Israeli Politics and the Highest Bidder
Wealthy Americans should stop meddling. Israel's national interests should not be up for auction.
Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson reportedly is attempting to influence the results of the upcoming U.S. election in accordance with what he believes is Israel's interest. Adelson’s moves remind me of a joke sometimes told in Washington: A few days before the elections, President Obama invites the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to the White House. The president tells his guest with great enthusiasm that he has decided to make Israel the fifty-first state. Netanyahu can hardly hide his dismay. "I truly appreciate your kindness, Mr. President, but please don't do it!" replies the prime minister, showing his anxiety. "If I accept it," he explains, "we will have to do with merely two senators."
Adelson is not alone in interfering in Israeli affairs. There are other Jewish businesspeople and lobbies devoted to Israel's security and well being. Yet most of these individuals and the Jewish establishment stick to the policy Netanyahu presented in his famous Bar Ilan 2009 speech, in which he clarified that reaching an agreement with the PLO on the basis of the two-state solution is an Israeli interest.
Each organization has its own interpretation of Netanyahu’s policy. Thus, the veteran American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) "invests" in politicians who have a "positive record" on issues such as the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Supporters of J Street, a young, liberal organization, put their money on dovish Democrats. The Adelsons, in comparison, support a marginal, radical agenda. But they do not hide their strong objection to the idea of establishing a Palestinian state next to Israel. For them, the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is a Muslim terrorist.
Since President Obama is committed to pursuing the two-state solution, Adelson has promised to dedicate whatever amount of money is needed to defeat him. At the same time, he sends checks to dozens of congressional candidates who are committed to an anti-Palestinian agenda. In an interview with Forbes, Adelson suggested he would consider spending $100 million on the 2012 elections.
Consider that President Ronald Reagan was the first U.S. leader to recognize the PLO, and he initiated a dialogue with the Palestinian organization as early as 1988. Since then, the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become a bipartisan issue. Over the last twenty-five years, all American presidents have stated that this is one of the most vital U.S. national interests.
Al Qaeda and the global jihad must be quite happy to see the defeat of what is left of these moderate supporters of a two-state solution. But as far as I know, there is nothing illegal about using financial and political power to undermine U.S. strategic interests. It is up to the American people to judge Adelson and others like them. And it's up to American politicians to decide whether it should be legal to use money to undermine bipartisan foreign policy.
As an Israeli patriot, I am concerned about the interference of radical individuals and organizations in our own politics. I have a problem with American billionaires such as Adelson, who started a free newspaper in Israel in order to promote his antipeace ideology. It also upsets me that California millionaire Irwin Moskowitz is continually buying property in order to create ultra-right-wing settlements in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and Hebron. And I can't understand why the American administration allows foundations that are channeling money to illegal West Bank outposts to enjoy tax-deductible donations. Jewish leaders in both Israel and America should distance themselves from Jewish people who want to ensure Israel continues the Palestinian occupation, living forever by the sword.
The relationship between the United States and Israel is based on common values and interests. One of these shared aims is the consolidation of a moderate Middle East coalition and the stabilization of the region. Israel has always been the moral and strategic cornerstone of a pro-American and pro-Western front. Today, the growing power of Muslim parties following the Arab Spring is making this challenge more essential but also much more difficult. Thus, allowing wealthy individuals to meddle with the troubled Israeli-Palestinian-American peace process is similar to allowing my baby granddaughter to play with fire.
Once world politics becomes a playground for casino and bingo entrepreneurs, the door is open for all well-heeled businesspeople. Today, it is a radical Jewish billionaire who is dedicated to the elimination of the Palestinian state—but tomorrow could see a Saudi sheikh investing in U.S. politicians who support a two-state solution; he might even finance an anti-Zionist Israeli magazine.
Israel's national interests should not be up for auction. Zionist values—promoting a democratic Jewish state—are not for sale. Israel used to look up to American democracy. But turning over political discourse and election campaigns to wealthy interest groups is not a model Israelis should imitate.
Akiva Eldar is the chief political columnist and an editorial writer for Haaretz. His columns also appear regularly in the Ha'aretz-Herald Tribune edition.