Jonathan Russo

Glass Houses and Stones

The past week has been a difficult one for Jewish political progressives in America. The lamenting about the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu has been seemingly endless. For a while, those who believed in science – that is, the science of polling – thought that the more liberal Zionist Union led by Isaac Herzog, along with a few other parties and the Arab Joint List, could end the right-wing/settler/rabbinical rule in Israel. It was not meant to be.

By feverishly and loudly making a last-minute appeal to racism and nationalism and clarifying an uncompromising stance on Palestinian statehood, Bibi won. The progressive, secular left in both the U.S. and Israel now believes Bibi has mortally wounded the image of Israel and condemned it to more BDS activity, while gravely damaging Israel’s relations with President Obama.

However, sad as it is, it should be pointed out that Obama and the progressive political left in America and Israel are the “odd men out.” Netanyahu’s settlers, the uncompromising right-wingers and the religious zealots are not only in Gush Etzion, they are also the majority in the U.S. Congress – and many state capitols as well.

Numerous polls reveal that Americans believe in God, angels, creationism and miracles. The evangelical Christian right is now dominant in scores of state houses, and its voting bloc in Congress is very influential. Hence the revisions to public school science textbooks that deal with evolution, the endless anti-abortion platforms and the reintroduction of Biblical law into the civil cannon (see Alabama vs. same-sex marriage). Frankly, I do not see the difference between this enormous, powerful swath of Americans and the Israeli political parties United Torah Judaism, Habayit Hayehudi (led by Naftali Bennett) and much of Likud. In Israel, the rabbis want Halacha (Jewish) law; here, our politicians want the Old and New Testament variant.

Progressive Americans were outraged by Bibi’s call for his voters to counter the “Arabs voting in droves.” The idea of suppressing enfranchised citizens sounds abhorrent to most American ears – until you think about the multitude of bills introduced in well over 25 states in the past several years that are doing exactly the same thing. These state legislatures have thrown up innumerable roadblocks so that the African American and Latino vote would be obstructed. America has its own Arabs. There is the same fear here that they will use their demographic advantages within the political system to advance their agenda and sway the elections.

Waves of violence against unarmed civilians, deaths of dozens carried out by heavily armed security forces against minorities…Hebron, East Jerusalem, the West Bank? Or Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and many more American cities? They are identical. While American Jews decry Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) tactics against the Palestinians, America’s heavily armed police are doing the exact same thing in cities all across the country. The report on Ferguson by the Justice Department is overwhelmingly similar to the Israeli documentary The Gatekeepers, in which former heads of the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service) speak candidly about how Israel treats Palestinians under occupation.

Violence first, negotiations second. America really swaggered around the Muslim world under George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Were the Iraq and Afghanistan wars really different than Israel’s Lebanon incursions? Was the air, sea and ground missile-pounding that Gaza received any different from the “shock and awe” directed at Baghdad? Israel does not need lessons on how to conduct a pugnacious foreign policy, but America certainly has plenty of examples for it to draw from.

Defense budgets that are not rational to the threats involved, a defense industry hooked on limitless appropriations and full of waste. These, too, bind Israel and America. The recent appearance of ex-generals in both Tel Aviv and Washington who point out that this path is not sustainable is not a coincidence.

The last trait both Israel and America share and the reason why Congress is so receptive to Netanyahu is this: magical thinking. This trait is the true, underlying bond between the American right and its Israeli counterpart. This Sheldon Adelson-financed reality is deeply cached in Congress and the Israeli Knesset. In this apparition of reality, the only deal with Iran that would suffice is one in which the Iranians are obligated to totally dissolve their nuclear program. Not only do the centrifuges need to stop spinning, but just like in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, technicians must put the metal used for bombs back into to the earth as elements. That is the logic of the letter to the mullahs in Iran and that is the line in the sand Bibi has drawn. Not reality-based.

The national budget that just came out of the House is another example. The math does not add up, yet it was published as a serious proposal to the American people. These are not your grandfather’s Republicans. The fantasy elements, the assumptions behind the budget, are religious in tone. The belief in supply-side stimulus is cargo cultish in the extreme. This American faith-based economics has a mirror in Israeli settlement-building. In both nations rationality is in short supply.

This is how I have come to terms with the Likud victory. It is not about just Israel and Netanyahu. It is about the revanchism of logic and facts that has occurred in the Western world. Faith, religion, emotion and Torah/Scripture have eclipsed the logical hand-me-downs from the Enlightenment.

Viewed through this lens, the re-election of Netanyahu is less of a surprise, and the American-Israeli bond is as strong as ever. America and Israel are set to go hand-in-hand into the future. Whatever that may be.

About the Author
Jonathan Russo has been observing Israel and its policies since he first visited in 1966. He is a businessman in New York City.