? Ridiculous. Any child knows that everything is the fault of other Jews: Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, two American administration officials who are inciting President Barack Obama against their own people.
This is not the first time that “self-hating Jews” have given us trouble. In negotiations over the separation of forces agreement in the 1970s, U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger, the scion of a family of Jewish refugees who had escaped from Nazi Germany, earned the anti-Semitic epithet “Jewboy” in Israel. At the end of the 1980s, when president George H.W. Bush dared to argue that the peace process does not jibe with settlement expansion, the Shamir government instigated a campaign against “the ‘Jewboy’ trio”: Dennis Ross, Aaron Miller and Dan Kurtzer. Now it is the turn of Obama’s Jewish confidantes to be the scapegoats.
It is easy to imagine what an uproar there would be in Yerushalayim if an Arab leader or newspaper dared to claim that an American president was favorable to Israel because of the influence of a Jewish adviser. Netanyahu, who spent many years in the United States, knows very well the extent to which Jewish administration officials in key positions are sensitive to the slightest hint of dual loyalty – to their birthplace and their historic homeland. It turns out that for him, politics bends the iron-clad rule that “all Jews are responsible for one another.”
To satisfy the settlers, he permits himself to hurt people whose only sin is that they are trying to promote the goals enshrined in the platform of his senior coalition partner – the Labor Party.
We want our Jews in the administration to be blind to the settlements and deaf to the complaints of the Arabs. Take Elliott Abrams, for example, who was in charge of Middle East affairs in the Bush administration. Abrams, who is identified with the neo-conservative right, made an important contribution to legitimizing a good many dubious Israeli acts. He was an excellent salesman for the “no partner” theory, and the guiding spirit behind the indulgent policy toward the flourishing of settlements. He recently publicly criticized the two-state vision of the president who had hired him, among other things, to promote that vision.
Back during his election campaign Obama made it clear that he did not have to join Likud to be a friend of Israel. Opinion polls in the United States revealed that the views of most Jews are closer to the attitudes of organizations like the Reform movement, American Friends of Peace Now and J Street, which support a two-state solution and eschew Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s doctrine – and above all, largely object to the settlements.
The conversation Obama held with representatives of the Jewish community last week confirms that Netanyahu is drafting them for the wrong war. Even his oldest supporters did not attack the president’s position on the settlements, and made do with a complaint about the high profile given to disputes over the issue of natural growth in the settlements. One of the guests at that meeting said that history showed that exposing the differences between the U.S. and Israel does not help to advance peace.
“This was not my reading of the lessons of the last eight years,” Obama responded without flinching. Moreover, he said he would not shy away from a willingness to pressure all parties, including Israel, if that is in the best interests of the United States and Israel. Obama did not hesitate to tell his Jewish interlocutors that beyond the special commitment to Israel’s security, his policy would be completely even-handed. If it became necessary, Obama said, he would speak to Israelis, as he had done to the Arab and Muslim world, to help them to achieve some kind of self-reflection.
Obama has internalized what his predecessors refused to understand: the traditional supporters of the Israeli right are growing old, or losing their relevance. They are giving way to younger, liberal forces who identify with Obama’s values. In the “best” case, Netanyahu’s incitement against the “self-hating Jews” will do to them what his whispered comment in the ear of Rav Kaduri – “those leftists are not Jews” – did to Israelis a decade ago – it turned them against him.