Israel and the US Elections

The final results of the US elections are now in. And, according to all the polls, the Israeli public decided that Romney should have won—even though his electoral promises about issues related to Israel did not go beyond those made by Barak Obama.


Why the Israeli public reacted as it did says a great deal about Israeli-American relations—and especially about a particular aspect of Israeli-American relations that is rarely if ever discussed.


In all their statements to the media  and to the pollsters, the Israeli public made no reference to what was the biggest item on the American voters’ agenda—the economy and the deadline of December 31, after which a whole list of budget cuts and cuts in tax benefits goes into effect.


The economy may have seemed to many Israelis to have been strictly an American domestic issue. But it should have been a major consideration for Israelis too because America is Israel’s biggest trading partner, Israel receives more military aid from the United States than any other country, and the health of the American economy has a major impact on the Israeli economy.


It should also be noted that the group most affected by the cuts will be the American military. The Defense Department has already had its budget cut by more than 470 billion dollars. (That, by the way, is more than twice Israel’s whole annual GDP). Additional cuts, if they go into effect on December 31, would double that figure.


Those additional cuts will come at the very time when the United States has announced that it is going to shift its whole strategic emphasis to the Pacific bowl in order to try to contain China’s ambitions there. What is now being called the “pivot” to Asia will involve huge expenditures on new bases and equipment.


As well, the US is going to have to pay for the enormous logistical operation that will be required to get the NATO forces out of Afghanistan by 2014, as scheduled. And after 10 years of war, the US military is also going to have to resupply and reequip its forces.


Taken together, those costs are so huge that they cannot but affect any plans the Americans may have for fighting an extended conflict with Iran.


Another thing the Israeli voters ignored is that there is a whole menu of major foreign policy issues that have little or nothing to do with Israel that will keep the American foreign policy establishment busy and divert its attention away from the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Some of those issues are far higher up the Republican Party’s list of priorities than is Israel.


There is the economic crisis in Europe. Both Russia and China are challenging American super-power hegemony everywhere. Nuclear-armed North Korea remains a threat that needs constant watching. New policies will need to be formulated to deal with the fall-out from the revolutions in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. And as the bloodbath in Syria increases in intensity, and as the number of Islamist fighters there continues to grow, pressure to intervene there will grow too.


Then there are a whole bunch of other issues that will preoccupy American policy-makers in the next year as well, including the need to figure out what to do with Pakistan and Turkey.


Another thing Israel’s Romney supporters failed to take account of is the praise that most Israeli officials, but not Netanyahu, had showered on Obama for all the military and intelligence assistance he had provided to Israel.


And to top it all off, when Obama and Romney held their foreign policy debate, all Romney could do was to agree with every point Obama made. Essentially, Romney admitted that there would have been no change in the American foreign policy agenda if he had won.


So why, then did Israelis overwhelmingly support Romney?


I think that the key comes down to three key words:–“sympathy,” “empathy” and “realism.”


Israel, in the years after its founding, based almost all of its diplomatic efforts in eliciting sympathy, in the wake of the Holocaust. But, in recent years, for any number of reasons—its military successes, its continued occupation of territories captured in the 6-Day War, the fact that those people who had witnessed the Holocaust have been dying off or retiring, and because of the way Washington works—Israel has based almost all its diplomatic efforts in the United States on what is often called “a realist approach.”


What do I mean by a “realistic approach?”


The “realist” school of international diplomacy is one of the leading ways politicians and diplomats have of looking at the world. Its main practitioners have included such very different people as Austria’s Count Metternich and France’s General Charles De Gaulle. Among the leading American practitioners of the realist school of politics have been such notable figures as Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft and James Baker—and most recently, Barack Obama.


Among the basic principles or dogmas of realist politics is the premise that national self-interest and the need to acquire power to pursue those interests should take precedence over all other factors when policies are decided upon.


The lack of a realist approach can lead to wishful thinking, as the war in Iraq demonstrated. It can also lead countries to appear to be supplicant dependencies, for whom any largesse can be cut when the country’s patron needs to cut costs. This is the very position that Mahmoud Abbas’s government finds itself in right now.


On the other hand, at its worst, a realist approach can even become a fixed ideology that determines how its practitioners relate to almost every political subject, be it the economy, social problems or foreign relations. This means that issues that cannot be quantified in terms of cost and benefit, such as shared values, are ignored.


Another primary weaknesses, is that it is so analytical and so cold a framework for assessing human problems that it does not allow for alternatives to the use of strong-arm tactics when polite requests fail to provide the response requested. In particular, it cannot, on its own, be used to rally the public in democracies, if their governments do not accept the proposals being presented. That is because it ignores people’s fundamental need for expressions of empathy.


As we saw in this past election campaign, when candidates, especially the Republicans, failed to show empathy to women voters, for example, they lost. Maybe the best example was the series of comments by two anti-abortion candidates who, using pseudo-science to back their claims, came out against abortions even in the case of rape.


People too easy confuse empathy with sympathy. So, let me define how I use the term. When we engage in sympathy we describe how we feel about a certain situation. Empathy is the capacity to understand and show how and why the other side is reacting to that same situation.


As I will try to show tonight, when it comes to Israel, the need to show empathy towards what the country’s citizens have gone through over the years is one of the main factors that have influenced foreigners ability or inability to influence Israeli policy-making.


Empathy is an important analytical tool because it enables an analyst to get inside the mind of someone else. It is one of the few techniques anyone has for judging that hardest of all subjects to understand…the other’s intent. Sympathy, because it is an emotionally-driven, one-sided approach, usually leads only to political and diplomatic dead ends.


The ability to show empathy is not the exclusive possession of one American political party or another. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush showed empathy towards Israel, while George Bush Senior and Barack Obama have not. George Romney didn’t indicate which way he would lean.


In general, though, the hard truth is that when it comes to issues related to Israel, it ultimately makes little difference who is elected president in the United States. American policy towards Israel is basically unchangeable, no matter whether an empathetic or a sympathetic or a realist president is elected. That is because American policy, in the end, has little or nothing to do with the reality in which Israelis live, or any prior feelings a president may have had towards Israel. However, policies towards Israel are heavily influenced by the reality of the political environment and political culture in Washington.


One of the most powerful sources of influence on policy-making in Washington is what can be termed “the Washington political consensus.” So strong is its impact on policy-making that it has always shaped presidential approached to issues.


In the period up to the 6-Day War, that consensus stated that the Arab states, and especially Arab oil and the Arabs geopolitical position, were more vital to American interests than tiny Israel.


For that reason, beginning in the 1970s, successive Israeli governments have tried to influence that consensus by putting almost all their diplomatic and lobbying efforts into eliciting empathy and into trying to prove that a strong, powerful Israel is in America’s national interest.


That effort began in earnest, after the world had gone through the two great oil shocks of the 1970s.


Then, in the run-up to the 1980 US presidential election, the Israeli foreign ministry was tasked to determine whether a Democratic or a Republican president was better for Israel. The conclusion of the team that prepared the study was that it made no difference to Israeli-American relations whether a president was a Republican or a Democrat. What did matter was whether the president was an incumbent or not, because, the report stated, it takes about 18 months to break in a new president to the realities of the Middle East. In other words, it takes that long to at least elicit some real empathy for Israel’s position from a novice president, whether he is inherently sympathetic or not to Israel’s fears and concerns.


The Israeli assessment did not, however, take into account something far more important to decision-makers in Washington than Israeli education efforts. Israeli officials proudly proclaim that Israel has become a bi-partisan issue. That is why Netanyahu was condemned so much for appearing to have sided openly with Romney.


But, to the best of my knowledge, Israeli policy makers have never addressed the issue of how and why Washington comes to a consensus in the first place.


So, to get to the heart of that critical issue, let us now fast forward to July 2012, in the wake of the failures by the US intelligence agencies, the National Security Council and the State Department to predict the upheavals in the Arab states and their aftermath.


On July 19, 2012, the Los Angeles Times published an article quoting David Shedd, the Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, publicly admitting that US intelligence agencies have a systemic fault that has prevented them from predicting events such as the outbreak of unrest in the Arab world. He might just as well have included Israel in his assessment—and for the same reasons.


To old-time foreign correspondents, Shedd’s admission was nothing new. Writing on a Pentagon information wire, Shedd had declared that the failure to predict the so-called “Arab Spring” had been the product of the fact that American spies had focused on collecting information from power elites, and were thus unaware of the dissatisfaction growing among the general population. He should have included American diplomats, think tank analysts and journalists in that same critique.


Even more fascinating than Shedd’s candor, though, was the fact that, at least according to Google, not one other major news outlet, and especially not one of the media outlets that prides itself on its detailed coverage of Washington, carried the story.


No wonder. It was too much of an embarrassment to all those involved—including the media.


In politically and intellectually incestuous Washington, the people who have an overwhelming impact on the formation of the Washington consensus, the American media and the so-called “experts” and government officials they rely on for comment, have been no less guilty of that same sin of omission. To give but one simple example, I, for one, have yet to see a foreign diplomat visit a moshav with the intent of talking politics to its residents.


A very good example of an outcome of the failure to talk politics to the hoi polloi was the huge mistake that Shedd talked about. It wasn’t as though there wasn’t ample evidence that a social volcano was about to erupt in the Arab World. More than five years ago, I predicted that because of the so-called “youth bulge” in the Arab countries, which had led to vast unemployment among young men who could not then earn enough to pay the prevailing bride price, a violent social explosion was almost inevitable.


Nonetheless, the expectation in Washington was that the dictatorial rule in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria would continue indefinitely.


Why was there such resistance to doing basic research?


It is a fact of life that Washington has long been obsessed with the idea of power as expressed by what is believed to be the celebrity political elite, wherever they may live. The hoi polloi, the average Joes and Janes, are ignored because they are believed to be unable to effect social change.


This, by the way, was the same syndrome that afflicted the Americans in the run-up to the so-called “surprising” expulsion of the Shah from Iran.


A fundamental accompanying assumption to this consensus is that the “good guys,” those who are enlightened “like us”—those with whom we can reason—must be those who speak English. This approach had led to such appalling mis-assessments in the media and in academe as the once-widespread belief that Seif el-Islam Gadaffi and Bashar Assad, who would soon become their country’s butchers, were actually good guys because they had studied in the West and spoke smooth English.


More recently, we saw the same syndrome at work in Cairo. After the demonstrations and rioting broke out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the American media were giving the events 24/7 coverage. In a vain attempt to determine who was in charge of the demonstrations, in other words, who were the leaders behind the rebellion, they competed furiously among themselves to interview the young, English-speaking liberal democrats. They assumed that it would be these spokespeople who could reinforce the beliefs and aspirations that the foreign interviewers were already expounding—even before the facts had been established.


Revealingly, few if any of the foreign journalists ventured even a block or two away from the square—let alone to the wilds of the Upper Nile or the coastal desert areas west of Alexandria—to see what was taking place in Egypt’s Arabic-speaking “real world” –the world of small shops, craftsmen’s workshops, cafes, mosques, open souks, intense family ties, and especially clan and religious leaders.


It was clear from the statements and leaks in Washington that the spies, the diplomats and the think tank types who were in Egypt at the time had behaved in a similar manner.


Most of the journalists, in their commentaries and interviews, were then quick to lump the participants in the demonstrations into three categories long-used by Washington foreign policy-makers, journalists and pundits as a kind of behavioural shorthand: Those who are like us (youngsters who use Facebook and Twitter). Those who want to be like us (the hapless and the unemployed or underemployed who need our way of life). And those who aren’t like us at all (Salafists).


For those old geezers like myself, who were able to remember all the way back to the Cold War, and the reports about the children of the Soviet apparatchiks who “wanted to be like us” because they were paying astronomical sums for smuggled jeans, the message was all too familiar. The only difference was that iPhones glued to the youngsters’ ears had now become the symbol of “want-to-be-just-like-us-edness.”


The underlying reason for that simplistic approach is that in-depth reporting, which includes empathetic listening to learn the answers to questions no one thought to ask, takes time and tries most viewers’ and readers’ patience. It is not believed to be time or cost effective.


No less importantly, though, for all of America’s stated devotion to the fostering of democracy, Washington’s foreign policy fraternity and its journalistic dependents are endemically anti-democratic. Theirs is a world where one of the primary dogmas is that elites have a right to rule. The only job that should be assigned to Joe or Jane everyman/everywoman is to go dutifully to the polls to decide which member of the elite should rule. Therefore the only people whom these diplomats and journalists deem worth talking to are members of the supposed elite…folks who appear to be like themselves.


There is a very practical reason for this approach, of course. Going out to the hinterland in order to listen to people not only takes time, money and work, it rarely brings the researcher kudos—especially if the conventional wisdom on which current policy is based ends up being challenged.


But maybe most importantly of all, talking to the natives implies to the researcher’s peers and patrons that he or she believes the unthinkable—that the masses are capable of making policy.


Not only that, it lays the researcher open to that most devastating critique and career-killer—the charge that the person has “gone native.” A person tarred with such an epithet is believed to have lost his or her objectivity because he or she is now believed to care more about the other side than about their own government’s concerns.


A no less important feature of the foreign policy fraternity is the so-called “revolving door.” Journalists join academe. Professors spend time in government and then recommend favoured students for government jobs. Government workers become pundits in the media and then affect the agenda of the journalists. And on and on. This then creates a closed intellectual circle, where new ideas—especially those that appear to come from a farmer in a field somewhere—that challenge the consensus are unwelcome at best and forcefully excluded at worst.


Members of this closed circle may argue bitterly with each other over one policy issue or another, but they rarely, if ever, question whether the assumptions underpinning their argument, are correct or valid.


One need not go to places like Iraq and Afghanistan to see the results of this mindset. There is no place on earth where the “they are like us or they want to be like us” has taken hold of America’s perceptions than Israel. And there is no place where this assumption is less justified.


Too often, when American policies in the Arab Middle East have failed, the excuse has been that “we didn’t think to look at this subject,” or “the data wasn’t available” or “the locals wouldn’t talk to us,” or “even the natives were surprised at what happened.”


The same excuses cannot be used with Israel. Israelis are compulsive talkers, obsessive public navel-gazers, and devoted collectors of easily-accessed public opinion and other social and economic data. Therefore, if analyses of Israel go badly awry, then the normally-used excuses fall by the wayside, and the mindsets that lay at the heart of those assessments can be examined in depth.


Until the 1967 war, Israel wasn’t even a back-burner issue for Americans. If anything, it was a back-of-the-closet issue—somewhere behind the funny souvenir hat and the never-read coffee table books on the kibbutz and the holy shrines.


In other words, it was ripe for cold, clear analysis. But that never happened. Israelis blamed the new wave of criticism that was being mounted against the country as being renewed anti-semitism. That may have been a factor for a small minority of foreigners. Of greater significance was the fact that, virtually from the outset, Israel was viewed through the prisms of almost every item on any responsible political analyst’s “don’t do” list. The long-term effect of this was that after early, inaccurate assumptions went unchallenged, there was a cascade of consecutive misperceptions—each based on the previous misconception.


There had been some small changes in the regional environment that had taken place before the Six-Day War, such as President Johnson’s decision to sell Israel Hawk anti-aircraft missiles for the first time, and the fact that a new Palestinian organization called “el Fatah” had been formed. But this had not required any extensive rethinking about how to approach Israel.


In the wake of the war, two issues immediately came to the forefront of international discussions about Israel—the country’s borders and the fate of the Palestinian refugees. These two subjects would frame diplomatic approaches to Israel for the next 45 years.


There are many reasons why these problems, and not many other no less important ones that influence the state of war and peace in the region, took center stage.


To begin with, world diplomats have long believed that these two issues—resolving humanitarian problems and resolving crises caused by border disputes—are within their particular area of expertise and are a fundamental part of their job description. Therefore, as part of the incessant turf wars for power and influence in Washington, it was in their own interest that they emphasize these aspects of the crisis, and not others over which they have less influence and less of a claim to being able to change matters. Put bluntly, highlighting these issues was a form of job creation and job protection.


For the media too, the aftermath of the war was a godsend. And for that reason, journalists were more than willing to mouth the American diplomat’s presentation of the developing narrative. The diplomats provided great, short sound-bites and visuals of foreign policy celebrities coming and going to meetings. The renewed violence following the war provided much-needed dramatic images. The refugees provided emotionally-stirring stories and images too. And maps showing the changes in the cease-fire lines (Israel, at the time had no legal borders) provided easy, clear graphics that could be posted behind news readers.


I am not saying that these were not important issues—just that they were not the only important issues.


Totally ignored by the diplomats and the journalists alike were the huge upheavals taking place within all the Middle Eastern societies—events which would exert a far greater long-term influence on the region than the boundary disputes or the Palestinian refugee problem. The reason for this failure was that the societal changes that were taking place were messy, incremental affairs that required a lot of background knowledge, and an extensive knowledge of history to comprehend, explain, and put in context. Most importantly, they required the employment of empathy in order to gain that knowledge.


If one wishes to be empathetic to these journalists and diplomats, one should look at their behaviour from their point of view. Studying societal changes in the Middle East takes a lot of time, money and work, for very little expected benefit to those expected to pay for the effort. That is because, for journalists, reports of this type could not be put into an article of 800 words or a 2 minute television news report that required a “wrap”—a beginning, middle and neat ending. Reports based on extensive research would have taken weeks to prepare, when the demand was for an article or assessment each day.


As a result, very quickly, the refugee and the border issues, together with the ongoing violence became what are often called “anchors” in the ongoing narrative. In other words, as with any narrative told as a serial, the authors needed a frame for the story and a reference point to alert the audience about what was going to come next in the report. So often were these anchors repeated that they became assumptions that required no further clarification or examination. These “axioms” quickly included oft-repeated absurdities such as that Israeli-Palestinian peace is the key to resolving all the problems in the Middle East.


In addition, two additional, formative changes were also taking place outside the Middle East in the 1970s that were to have a profound affect on perceptions of the region. First and foremost, the condominium relationship between the so-called “left” and the so-called “right” that had existed in the legislatures in Europe and the United States, and which had not only been the product of  the unity needed to fight World War II, but also the subsequent Cold War, began to break down.


One reason was that many socialist doctrines, when implemented and then field-tested had been found to be wanting. As a result, many of those on the left, especially the hard-line ideologues, were left intellectually depleted and bereft of new ideas. For their own purposes, they needed an enemy and an emotional cause around which to rally their supporters. As a result, they reacted to events arising from the Israeli-Arab dispute with emotionally-driven sympathy for whoever could be chosen as a downtrodden individual—not thoughtful empathy for those trying to cope with extraordinarily complex issues.


No less importantly, the right-wing politicians in the United States began to abandon compromise solutions on Capitol Hill. Instead of seeking “compromises” with the Democrats, beginning with the run-up to the Reagan election campaign, they began to emphasize “alternatives” to policies that had once been the product of joint “across the aisles” efforts. This would eventually lead first to neo-con dogmatism, and eventually to the rise of such phenomena as the Tea Party, congressional catatonism and the advent of super-pacs that are designed to enable to wealthy to try to buy political influence and election results. Political polarization was setting in.


As part of this process, American conservatives believed that they had to establish their own think tanks to provide academically-blessed and data-supported alternatives to the established research bodies such as the Brookings Institution and the universities which they believed had a left-wing slant. As a result, the American Enterprise Institute was reinvigorated and research centres such as the Heritage Foundation and the libertarian Cato Institute were established.


In a parallel vein, the next decade saw a fierce competition between the newly-wealthy Gulf States and wealthy Jews to establish endowed chairs in Middle Eastern, Arabic and Jewish studies at American Universities as an indirect means of influencing American public opinion through teaching, academic research that could be quoted, and op-eds by the endowed professors. As with the think tanks, appointment to these new positions and research money became dependent of whether the individual involved would focus his or her research and teaching on issues that supported the dogmas of the donors, who were even less interested than even the diplomats in showing empathy to those considered to be “the enemy.”


As the competition between the donors increased, so did the number of think tanks and university positions—and the frame of the debate was strengthened, as were the vested interests of those making their living from the polarization.


For that reason, whole areas of potential research such as the entrenchment of tribalism in both Israel and the Arab states were almost totally ignored.


And as part of this process, new, populist advocacy organizations such as CAMERA, Honest Reporting and CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) also began to appear alongside established lobbying organizations such as AIPAC.


What united all these different bodies was their need to ensure continuous funding…which meant, in effect, proving to the donors that their ideologies were being given wide play in the media over time.


That task became infinitely easier because of the humungous changes which the media were undergoing at that time. In 1958, the giant advertising agency J. Walter Thompson began a multi-year survey of the American public, now largely forgotten, that eventually found that the average American high school graduate could only concentrate for a grand total of 28 seconds. Up to that time, the standard length of a television commercial had been 1 minute. However, the survey showed that Thompson’s clients could actually get more than twice the bang for the buck by cutting the ads to half a minute and four times the bang for the buck by cutting them to 15 seconds.


It took a while for the findings to sink in. It was, after all, hard for most people to believe that they couldn’t concentrate for even half a minute at a time. So, in television newscasts, for example, in the 1968 presidential election, Hubert Humphrey was still given as long as a minute and 20 seconds to speak on the nightly newscasts.


But by the 1980s, the average sound-bite had fallen to 12 seconds, in line with the Thompson findings. People can’t say very much in 12 seconds. There is no time for nuance. And, most recently, Twitter has been based on the findings that most Americans can’t concentrate on a text message that uses more than 140 characters.


The 1980s were also a time of massive changes in the newspaper industry. Newspapers at that time were making an extraordinary 35 percent per year on invested capital—largely through the sale of classified ads. But that wasn’t enough for Wall Street. Investors demanded an even greater return on capital and began to demand a cut in costs. That led not only to the premature firing of old, experienced hands and the employment of youngsters who were paid much less, but also to the search for free or at least cheap content.


Not only were they paid less, these new reporters were expected to provide more content. The only way they could do so was by assembling entertaining quotes and colour, rather than substantive information based on intensive and extensive research. Today, the average news story has about 70 percent quotes and colour, and only about 30 percent substantive information. And who did they get their quotes from? From an almost standardized list of think tank residents and academics who had a personal, financial stake in appearing in the media, and from government spokespeople who had a stake in promoting their office’s agenda and interests.


Another result was the almost astronomic growth of unpaid or lowly-paid op-ed and opinion pieces by these same new media stars. The so-called “experts” who had just moved into their newly-endowed chairs at universities and think tanks needed an assured vehicle to prove to their sponsors that they were putting out the message expected of them.


Another fast-rising group were witty, opinionated writers who could use their appearances in newspapers and television to provide them with the publicity needed to foster their far more lucrative appearances on the lecture circuit.


And in their search for entertaining drama, the speakers and writers were encouraged to adopt ever more polarizing positions.


By the way, for all their yelling and screaming at each other, thorough studies have found that these television pundits got things right only about half the time—about the same as if they had simply flipped a coin.


One of the most insidious outgrowths of these developments was that the easiest way the officials and the pundits had of making their position understood to the American public was by using terms that were familiar to Americans—even though they may have had no relevance to the cultures of foreign countries the opinionators were talking about.


For example, one of the most egregious errors was to assume that all the actions of a foreign state should be judged by their adherence to that most basic of American principles—that the primary role of the state is to protect individual rights. In Israel, though, for example, the supreme ethos is group responsibility. This is the polar opposite of the American one.


From there on, the mistakes about Israel came thick and fast. Because of their lack of familiarity with the internal workings of Israeli society, American diplomats and journalists began using more and more labels to describe personalities and events that bore no relationship to the way those terms are used in normal American parlance. Maybe the best example was the use of the term “right-wing” to describe the Israeli neo-nationalists who were intent on settling the newly-occupied territories.


A seminal failure by the wordsmiths and political analysts of the time was their unwillingness to ask the simple question: “Right wing, compared to what?”


At the time, most of the newly-founded “Land of Israel Movement’s” members were, in fact, stalwart Laborites who had grown up on the ethos of settling the land. And it was consummate Laborite Shimon Peres who negotiated the outcome of the first exercise in the settlement of the area of Samaria in the northern West Bank.


When religious settlers eventually began to take control of the movement, they too were hardly followers of that classic conservative philosopher, Edmond Burke in their approach. Contrary to the admonitions of Burke, they disregarded the property rights of the Palestinians, and favored heavy doses of preferential government funding, centralized planning and high taxation to pay for their projects. The combination of nationalism and central planning bears more the marks of old-style Russian Bolshevist nationalism than any other system of governance.


A similar, very recent use of fallacious and misleading labeling has been the all-too-common use of the term “moderate” when the Moslem Brotherhood is discussed in the American media or in Congressional testimony. Again, the question should be: “Moderate compared to what?”


Another too-often used misnomer is the phrase “Western-oriented,” as in the term “Western-oriented Saudi Arabia.”


Israel too is invariably labeled as “Western,” when in fact two thirds of its population is made up of people who grew up in or are first generation prodigy of people who grew up in authoritarian, anti-democratic societies in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, where the European Enlightenment had never reached.


This, for example, explains the recent, meteoric rise of Likud politician Moshe Kahalon. He is both more “right-wing” on nationalist issues than the average Likudnik and more “left-wing” on social matters than the average Labour Party supporter.


Therefore, one conclusion I have come to is that, despite the acres of trees that have been felled, the barrels of printers’ ink that have been poured, and the kazillions of electrons that have been sent whizzing around the world, Israel is probably the most reported on but also the most misunderstood country on earth—by its friends and foes alike. Contrary to Edward Said’s assertions, the Arabs come only a close second.


By now, you may have asked yourselves: Why have I given this long-winded account of Washington consensus-making?


The fact is that despite all its efforts, Israel has found that, over the years, it has been incapable of countering the mammoth system of consensus-making in place in Washington. At times, Israelis have blamed the media, or the so-called “Arabists” in the State Department, or anti-Semites, or anti-Zionist academics for these failures. But the one indisputable fact is that American policy towards Israel has been relatively unchanged for decades, no matter who was the president.


Ironically, Israel has only really succeeded in seeing Washington’s perceptions change when one of its opponents has acted in such a way as to shatter the existing consensus. Massive military aid to Israel was the product of Anwar Sadat’s peace initiative. The sanctions against Iran were only imposed after Ahmedinejad directly threatened not only Israel, but the Gulf States as well.


Therefore, the reaction of the majority of the Israeli public to the American election was merely the product of their frustration with Israel’s consistent inability to influence something as powerful as the Washington consensus.


Moreover, Obama is an unabashed supporter of the realist school. Therefore, even if he is sympathetic or empathetic to Israel’s needs and concerns, he refuses to show it.


On the other hand, even before the days of Kissinger, Israelis have always demanded that before anyone offers the country advice that they must show, as a minimum, an empathy for the country’s citizens.


Thus, even though he had nothing new to offer, Romney was chosen as the preferred candidate by a majority of Israelis because he was the default option and because some Israelis misconstrued his statements of sympathy for real empathy.


I, for one certainly don’t think that in any of his public statements he demonstrated any new insights into Israeli predicaments based on his empathy for Israel’s citizens. More importantly, he showed no interest in confronting or wanting to change the existing Washington consensus about Israel.


That being so, it is worth considering whether had Romney won, his election might actually have been a serious blow to Israel’s efforts to contain Iran. After all, as the Israeli task force concluded, it would have taken him 18 months to fully formulate a coherent proposal of his own for dealing with Iran. And by then, both the Obama administration and the Israeli government agree, Iran would have passed the red line in its efforts to produce nuclear weapons. And had that occurred, all that Israel would have been left with was American sympathy.

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