Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Slow Down - There's No Crisis In US-Israel Relations

DC analysts often have a bad habit of confusing things that are interesting with things that are important. Today's #ChickenSh*tGate is a prime example.

This morning's piece in the Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg proclaims "The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here," but it's hardly the first to do so. A 2010 JCPA article asks, "A Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations: Have We Been Here Before?" and a YNet article from 2009 asks, "US-Israel Relations: Is there a crisis?" Today's title is a bit more confident in declaring the existence of a crisis, but the evidence to substantiate the claim is shoddy at best.

First, the off-the-record claims made by the "unnamed official" in the Goldberg piece range from dubious to absurd. While US frustration over the Netanyahu administration's conduct in the peace talks may be warranted, other aspects of the comments say more about the official than about Bibi. The official is concerned that Bibi has "a near-pathological desire for career-preservation." But all leaders care about self preservation. The nonchalant way in which the official writes off the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran is a dangerous underestimation of Israeli fear of an Iranian nuclear program. It's also at odds with how the Obama administration has actually conducted policy.

Second, that Bibi has "written off" the White House is hardly news. Netanyahu's address to AIPAC and Congress, both in 2011, show that Israel's strategy for years has been to mobilize Congress rather than curry favor with the White House. The Hellfire missile incident during Operation Protective Edge this summer is evidence of the same. A crisis implies an immediate and impending disaster save for corrective action, but the existing dynamic between the US and Israel has remained as such for years.

Finally, US-Israel relations have been much, much worse than they are right now. President Dwight D. Eisenhower threatened Israel with sanctions in 1957. In 1967, Israel torpedoed the USS Liberty, killing 34 US personnel and injuring 171. In 1991, Jonathan Pollard was caught committing espionage against the United States for Israel in 1985, a fact that Israel did not admit until 1998. Each of these constituted serious crises. And each shaped the US-Israel relationship for decades to come.

Today's comments are an embarrassment to the Obama administration and an offensive slap in the face to Israel and its leadership. They are indicative of friction between the US and Israel. But they are hardly a crisis, especially given how sustained the current relationship has been. Vague assertions to the contrary only set back US national interests: Promoting a sustainable peace agreement, fostering regional stability in the Middle East, and improving the quality of life for millions of Israelis and Palestinians who bear the burden of ongoing conflict.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Stop Politicizing The Death Of Children

On Wednesday evening, a four year-old named Mohammed Abu Jarad was killed in Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip when an unexploded missile from a previous Israeli operation went off near where he was playing. Mohammed was severely injured and rushed to Shifa Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

That same Wednesday evening, a 3-month old baby named Chaya Zissel Braun was killed when a Palestinian purposefully drove a car into a group of people exiting the Jerusalem light rail. She was thrown 30 feet, landing on her head, and died two hours later.

The death of a child, regardless of the different circumstances that cause it, is perhaps the most universal tragedy. Nothing can help family and friends make sense of such a horrible event. The juxtaposition of the pure innocence of a child with the sheer terror of a violent death is too great for any human to truly make peace with it.

But without even waiting until the small bodies had been placed in the ground, the pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian spin machines swung into gear. Each side emphasized its own victimhood while denying the victimhood of the other. "Yes, but" statements splattered the Twittersphere like the blood in Beit Hanoun and Jerusalem which had not even dried. These statements excused, diluted, dodged, obfuscated, and slanted the tragedies unashamedly and with unabashed self-righteousness. Morality became meaningless as it was twisted, redefined, misappropriated, and applied with little concern for consistency.

How sick have we become when our first thought upon seeing a picture of a dead infant is "Yes, but they do it too" or "This is a perfect example of my political beliefs"? How many more dead children will it take before supporters of Israel and/or the Palestinians step back from the microphone or the keyboard and see the devastation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for what it is? This conflict is not winnable. It has never been and it will never be. Yet some are more concerned with advancing the rhetorical football than accepting the fact that it will never move beyond the 40-yard line.

We, collectively, are missing the forest for the trees. Progress doesn't look like children singing in a field. It doesn't look like justice flowing like a mighty stream. It doesn't even have to look the tired cliche of a peace treaty photo op.

Progress on Wednesday evening would have looked like pausing. Pausing to see on the sheer tragedy of this conflict for what it is. Without spin and without rhetoric. The way it has engulfed a generation too young to understand it or be complicit in it. The way it lets us so easily throw our most basic human instincts - compassion for children - to the wind. 

Chaya and Mohammed did not die as Israelis or Palestinians. They died as human beings. For their sake, we should try to live in the same way.