Bibi: Putin's inspiration?

    Reading Michael Crowley's piece on Bibi's long-term strategy towards Obama, I'm struck by this absurdity in American politics. As Netanyahu comes waltzing into Washington to place demands on the White House, receiving policy concessions served up like John the Baptist's head on a plate, he must be thinking the transformation is complete. But be careful, Bibi - sea changes can be wild, with the occasional tsunami.

    See, as we focus on foreign intervention into domestic politics, it won't be long until someone notices (me?) that we have a codified litmus test in Washington, if not largely accepted across the US, of allegiance to Israel and its needs/wants. For guilt reasons? Fear of the rapture and all things biblical? Sincere belief that these are Israel's and thus our needs? Who knows. For a nation that still largely practices the weird & painful circumcision procedure on all male babies for no actual religious or medical reason, we'll just have to accept we're a bit challenged on certain matters. But back to the story....

    Congress regularly is evaluated for support  on all matters Israel - AIPAC's "who's been naughty or nice" especially resulting in near lock-step adherence to Israeli predilections. Hillary took to this obligation with a flourish in her time as Senator, clinging almost as close to the Jewish state as she did to Obama during the last campaign. Bernie being Jewish got a little bit of breathing room, but even he mailed in his criticisms from an undisclosed remote location, knowing better than to deliver in person lest he be found in the East River with the fishes (a joke, son, it's a joke...)

    It wasn't long ago that the new practice began of Republican presidential contenders showing up in Jerusalem to curry favor and a blessing from Israeli leaders, such as Romney's classic if failed stay at the King David Hotel to raise money & lock in the Jewish vote - candidates whispering sweet nothings in the Israeli newspapers' ears such as a possible shift of the embassy from Tel Aviv, or maybe new hawkish threats against Iran and Syria, etc. etc. For the red right, the hajj has become as obligatory as months in Iowa and New Hampshire.

    But that obscene foreign pandering and fundraising wasn't enough for the Party of No - to further instill the image of Obama as traitor to Israel and thus America, they invited Bibi to address Congress - without informing Obama. Bibi accepted in much the same way. He didn't ride into Congress on a donkey with palm fronds awaving, but it was close. The juxtaposition was clear - Obama is bringing on the Apocalypse with his Iranian nuke deal, while those nice Congressional neocons and tea baggers are protecting Paradise. One can think of few more overt, slowly baked insults by a head of state or an opposition party.

    So now Putin and the Republicans have done a bit of bait-and-switch. Netanyahu's cemented in folklore as a Dear Leader type for Americans - and now Putin wants much the same. But can he do it? While Republicans are congealing around this newfound Russophile love that perversely goes against almost all previous professions of US policy over the last 90 years, there will likely be a backlash. The Russian-Jewish connection is quite old, and it's not the Russian side that's endearing or invokes sympathy - the pogroms were bloody deeds of the Russian ruling class, much as Putin in post-Tsarist times, and the Syrian bombings and massacres don't invite peaceful analogies to Putin's "diplomatic" and militaristic excursions & intrigues.

    But more to point, when do Americans recognize the double-standard, that while we're invoking a 200-year-old law keeping mere citizens from messing with state politics, we coordinate with Israel at formal and informal level for all things Middle East, making it something akin to a 51st state and a special division of government. The creepiness of the relationship has been recognized with the Pollard case among others, but as long as the Palestinian question remains on the table, Israel's back channel to the US levers of power will persist.

    Read the following substituting Russian names like Putin, Kislyak, Manafort:

    Netanyahu has known both Trump and the family of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for over a decade. His ambassador, Ron Dermer, has developed a close bond with Kushner, and was spotted walking near the White House with Trump’s senior adviser, Stephen Bannon, on Tuesday. On Thursday night, one of Netanyahu’s staunchest supporters, the billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, dined with Trump at the White House.

    The irony re: Russia vs. Israel meddling in US affairs is scrumptious. A Bibi/Puti smackdown, grudge match of the apocrypha. Remember Bibi holding up that badly drawn lit bomb waiting to go off? Yes, he tilts towards the Trumpish buffoon strategy. But then Putin had that embarrassing hockey game tied to Sochi where he scored some 13 goals to show him as amazingly proficient in yet another field, something like North Korea's leaders scoring multilple holes-in-1 on a round of golf.

    So as Netanyahu arrives to get his dues, the question has to be asked - who's really winning? Or better, will there be enough losers at the table to make the banquet palatable?

    In any case, the analogy shouldn't be taken *too* far. Israel is a tiny vulnerable nation, and has limited its interests to its nearby survival, agree with its positions and tactics and justifications or not. Russia is an old Imperial power with still enough bite and cunning to match its bark. (Though I think the Israeli voters share some responsibility for supporting & egging on Netanyahu in messing with *us*).

    But both Putin and Netanyahu are circus barkers of the worst order - and tied to the even more outlandish Trump, you just can't help but wish they were all in a little leaky dinghy cast about by a furious sea with not enough life vests.

    But maybe they are?


    Edgy but fair Peracles.  Really nice work, thanks.  Putin and BB are two peas in a pod indeed.  Ironically, at the same time BB is trying to tamp down expectations from Naftali Bennett and other members of the farthest right portion of his right-wing Knesset coalition.  But that's really beside the point on this side of the pond, because, to many so-called (to borrow a phrase) Israel supporters, all is cool because the Administration that gives succor to holocaust denial is going to let Israel build settlements anywhere in the WB and throw what's left of any real hope for a two-state solution in the toilet (aka "terlet" bc it sounds better in this context).

    In any event, that's the good news.  Tomorrow (I think), David Friedman, a 57 year-old bankruptcy barker (thank you for that phrase :)) will appear for a hearing on his nomination to be the U.S. Ambassador to Israel.  His nomination has literally ripped the American Jewish community in two or three or four or more gaping parts.  Folks like me who have been known around here as someone prone to give Israel the benefit of the doubt on occasion (joke) are mortified by his nomination.  There are inside baseball issues and issues involving  the interests of the United States of America.  As to the latter, Friedman openly opposes two-states and has publicly pushed for unnecessary and divisive symbolic things like moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  And he's openly and proudly advocated for and raised funds on behalf of settlement growth in the West Bank.  Needless to say, that's not my Daddy's version of the zionist dream, but more importantly, why is it in America's interest to have an ambassador who holds such views?  I cannot think of a worse choice--and I'd like to think I'd come to the same view even if I agreed with him on the merits. 

    A bonus on the inside baseball front, because I'm not interested in pivoting down this rabbit hole, but it's important.  David Friedman has called Jews like me "worse than Kapos" for supporting J Street and/or supporting many of J Street's positions.  You know me PP, and for this limited purpose you can use me as the template. No words man, except that I was once told by someone and I forgot who, but that person told me that "with crisis comes opportunity."  Today's meeting will be overshadowed by other gossip like concerns about the Russian takeover of our government, but there will be quite a bit of chatter going on in the dugout at the ballpark tonight and tomorrow.

    Let me close with a humble appeal to folks to let their senators know (preferably with a phone call) that Friedman is the wrong choice for the United States and that you oppose his nomination.  Those of us in New York should take solace in presuming that our two senators will oppose him, but calls do work.  Also, calls to Senator Corker's office directly would help because he's chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.  Sorry for the pitch, but I think it's timely and important.

    Better days.



    I just want to add a little more context to Bibi's meeting with the president today. This is from a blog written by Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, my rabbi at Congregation Ansche Chesed ("AC") in New York, written in the immediate aftermath of the security council resolution criticizing Israeli settlements in early January.  Below are some excerpts worth sharing:

    Several AC members expressed dismay about America’s abstention from a UN resolution critical of Israel and Sec. Kerry’s extremely blunt speech about whether the two-state solution has any future. Others are panicked that David Friedman will be America’s ambassador to Israel, given that his political and religious views align him roughly with the far-right Tekumah faction – a few steps to the right of Bibi Netanyahu.

    As rabbi, I avoid trying to be political pundit. I read Israel news intensely, but so do many of you. I claim no expertise about diplomacy or security policy. Still, I think it is appropriate to share some reflections on Jewish communal discourse and recent news.

    . . . 

    Personally, I agreed with every single word in Kerry’s speech. Every single word. The parts where he urged Fatah to condemn terrorism instead of valorizing it. The parts where he urged Hamas to build Gaza instead of building terror tunnels. The parts where he said that settlements are only a feature of the long-term conflict, not its source. (All there.)

    And the parts where he reminded Israel that there simply is no way to square the circle of occupation, settlement, and military dictatorship with human rights and democracy. Israel needs to hear it. And from true and loyal friends. The only thing I would have added to Kerry’s speech is the Midrashic teaching [Bereshit Rabbah 54.3]: 

     עמה תוכחה, אינה אהבהכל אהבה שאין

    “Any love unaccompanied by criticism is not love at all.”

    . . .

    On a related but different matter: let me join with some – though not all – of you, to express my personal horror at the nomination of David Friedman as American ambassador. As our friend JJ Goldberg wrote in the Forward and Bernard Avishai wrote similarly in the Times, Friedman represents a sector of American Judaism, aligned with a sector of Israeli Judaism, that espouses a dangerous ideology, that does not take seriously the diversity of Jewish public opinion on this very difficult problem, let alone the claims of Arabs living under Israeli military dictatorship.

    For them, only a maximalist vision of Jewish possession of its ancestral homeland is acceptable, and everything else is treason. Friedman considers me and people who share my views “worse than kapos,” Nazi henchmen. We only think we’re center-left Zionists; actually we are nothing but “smug advocates of Israel’s destruction.”

    Remarkably, the class of traitors includes the majority of Israelis who continue to favor two states, with peace and justice for Jews and Arabs alike. And more than 240 generals – including several former IDF Chiefs of Staff, heads of the Shin Bet and Mossad – who this past summer publicly argued that territorial compromise will enhance, not diminish Israeli security. But as we know, the new administration knows a lot more about security than the generals.

    Disagree with me on the merits? Please persuade me. Present some alternative, reasonable, non-messianic scenario for Israelis to live in peace and for Palestinians to live with basic dignity. But I don’t believe Friedman and his friends have one. Or even want one.



    Thanks for both of these, Bruce. For Israel I think it's a nightmare - a "solution" that provides no solution at all, a guarantee of generations more arguing, fighting and insecurity all around. I'm not naive enough to think even an ugly compromise will put everything to rest, but jeeze, we've now been through another 8 years wth 0 progress, and the only thing to come out of it is "let's be more strident"? And while that's over there, it will inform the US' official Mideast policy with all the saber rattling at Iran and the horrible optics in Palestine and in general some of the worst PR available for both the US & Israel. (And for US Jews, from what I understand a worsened cognitive split between a generally liberal worldview combined with a more-and-more unrelenting conservative outlook in Israel to somehow come to grips with, support without being too supportive, accept without being too accepting...)

    And for all this talk about radicalized Muslims, we've really been fortunate that since 9/11 and earlier there have been so few coordinated attacks outside the Muslim world (and of course within Israel). With 1.6 billion Muslims, can you imagine what would happen if even 0.01% or even 0.001% got pissed in an outward direction? Do people really think this is sustainable forever, just string along the charade? And at what cost?

    Unfortunately, there are some who believe that this is sustainable forever, and this is pyschoanalyzing from afar perhaps, but I think for some people sustainability is sustained by that which is unsustainable -- they like the fight, they like the cause, you know what I mean.  

    Edited to add. . .note Rabbi Jeremy's repeated references to "messianic" which I think is appropos.

    Oh yeah, that Messiah/rapture bit inspires all the loonies. Not content to believe in beautiful metaphors, they live their lives and *ours* trying to fulfill it. The line about no love without a bit of criticism is eagerly latched onto by those who bring only hard-nosed criticism and nothing approaching love.

    One of the weird things for me is that the Holocaust was largely incomprehensible - how could people do and think such things, especially presumably civilized people? whereas the situation in Palestine is nowhere near as complex - it's simply a fight over land with a bit of religion thrown in to spice it up for a largely backwards impoverished batch of nomads. But this cant that Flynn & others latch onto, for example Iran can't be negotiated with or the latest veto of whatever Palestinian for some rights position - it's just balmy. Yeah, the Iranian leadership is a bit antiquated and backwards, but they've largely been rational and stable the last 25 years at least.  Hezbollah takes care of basic hygiene, lobs a few missiles, and power & status quo are thus maintained. In short - these people are boring as fuck, riding their earlier reputation to a boring grave (ignoring the real recipients of their half-assed firepower). Bibi & Hezbollah are flip sides of this same crooked agreement. Obviously Israel comes out better, but I'm sure if the Hezbollah leadership can get Netflix on Sat TV they're satisfied.

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