Is it ever possible for pro-Israel advocacy to be too successful? No, I’m not worried about a pogrom or expulsion of the Jews from America, and I’m not shirking my Jewish pride. When the Israel brand reaches such a status that cynical politicians and ideologues co-opt it for their own agenda — and not for the Jewish future — then it’s worth just reminding ourselves of the true stakes for Israel and the Jewish people, as well as for the United States.
Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel is increasingly becoming the cause that divides us, not that unites us. Last year, he followed through on his Republican-sponsored anti-Iran polemic in the U.S. Capitol, and this year Donald Trump received a kosher stamp from over 18,000 AIPAC supporters.
The Iran nuclear deal continues to succeed in dismantling or limiting Iran’s capacity and capabilities (no, those recent missile tests were not a violation of the agreement), and this is a problem for Netanyahu. First, as I and others had been warning for years, his emphasis on stopping Iran’s nuclear program came at the expense of containing its conventional and terrorist threats — and Iran continues to destabilize the region, though without a pathway to nuclear weapons.
Second, with Israel no longer THE bulwark against Mideast terror (not since 9/11), containing Iran is no longer such a U.S. imperative, and the region is far less black-and-white than it used to be. The more the old cliches wear thin, and the more Netanyahu’s neglect of the Palestinian issue enables a climate where Israelis aren’t interested in pursuing peace, the less Netanyahu has to offer the next President of the United States, whoever that might be.
As we have been reminded again today, and shockingly so, Israel is no longer the West’s “front line against terrorism”. The front lines move from week to week, whether Madrid or New York, or Paris, or Brussels. Americans may still find common cause with Israelis who now face daily attacks, but the morbid reality is that the mass casualties have been in Europe and the United States, and Africa and Asia.
The fact that the so-called “Adelson primary” in Las Vegas is regarded as a key test for Republican candidates is a tribute to Jewish Republicans and a credit to the pro-Israel brand. And yet, very few of America’s problems will be solved through a better appreciation for the U.S.-Israel alliance. Does it really help Israel to be seen as a political spoiler, and for Netanyahu’s ambassador to be a featured speaker? The bilateral relationship was supposed to be between two nations, not between two branches of the Republican international.
Does it really help Israel for major U.S. news networks to run live feed from candidates’ AIPAC speeches, as a bellwether for the 2016 Presidential race? Watching remotely, I definitely felt pride. But I also felt that these recitations of pro-Israel applause lines have very little to do with what’s happening across the Middle East and in Europe.
And then, of course, was the spectacle of Donald Trump reading off his list of pro-Israel slogans to standing ovations. The AIPAC event may have been Trump’s first major address that wasn’t at one of his own rallies. Whether or not AIPAC did the right thing in having him speak, the result was that one of the most divisive and destructive politicians in recent memory — even within the Republican Party — has been validated by the pro-Israel establishment. Especially on the same day he questioned the value of military alliances, this definitely helps Trump, but no one else.
I am confident the next U.S. President will be committed to Israel’s security and welfare. But it will not be because she addressed this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, as genuinely impressive as that was. And it certainly won’t be because the Republican elite spent a weekend at the Venetian coordinating their next steps with Netanyahu’s right hand.