Glenn Beck's Israel Problem

On Thursday, Fox News' Glenn Beck devoted a segment of his television program to attacking me for condemning the Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound relief flotilla.

I have no problem with that. But I can't help but feel a little sad that the Israeli government's most vocal supporters are now on the extreme right. (My discomfort on that score was only heightened today when Beck endorsed a book by a notoriously anti-Semitic author.)

It's no surprise that liberals are not too enamored with Israel these days -- not with the Netanyahu government firmly choosing occupation and blockade over negotiations with the Palestinians.

Does that mean that the extreme right is more pro-Israel than progressives?

Actually, it means the opposite.

Progressives oppose Israeli policies that would almost inevitably lead to Israel's dissolution. There is hardly a mainstream political figure in Israel, dead or living, (including current Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert) who hasn't evinced the belief that Israel cannot survive if it maintains the occupation of the lands taken in 1967. Netanyahu's choice of confrontation over negotiating the end of the occupation appears suicidal.

But that is the policy supported by right-wingers like Beck. They don't admire Israel because of its intrinsic qualities but because they view it as fighting the good fight against the people they most despise: Arabs and Muslims. They will happily fight to the last Israeli in a struggle they view as part of the "War on Terror." If Israel is sacrificed in the name of that goal, so what? There are more important things to the right than the survival of one little Jewish country -- like fighting Islam.

No doubt, the Israeli right welcomes this kind of support because beggars can't be choosers. Nor do they much care that, when Israel finally chooses the path of peace with the Palestinians, which it will, these rightwing "supporters" will disappear.

Israel is their proxy in the war against Islam. Once Israel stops fighting, you can count on Beck to denounce it for selling out to the socialists. (And that is appropriate. Pretty much every major institution in Israel -- including the state itself, the agricultural and industrial sectors, and the military -- was built by socialists.)

There is so much wrong with Beck's response to me that I can't respond to them all here although (a project of Media Matters Action Network) does.

But there are a few points I do want to make.

The first is that Beck insists that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is legal under international law. It isn't (see Political Correction).

But the larger point is that it doesn't matter whether the collective punishment of civilians is legal. Slavery was legal. So was segregation. In fact, the entire civil rights struggle was about overturning Jim Crow laws, which were passed between 1865 and 1965 to keep African-Americans subjugated.

I am not surprised that the right does not know this because it was, at best, notoriously indifferent to the civil rights struggle. Democrats, liberals and "so-called" Rockefeller Republicans (the kind of Republicans who no longer exist) are responsible for every civil rights law that has been enacted since the 1960's.

In fact, as most people know, the solid Democratic south became the solid Republican south in response to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Even today, Republicans in places like Kentucky and Nevada have a hard time saying that they would support the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in its entirety. (Why would they? The founder of the modern conservative movement, Barry Goldwater, proudly voted against the law and that enabled him, as the 1964 GOP nominee for President, to switch the south to Republican for going on 50 years.)

But the Middle East conflict is bigger than politics and certainly a patriot like Glenn Beck knows that.

That is what General David Petraeus was saying when he warned us that continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict puts American interests, including American men and women in uniform, in jeopardy.

It is all well and good for Glenn Beck to wave his Israeli flag and cheer on an unnecessary and deadly attack on civilians on the high seas. But what about US interests?

Is there anyone who can possibly make the case that America benefits from being the only country in the entire world that endorsed the Israeli attack on the flotilla? Does it make sense that the center-left American government backed it while the center-right British government condemned it? (It does make a certain sense, but only in the context of the financing of political campaigns.)

Does Glenn Beck really believe that American and Israeli interests are identical?

Because, if he does, I have some sad news for him. His proclaimed hero, George Washington, would disagree. In fact, Washington would call those views un-American (as he called any suggestion that the US has identical interests with any foreign country).

This is from Washington's Farewell Address of 1796, a speech so significant that it is read aloud in Congress each year on the anniversary of Washington's birthday (italics mine).

A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification....And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

So, Glenn, next time you want to make the case that every good American should support every Israeli policy, don't take it up with me. Take it up with our first president.

NOTE: Anyone who doubts that segments of the "pro-Israel" community are losing their minds over this flotilla issue should read this by the Associate Editor of the very mainstream New York Jewish Week. He calls for bombing all future humanitarian flotillas along with Iran.

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