JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MARCH 20:   Former Alaska ...

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I often assume when I write on a topic that everyone else has read as much of the media coverage of it as I have, and subsequently assume that it’s unnecessary to give basic background on the issue. I may be mistaken about that, and if so, I apologize. I don’t say that at all to condescend to my readers, I’m just stating the fact that, as someone submerged in media argument, I can have a skewed perspective as to how much of this stuff most people pay attention to.

Since you asked for it, I will argue my point about Sarah Palin’s foreign policy ignorance, particularly when it comes to Israel. This is, obviously, in the larger context of Benjamin Netanyahu’s (and virtually the entire American right’s) tantrum over Obama’s speech on the Middle East, in which Obama suggested the pre-1967 borders of Israel as a starting point for negotiating a future Palestinian state. You’re free to disagree that those particular borders are the best starting point, but I don’t think anyone can argue that this is a controversial or radical position. Despite what past presidents have said about them, they’ve been the assumed core of our policy for decades, at least two of Israel’s prime ministers have embraced them, and most of the rest of the world also embraces them. But my relatively limited point was that, on Israel-Palestinian conflict, Palin’s “positions” are purely reactionary—as far away as she can get from what Obama, no matter how strange or incoherent she has to be. Usually, she ends up parroting the Israeli right wing without any sign of understanding the moral implications of what she’s saying.

(Although it’s worth noting on this one, she’s in good company: since the speech, every GOP presidential candidate has made unfortunate remarks about Obama “throwing Israel under the bus,” and some top Democrats have repeated slightly less bellicose versions of the same line.)

Palin responds, without fail, to Obama’s involvement in Mideast peace negotiations by flipping out about him “telling our allies what to do.” She did it last time and she did it this time, always suggesting or saying outright that the administration expressing an opinion on Israel is a great display of contempt to an ally. But this is pure partisan silliness. The President of the United states always tells foreign leaders what to do, with varying degrees of sternness, depending on the relationship. This is called foreign policy. Allies often disagree, and they negotiate, and sometimes use pressure and strong words to make clear they find acceptable and unacceptable. (Netanyahu certainly has no problem with it.) Palin (and others) pretend it’s an outrage that Obama has an opinion on the foreign policy of a country that depends heavily on U.S. support for its continued existence. Given the constant hysteria from Israel hardliners in the U.S. about how crucial our support is for their survival, a camp Palin’s rhetoric often puts her in, it’s insane of her to argue that Obama shouldn’t have a strong opinion about Israel’s border policies, and shouldn’t indeed have an obligation to tell Israel what he thinks it should do. And, many people would argue, it’s time someone did.

The second signal Palin has no grasp of the situation is her ad nauseum line about Obama disregarding Israel’s security. In 2010, she wrote that he is “treating Israel like an enemy”; yesterday, she headlined her post, “Obama’s disregard for ally’s security.” Here’s an example of where her definitions line up exactly with the Likudniks. Basically, if Obama doesn’t agree with Netanyahu, then he doesn’t care about Israel’s security.  Nevermind that the whole purpose of bringing up the borders was the try to get Netanyahu to make a concession so Obama could hold off the rest of our allies from recognizing a Palestinian nation at the U.N. and thereby further isolating Israel in the international community. This “let Israel have whatever it demands” position is held only by the Israeli right wing and their hardline allies in the U.S. An array of Jewish writers I respect from across the political spectrum agree that Netanyahu is out of control; that he’s not really interested in much besides maintaining a right-wing coalition; and that Israel’s increasing militarism and paranoia are what it is pushing it into a dangerous corner. Those judgments could be wrong. But Palin’s repeated claims that Obama is acting out of a latest disregard for Israel’s security are lies, and her deep ambivalence toward whether or not Israel’s wants are prudent, moral or legal are truly dismaying.

It’s possible, of course, that Palin is a scholar of Israeli-Palestinian relations, and truly is so reactionary that she just happens to sound like Netanyahu’s spokeswoman. But I suspect this is not the case, and her Facebook notes give me no ground for thinking otherwise. There is no inkling of awareness of the moral complexity of the Israel-Palestine situation, no evidence that she has any idea what she would support as a constructive peace process, no sign that she gives a damn about the Palestinians living in brutal conditions in the Gaza Strip. It’s all rah-rah Israel the way it’s rah-rah America, and just like her domestic policy, her thought on foreign policy never breaks through her threadbare pastiche of patriotic platitudes.

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About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

0 Responses to An Argument About Sarah Palin and Israel

  1. Scott says:

    Nice work, Jeff. A post worthy of you and this site.

  2. Rob says:

    This is much better and much appreciated. I think the most important point you raise applies to the American population and governing apparatus generally–and particularly the “Right”: our dogmatic affiliation with Israel seems more sentimental than sensible, and, in my opinion, is positively dangerous to our actual national interests. After all, until the 1960’s, the United States was the most popular nation in the Middle East. Let that sink in a moment.

    Beyond that point, however, I’m still not certain why Sarah Palin deserves particular attention. She’s not the best avatar for this position, unless you’re trying to make it appear as stupid as possible. That may be what you’re doing, but to do so is to miss a very serious truth: plenty of very smart and very influential people maintain the absolute sacredness of our alliance with Israel. To make Palin their figurehead is to underestimate the authority of this position and the extent to which it has shaped American foreign policy for decades.

  3. Jeff says:

    Good stuff- and I take very little credit for it, Scott. :P

  4. […] writing about Palin and Israel (a topic that became slightly more relevant as it is all but certain she’s running for […]

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