Netanyahu frets as US patience wears thin
London - Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is undertaking a fence-mending visit to the United States amid signs that even some usually supportive Americans are losing patience with the actions and attitudes of his right-wing government.
As well as meeting US President Barack Obama for the first time since he very publicly attempted to undermine Obama’s efforts to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, Netanyahu is also addressing a liberal think-tank on November 10th linked to the Democratic Party.
The decision by the Center for American Progress to host the event at Israel’s behest has been criticised by some US liberals who fear it offers Netanyahu a forum to whitewash his government’s record.
Personal relations between Obama and Netanyahu soured, not only over the nuclear agreement but also over his hostility towards the creation of a Palestinian state and his high-handed treatment of the head of state of Israel’s biggest ally.
In March, Netanyahu bypassed the White House in accepting an invitation from Republicans to address the US Congress about the dangers of the Iran deal. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the speech insulting and condescending.
However, Obama played down the rift, telling a major Jewish- American forum that the split over Iran would soon die down. “We’re all pro-Israel. We’re all family,” he assured the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations and the Jewish Federations of North America.
In terms of overall US public opinion, the Obama-Netanyahu frostiness has failed to make much of a dent in the generally unswerving American support for Israel. A Gallup poll indicated Netanyahu’s approval rating among Americans rose just ahead of his controversial speech to Congress.
What has changed, however, is the readiness of some normally pro- Israeli voices to speak out against Netanyahu over his government’s treatment of the Palestinians and his own more extreme pronouncements.
His attempt to depict the wartime mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al- Husseini, as having inspired Hitler to wipe out Europe’s Jews, backfired both in the United States and at home, where it was ridiculed by leading historians and denounced by Holocaust survivors.
The New York Times, which Palestinian critics consider biased towards Israel, weighed in with an editorial that described Netanyahu’s claim as “outrageous”. Seeking a motive, the Times wrote: “Netanyahu’s evident intent was to drive home the idea that the current wave of violence has been incited by Palestinian leaders.”
On the face of it, the Israeli prime minister was engaging in the same kind of incitement that he accuses the Palestinian leadership of employing.
There have been other indications of unease about Israel’s rightward drift, both in the media and among Jews and non-Jews in the United States. In October, the Washington Post gave commentary space to academics Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl to state what they described as a Zionist case for boycotting Israel.
Adopting an analogy that once was taboo in the US media, they linked Israeli policy to that of apartheid-era South Africa. “As happened in the cases of Rhodesia and South Africa, Israel’s permanent subjugation of Palestinians will inevitably isolate it from Western democracies,” they asserted. “Not only is European support for Israel waning, but also US public opinion — once seemingly rock solid — has begun to shift as well, especially among millennials. International pariah status is hardly a recipe for Israel’s survival.”
Elsewhere, an article in the venerable Jewish-American journal Forward revealed the extent of funding from groups in the United States to support settlement expansion in Arab East Jerusalem, under the headline Are American donors helping to fuel Jerusalem tensions with settler push?
If there is indeed the possibility of encouraging even a small shift in US opinion, how is the Palestinian lobby poised to exploit it?
Sam Bahour, an American-Palestinian businessman and commentator based in the West Bank, says that the Palestinians have made huge strides in advancing their case internationally through diplomacy and campaigning. Writing in Forward, he stated: “Today, after years of developing effective non-violent tools to resist the occupation… Palestinians have built a solidarity movement that can be found in every corner of the globe.”
He acknowledged, however, that efforts to change public opinion had been toughest in the United States because of widespread ignorance about the true nature of the situation.
“For the average American citizen, in 2015, to still view Palestinians as creatures from Mars, their all-too-human desperation seen without any historic context and independently of any relation to the Israeli military occupation which runs their lives, is no longer acceptable,” he wrote. “The American education system and media must do better, for the sake of us all.”
So, it may be too early for Palestinians to celebrate the emergence of a more balanced view of the conflict among Americans. But, with the unwitting help of Netanyahu, at least some of them may be thinking twice about their unquestioning support of Israel.