Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Israel faces harsher criticism—from Jews

Express Staff Writer

One noticeable change has occurred over the past 30 years or so in the stormy relationship between Israel and the United States.

Criticism of Israel has increased sharply and become more abrasive.

And that's among Jews, American and Israeli.

Non-Jewish critics once were condemned automatically as "anti-Semitic." Jewish critics were stigmatized as "self-hating."

However, Israel recently announced plans to build 1,600 new settlement homes while Vice President Biden was visiting there. The Obama administration branded the tactic an "insult" and it led to an Israeli apology—but no change in plans.

And therein lies the crux of Washington's lopsided relationship with Israel.

Washington gives, Israel takes.

White House and congressional criticism usually is muted by the hugely influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (self-styled as "America's Pro-Israel Lobby") and the energetic Jewish vote.

But thrice Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (Jewish) unleashed a fiery denunciation on the latest settlement flap. "You think you (Israel) can embarrass your only true ally in the world to satisfy some domestic political need with no consequences?" he wrote under a headline, "Driving Drunk in Jerusalem." "You have lost total contact with reality. Call us when you're serious."

Although the United States regularly vetoes United Nations resolutions condemning Israel (I counted 40 such vetoes since 1972) and has sent well over $100 billion to Israel in grants, loans and credit since 1948, and has turned a blind eye to Israel's nuclear arms, Israel refuses to accede to Washington's most persistent demand—stop building settlements.

When first built years ago, settlements were described by Israel as defenses against Palestinian attacks. Now they unabashedly are built to dislocate Arabs.

Among the harshest tactics to rout Palestinian residents was the Israeli Defense Force's use of collective guilt. When an Arab home was suspected of being used by terrorists, the IDF bulldozed the structure, turning men, women and children out into the streets and then allowing Israeli families to move into new accommodations.

Enmity has built rapidly against Israel's rigid right-wing policies—notably, among Israelis, whose Peace Now movement is expanding fast, and by a new U.S. Jewish group, J Street ("The new address for Middle East peace and security"), a takeoff on AIPAC's K Street address in Washington.

However, what incentive do Israeli governments have to modify their politics when Washington continues to send several billion dollars a year there? These annual gifts insulate Israel's behavior from world condemnation, although everyone, including Washington, knows such mischief is wrong and creates just that much more global antagonism.

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