After a brief hiatus to deal with some family matters, it’s time to return to the fight, both at Divest This! and now with a weekly column at the incomparable Elder of Ziyon site!
Having missed some comings and goings over the last couple of months, I wanted to take a look at what’s gone on that might impact the fight against BDS which – as all of you reading this should know by now – is simply a propaganda tactic in a multi-faceted global war against the Jewish state.
Starting from the top, the surprising result of last year’s US election is clearly going to have a more dramatic impact on domestic and international politics than, for example, English teachers deciding not to join an academic boycott.
Given the effort many of us put into fighting on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people, it’s sometimes difficult to admit how little control we have over the most significant factors impacting our struggle.
At the top of the list, global geopolitics – the interplay of state and powerful non-state actors – will always dictate the terms within which our battles play out. Simply put, if those involved with the decades-long war in the Middle East between kings, dictators and religious fanatics determine that attacking Israel is in their interest, there will be war. Similarly, if Western governments decide it is in their interests to cater to 50+ Islamic states vs. one Jewish one, then – at best – Israel and its friends will be forced to fight an uphill battle on unfriendly terrain.
Who leads Israel is the second most influential factor over what situations Israel’s supporters will have to deal with. If you look over Israel’s success (starting with founding of the state, defending it, ingathering exiles and liberalizing and expanding its economy) and failures (notably Oslo and its aftermath – including the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza), these were all actions instigated by Israeli leaders at the time. Yes, those leaders were responding to pressures generated by the aforementioned geopolitics. But no amount of outside influence (short of invasion) can impact a democratic society more than choices made by its own government.
A close third behind geopolitics and who runs Israel is who runs America. For a variety of historical reasons, the alliance between Israel and the US has become so vital to the Jewish state that the occupant in the White House can have an outside effect on everything Israel is doing or trying to do.
Fortunately, Israel benefits from strong support from power structures beyond 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, notably Congress, but ultimately the American people. As we have seen over the last eight years when the US President was hostile to Israeli interests, strong support for the Jewish state from every level below the Executive Branch (down to the man and woman on the street) creates constraints with which even a popular President must contend.
With a handful of days left to go in his presidency, I think it’s fair to accept that those who criticized the soon-to-be ex-President as harboring an ideological dislike of Israel and letting that drive irrational policy choices were right, while those who felt his animus was driven more by incompetence in delicate foreign affairs overall were wrong. (We won’t bother with those who tried to pretend that Obama’s needless warring on Israel were examples of “tough love” offered by a sincere friend.)
A President unfettered by democratic constraints (as all Presidents are during their lame duck session) provides the opportunity to let the political id run wild. And given all he could have done (or not done) during his last weeks in office, it is telling indeed that Obama used this period to throw Israel to the jackals at the UN, even at the cost of cementing his reputation as betrayer (not to mention further eroding his own party’s support of and by Jewish Americans and other friends of Israel).
With a week to go, there is still a possibility that the administration will use its last days in office to kick an ally in the face one last time. Fortunately, much of this can be undone by the incoming President (there are ways, after all, to marginalize the UN that don’t require expending political capital getting it to reverse its most horrendous official pronouncements).
But if the last eight years (really the last eight decades) teach us anything, it is to not count on the occupant of the White House, or anyone else, to solve our problems for us. And with the keys to the Executive Mansion changing hands in just a few days, it’s worth drawing some lessons from the past that can help us navigate an unpredictable future.