Last updated: April 29, 2013
Marvin Zonis: Obama to stick it to Israel?

“There are real anti-Semites out there. But not every critic of Israeli policy is one of them.”

President Obama has had a rocky relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Israeli leader intervened in the U.S. presidential elections to defeat Obama and remains determined to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Obama’s second term will be payback time. For starters, Obama will appoint former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Word of Hagel’s impending nomination led William Kristol, the intellectual leader of American neo-conservatives and Chief of Staff for former Vice President Dan Quayle, to begin the assault.

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In The Weekly Standard, Kristol fumed, “Chuck Hagel appears to be the leading candidate to become the next secretary of defense. Anti-Israel propagandists are thrilled. . . Hagel certainly does have anti-Israel, pro-appeasement-of-Iran bona fides. While still a senator, Hagel said that ‘a military strike against Iran, a military option, is not a viable, feasible, responsible option.’ Hagel, one of only two senators who voted in 2001 against renewing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, also voted in 2007 against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization and opposed the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act. . . Hagel also has a record of consistent hostility to Israel over the last decade. He boasted in 2008 that, unlike his peers, he wasn’t intimidated by ‘the Jewish lobby.’

The next year, he signed a letter urging President Obama to open direct negotiations with Hamas.” (, December 24, 2012) Kristol’s screed set off a tumultuous debate about Obama, about Hagel, about Netanyahu, about the “two state solution,” and about ant-Semitism.

Bernard Avishai, liberal Israeli professor and commentator, began the counter attack. “I think it is time to acknowledge, bluntly, that certain major Jewish organizations, indeed, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations – also, the ADL, AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, political groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition, along with their various columnists, pundits, and list-serves – are among the most consistent purveyors of McCarthyitestyle outrages in America today. Are there greater serial defamers of public officials in fake campaigns against defamation?...the game has been to keep Congress people and civil servants who might be skeptical of Israel's occupation and apologetics in a posture that can only be called exaggerated tact.” (

Then Al Gore announced that he had sold his CurrentTV to al-Jazeera, which has not been able to break into U.S. cable systems. Al-Jazeera will now be able to reach 40 million U.S. households up from the 4.7 million to whom they had previously broadcast. The tumult reached new highs.

Al-Jazeera is to the “left” of virtually all TV in the U.S. and focuses many of its programs on the poor and oppressed in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. But none of its concerns is more controversial than the Palestinians. The network may even be obsessed with the Palestinians.The response has been immediate but tempered. Abe Foxman, the long-time head of the Anti-Defamation League, has expressed his “concern” and said he would be observing the network carefully for bias.

Two developments in Israel added to the “excitement” in the U.S. Public opinion polls revealed the startling rise of the political party, “Jewish Home” led by Naftali Bennett. Bennett was born in Israel to American-Israeli parents and started a software company that he later sold for $145 million to a US firm. His party now looks to win as many seats in the Knesset elections of January 22 as the left Labor Party. Bennett is not shy. “My positions are very clear,” he boasts, “I never hide the fact that I categorically oppose a Palestinian state inside our country." Israeli politics have made a startling turn to the right. The chief losers, of course, will be the Palestinians as the chances for a two state solution west of the Jordan River are deep sixed.

And just this past weekend, Yuval Diskin, former chief of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, gave an interview to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. He savaged the Prime Minister, “Netanyahu is scared, fickle and shirking responsibility. . . There is a crisis of leadership here, a crisis of values and total contempt for the public. Maybe people will think I'm exaggerating, but I’m telling you: From close up it looks even worse.”

Speaking of all the Israeli leaders he has worked with over his 38 year career, he went on, "They didn't always make the right decision, but you knew where they were coming from – Israel's interests trumped anything else…Unfortunately, my feeling, and many others in the defense establishment share it, is that in the case of Netanyahu and Barak, the personal, opportunistic interests came first."

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Despite Diskin’s attack, Netanyahu will be the next prime minister, bolstered on his right by the rise of Jewish Home and his coalition partner, Yisrael Beiteinu, despite the corruption indictment brought against its leader, Avigdor Lieberman. The result will be more settlements and more seizures of Palestinian land; more weakening of Mahmoud Abbas and strengthening of Hamas; with an ever-receding possibility of a two state solution – or indeed any solution short of more Israel occupation and oppression. J-Street, the anti-AIPAC organization formed to support Israel and a two state solution has responded to the Israel turn to the right with an op-ed addressed to President Obama.

Jeremy Ben Ami, its executive director, suggests that “Construction and planning are taking place in areas far outside the “consensus” blocs that President Bill envisioned remaining with Israel in 2000. From construction in Shiloh and Beit El, to accrediting a national university in the outlying settlement of Ariel, to planning to develop the E-1 area east of Jerusalem, the government of Israel is unrelentingly establishing that it has no interest in the creation of a viable Palestinian state.”

Ben Ami makes clear that waiting for Israel and the Palestinians to come to negotiations is a dead end because of Netanyahu’s commitment to preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state by creating additional “facts on the ground.” Ben Ami urges President Obama to go to Israel and the West Bank and lay out an American plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state and then exert pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to achieve that goal. (, January 4, 2012)

Obama has been criticized for not visiting Israel in his first term. He managed to get to 35 other countries, many more than once. But not to Israel. (George W. Bush made it to Israel only in his second term.) Obama is likely to travel to Israel to establish some new Israel-Palestine ‘solution.’

Obama’s second term is likely to be ‘payback time.’ Netanyahu and Israel are likely to be at the top of his list. The Hagel nomination is likely to be just the first step in a vigorous campaign by the President to rescue the two state solution from what has become the world’s longest current occupation. Epilogue Kristol and many like him imply that opposition to the policies of the Israeli government is tantamount to anti-Semitism.

But instead of wasting their political clout on beating up on Israel’s critics, they might better focus on what is genuine anti-Judaism.

Take Egypt’s new president, Mohammad Morsi. Back in 2010, he made a video in which he said, “Either (you accept) the Zionists and everything they want, or else it is war…This is what these occupiers of the land of Palestine know – these blood-suckers, who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.” (, January 5, 2012)

Or one could look to Iran. Mohamed Rahimi, Iran’s First Vice President speaking at a ceremony against drug abuse and illicit trafficking, (The Talmud) “...teaches (the Jews) how to destroy non-Jews so as to protect an embryo in the womb of a Jewish mother.” As ‘evidence’ of Jewish control of international illegal drug trade, the vice president alleged that there isn’t “a single addict among the Zionists.”

There are real anti-Semites out there. But not every critic of Israeli policy is one of them.

BY THE SAME AUTHOR – Marvin Zonis: What will happen in Cairo?

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