Paul Pillar

Buying Policy on Israel

President Obama is fond of lecturing Israel’s leaders. He was even caught by a microphone deriding them. He has undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was. And even at the United Nations, to the enthusiastic applause of Israel’s enemies, he spoke as if our closest ally in the Middle East was the problem. The people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world. And the chorus of accusations, threats, and insults at the United Nations should never again include the voice of the President of the United States.

The efforts of politicians to win votes by exaggerating differences often makes it hard to recognize how elements of continuity and similarity may be much greater than the differences. The Obama administration's policies toward Israel mostly have followed in the familiar bipartisan American pattern of great deference to the wishes of the Israeli government of the day. The billions of aid and security support continue unquestioned, regardless of the difficulties that Israel causes for U.S. interests. The acceptance of, and much U.S. help for, overwhelming Israeli regional military superiority continues. The Obama administration pointed out the unacceptability of Israeli colonization of occupied territory but then promptly caved to Netanyahu on the issue. On Iran, Obama has adopted the Israeli position about the “unacceptability” of an Iranian nuclear weapon, while saying nothing about the Israeli nuclear arsenal. And at the United Nations, it is hard to figure out what those “accusations, threats, and insults” are that supposedly have been voiced by the president, but under Obama the United States has continued to cast lonely vetoes—against the will and moral sense of the overwhelming majority of the world community—on behalf of Israel on subjects such as Israeli settlements built in occupied territory.

A markedly different U.S. course certainly could be envisioned, but it would not be a course that Romney is recommending and definitely not one that Adelson would want. Any difference between Obama's policies on Israel and what Romney is suggesting or Adelson is seeking is the difference between usual obeisance to Israel and complete obeisance to it. A change in this other direction would mean not only furnishing Israel with vetoes of U.N. resolutions about settlements but also not even raising the subject with the Israelis. It would mean being more careful around open microphones in commenting about how much of a problem Netanyahu is. It would mean a bigger act of outsourcing than anything done by any company controlled by Bain Capital: the outsourcing of an important segment of U.S. foreign policy to a foreign government. That is contrary to U.S. interests, no matter which foreign country is involved.

What Adelson is doing also is ultimately contrary to the interests of Israel. Those on the Israeli Left obviously are most inclined to see his activity that way. The blatant nature of his fortune-fueled political activism has also caused some unease in Israel because of the danger of eliciting the most damaging forms of prejudice. Ira Sharkansky of Hebrew University observes:

It's hard to imagine a better advertisement for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion than Sheldon Adelson. A Jew who is enormously wealthy on the basis of gambling enterprises on the fringes of respectability, who does not shrink from publicity about using his wealth for Jewish causes, . . . Adelson fits in the long tradition of court Jews, using their wealth to gain access to whoever is ruling in order to benefit the Jewish community. Where Adelson differs from Jewish traditions is in making his wealth felt in front of the curtains rather than behind them.

To the extent that Sharkansky's concerns about the exacerbation of anti-Semitism materialize, that would be bad in general and bad for Israel. Even if they do not materialize, Sheldon Adelson is doing no favor to the country he says he loves by promoting policies that condemn it to perpetual conflict and isolation. Sometimes love is blind, even in a man smart enough to have made billions.

Image: DonkeyHotey

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