In the Arena


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Over the past few weeks, the Obama Administration has been engaged in truly shocking behavior. It is letting Israel know when the U.S. disapproves of its actions, and appointing people to the government who have not been slavish devotees of the right-wing Likud line in the past. George W. Bush never did that!

So Hillary Clinton is under fire for allegedly telling the Israelis that they should open the Gaza borders to humanitarian aid. (The Israeli government is keeping the borders closed as a bargaining chip in the effort to get a soldier held prisoner by Hamas released from captivity.) And various of the usual suspects are bleating about the appointment of the estimable, but too pro-Saudi for my taste, Chas Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council. And others are outraged that the Obama Administration hasn’t ruled out participating in a U.N. Council on racism, which usually features racist diatribes directed at Jews.

Now, many of these neocons have been gunning for Obama from the start…and have been just twitching in anticipation of the chance to paint him anti-Israel or worse. Their tendency to slime their detractors with overwrought epithets–anti-semite is the old standby–has diminished whatever power that term once held. In this case, once again, they are standing athwart America’s best interests–and Israel’s: it’s about time that the U.S. starting calling Israel on its excesses. Clinton is right, for example: Israel’s strangle-hold on the Gaza crossings gave Hamas a rationale for its rocketing of innocent Israeli civilians. And furthermore, Israel’s steady accretion of settlements on Palestinian lands gives credibility to Palestinian extremists who believe that Israel has no interest in a truly viable two-state solution. 

And as for conferences on racism, Israel’s supporters will have less credibility to complain about international forums where slogans like “zionism is racism” are bruted about if the anti-Arab bigot Avigdor Lieberman is included in the new Israeli government. 

Israel is a crucial ally. For me, as a Jew, it is a cherished restitution of an ancient homeland, and simple justice for thousands of years of atrocities directed against my ancestors. But its founding was also a last gasp of western colonialism–and its future depends on its ability to retreat from internationally acknowledged Palestinian lands and from the oppression that it routinely visits on the Palestinian people (the system of checkpoints on the West Bank, particularly in border citiess like Ramallah, seems a vicious, intentional humiliation). Israel has every right to defend itself–yes, even in Gaza, within reason, after the hail of thousands of rockets on Israeli civilians–but the U.S. has the responsibility to call Israel out when its behavior turns destructive and immoral.