The American Right Throws Israelis Into the Breach

At this writing, Middle East watchers are, well, watching to see if Israel and Hamas can reach a cease-fire.  Signs are good, but pessimists are rarely disproved in the Middle East.

There is little doubt that Jerusalem would like a genuine cease-fire.  Even though the Israeli public strongly supports Operation Pillar of Defense, it is very wary of a ground assault on Gaza: only a small minority of Israelis support an immediate ground offensive, and such operations during Cast Lead and the Second Lebanon War quickly became quagmires that upended Israeli governments.  Few in Israel doubt that an actual cease-fire is in the national interest.

The caveat, though, is the phrase “in Israel.”  Once again demonstrating that it could not possibly care less about the Jewish state, the right wing has concocted yet another preposterous anti-Obama narrative.  Last night on the Hannity show, Oliver North claimed that Obama has threatened Israel with the cutoff of military supplies if it launches a ground invasion and refuses to accept a cease-fire on Hamas’ terms.  This story has now become common in the fever swamps of the American right.

This obviously demonstrates the Right’s desperation to undermine President Obama’s clear support of Israel’s position.  Throughout the 2012 campaign, conservatives insisted that Obama would betray Israel as soon if he was re-elected.  Since Obama very clearly backed up Jerusalem’s position, the American Right’s Plan B was to unilaterally re-define Israel’s security interests, insisting that in fact it should move in with ground troops.  What Israelis themselves want is irrelevant: the important thing is to convince American Jews and evangelicals that Obama is a closet anti-Semite.

The Right’s gambit, however, is more than pathetic: it is dangerous.  Sheldon Adelson’s Israel Today is Israel’s largest circulating newspaper (not “best-selling” because it is given away for free), and it carries the explicit attempt to drive the Israeli conversation rightward.  If it succeeds, we will face the grotesque spectacle of American conservatives seeking to make Israel more right-wing in order to justify its evidence-free conviction that Obama is anti-Israel.  And if they succeed, they will accomplish the goal of making Israel more aggressive and rejectionist.  That will lead to a further erosion of Israel’s international position, a magnification of settler violence, and putting even more Israeli soldiers and civilians at risk.

But none of this bothers the American Right.  In order to serve its own political goals, it is willing to fight to the last Jew.



Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

23 thoughts on “The American Right Throws Israelis Into the Breach”

  1. You might spare a word or two for the Palestinians who will die, be further dispossessed, confined, starved or beaten. Maybe just one or two?

    1. Certainly fair. And I have! And will continue to do so. I am trying here to be somewhat circumscribed in what I am saying so as not to make it a Israel-Palestine smack-down. Certainly the American Right couldn’t care less about the innocent Palestinians in Gaza, so to point out that they don’t seem concerned about them would be met with indifference from them. But your point is well-taken.

  2. In the swamp’s coverage of Gaza, & the of Oliver North tale in particular, you run across a fair number of instances of an explicit distinction between good Jews (Israeli bad-asses) and bad Jews (the American liberal kind), along with the notion that it’d serve ’em right if (liberal) American Jews, rather than Israelis, were the ones getting screwed by Hamas-plus-Obama. The latent contradictions of these people’s position don’t stay latent forever.

  3. The very few Israelis of my acquaintance seem decidedly less naive and biddable on political matters than do Americans of similar background. I doubt Adelson’s free newspaper is changing much of anything.

  4. I would have thought the real caveat was “actual”? As in, “actual cease-fire”? Does anyone seriously expect a cease-fire, if negotiated, to be “actual”, in light of past performance?

    1. Yes, for a while, very much based on past performance. A cease-fire is not a peace treaty.

      1. Perhaps I should clarify that: Does anyone expect the cease-fire, which will, technically, be “actual/genuine” for its duration, no matter how short that might be, to

        1. Last longer than it takes Hama to replace the munitions they’ve been expending.


        2. Even that long, taking into account suicide bomings, border post murders, and the like?

        Israel happens to have a neighbor which aspires to genocide. That they’re incapable of achieving it at present doesn’t make them civilized. It just means that Israel survives a while longer. So long as they remain genocidally inclined, “cease-fire” remains Middle Eastern for, “Pause to reload’.

        Conservatives expect/encourage Israel to respond to these provocations with extreme violence because that’s what Americans would do if Mexico started lobbing missiles over the border, and teaching genocide in their schools.

        Has anybody ever been persuaded to abandon attempts at genocide by sweet reason, prior to recieving a beatdown of phenomenal proportions?

        1. Brett, you’ve got to remember that not every atrocity that comes out of Gaza is planned by Hamas. There are some folk there who are crazier than Hamas. So not every violent incident is a breach of the cease-fire. And you can usually tell the difference, because Hamas likes to take credit for its deeds.

          I’m not going to try to convince you that Palestinians are civilized. There are lots of folks who believe that their enemies are bestial. The problem with this kind of reasoning is that their enemies tend to reciprocate. With this kind of reinforcing reciprocity, there is not much left to do but mutual attempted murder. Me? I just think that my enemies are pretty much like me, with very different interests. I haven’t murdered anybody yet–and I only know one person who may have tried to murder me. Him? He got murdered.

          1. You’re right, you’re not going to convince me they’re civilized. Those missiles are why you’re not going to convince me. Launching missiles out of residential areas occupied by your own people, to use them as human shields! Elementary school children being taught genocide are why you’re not going to convince me. Suicide bombers are why you’re not going to convince me.

            Ultimately, you’ve got to be able to admit that sometimes one’s foes aren’t civilized. Sometimes they are bestial. Sometimes it really is true, and you’ve got to face it. Not everyone is reasonable. And if Hamas is “reasonable”, the word means nothing.

          2. using your own logic, would you regard our killing of civilians with drone strikes as being evidence of our bestiality?

          3. Yes, to some extent. It isn’t the primary goal of the strikes, unlike Hamas’ missiles, but we’re entirely too casual about collateral damage. IMO, this business of being a “world super-power” is warping our national character.

          4. “. . . this business of being a “world super-power” is warping our national character.”

            on this point, brett, we can agree.

        2. Fine. How does Israel intend for these actions to achieve any useful ends? What is their strategy here? Do they have any plan beyond, “Bomb things until the situation changes?” If they do, I don’t see it. And I have no idea how this plan is going to achieve anything.

          1. Their strategy here, as publicly announced, is to go in, disrupt Hamas leadership, destroy munitions supplies, so that Hamas stops launching missiles for no better reason than they don’t have any.

            Is that a long term fix? No. There’s a time to look for long term fixes, and it’s not when missiles are raining down on you.

  5. I’m going to disagree with Jonathan again. I think he is correct on what the right wing wants, and is correct that it will be bad for Israel. But I think that the right wing is quite sincere, and believes that extra bellicosity will be good for Israel. Jonathan’s mistake is thinking that the right wing is rational on the subject of Israel. It is not. The right wing suffers from a bad case of small penis disease, and sees Israel as its last best hope of being a big swinging dick. Since the right suffers so badly from small penis disease, it thinks that acting like a big swinging dick is actually a good thing, both the for dick and for the dick’s allies.

    1. Ebenezer – Do not, under any circumstances, hide your feelings on this(!) I may be wrong, but it sounds as though you have some personal investment/involvement in this situation?

      It occurs to me, probably kind of obvious, that flaming the region also creates conditions for the right’s fallback relevance mechanism, aggressive military action (whether actual, as domestic narrative cudgel, manna to the faithful, etc). Would (in their minds) put Obama between Scylla and Charybdis; gins up shallow, base nationalism; puts some hate on those evil brown folks (conveniently removed from our shores, but quite useful as surrogate); necessitates massive transfer of national resources to Our Friends and Family…. Gotta say, they’re consistent.

      1. I agree with Steven that flaming the region serves the interests of the right. But I see little daylight between Steven and I. Most people–some liberals excepted–think that their interests are aligned with their normative beliefs.

        Feelings? Me, have feelings?? Bah, humbug!! I do admit to having a penis, through no choice of my own.

    2. Ebenezer, you are right to question me here, but I think we actually disagree less than you think. My view of the Right’s thinking on this is as follows:

      1) Barack Obama is an anti-colonialist, racist, left-wing anti-Semite;
      2) Barack Obama supports a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas/PIJ;
      3) Thus, a cease-fire between Hamas/PIJ MUST be an anti-colonialist, racist, left-wing anti-Semitic plot; and therefore;
      4) The best policy is to launch an immediate ground offensive.

      So I am not so much accusing the Right of insincerity but rather saying that its view on Israel proceeds from its view of Barack Obama and domestic politics. As an Israeli diplomat explained to me several years ago: “Let me tell you what Tom Delay and Dick Armey think about the Middle East. Tom Delay and Dick Armey do not like brown people. They do not like Third World people. And they do not like Yasser Arafat.”

      It’s part of an integrated worldview.

      1. I agree with ##1, 2, and 4 as accurate expressions of wingnut reasoning. #3 I’m not so sure about. Look at the one time when Obama smote the wog with his big swinging dick: assassinating Osama (albeit supported by solid legal casuistry.) Most of the right did not therefore conclude that assassinating Osama was part of the Kenyan Muslim Socialist conspiracy. (A few did–only a few.) They couldn’t–they genuinely like manly assassinations by SEALs. Instead, they attacked everything about the assassination but the deed itself: Obama was preening, or we should/shouldn’t have taken prisoners, or we should have been able to do it earlier or whatever. The neocons back in the 1990s actually supported Bill Clinton when he bombed Serbia.

        Could I suggest a convergence, modifying your chain of reasoning just a bit?:
        1) Barack Obama is an anti-colonialist, racist, left-wing anti-Semite socialist;
        2) Barack Obama supports a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas/PIJ;
        3) Thus, a cease-fire between Hamas/PIJ MUST be wrong in some way;
        4) But we know this independently, because cease-fires are not manly; and therefore;
        5) The best policy is to launch an immediate ground offensive.

  6. In order to serve its own political goals, it is willing to fight to the last Jew.
    Very good line.

  7. I also defer to the actions of democratically elected government and majority view of Israelis when it comes to their own security. How often have the other letter writers and Jonathan subscribed to that notion in the past and are willing to do so in the future?

    1. As it turns out, “a survey conducted a few hours prior to the announcement of the volatile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas found that 70 percent of Israelis opposed halting the military operation in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s Channel 2 reported that the survey, conducted by Shiluv Millward Brown, found that 70 percent of Israelis responded “No” to the question of whether Israel should agree to a ceasefire, with 24 percent replying in the affirmative and 6 percent responding “Don’t know.””

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