Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Rethinking our relationship with Israel

It's time for the U.S. to conduct a long-term reasseessment of our relationship with Israel.

No U.S. politician, except perhaps Ron Paul, can say that out loud. Nevertheless, it's true. I only hope the Obama administration, or at least some progressive think tank, is quietly conducting such a reassessment.

The conventional wisdom is, Israel is an — no, the — indispensable U.S. ally in the Middle East. It's the only true democracy in the area. If you hold that Islamic-leaning populations are inherently unfriendly to the U.S., Israel is also the only nation in the Middle East that isn't inherently unfriendly to the U.S.

However, the rise of deeply religious ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israel represents a long-term challenge to the nation's fundamental nature. As David Remnick wrote in The New Yorker earlier this year, right-wing politicians in Israel have surged in popularity, perhaps helped by the tendency of ultra-religious Israeli Jews to have large families, and are saying out loud things that would have been unimaginable even ten years ago.

Early last year, Benny Katzover, a leader in the settlement of Elon Moreh, told a Chabad paper, Beit Mashiach, “I would say that today Israeli democracy has one central mission, and that is to disappear. Israeli democracy has finished its historical role, and it must be dismantled and bow before Judaism.”
Translation: theocracy, here we come!

Granted that this piece came out before the most recent Israeli elections, which produced a far-right victory that was a lot less resounding than anyone expected. Even so, demographics and the current mood in Israel don't bode well for the future.

If we're lucky, all the U.S. will lose is a reliable ally. Not that I'm counting on our being lucky: it's just that it would be too depressing to enumerate the possible bad outcomes right now.

A Jewish theocracy would be no more conducive to U.S. policy than an Islamic one like Iran. Jewish fundamentalism is no easier to live with than Islamic fundamentalism. If you think otherwise, either you are a Jewish fundamentalist, or you're a Christian fundamentalist looking for the road to the Rapture.

(Christian fundamentalism is no better, by the way. Religious fundamentalism is fundamentally bad.)

I don't know how the U.S. could handle the disaster that would be a theocratic Israel, but the odds are disturbingly high that sooner or later, that's exactly what we'll face. We'd better have a game plan ready.

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