Netanyahu’s Pyrrhic Victory

Exclusive: In a whirlwind trip to Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu behaved less like a visiting head of state and more like a pro-consul arriving in a conquered land to lecture its titular leader on the limits of his independence and to receive acclaim from subservient lawmakers. But ethics professor Daniel C. Maguire warns that Netanyahu’s brash behavior cannot conceal the dangers ahead.

By Daniel C. Maguire

May 27, 2011

What a moment for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he spoke to a joint session of the U.S. Congress this week. Republican and Democrat lawmakers bouncing to their feet like yo-yo’s to cheer his every utterance as he mocked the U.S. president’s policies.

Days earlier, sitting in the Oval Office, Netanyahu publicly scolded Barack Obama as if the U.S. president were a schoolboy. No foreign power ever held such sway over the government of the United States of America.

Bibi, as Netanyahu is called, could return home and boast that Israel’s American acolytes remain as compliant as the Stepford wives. And Israel’s expansionism, euphemized as “settlements,” can proceed apace.

Dictators enjoy mandated enthusiasm from their own minions. In Syria, Bashar Assad could get it from his parliament; so too Stalin from the Supreme Soviet.

But as Israeli Uri Avnery, former Jewish member of Israel’s Knesset, points out Netanyahu was getting it from a powerful foreign nation whose politics in the Middle East he effectively controlled.

No American politician could dare to withhold applause and still get reelected, it seemed. And the American press was also in yo-yo mode. No problem there, not even from the liberals at MSNBC.

When Israel identified and then attacked the U.S.S. Liberty on June 8, 1967, killing 34 crew members and wounding 171, the United States humbly bowed.

George Ball, a former undersecretary of state, said: “If America’s leaders did not have the courage to punish Israel for the blatant murder of American citizens, it seems clear that their American friends would let them get away with almost anything.”

Congress’ giddy response to Netanyahu renewed that promise of immunity.

But wait. There is another America that is stirring from its long slumbers. Also, many in the Arab world and in Europe have never been cowed into sleep and they are between impatience and outrage.

The United Nations General Assembly is about to give to the Palestinians the same status as a nation that Israel got in 1948 and it is springtime in Arab lands.

There are cracks in the Israeli immunity dike that are not sealed by sycophantic congressional clapping.

Unpracticed as I am in singing lauds to Republican leaders, I must praise Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush for showing the only way to stop Israeli expansionism.

In 1956, when Israel had occupied Sinai and the Gaza strip, Ike threatened to “halt all foreign aid and eliminate private tax-deductible donations to Israel if it did not withdraw” from those occupied territories.

And guess what! They quickly complied.

President George H.W. Bush reminded the Israelis that East Jerusalem was occupied territory and not part to Israel.

His Secretary of State James Baker told AIPAC in May 1989: “Now is the time to lay aside once and for all the unrealistic vision of a Greater Israel. … Forswear annexation. Stop settlement activity. Reach out to the Palestinians as neighbors who deserve political rights.”

President Bush then threatened to withhold a substantial portion of America’s $10 million a day of financial aid to Israel unless the settlements were stopped between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

To back up his word, Bush held back $700 million and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir halted construction. Still, the Bush administration deducted $400 million, the amount estimated to have been spent on the illegal settlements.

As soon as Bush left office in 1993, the “settlements” resumed.

Even President George W. Bush in 2008 stated: “There should be an end of the occupation that began in 1967. And we must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent. … Swiss cheese isn’t going to work when it comes to the outline of a state.”

There I have done it. I have praised Republicans. But where are those brave and just voices now?

Unsupported by U.S. action or at least credible threats of action, impotent pleas to halt the expansionism called “settlement” avail nothing. They never have; they never will.

Nemo gratis mendax. We pay a price for our lies. Likud policy rests on two and a half lies.

Lie one: Israel is and deserves to be a Jewish democracy. That, as Jewish Israeli historian Shlomo Sand says, is an oxymoron. Israel, he says, is an ethnocracy.

You can’t have a Jewish democracy when 20 percent of your citizens are Muslims and Christians. A Jewish democracy makes no more sense than a Lutheran democracy. You can’t privilege one religious or ethnic group and still call yourself a democracy.

Lie two is the parity lie. Even critics of Israel, like Rabbi Michael Lerner, offer this moral equivalency defense: “The list of atrocities is long on both sides.”

This blurs the basic moral distinction between the invader and the invaded, between the occupier and the occupied, as well as the comparative statistics on military strength and deaths of civilians including children.

For example, over 1,400 Gazans were killed in reprisal for four Israelis killed in December 2008. Operation Cast Lead could not be called a “war” because a war implies some military parity on both sides.

Attacks on Gaza by the fourth strongest military in the world (and the sixth strongest nuclear power) versus Hamas, which has neither an army, a navy, an air force, or even an air field, is not a war. It is a massacre. (Note from history, the “Boston massacre” involved five American deaths.)

The half lie: “security” is Israel’s hackneyed excuse for expansionism. That is hollow. Israel is the 800-pound gorilla in the Middle East.

As for the Palestinian side, homemade missile attacks are stupid and only give an excuse for disproportionate reprisal. Palestinians need a Gandhi and good sense.

Hamas has said and needs to say again that it will recognize Israel within the 1967 borders with reparations for refugees, and it needs to change any of its documents that contradict that.

In March 2002, the Arab League offered to recognize Israel’s right to exist and have normal relations with Israel. The offer had been repeatedly reconfirmed.

In April 2002, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, approved by Iran’s delegation, endorsed this.The condition was Israel’s compliance with the United Nations Resolutions 194, 242, 338. Hamas agreed.

But what of the truth side of Israel’s claim of insecurity, the other half?

The truth part can be found in changes in military science and in the rapidly changing Arab world. The nuclear genie is out of the bottle, and bombing Iran will not put it back in.

Suitcase-size atomic bombs exist, as do small packages of biological weapons. The protective wall provided by the U.S.-bribed dictator President Hosni Mubarak is no more.

Against miniaturized weapons, the massive military might of the United States and Israel have no adequate defense.

Head of Jewish studies at Baylor University, Marc Ellis, says, in the light of all this: ”The scenario of Israel going down and bringing the Middle East down as its last act is hardly far-fetched.”

But Israel could find the practical wisdom and true security it needs in its own holy scrolls.

You cannot build “Zion in bloodshed,” said Micah the prophet. (3:10); Zechariah added: “Neither by force of arms nor by brute strength” would the people be saved. (4:6)

Isaiah 32:17, in a text that deserves Nobel prizes in Economics and in Peace, said until you plant justice (Tsedaqah) you cannot have peace (Shalom).

The price tag for American support of Israel also is coming to light. The alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, cites the one-sided American support of Israel as a motive for the attack, as reported in the 9/11 Commission Report.

Gen. David Petraeus has testified to Congress that American over-identification with Israel is endangering U.S. troops in the Middle East.

Even former Vice President Dick Cheney told the American Enterprise Institute in 2009 that the nature of U.S. support for Israel has become one of the “true sources of resentment.”

Overwhelming military superiority no longer produces peace. As Andrew Bacevich says, Israel and the United States are proving that.

Pillars are shaking. Israel can have peace or expansion; it is currently choosing expansion.


Judaism Does Not Equal Israel by Marc Ellis, The New Press, 2009

Quicksand: America’s Pursuit of Power in the Middle East by Geoffrey Wawro, The Penguin Press, 2010

We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work by Jimmy Carter, Simon and Schuster, 2009.

The Attack on the Liberty: The Untold Story of Israel’s Deadly 1967 Assault on a U.S. Spy Ship by James Scott, Simon & Schuster, 2009

Daniel C. Maguire is a Professor of Moral Theology at Marquette University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is author of A Moral Creed for All Christians. He can be reached at [email protected]