Dana Milbank: Dear Israel: Please dump Netanyahu. Your friend, America
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his stunning acquiescence last week to President Trump’s wish that Israel bar entry to two Democratic members of Congress, shows he has no qualms with interfering in U.S. politics.
So he shouldn’t mind when Americans offer political advice to Israelis. Here’s mine: Dump this guy in next month’s election. He is rapidly destroying the 71-year-old U.S.-Israel alliance — if he hasn’t doomed it already.
Last week’s denial to U.S. lawmakers who criticize Israel may have been Netanyahu’s most egregious provocation, but it was the latest of many. The previous day, Democratic lawmakers had received a letter from Netanyahu taking issue with their request that he refrain from deporting a U.S. citizen who heads Human Rights Watch in Israel.
Netanyahu, The Washington Post reported, used the occasion to attack the two Muslim women — Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. — he would later bar. He objected to their signatures on the 17-person congressional request because, he said, their anti-Israel positions are the “antithesis” of “strong bipartisan support for Israel.”
No, the antithesis of strong bipartisan support for Israel is Netanyahu.
After Netanyahu’s latest stunt, even Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., as stalwart a supporter in Congress as Israel has, said that the move “will only strengthen the anti-Israel movements.” And none other than the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has fused itself to the Republican Party, said that “every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”
It was AIPAC’s second break with Netanyahu this year. In February, it denounced an alliance Netanyahu had formed with a “racist and reprehensible party” in Israel whose members have favored violence against Palestinians, expulsion of Arabs from Israel and a ban on intermarriage between Jews and Arabs.
There’s good reason for concern among Israel’s American friends. A Pew Research Center poll in April found that although 64% of Americans had a favorable view of the Israeli people, only 41% viewed the Israeli government favorably.
Support for Israel’s government isn’t bipartisan. While 61% of Republicans had favorable views, only 26% of Democrats did. Young voters (under 30) were particularly hostile toward Israel’s government, the poll showed, and younger Republicans’ views were significantly less favorable toward Israelis than older Republicans.
In essence, Netanyahu has hitched Israel’s future to a fading constituency in U.S. politics. As America grows younger and more racially diverse, Israel’s supporters remain disproportionately old, white evangelical Christians. Such a coalition may remain powerful long enough to protect Trump, but over time it will shrink — and, with it, support for Israel.
Perhaps Israelis think American Jews will switch to the GOP and that the U.S.-Israel relationship will endure, even if it is partisan. If so, they badly misread the situation. Trump — and Netanyahu, for that matter — offends the values of most American Jews, who favor tolerance and fear the anti-Semitism that Trump foments; on Tuesday, Trump invoked the anti-Semitic trope of Jews’ supposed dual loyalty.
Without a change in leadership in Israel, it’s just a matter of time until the Jewish state loses U.S. aid — $3.3 billion in military assistance and $500 million for missile defense this year, according to a report this month from the Congressional Research Service. Israel remains “largely dependent” on the United States for fighter jets and the like, but the report notes that after decades of broad bipartisan consensus, “strong domestic support for Israel has become more of a subject of debate.”
Much of that is the result of Netanyahu’s nationalist policies, which have meant an erosion of democracy, harsher treatment of Palestinians and movement away from a two-state solution.
Certainly, remarks by Tlaib and Omar have crossed the line into anti-Semitism, for which I have criticized them. But Netanyahu’s overreach has been a public relations bonanza for the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. We’re already hearing murmurs of attempts to punish Israel.
The danger isn’t immediate. When the House voted last month to oppose the BDS movement, only 17 lawmakers voted in support of the boycotts.
But change is coming; Democratic presidential candidates from the left (Bernie Sanders), right (Steve Bullock) and center (Beto O’Rourke) of the party have condemned Netanyahu’s recent actions. Sanders, who is Jewish, talks of using aid to Israel as “leverage” to combat the Netanyahu government’s “racism.”
On Sept. 17, Israeli voters have a chance to remove the single greatest impediment to U.S.-Israel relations. This American hopes they take it.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.