Obama-Netanyahu: Siamese Twins of Global Reaction

Theatrical differences aside, the reputed bad chemistry between them, Obama and Netanyahu are two peas in a pod conjoined in ideology by a spirit of amoral cynicism in which unrestrained militarism, passing for diplomacy, seeks out to destroy Enemies of the State, i.e., whomever is in the way of a hubristic nationalism identified with Rightest social forces in domestic as well as international politics. When Emerson says an ocean is a large drop, a drop, a small ocean, he might be describing the US and Israel, one an enlargement of the other, the other the larger in microcosm—the same impulse toward ethnocentrism and xenophobia, the same haughtiness in facing outward, the same rejection of internal dissent, the same need to designate, brutalize, and find societal coherence and personal identity in doing so, a Victim. It is no wonder America hails Israel as its closest friend (who else, for that matter, would put up with US imperialism and claims to unilateral world dominance?), a sentiment fully reciprocated by Israel out of necessity because the community of nations increasingly views it as a pariah state. They are made for each other, a marriage—or so both believe—consummated in Heaven.

It was not always thus. To be sure, America had its share of developmental/incipient fascism since at least the 1890s because the corporate structure facilitated the high concentration of industrial and financial wealth accompanied by a ruthless and repressive labor policy, which by and large holds to this day. Yet there was always valiant opposition to the process of capitalist accumulation of wealth and power in ever fewer hands, social movements of labor rights and civil rights which provided a dimension of democratization otherwise absent from modern US history. Without social protest from society’s disadvantaged, exploited, discriminated against, America might have become Germany, given the structural trends found in capitalism toward hierarchy and the Leadership Principle (here, business itself).

Likewise, Israel did not have to become what it is today, namely, a distorted, slightly watered down version of European authoritarianism placing it on the same political latitude as America. World Jewry, pre-1945, possessed a vision and record of humanism which all degree of radicals could proudly affirm and which had ramifying impacts on music, the arts, literature, always in forward motion seeking to transcend the status quo—an implicit antifascism which, had not Israel by 1947 already started to become intolerant, proscriptive, determined on sole mastery of the land, could have carried still further that vision of humanism in a new setting of harmony as exemplified by some aspects of labor Zionism and the kibbutz movement. But it was not meant to be, for reasons I still do not understand. Ever since, Israel has been trending Right, a political pattern of ethnic cleansing (by whatever name one wishes to assign its oppression of the Palestinians—as though the Holocaust gave Israelis license to persecute another people in its stead).

There we are, its crunch time, another Obama-Netanyahu meeting, more theatrical foreplay, as meanwhile the wheels of counterrevolution grind on and military and intelligence communities cozy-up to one another in recognition of a perceived common interest. Which of the two, Israel or America, is dominant, which subordinate, is hard to say, so slavish is US policy to the dictates and will of Israel; that, too, is difficult to understand. Military aid is forthcoming; votes in the UN, the same. If this were merely relations between x and y, one would suspect blackmail was involved; since that is not the case, we are left with a puzzle—fear of being called anti-Semitic, no; intense lobbying by Jewish groups, hardly a full explanation; the role of evangelicals, ditto, leaving us perhaps with a common ideological residue of latent proto-fascism ascribable to the stage of capitalist development requiring militaristic foundations if it is to prosper and flourish.

I turn then to Peter Baker and Jodi Rudoren’s New York Times article, “Obama and Netanyahu: A Story of Slights and Crossed Signals, (11-9), for background on their meeting. Again one must delve beneath the surface of personality-differences; warrior-types may disagree over boasting rights, but peel away the vanity and you have the same cunning, the same ruthlessness (as in the way Obama presides over hit-lists and drone assassinations, or Netanyahu, the IDF attacks on civilians, including children), the same coldness therefore in the face of human suffering for which they themselves are responsible. Baker and Rudoren, however, choose to emphasize not policy but personality, although even there much can be learned. They write that back in 2010 the day when Obama signed his health care legislation (big celebration) Netanyahu showed up at the White House and expected royal treatment: “He felt squeezed in, not accorded the rituals of such a visit. No photographers were invited in to record the moment. ‘That wasn’t a good way to treat me,’ he complained to an American afterward.” Netanyahu appears like a petulant child holding a grudge.

“The tortured relationship,” they write, “between Barack and Bibi, as they call each other, has been a story of crossed signals, misunderstandings, slights perceived and real.” Then came the “rupture over Mr. Obama’s push for a nuclear agreement with Iran [which] led to the spectacle of Mr. Netanyahu denouncing the president’s efforts before a joint meeting of Congress.” One is peeved by the other’s nerve, yet Iran per se hardly signifies they are “divided by ideology,” as the reporters claim, given Obama’s own belligerence toward Iran plus the fact that their current meeting is for discussing “a new security agreement and ways to counter Iran.” From here, the account takes us to fairyland, for it makes light of Obama’s war propensities and reactionary views of which on both counts he certainly can’t fault Netanyahu: “Undergirding their personal disconnect are different world views. Mr. Obama sees Mr. Netanyahu as captured by a hard-line philosophy that blocks progress. Mr. Netanyahu considers Mr. Obama hopelessly naïve about one of the world’s most volatile neighborhoods.” If anything, now with Syria, Obama is up to his neck in adventurism in the region.

The love spat: Netanyahu “feels disrespected and misled by a president he thinks does not have Israel’s best interests at heart,” while Obama “feels aggrieved at being portrayed as anti-Israel even though he has provided extensive security aid and fought Palestinian efforts to seek recognition as a state at the United Nations.” In fact, both can be seen in a poor light, in which unwarranted egotism obscures their objective similarities, the poor light primarily because the policies, not their wounded pride when each tries to best the other, are themselves cruel and vindictive in their reliance on the forcible depersonalization of others. Collateral damage for one, the round-up, rubber bullets, and a knock on the door at midnight, for the other. Yes, there are differences, the freezing of settlements, yet that has not stopped Obama and the US from supplying Israel with arms, etc. Ongoing settlement activity may well be a defining issue, yet American complicity in this as in everything else suggests a timely fabrication of differences is a face-saving device, while nothing in the situation changes, in order for America to maintain its relations with the Saudis and others. The theme, “[w]ith the Iran deal finalized,” is, it’s time to move on. Did anyone doubt that? A reactionary mindset creates a unified bond of solidarity.

As for the meeting itself, coverage has been sparse, and no press conference has taken place. In The Times, Julie Hirschfeld Davis’s article, “Obama and Netanyahu Seek to Move Past Rift Over Iran Nuclear Deal,” (11-9), we find both on their best behavior as though carefully scripted puppets. Obama: “’It’s no secret that the prime minister and I have had a strong disagreement on this narrow issue. But we don’t have a disagreement on the need to making sure Iran does not get a nuclear weapon, and we don’t have a disagreement about us blunting destabilizing activities in Iran that may be taking place. And so, we’re going to be looking to make sure we find common ground there.’” The ominous words, “’blunting destabilizing activities in Iran,’” have the ring of regime change about them, but more, seeking “’common ground’” should dispel any doubts about an Israel-centric Middle East policy framework.

Netanyahu avoided mention of the nuclear accord, instead emphasizing that someday there may be a two-state solution: “’I want to make it clear that we have not given up our hope for peace. And I remain committed to a vision of two states for two peoples, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.’” A victor’s peace: occupy so much land as to make the other state a shrunken entity mired in subjugation, one demilitarized, the other with a full nuclear arsenal in addition to police powers and military readiness second to none—and even then, a grudging recognition at best. Significantly, Obama does not dispute the “’vision,’” however one-sided its practical implementation. He actualizes its unevenness because the main concern of the meeting is “the renewal of a 10-year package of United States military assistance to Israel.” Although the present agreement doesn’t expire until 2017, he “wanted to get a ‘head-start’ on renegotiating it.” We are speaking of a sum in the ball-park of $50B in the time frame.

My New York Times Comment on the Baker-Rudoren article, same date, follows:

Neither leader nor their respective sides has clean hands. The US under Obama maintains a global military posture of war, intervention, regime change, drone assassination, etc., a record creating a framework where proposals of any kind must be viewed with suspicion. Israel has become the US in miniature when it comes to both domestic and foreign policy: belligerent, confrontational, xenophobic and ethnocentric.

Actually, like should attract like, both leaders and their nations in the vanguard of global unilateralism in their respective bailiwicks. But this hasn’t happened, whether because of personal chemistry fallout or the recognition of geopolitical differences. Iran is the touchstone for something deeper: hegemonic claims from which neither the US nor Israel can back down on. I believe we are heading for a midair collision, created not by objective policy differences, but each’s solipsistic dynamic of feeling it can act with impunity, an arrogance of power turned against the weak while simultaneously seeking to play an outsize role in world affairs.

Both Obama and Netanyahu should be urged to back down, learn a little humility, pursue a course of peace, for Israel, reconciliation with Palestinians, for America, an end to confrontation with Russia and China. That of course will not happen; if they could exploit their mutual hatreds and failings, perhaps they could then get along better. Meanwhile the world is tired of each.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.