For purposes of discussion, let us define “love” not in sense of romance, but in the more philosophical definition of “wishing the other well.” In this way of thinking, to love Israel is to feel a moral commitment to its future and then to advise it—as we would advise a friend about to face a major crisis in his or her life. We might have to tell the life-long college pal things he didn’t want to hear: give up drinking, stay faithful to his wife, leave the investment firm that is compromising his integrity. But we see more clearly than he where his long-time good is, and a lot of other “friends,” for reasons of their own, know the same things, but won’t say a word.
Which brings us to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to America and both his public rebuke of President Barack Obama over the basic substance of his peace proposal and his address to the House of Representatives, where he again refused to go along with the peace proposals as our Congressmen repeatedly stood and cheered.
Here was the extraordinary display of our Congress cheering more vehemently for the principles set forth by the prime minister of Israel than for those of the president of the United States. Perhaps these politicians should invite Netanyahu to come here and lead us, or, better, try living in Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza for a few months with the same status of Palestinians.
Israeli writer Jeff Halper, I’m afraid, has explained it pretty well. Israel has become a domestic American issue. Candidates for office even in states with few Jewish voters or Christian fundamentalists, must stake out “pro Israel” policies because of find-raising that calls on the conservative Jewish lobby AIPAC, the clout of the Christian Right in the Republican party, and Pentagon defense contractors who argue that any cuts in defense spending ($125 billion over the next decade) in the whole region will cost them jobs.
That our Congress should even appear to repudiate Obama’s statement that the two-state solution must begin with the recognition of the 1967 boundaries between Israel and Palestinian territory is startling. Those lines are already recognized by international law and virtually all the participants in the peace process up to this time, including previous Israeli governments. Read Bernard Avishai in the New York Times Magazine (February 13) on the principles established in 2008 in talks between Israeli Prime minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, in which the original borders were accepted, followed by agreed-upon land swaps which allowed some settlements to remain.
The Israeli Prize, awarded annually for contributions to Israel’s life and culture since 1953, is generally regarded as Israel’s highest honor. On May 19 a full-page ad in the New York Times sponsored by 170,000-member J-Street, an American Jewish lobby which expresses its love for Israel by working for peace, sponsored a full-page ad backing a Palestinian State based on 1967 borders as “vital for Israel’s existence.” Among the 100 or so signers were Israel’s leading intellectuals, including 28 winners of the Israeli Prize plus 20 generals and admirals, who must know something about what will best make Israel secure—while Netanyahu called Obama’s boundaries indefensible.
In March members of Israel’s Likud Party pressed the Knesset to investigate J Street and declare it “anti-Israel.” J- Street’s founder flew to Jerusalem to defend its position and warned the committee of the “grave risk that Israel faces in thinking that only those who hold certain political views can be your friends.”
Meanwhile it has become clear that Netanyahu is not interested in peace, only power. By prolonging the tension between Israel and its neighbors he keeps himself and Likud in charge of a doomed situation.
On May 26 the Israeli intellectual Uri Avnery wrote a public letter to his friends on Netanyahu’s appearance in America:
The sight of these hundreds of parliamentarians jumping up and clapping their hands, again and again and again, with the Leader graciously acknowledging with a movement of his hand, was reminiscent of other regimes. Only this time it was not a local dictator who compelled this adulation, but a foreign one.
The most depressing part of it was that there was not a single lawmaker—Republican or Democrat—who dared to resist. When I was a nine-year-old boy in Germany, I dared to leave my right arm hanging by my side when all my schoolmates raised theirs in the Nazi salute and sang Hitler’s anthem. Is there no one in Washington DC who has that simple courage? Is it really IOT—Israel Occupied Territory—as the anti-Semites assert?
Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.