Monday, March 02, 2015

What the speech may do

This article gets to what I think will be the largest effect of Netanyahu's speech to Congress this week. I don't think it will have much effect on the Iranian negotiations (Netanyahu's views were already widely known). I don't even think the speech will have that much effect on this month's Israeli election.

The biggest effect of the speech is that, for the first time in recent memory, a significant number of strong supporters of Israel in the U.S. (including many American Jews) are breaking sharply away from a major effort by a sitting Israeli prime minister. I mean, the speech is not just something that J-Street is objecting to, Abraham Foxman wants the speech to be rescheduled! Even AIPAC is not totally on board with what Bibi is doing (although it is urging people not to boycott the speech).
"It’s a tipping-point moment,” said Rabbi John Rosove, an outspoken liberal and head of Temple Israel of Hollywood. “It’s no longer the Israeli government, right or wrong. The highest form of patriotism and loyalty is to criticize from a place of love.”
Okay, that's just one "outspoken liberal" rabbi. But that's the rub, there are a lot of liberal American Jews who nevertheless will automatically support Israeli policies even if those policies are a product of a right-wing government. If the attitude shift described by Rabbi Rosove sticks beyond this immediate controversy, that would be huge. It would open the door to all kinds of other criticisms of Israel from parts of the American political landscape that, until now, have basically defended whatever the current Israeli leadership does.

I don't know if it will stick. Probably it won't. I bet whenever the next time that Israels takes a belligerent stance towards some group like Hamas that everyone will claim  somehow poses an existential threat to Israel, knee jerk support for Israel will right back. But even so, I think it will be just a little bit harder to maintain that same kind of support going forward. So in that sense, Netanyahu's speech to Congress this week has a real silver lining: its potential to make American politics a little less knee-jerk supportive of Israel. That is something that has needed to happen for a long time, IMHO.

UPDATE: Or maybe not. Damn, I guess I have to go with my long held principle that polling data is a better measure of the zeitgeist than some just so story with a few cherry picked examples. So much for my silver lining.