The Limits of “Israeli Exceptionalism”

This incident from the 2008 campaign, relayed by Matthew Duss at TNR, tells you a lot about trends in U.S. thinking about Israel in the Netanyahu era:

[R]epresentatives of the Obama, McCain, and Clinton teams appeared at a Jewish community forum. Daniel Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, spoke for Obama, explaining that he wanted to see a “plurality of views” on Israel. Clinton adviser Ann Lewis responded that the United States should simply support Israeli policy, regardless of its content. “The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel,” she said.

It was a pretty strange statement (is there any other country in the world to whose electorate anyone would similarly suggest outsourcing U.S. policy decisions?), but it does accurately describe the operating theory upon which much of conservative pro-Israel advocacy in Washington is based.

But it’s an increasingly rare point of view outside the conservative opinion bubble. After her service in the Obama administration, it’s pretty clear Hillary Clinton would not again allow herself to be represented as simply ratifying whatever policy is yielded by Israeli elections (presumably the only way one is permitted to deduce “decisions of the Israeli people,” who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s policies towards Palestinians and indeed towards the rest of the world).

It’s against this backdrop of a growing tendency among Democrats to reject the idea of “Israeli exceptionalism” as the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy that you can understand the perilous path the current Israeli government is pursuing in demanding the same–or perhaps greater– unconditional American support as in the past. This posture is not only liberating Democrats to assert national interests as superior to those of any foreign country in formulating U.S. foreign policy, but as I think we will see in 2016, leading public sentiment in the same direction.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.