Over the past week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has changed his mind countless times regarding how and when he will implement Israel’s sovereignty plan in Judea and Samaria in consonance with President Donald Trump’s vision for peace. Netanyahu’s vacillations are clearly a product of the immense pressure being exerted on him to cancel the plan to apply Israeli law to the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria and to the Jordan Valley and turn his back on Trump’s Middle East peace plan.
This is a shame. It is also absurd. When we consider the source of much of the pressure—and the reasons it is being exerted—it becomes glaringly clear that the critics and opponents must be ignored. Their actions are not being taken out of conviction so much as hostility or distress. Israel must cast aside their hectoring and pressure and implement the sovereignty plan with all due haste.
Consider one of the most talked-about recent efforts to pressure the Israeli public and Netanyahu to set aside the sovereignty plan and spurn Trump.
Last Friday, United Arab Emirates Ambassador in Washington Yousef Al Otaiba published an article in Yediot Ahronot. Otaiba threatened that if Israel implements its sovereignty plan in Judea and Samaria, the prospect of normalized ties with the Sunni Arab states in the Persian Gulf will fall by the wayside.
The media played up the author. But it quickly became clear that the idea of publishing the article in Hebrew in an Israeli newspaper didn’t come from Otaiba. Hours after the morning papers arrived, the media reported that it was Democratic mega-donor Haim Saban’s idea to have Otaiba publish his threatening article in Yediot.
On its face, Saban’s role in the Otaiba opinion piece seems strange. The former Israeli billionaire is well-known for his support for Israel. He is a major donor to Friends of the IDF and to AIPAC. In an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 in 2010, Saban harshly attacked the Obama administration for its hostility towards Israel. Back then he said of Barack Obama and his team, “They are really left leftists, so far to the left there’s not much space left between them and the wall.”
At the time he made those remarks, Saban believed in cooperating with Republicans to advance the common goals of defending Israel and fighting anti-Semitism in the United States and throughout the world. He spoke to Channel 10 at a conference of the Israeli Leadership Council in Los Angeles. The ILC, which later changed its name to the Israeli American Council, was founded to provide an organizational home for the Israeli émigré community in the United States. It was a joint initiative by Saban and Republican mega-donor (and owner of Israel Hayom) Sheldon Adelson.
In July 2015, the two men extended their cooperation to fighting the anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Jewish students on campuses. They co-founded the Maccabees on Campus group to fight BDS groups.
So what has happened to Saban? What changed and made him want to use Otaiba as a means to spook the Israeli public and pressure Netanyahu to act in a way that would harm the sovereignty plan and through it, undermine Trump’s peace plan?
Apparently, the answer is found in the leftward lurch of his party. By 2015, Obama’s “left leftism” had become the mainstream position of the party. Today many Democratic activists revile Obama for what they view as his “conservative” positions.
To be clear, it’s not that Obama moderated his views, it’s simply that the “wall” Saban conceived in 2010 as the ideological edge of the party was blasted through long ago.
If Obama’s positions on Israel shifted at all during his presidency, they became more radical, not moderate. On June 15, a report in Israel Hayom gave a glimpse of just how hostile he was towards Israel when he left office.
According to the report, in a recent closed-door conversation, Netanyahu revealed that in the final weeks of Obama’s presidency Obama wanted to kick Israel where it really mattered. By this time, Obama had already engineered the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 that defined all of Israel’s civilian presence beyond the 1949 armistice lines, (including the Western Wall) as a breach of international law. With less than a month left in office, Obama wanted a second, even harsher resolution. Netanyahu reportedly told his interlocutors that Obama wanted to pass a resolution which would require Israel to agree to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines.
Netanyahu said that when he heard of Obama’s plan, he turned to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu said he explained to Putin that such a resolution would massively destabilize the Middle East and asked Putin to veto the measure. Putin agreed.
According to Netanyahu, when word reached Obama that Putin would veto his resolution, Obama abandoned his plan. He realized it wouldn’t do to be exposed as more hostile to Israel than his Russian counterpart. Such exposure would out him as an enemy of Israel before the American Jewish community.
On Thursday, a Kremlin spokesman denied that Putin had made such a pledge. Obama’s ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, denied that such a measure had been raised. Other U.S. sources admitted it had been under consideration.
Considering that Obama’s views are now the mainstream views of the Democratic Party, and given the depth of his hostility towards Israel, it is self-evident that a Biden administration will begin its treatment of Israel where Obama left off. So as far as U.S. politics go, it is clear now that Democratic opposition to the sovereignty plan is not based on a studied assessment of the situation but of visceral hostility.
Which brings us to Saban’s attempt to use the UAE ambassador to manipulate public opinion and pressure the prime minister.
The Democratic Party’s turn against Israel placed Jewish Democrats in a wretched position. For generations, the party has not simply been their political preference at the ballot box. Being Democrats has been a way of life. Their party’s rejection of Israel has had a dramatic impact on the pro-Israel Jewish Democrats’ readiness to act on behalf of Israel and against anti-Semitism.
Saban is a case in point. Just three months after he co-founded the Maccabees on Campus with Adelson and worked with Adelson to build the IAC into a national organization, Saban pulled out of both ventures. Reports at the time of his withdrawal from both groups were speculative. But all the speculation zoned in on one conclusion. The shift in his party made Saban abandon his previous willingness to work across the partisan divide. By October 2015, he was no longer willing to be associated with organizations that could in any way be viewed as out of step with the Obama administration and the Democratic Party.
This brings us to AIPAC, the pro-Israel group Saban has continued funding. Last week it was reported AIPAC told lawmakers that it won’t mind if they oppose Israel’s sovereignty plan so long as their opposition isn’t translated into efforts to curtail U.S. military aid to the Jewish state.
Since its founding, AIPAC’s policy has always been to support the policies of the governments of Israel no matter what they were. So it was that at the outset of the Rabin government’s Oslo peace process with the PLO, AIPAC leaders ordered all of the group’s employees to support Israel’s policy even though just weeks before, AIPAC had opposed recognition of the PLO.
AIPAC lobbyists who were incapable of lobbying for U.S. aid for the PLO or embracing Yasser Arafat as a peace partner were forced to resign. Considering AIPAC’s sudden shift towards opposing the sovereignty plan despite the fact that it enjoys the support of a large majority of Israelis and is set to be implemented as a complement to President Trump’s vision for peace, JNS editor-in-chief Jonathan Tobin wrote last week, “If AIPAC is going to worry more about what the Democrats want rather than seeking to persuade them to back Israel’s policies, then it has for all intents and purposes become one more liberal group, and not the reliable force it has always been.”
More than a sign of hostility, AIPAC’s unprecedented position and Saban’s manipulative behavior appear to be signs of distress. Their party’s hostility towards Israel has left Jewish Democrats with no easy way forward. They have four options.
The obvious response to the party’s animosity to Jewish interests would be for Jewish Democrats to oppose and fight this animosity. They can either have the fight inside the party or leave the party and fight it. Although some groups, like J Exodus, have formed to encourage Jews to leave the Democratic Party, no polling data indicates a major shift in Jewish partisan opinion. No Jewish Democratic leaders have made significant statements or staked out positions opposing what has happened in their party.
The second option is for Jewish Democrats to ignore partisan politics and just concentrate on Israel and other issues of importance to them as Jews like fighting anti-Semitism. Saban was clearly trying to adopt this posture when he joined with Adelson in establishing the Maccabees on Campuses and the IAC. The swiftness with which he abandoned the programs indicates how difficult it is to swim against the stream in the Democratic Party as presently constituted.
A third option is to adopt the party’s hostile positions on Israel. Progressive Jewish groups like J Street and the Union of Reform Judaism have done so openly, among other things by defining the party’s positions as Jewish “values.” Groups like Bend the Arc, IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace are leading the party’s charge against Israel and for the anti-Semitic BDS campaigns.
The final option is to try to have it both ways. AIPAC’s passive-aggressive opposition to the sovereignty plan is clearly an attempt to remain relevant to Democrats while not losing all credibility as a pro-Israel organization. Unfortunately for AIPAC, the ship has already sailed. The Democrats do not lack for Jewish fig leaves like J Street to mask their anti-Jewish actions. The progressive mega-donors that oppose Israel have far deeper pockets than AIPAC donors.
Many Republicans, for their part, stopped listening to AIPAC during the Obama years when, in the interest of securing Democratic support for all Israel-related issues in Congress, AIPAC pressured Republican lawmakers to water down their pro-Israel bills and resolutions, often to meaninglessness.
As for Saban, he too is no longer viewed as important by anti-Israel politicians. The far-left funding networks have made Saban largely irrelevant in the party. Certainly, he lacks the financial muscle to influence its positions on Israel and the fight against contemporary anti-Semitism.
And so we return to Israel and the massive pressure being exerted on Netanyahu to scupper the sovereignty plan or water it down to nothingness. Israel doesn’t have four options. Israel only has one option. Israel’s only option is to straightforwardly advance its national interests. Today that means only one thing: Israel must fully implement its sovereignty plan with U.S. backing as quickly as possible and without conditions or apologies.