Netanyahu Is Gone, and the Israel Lobby Will Never Be the Same
After three corruption probes he is out by the slimmest of margins: New government confirmed in a 60-59 vote with one abstention
In his angry speech today promising to “topple” the next government of Israel, the defeated former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu bragged of all his work in the United States. He had defied a president to oppose the Iran deal, he backed that up with a “massive effort in the Congress and public opinion.” He successfully opposed any effort to create a Palestinian state.
“With all the policy differences between us and the incoming [American] government, an Israeli Prime Minister must be able to say No to a U.S. President,” Netanyahu said. “Who will do that now? They–” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition– “do not want and are not capable of standing up to the United States.”
When the U.S. returns to the Iran deal, the new government will take token actions, Netanyahu said. And when the U.S. government demands the uprooting of settlements, the new government will not oppose it forcefully. When the U.S. government puts a consulate for Palestine in Jerusalem, the Israeli government will issue lame tweets and fold.
It goes without saying that Netanyahu is a giant political talent, and in his non-farewell address he showed us the playbook. “The United States is something that can be easily moved,” he said in a famous moment 20 years ago. Today he repeated the claim, and he said only he could do it.
Netanyahu is right. Israel has easily moved U.S. policy for decades now, and for the last 12 years due to two large coordinated forces: Netanyahu’s will and the powerful Israel lobby in U.S. politics, embodied by Sheldon Adelson on the right, and Haim Saban in the Democratic Party. Remember that then-DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz led the repeated standing ovations to Netanyahu in Congress in 2011 when he slapped down President Obama over the idea of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. And that Obama’s aide Ben Rhodes has now expressed “shame” that the president went along with Netanyahu’s lie that he wanted to create a Palestinian state. While on the right side of U.S. politics, Donald Trump trashed the Iran deal and bribed Arab nations to support Israel to keep the Israel lobby happy.
These are now historical events. As Netanyahu said today, the incoming Biden administration will soon reenter the Iran deal, and who is going to stop them? The next prime minister, a 49-year-old who has only 7 seats in his party and looks like a chipmunk? AIPAC and the AJC and the other center-right Israel lobby organizations are run by old guys with little energy. Netanyahu has cast the liberal Zionist group J Street as a “radical left” organization, but it has friends in the White House and most of the Democratic Congress, and J Street supports the Iran deal. It is now the leader of the Democratic Party Israel lobby– and under a lot of pressure from the base to demand the conditioning of aid to Israel over war crimes.
The Israel lobby isn’t going away. It is still a dominant force in Middle East policymaking, thanks to big pro-Israel Jewish donors. But the lobby is being reshuffled before our eyes, and there are finally others at the table. The Squad represents a real force in the Congress that is critical of Israel– and that finally gives a voice to the Democratic street, that wants to cut aid over war crimes, including illegal settlements. Even Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez are aware of these voters, and have curbed their pro-Israel rhetoric.
Netanyahu said today that Bennett would not be able to stand up to the world either. Here he means the International Criminal Court that is investigating Israel for war crimes in Gaza, and the many human rights groups accusing it of apartheid, and the global nonviolent Palestinian campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.
In short the playing field has changed dramatically since Netanyahu could twist a Democratic president’s arm again and again, and it was game over.
Joe Biden doesn’t want to fight with Naftali Bennett because it would hurt his party politically– again, the Democratic Party is dependent on the Israel lobby. But he is sure to demand that Bennett keep their differences quiet. This too will mark a new era. Netanyahu bragged today that he refused the Biden administration’s demand that he keep differences between the countries quiet. Bennett is well to Netanyahu’s right, but he is dependent on left Zionist and Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament, and will have trouble throwing his weight around in Jerusalem let alone D.C. When there is a battle over illegal settlements, Bennett will get flak from his own coalition and J Street.
The Israel lobby is now fragmented and on its back foot. Yes the lobby will reassert its strength due to the power of donors. But the disarray will not end soon. J Street and the rightwing Democratic Majority for Israel will be openly at odds, and the Jewish youth group IfNotNow will continue to demand change from the establishment.
The lobby has lost its commander in Netanyahu. Already the destruction of Netanyahu in Israel has begun, with rightwing leaders saying he should have been replaced earlier.
The political realignment that is before us will be an opportunity for the left. Israel is an apartheid state run by a man who said Palestinians swing from trees. It is time for Palestinians to move America.