On September 14th, President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu signed a 10-year military-assistance deal containing the largest package of military aid that the US has ever given to any country. The $38 billion pledge, averaging $3.8 billion per year, constitutes a roughly 27% increase from the last such agreement in 2007 — which already made Israel the recipient of the most cumulative US foreign aid since World War II. A week after the two leaders signed the deal, they met again in New York. Obama took this opportunity to publicly reprimand Netanyahu for the ongoing construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a process that has systematically and increasingly endangered the viability of a peaceful two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We want to make sure that we keep alive this possibility of a stable, secure Israel at peace with its neighbors, and a Palestinian homeland that meets the aspirations of the Palestinian people,” he told reporters. Netanyahu showed no interest in halting settlement expansion, and only vaguely remarked on peace as something to be desired.

From a diplomatic standpoint it might seem bizarre that the United States, which has repeatedly condemned the Israeli military and civilian occupation of the Palestinian territories, would issue yet another high-profile rebuke only after forfeiting its massive leverage in the form of military aid. For years, the State Department has released periodic statements of anxiety over the occupation’s threats to American interests, as well as to Israeli safety and to Palestinian human rights. In Washington, though, many politicians in both parties have accepted the status quo US-Israel relationship as inevitable and unchangeable. Among the greatest contributing factors undergirding this dearth of political will toward a peace process is Congress’s submission to AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group. As US demographic tides shift and younger generations of American Jews enter the political arena, AIPAC’s domination of US-Israel relations and the global damage it perpetuates may finally be facing serious political counteraction. Whether such opposition can establish itself in time to ameliorate the effects of Obama’s deal with Netanyahu, however, remains to be seen.

For decades, the startling power of AIPAC in Washington has hinged on its huge influence across the political spectrum. The lobby has more than 100,000 members and an enormous pool of donors. Between 2010 and 2015, AIPAC spent more than $14 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies to press its causes—primarily the continuation of military aid to Israel and new sanctions against Iran (before international negotiators successfully negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran). The lobby does not officially endorse congressional candidates or raise funds for them directly, but it encourages its members to do so.

For decades, the startling power of AIPAC in Washington has hinged on its huge influence across the political spectrum.

While it is not easy to track the sum of money that AIPAC members donate to candidates, congressional Democrats and Republicans are well aware of the group’s power. As Brian Baird, a former U.S. Representative from Seattle, explained: “In order to get elected to Congress, if you’re not independently wealthy, you have to raise a lot of money. And you learn pretty quickly that, if AIPAC is on your side, you can do that.” Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky said in 2014: “AIPAC clearly has a great deal of clout in the Republican conference, and many Democrats still think that they have to be responsive to it.” Yarmuth, a Jewish member of Congress, has been accused of anti-Semitism for his criticisms of AIPAC and Netanyahu. But he has insisted that placating the lobby too often obstructs real US interests: “We all took an oath of office,” he said, “and AIPAC, in many instances, is asking us to ignore it.” In 2011, when the Palestinian National Authority petitioned the UN for statehood, AIPAC played a significant role in assuring the opposition of 446 members of Congress. During this U.S. election season, aid to Israel remains one of few relatively static topics. Notwithstanding Donald Trump’s proneness to contradictory statements on Israel-Palestine, he has firmly promised a strong relationship between Israel and the United States. Hillary Clinton has long established her consistent support for Israeli administrations, while secretary of state and otherwise.

At the same time, American voters are developing increasingly mixed views on the sort of unconditional support that their government offers to Israel. Differences of opinion follow the divides of political party and age group. A 2016 Gallup poll found that over 60% of Americans identified with greater sympathy toward Israel than toward Palestinians — but nearly 80% of Republicans were sympathetic to Israel, while only 50% of Democrats said the same. Separately, a Brookings poll revealed that roughly half of surveyed Democrats saw Israel as exerting too much influence on the US government. Further, young Americans are generally far less sympathetic to Israel than older voters. In a 2014 Gallup poll, half of respondents between 18 and 34 favored support of Israel over that of Palestinians, versus 58% of 35 to 54-year-olds and 74% of those aged 55 and older. During the Democratic primary season, Bernie Sanders won praise from his distinctly young base for criticizing Israel. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement — which demands that organizations in the US and abroad sever their financial ties with Israel — has steadily gained popularity on college campuses, especially after its endorsement by the Movement for Black Lives this year.

For decades after Israel’s founding, American Jews understandably sought collective self-definition through their united, largely unconditional support for the state. But a growing portion of the community, and particularly its younger membership, chafes at the impenetrable lack of progress toward peace in the area. Many have found that AIPAC does not represent them. In 2008, Jeremy Ben-Ami consolidated a political challenge to AIPAC through his founding of J Street, an advocacy group that claimed the tagline: “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” The organization has attracted American Jews who advocate for a two-state solution and denounce the occupation as a direct impediment to both Israel’s wellbeing and its claim to democracy. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas recalled that in 2010, AIPAC’s clout was great enough to pressure Congress members into removing their names from the J Street gala’s honorary host committee. “I don’t view criticizing Netanyahu as being any more anti-Israel as criticizing Dick Cheney is anti-America,” said Doggett, and added: “J Street has given us an ability to discuss this in an organized way.” Although the group’s funding and influence in Congress are minuscule compared to AIPAC’s, it is still, as Husam Zomlot of the PLO said, “the first organized Jewish group with a different agenda in Washington since Israel was established.”

If there remains a hope for redemption in US-Israel relations, it lies in the potential for public backlash against US military aid, and the tacit support of the occupation that such packages represent. Shifting popular views on Israel among Americans, combined with a growing political space for alternative understandings of the “pro-Israel” position, may be building toward such a backlash. But the timeline for any public pressure to change the status quo grows more and more constricted, as Israeli settlement expansion continually imperils the viability of a two-state solution and the possibility of peace.

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Lincoln Chafee ’75 served as a US Senator (1999-2007) and the 74th Governor of Rhode Island

 

Brown Political Review: Starting with your personal background, you worked as a professional farrier for 7 years before entering Rhode Island state politics. What influenced you on your path from getting a Classics degree at Brown to equine hoof care and then onto politics?

Lincoln Chafee: I didn’t want to rush right into heavy duty responsibility after college. After four years of studying I wanted to enjoy working a regular 40 hour work week and getting a paycheck on Friday. …  I was lucky that I got to work for a blacksmith who really taught me the trade. I went to a horseshoe school and worked hard to find someone to hire me. Once I found someone to teach me the trade, I went off on my own and had a terrific seven years working on a racetrack.

BPR: What led you to switch from the Republican Party to become an Independent, and then later to the Democratic Party?

LC: I think the Bush-Cheney agenda coming in really pushed me out of the Republican Party. I did stay for my term in the Senate as a Republican, but it was very hard. Coming in on Tuesday when we would have our lunch to talk about the agenda for that week, I would find an agenda I just did not approve of. At the same time, I had to deliver for Rhode Island, and Republicans were in power in the White House and controlled the Senate and the House. It was a definite conflict. I was also considering, would the pendulum ever swing back to Eisenhower and Rockefeller style Republicanism where we just care about balancing the books and letting people live their lives? After time, I didn’t think [this type of Republicanism] would come back.

The South has become more Republican, they care more about social issues. This change was happening through the 1990s, but it was really amplified when Bush and Cheney came in the 2000s. They had a unilateral approach to so many issues that I disagreed with, so I realized it was time to go find another party. It was an evolution that took me a while, first leaving the Republican party to become an Independent and then later becoming a Democrat. It was a thoughtful process.

BPR: What was it like running Rhode Island as an independent governor? Did you find that it helped you govern more effectively or less effectively?

LC: I learned that it was harder. I thought that by being an Independent I would be devoid of the partisan squabbles (as small as the Republican Party is in Rhode Island), but I just found it hard, with a tough economy inherited and having to make decisions without having a party behind me. For example, the legislature only took half of my first budget  Had I been a Democrat, they would have taken more of my budget, and the economy could have recovered faster. I didn’t have anybody helping me defend it as an independent.

BPR: Why did you choose not to run for a second term as governor?

LC: A lot of it had to do with thinking about a potential presidential run. My wife and I were driving to Maine in the summer of 2013 and we had to make the decision of whether we continue the fundraising [for a gubernatorial race]. On that six hour drive to Maine, we were talking about what I ultimately want to do and I just kept talking about how I love international issues and really enjoyed being on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and my concern about what we were doing wrong in the world. In the conversation my wife said that it would be better for me to not be governor if I wanted to run for President. And that’s true; it was a good decision. It’s so hard to do both, especially with the challenges of being governor in Rhode Island and the challenges of running for President.

BPR: How do you view the current status quo in Rhode Island, and what can be done to improve it?

LC: Despite being an independent for much of my term as governor and some setbacks, I’m happy with how we ended up in Rhode Island.  Our unemployment dropped and was one of the best in the country. There are only three states from when I took office to today that did better in dropping the rate of unemployment. I’m very proud of that. Also when I came in, a number of our cities and towns were eligible for state intervention. Their finances were thus that they could lead to bankruptcy, and one of them did go to bankruptcy, Central Falls. Even our capital city of Providence was eligible for state intervention, as were Pawtucket and Woonsocket. We put the resources back into these cities and got them back on firmer financial footing. We took care of our distressed communities and I’m very proud of that. As governor, I did not ignore them and tell them to figure it out themselves; I helped them.

BPR: Are there any votes you took that you disagree with now?

LC: The repeal of Glass-Steagall as Senator. It was my first day as it turned out when I was appointed to the Senate. The bankruptcy came later. I wish I’d understood better the ramifications of my vote at the time.

BPR: Secretary Clinton is the leading frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. What advantages as both a presidential candidate and then later as President do you have over Secretary Clinton?

LC: Well as a candidate, our approach to foreign relations is one of the largest differences between us, crystallized by the Iraq War vote. She took the muscular unilateral “we know it all” approach to that region without doing her homework as to whether there really were weapons of mass destruction. Then as Secretary of State, she continued that top-down approach to foreign relations. That is the biggest difference in campaigning. As far as governing, I think my experience reaching across the aisle will be very valuable. Secretary Clinton is still seen as a polarizing figure and the Republican vitriol is going to be hard to overcome. It’s unfair in many ways, but that’s just the way it is.

BPR: Turning to foreign policy – Before his re-election, Israeli PM Netanyahu spoke against a two-state solution (before taking it back later) and came and spoke to U.S Congress in a snub to President Obama. What do you believe are the next steps America should take in our relationship with Israel and ensuring a future peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians?

LC: Well the Israeli politics are Israeli politics. My preference would be is that they elect more of an advocate for a two-state solution, because I think that’s in Israel’s best interest. We all know the demographics of a growing Arab population and how democracy works. A two-state solution is better for their long term security as well.. You can’t just keep stirring up all those hornets in the region; we live in an age of nuclear weapons. We are worried about Iran getting nuclear weapons, while Pakistan is a country of 160 million Muslims and they have nuclear weapons and a sophisticated military.

BPR: Is there a problem with Muslims having nuclear weapons?

LC: No! It’s a fact. Pakistan is an Islamic country, and they have nuclear weapons. If we are going to be smart, in my view, we should try to denuclearize the region.

BPR: Israel is a majority-Jewish state with nuclear weapons. Do you see any difference between a majority-Jewish state having nuclear weapons as compared to a majority-Muslim state or majority-Christian state?

LC: No, no, I live by Realpolitik. I look at what the reality is.  These are just the realities; we can’t afford to have these things flying through the sky and detonating. That’s my view.

BPR: President Obama spoke about a “pivot to Asia” in America’s foreign policy. Do you believe this is the correct shift?

LC: I don’t think we needed a re-emphasis on Asia; it is not an area of great tension. I know we do with Russia and with Venezuela. [Our relationship with] Venezuela has ramifications throughout South America — Ecuador, Bolivia, some of the like-minded countries. I don’t see any necessity to pivot to Asia. I would instead put my priorities in repairing our frayed relationships.

BPR: How should the United States respond to the Ukraine crisis and manage our relations with Russia?

LC: Poor Ukraine is caught just like the knot in a tug of war. On one side you have Europe pulling and on the other side you have Russia pulling … My view is, why is there a tug of war going on? Bring Russia into the European Union. Europe goes to the Ural Mountains; the heavily populated part of Russia technically is European. Let’s start working together. NATO shouldn’t be a threat, the EU shouldn’t be a threat. Those days should be over, but they are coming back unfortunately.

BPR: In the short-term, what are specific actions America can take right now to respond to the crisis in Ukraine?

LC: Broker the integration of Russia into more European entities. As I said, open up any atlas of Europe, and it will include that heavily populated part of Russia west of the Urals. It’s not going to happen immediately, but there are economic organizations — I don’t have them at my fingertips — but that are incremental steps for joining the EU.

BPR: How do you propose the United States does that given that the current Russian body politic is significantly anti-EU and anti-West?

LC: Well [the Russians] shouldn’t be that way. They have energy and other resources for sale. The European market is right there. I think it’s totally unnecessary.

BPR: Regardless of it being necessary or unnecessary, that is the present state on the ground. How can we work with Russia given the current political situation?

LC: At the G8 Summit in the spring of 2001 not that long ago, it was all happening then. In my view,  America should not have started dictating what to do when Russia was at a time where their pride was tarnished after the Soviet Union fell. We didn’t need to rub their nose in that. Human nature being human nature, the Russians took a different path away from progressing towards the EU. At that G8 summit, Putin was there yucking it up with [Prime Minister Tony] Blair and [Chancellor Gerhard] Schröder from Germany and President Bush. I felt that, oh we had this. This is a good time right now, let’s not screw it up. Russia was right there at that G8 summit.

BPR: You are currently running for President in the 2016 election.  Why do you believe you would be the most qualified person for the job?

LC: Being qualified to run for president starts with your record of accomplishments. You need somebody that has a history of getting things done, and I’ve had that. Secondly a vision of  where you want to go. I’m passionate about how we can do better in the world and better at home. And then lastly, your character. I’ve had an impeccable run of public service, open to scrutiny. My motto has been “Trust Chafee” and it’s been accurate to my time in public service. You look at your record, you look at the vision where someone wants to take the community, and then their character, whether it is someone you can trust.

BPR: Why can we trust you?

LC: Because I have a record of being trustworthy. When I say something I do it. I didn’t just tell the immigrant community when I was running for Governor that I would repeal E-Verify because I needed their votes (which they expected, because they have been burned before). If I tell somebody something, I’m going to do it. I’ve earned the reputation of “Trust Chafee”.

In just a few short months this summer, the world has borne witness to a rapidly and profoundly altered status quo. In the United States, five out of the four justices of the Supreme Court, faced with public opinion across the nation increasingly in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, declared a landmark decision affirming marriage equality as a  right. In the wake of a destructive rampage carried out by a young man operating under a neo-Nazi creed in a historically black church in Charleston, SC that killed eight churchgoers, , legislators in that state voted to remove the Confederate flag that flew beside the state’s capitol building. Abroad, significant political changes are afoot as well: A massive crackdown on corruption within FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, and this week, a finalized a deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program that will hopefully serve as the first step to ending its status as a pariah state.

Perhaps that’s the reason that less attention has been given to small but noteworthy shifts in a struggle that has commanded negative headlines in recent times: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nearly one year has elapsed since the launch of Operation Protective Edge, the third incursion into the Gaza Strip in the previous six years by the Israeli military. Little ground has been given since then. Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza still remains mostly in place, Hamas still governs there, and Fatah still retains a tenuous hold on the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Moreover, Israel’s domestic political situation continues to be relatively stable. In spite of occasional threats to his political power,  Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party won a resounding victory in the Knesset elections this year and remain the largest party in the parliament, heading a coalition that includes, along with Likud, one centrist party, two religious orthodox parties and one far-right ethno-nationalist party.

To the casual observer of this situation, which in many ways remains unchanged since Netanyahu came to power in 2009, it may be easy to ignore the fact that Israel’s standing in the global community is slowly but surely eroding and that the nation’s leaders are scrambling to form a cohesive response. Like other symbols of traditional power now rendered untenable, Israel’s policy towards the Palestinian issue is in need of substantial alterations. And while the South Carolina Legislature and the U.S. Justice Department, among others, stepped up to spearhead change, Israel is botching the job horribly. This should be cause for alarm in Washington and elsewhere.

There are a number of reasons for Israel’s unresponsiveness to changing global political conditions. Perhaps the oldest of these are the personnel that have been working on the front lines of Israeli foreign policy for the past half-decade, many of whom have consistently brought militantly conservative stances to the table and, with them, little hope for change. Immediately after forming a coalition with Likud in 2009, the Yisrael Beitenu, a right-wing nationalist party, had one of its own appointed as foreign minister: Avigdor Lieberman, a character far from diplomatic in persona. More recently, appointments of various far-right politicians to important foreign policy posts has chipped away the legitimacy of Israeli diplomacy and pushed Prime Minister Netanyahu to articulate Israel’s foreign policy himself. The results, as clearly seen in Netanyahu’s controversial speech in March to the U.S. Congress on the Iran negotiations, have not been promising. There exists little reason for the international community to engage with Netanyahu. His negative attitude towards the ultimately productive dialogue with Iran was indicative of a direct challenge against and disrespect for the sensible diplomatic efforts of President Obama’s administration, and his decisions regarding the composition of his coalition’s leadership suggest that he seeks to sabotage diplomatic efforts rather and lacks interest in rational decision making.

Beyond Israel’s leadership, the harsh realities of the nation’s conduct during the Gaza conflict one year ago have also placed it at odds with the rest of the world, even as it publicly absolves itself of guilt. Following the invasion, both sides in the conflict were blamed for war crimes. Hamas came under fire for the supposed use of human shields and for indiscriminately targeting Israeli civilians. Israel was blamed for wreaking havoc on civilian life within Gaza and destroying the region’s infrastructure, all while Gazans had little or no chance of escaping the violence. In response, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched a comprehensive advertising campaign defending its actions, employing “What would you do?” tactics that referenced Hamas rocket fire on Israel and ultimately taking a defensive stance about its military strategy. Testimonies from soldiers on the ground at the time proved the IDF’s defensive claims to be largely false. And with on-the-ground reports of the situation in Gaza numerous and freely available, it has seemed easy for even a casual observer to see just what kind of a war took place. One year later, the state of affairs appears mostly unimproved, even if the headlines have disappeared. The global community has collectively raised an eyebrow at Israel’s claims of benevolence. On July 3, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution criticizing Israel for its handling of the invasion. The vote was a resounding 41 to one with five abstentions. The dissenting voice was, unsurprisingly, the United States, a longtime ally of the Jewish state. Among the majority were all three influential European members of the Council: Britain, France and, most interestingly, Germany, a nation known for standing reliably with Israel. Though Hamas was also indicted by the report that preceded the resolution, the main message of the vote was clear: Israeli actions in Gaza have not flown under the radar. Since then, Tel Aviv’s reaction has been predictable. Netanyahu stuck to his rhetorical line, insisting that Israel is “innocent of any crime.”

The nature of Israel’s response to growing criticism from the rest of the world has merely served to exude desperation on its part. Hints of shell shock have accompanied Israel’s retreat from the moral high ground that the nation occupied after the Second Intifada, as is evident in statements from its most important officials. Netanyahu’s aforementioned speech in Washington was a laughable affair, noticeably catering to the far right (and particularly the Christian sector) of the U.S. Congress, a group that believes in Israel’s divine right to exist as it does and advocates for the foolhardy move of attacking Iran. Even more regrettably, it was just the latest example of a long legacy of hawkish rhetoric directed at Iran by the Likud government. However, it seems that the West is taking Netanyahu  less and less seriously, especially after the ratification of the nuclear agreement with Iran in mid-July.

In the meantime, Israel’s moves on a number of other fronts are similarly indicative of turmoil. Faced with the specter of increased international involvement bolstering the Palestinians’ desire for reparations for the damage inflicted on Gaza, Israel radically changed tacks this month by agreeing to engage with the International Criminal Court, strictly for the purposes of “[making] its position clear to the court.” Although a small gesture, it is nonetheless unprecedented. While it may seem a positive development, this reversal of policy coincides with rumors of Israeli engagement with Hamas. Given the intransigence of both parties, it is hard to imagine that these are serious talks. More likely, Israeli outreach, coupled with the olive branch extended to the ICC, represent an Israeli attempt to undermine the Palestinian Authority on two fronts. Opening proceedings with the court, as a signal of Israel’s reasonable stance, could somewhat mute loud cries for justice from Hamas. And talking with Hamas in secret would undermine the already fragile and tentative cooperation between Hamas and Fatah, perhaps escalating tensions reminiscent of 2007, when armed conflict broke out between the two groups. A fractured Palestinian resistance would give Israel both legitimacy and leverage, two assets recently in short supply for the nation.

Resorting to this sort of realpolitik is not likely to work out well in the long run. Israel’s aggressively Machiavellian approach to the Palestinian issue, both in its choice of representative personnel and policy, has only contributed to its current dilemma. Instead of using its position since the Gaza conflict last summer as a reason to harden its belligerent, military-centric attitude, Israel should remain flexible in the face of a changing global geopolitical landscape. It ought to take steps to bolster a prospective unity government between Hamas and Fatah; when the two sides are prodded to cooperate, the chances of a forced moderation of Hamas become much stronger and its grip on Gaza weaker as its citizens no longer see Hamas as a guarantor of well-being. Hamas is an obstacle to peace, and with the group marginalized, it becomes easier for Israel to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority on the core issues that are preventing any two-state solution. This would far from assure an end to the conflict, but it would be an excellent start.

During his speech to both Houses of Congress on March 3, 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was either delusional or believed he was addressing a delusional audience. Whichever one it was, Netanyahu unfairly mischaracterized Israeli foreign policy and the nature of its relationship with Iran.

Netanyahu was invited by house speaker John Boehner to address the US-Iranian nuclear negotiations. In opening his address, after several witty jokes and trite expressions, Netanyahu invoked the spirit of Purim to introduce his views on dealing with the Iranians. He remarked that, “tomorrow night, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, we’ll read the Book of Esther. We’ll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people…the plot was foiled. Our people were saved.”

For good reason, the applause from both Houses could not be contained: who doesn’t like a good story? Even aged congressmen could not resist the emotional frenzy of finding out that the good guys won out in the end.

However, Netanyahu wasn’t just trying to rile Congress up with their favorite tales of the Old Testament to score bible-study points. He invoked the tale of Purim to make a political case against Iran. And if the connection was not evident enough, Bibi asserts that Ayatollah Khamenei, the theocratic leader of Iran’s Islamic Republic, is Haman of ancient Persia.

Netanyahu drew an unjustifiable parallel between Haman — a man that attempted to destroy the Jewish people of Ancient pre-Islamic Persia — and Khamenei, who is the head of an Islamic government. Khamenei has been Iran’s Supreme leader for almost 26 years. There are 20,000 Jews still living in Iran. They have 11 synagogues, and two Kosher restaurants. They have a representative in parliament. There is no Jewish genocide in Iran. If anything, Netanyahu could have done a closer reading of the Book of Esther, as the King of Persia ends up saving the Jews from Haman, and not Esther herself.

But regardless, such analogies are pointless at best. Living on apocalyptic fantasies derived from ancient, unverified religious text is fear mongering at its finest. It is beyond egregious to come to the US Congress, and try to stir up irrational fears based. The rest of Netanyahu’s speech follows a similar path of half-truths and fabrications. For example, he claims that Iran is on a “quest for nuclear weapons.” He believes that Iran would be armed with “intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs.” However, more credible sources believe otherwise. For example, in 2007, 2010 and 2012, America’s 16 intelligence agencies agreed that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program since 2003. Even the Mossad’s assessment of Iran’s nuclear program stated that “Iran was not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, has openly stated that “Iran has no intention of destroying Israel and has actually saved the Jews three times in history, but the current Israeli regime is a threat to Tehran.” Uncritically establishing a connection between past sufferings of the Jewish people with modern day politics has grave political repercussions.

The United States and Iran are currently in one of the most important negotiations of the decade. The United States is adamant that Iran does not obtain a bomb; however, it is essential for Iran to be allowed to re-enter the global system. Continued alienation will further embolden Iranian hard-liners to want to obtain nuclear weapons.

Living on apocalyptic fantasies derived from ancient, unverified religious text is fear mongering at its finest.

In the past, the United States— in coalition with Britain— overthrew Iran’s democratically elected Prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, and installed a dictator. This created the perfect situation for anti-American sentiment, and ultimately to the formation of the Islamic republic in 1979. Iran has been under sanctions since 1995. These punitive measures have ushered in an era of distrust and miscommunication.

Netanyahu is attempting to sway Congress to believe that Iran is a state that cannot be trusted, with a fanatical and “radical” regime. This is far from reality. Even if the Iranian regime’s rhetoric is overtly aggressive, their actions prove otherwise. Peter Beinart, contributing editor to the The Atlantic, makes a powerful analysis on the issue. He points out that Iran’s actions throughout the Middle East mimic actions of any regional leader during a cold war, similar to Saudi Arabia or Turkey. Furthermore, if Iran was so diabolical than how come it has not invaded “a Saudi ally in the Persian gulf or launching chemical or biological weapons at Israel.” In short, Iran has not done anything to put itself or its people at great risk. Its moves are entirely calculated and self-interested. Netanyahu’s claims do not seriously take into account Iran’s 36 years of rational foreign policy.

Clearly, what Netanyahu brought to Congress was a sham. Jake Tapper, chief Washington correspondent, put it best: “Literally, not one new idea; not one single concrete alternative; all rhetoric, no action.” Such fear mongering is a sign of weakness on Netanyahu’s part, as it takes a great man to want to strive for peace instead of war. It easy to continue US imposed sanctions. It is a much more monumental task to approach Iran as a friend and not an enemy— to want to open up, and start living peacefully with his neighbors. Viewing Iran as an existential threat to the Jewish people shows just how far on the brink Netanyahu has gone. Yes, as the situation currently exists, Iran is a threat to Israel. Diplomatic negotiations do not mean the end of Israel, but rather the ushering of a new era of mutual understanding. Calling for war only causes more war.

With Israel’s latest elections, it is clear that Netanyahu’s inflammatory rhetoric is part of a political ploy: From his latest statement that he will not allow a Palestinian state under his watch, to his racist remarks about the dangers of allowing the Arab coalition to vote, it makes one wonder if his claims at Congress weren’t made as a similar attempt to win an election. If that is true, the world may lose an essential deal between the United States and Iran. One of which will bring long needed peace and stability in the Middle East.

The past two months have been especially traumatic for Europe’s approximately 1.4 million Jews. On February 15th, a gunman attacked a Jewish synagogue in Copenhagen that was celebrating a bar mitzvah, killing a Jewish security guard. In January, four Jews were killed in a reportedly anti-Semitic attack on a kosher supermarket in France. Police in England, France, Denmark, and the Netherlands are stationed outside of Jewish synagogues, ready to protect against further violence.

In response to this terrorism, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has extended a hand towards European Jews in a plea for immigration to Israel. The morning after the Denmark attacks, he said, “Jews have been murdered again on European soil only because they were Jews. Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country, but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home.” These comments echoed an earlier speech he made urging European Jews to come to Israel following the Paris attacks. The Israeli government has since followed through on his statements, initiating a $180 million plan to encourage “aliya,” or a return to Jerusalem, for Jews in France, Belgium, and Ukraine.

Netanyahu’s claim that European Jews, reeling from violent attacks at home, would be safer in Israel, where attacks against the Israeli population are more common, is a fallacy. However, for European Jews with a long history of terrible persecution, the rising tide of anti-Semitism strikes a chord with fears rooted in insecurities much deeper than the purely physical. The fact that Europe’s Jewish population is once again pushed to the margins of society is a powerful vindication of “aliya.” In order to understand the decision that European Jews — “European” referring specifically to those countries in which their Jewish communities have been under considerable attack in recent months, including England, France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark — face over whether to stay in their home countries or migrate to Israel, we must understand the history of one of Europe’s most marginalized groups. A failure to do so risks reducing this complex conflict into simple political rhetoric.

Netanyahu’s outspoken critics, many of whom are Jewish leaders in European states, see his statements as off-base, given Israel’s precarious situation in the Middle East. This is the opinion of the former chief rabbi of Norway, who argued that, “We have a prime minister who says Israel is about to come under an attack of terrible dimensions, and at the same time says that everyone should run away from there to come here.” Statistics on Jewish deaths support their skepticism: In an editorial in The Telegraph, King’s College London professor Ned Lebow wrote, “Fewer than 50 Jews are thought to have been killed in Europe by terrorists since 1993. By contrast, between the 1993 Oslo Accords and today, approximately 1,400 Israeli civilians have been killed by terrorists.” To these leaders, Jews concerned for their immediate security would be better served staying in Europe than flying to Israel, contrary to Netanyahu’s claims.

But when one takes into account hostility towards Jews – threats not to their lives per se, but rather to their freedom to practice Judaism – the situation gets far murkier. Anti-Semitism in Europe is indeed on the rise, expressed not just through terrorist attacks but also through widespread harassment perpetuated by the rise of anti-Semitic political groups. Due to a swell of anti-Israel sentiment compounded by increasingly large frustrated Muslim populations in European states, anti-Semitism is gaining traction in the European public. While Europe’s Muslim minority is not to be blamed for Europe’s broader anti-Semitism, certain Muslims have been a part of recent incidents of virulent anti-Semitism. Countries like Germany have seen a spike in anti-Jewish sentiment amongst Muslim immigrants, attributed in part to Muslim anger over the Israel-Palestine conflict and frustration at European Islamophobia. Independent of these Muslim immigrants, the European political establishment has seen an increase in anti-Semitism, as well. As Emma Axelrod, a Brown Political Review writer, explored in her article “Tread Carefully: When Anti-Zionism becomes Anti-Semitism,” in recent months, anti-Zionism has been used to cloak a rising anti-Semitism in rightist European politics.

Such threats to Jewish religious freedom strike nerves that, seventy years after the Holocaust, are still raw. As leaders have recently evaluated the present plight of Jews in Europe, they have used the Holocaust as a reference point for religious persecution at its abysmal peak. The leader of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, said of recent demonstrations, lootings and murders, “These are the worst times since the Nazi era.” People living with the historical memory of such an atrocity have every right to view hate crimes as the seeds of unimaginable horrors. France, Germany, and the UK are home to large portions of Europe’s Jews, many of whom trace roots in their respective countries to the Holocaust and even further back. Hence, a willingness to abandon their home for a proverbial homeland in Israel is perhaps understandable.

The Israeli state that is now calling for European Jews’ aliya was founded in direct response to the tragedy of the Holocaust and to the insecurity Jews felt worldwide. It is meant to be, among other things, a safe haven for threatened diasporic Jews. The very present-centered conversation between Israeli and European leaders on Jewish safety should be placed in the context of a long history of marginalization.

The real connection European Jews have to their countries cannot be denied. For many Jews, their sense of belonging to a national culture keeps them in their respective countries. Jews who move to other countries feel a sense of cultural disjuncture. They must learn Hebrew to interact with other Israelis, which is no easy feat. This, and the fact that professional qualifications attained in the European home country often do not easily transfer over to the Israeli workforce, make professional adjustment hard.

At the same time, the connection between Jews and nation is a very delicate one, with Jews rarely able to enjoy patriotism for very long. Some of the most awful genocides in human history – the Holocaust, the Spanish inquisition, and the pogroms among them – have been sanctioned against Jews by the states in which they live. Israel is the only state in which Jews live as a part of the majority, after years of precariousness at society’s edge. European Jews who immigrate to Israel, likely in direct response to rising feelings of this precariousness, are able to express their Jewish identities fully, without any of the marginalization they face at home. Many European leaders recognize the centrality of Jewish identity politics to the precarious positions of Jews in their countries and plea that Jews realize their belongingness in their homes. Francois Hollande, for example, said, “Jews are at home in France – it’s the anti-Semites who have no place into the Republic.” Helle Thorning-Schmidtt, the Danish Prime Minister, responded similarly to the Copenhagen attacks by saying, “An attack on the Jewish community is an attack on Denmark.”

There is a sharp difference between these leaders’ attitudes and those of past European leaders during eras of state-sponsored anti-Semitism. In England, Germany and France, far-right political parties with anti-Semitic ideology have little public support. Most Jews fleeing Europe for Israel flee not anti-Semitic governments, but a rising wave of hatred at the ground level. Unlike points during the mid-twentieth century, Jews today are not at risk of immediate, mass annihilation at the hands of the state. The great risk lies in what history shows could happen if anti-Semitism does take hold in the majority of countries’ populations or in the national government.

In Western Europe, the tropes being levied against Jews indeed recall a history of alienating stereotypes. Images of Jews as money-hungry, dishonest and foreign are becoming prevalent in the minds of some Europeans: In England, according to a poll by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, a quarter of people believe that Jews “chase money more than other British people,” and one sixth think that “Jews have too much power in the media.” These beliefs, although not held by the majority of British citizens, are stereotypes that have for centuries made Jews into scapegoats at the margins of society, fueling genocide from Germany to Spain. The state of Israel was intended to be a place where Jews would have a national identity after years of marginalization by the state; it is natural that Jews threatened by the resurgence of old hateful tropes both fear for their lives and consider moving to the one country in which they are a majority. With the resurgence of these once lethal stereotypes of Jews, Netanyahu’s call for European Jews to emigrate for safety ring true.

Part of what differentiates recent anti-Semitism from historical hatred is radical Islamic terrorism. While national governments have historically orchestrated many of the largest-scale crimes against Jews, terrorists committed the crimes that have recently seized the world’s attention. Terrorism should be separated from a general rise in anti-Semitism, but focusing on these acts is important because they have both shaken the Jewish psyche and prompted the conversation between Benjamin Netanyahu and European leaders. Again, this type of terrorism is more likely to occur in Israel than it is in Europe. Israel is not a safe haven from terrorist attacks, but it is from the greater sentiment that terrorist attacks evoke: that of normalized anti-Semitism that exploits the marginal position of Jews in European society.

European Jews today are torn not just by physical violence, but also by conflicts of history and national and cultural identity. After centuries of marginalization and assimilation, Jews face decisions that go far beyond basic issues of security. They must confront challenging choices between hard-won national identities and enticing religious freedom, among many others. While leaders may portray Jewish immigration to Israel as a question of security, it is in fact a far more complicated question, one that reaches back into years of history.

For years, Iran and Western powers have had a relationship marked by distrust, suspicion and open animosity. The diplomatic gridlock between Iran and the West seems to have been fixed for decades.  The rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s sixth president,  was filled with blatant insults and threats towards the United States and Israel. While protesting the crippling economic sanctions on Iran’s economy, he openly pushed for the advancement of Iranian nuclear technology.

With the election of President Hassan Rouhani this past June, however, the diplomatic tone has changed for the better. As the intensity of Western sanctions continues to threaten to cause social unrest, Iranian leadership have found themselves forced  to the table, and concessions on the nuclear program seem more likely than ever. Just this past week, an agreement was reached that calls on Iran to limit its nuclear activities in return for lighter sanctions. Diplomats from Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany), came to an initial agreement, making significant steps towards progress. Iranian and U.S. leaders, as well as officials from Russia, China, and the EU, have all expressed satisfaction with the deal.

However, there are many important figures and nations that have voiced adamant opposition to this accord. Many, skeptical of the Iranian reliability, reject engaging and negotiating with Iran. While halting any expansion of Iran’s nuclear program, the terms leave Iran’s atomic fuel-producing infrastructure intact. Israel is unsurprisingly incensed by this deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been fierce in his distrust of Tehran and his belief that sanctions should only get tougher. Netanyahu called Sunday’s nuclear agreement a “historic mistake,” asserting that “the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world.” Israel is far from alone in its disapproval. Israel and Gulf States alike firmly feel that  continuing the sanctions could “force more meaningful Iranian concessions.” A reported collaboration between Saudi Arabia and Mossad, the Israeli intelligence and special operations agency, involves working on a powerful computer virus “more destructive” than the infamous Stuxnet malware in order to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. Regardless of the common interest, Saudi Arabia denies any official alliance; until the Palestinians are granted statehood, Saudi Arabia will not work with Israel. This purported tactic reflects the underlying mistrust both Israel and Saudi Arabia have towards the Iranian government, and why they feel weary towards the West agreeing to alleviate sanctions.

While there has been great focus on Israel’s opposition to the deal, there has been lesser attention paid to the regional implications. Despite the obvious fact that Iranian nuclear proliferation constitutes a direct threat to their populations, Arab countries have been largely excluded from the conversation. Nawaf Al-Obaid, an advisor to the Saudi government, lamented that Washington had not directly briefed the Saudi government about this deal. Sentiments of betrayal, deception, and distrust of the U.S. seem to have taken hold in Saudi Arabia. Beyond the threat of WMD capabilities, Arab countries fear that a deal will allow Iran to expand its regional influence. Support from the West and a growing economy in Iran will impact geopolitical security. Jamal Khashoggi, general manager of Al-Arabiya, stated, “The (Geneva) agreement has reduced the Iran problem to the nuclear level only, while its regional interference is of key concern to GCC countries.”

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries believe that Iran is not looking to substantially limit its nuclear capability, but rather to work out a comprehensive deal with the U.S. that would empower it to become more of a regional power. A Saudi official was quoted as saying, “Many in Saudi Arabia worry that Iran is not being sincere, and the worry during the negotiations was that any deal reached would mean Iran would widen their influence in the region-in countries like Lebanon and Bahrain-and become a bigger threat.”

Given the regional sectarian divide, Sunni Arab powers share fears about a shift in the regional balance of power towards Iran and its allies.

Saudi Arabia, a central Sunni power, has several critical concerns about this deal with Iran. Saudi Arabia is especially aware of the economic threat posed by Iran, as an end to oil sanctions would mean more competition for Saudi petroleum exports. The alleviation of sanctions puts Iran in a position to “weaken Saudi authority by reasserting itself as a top OPEC force.”  Like Israel and the West, Saudi Arabia is weary of a nuclear Iran and opposes Iran’s support for Shiite-affiliated terrorist groups and embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The Sunni-Shiite rift in the Muslim world  comes into play regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the new interim agreement. Given the regional sectarian divide, Sunni Arab powers share fears about a shift in the regional balance of power towards Iran and its allies, such as the Iraqi government of Nuri Al-Maliki, the Lebanese movement Hezbollah, and Muslim Shia communities throughout the Gulf. Additionally, Iran’s influence in Iraq, which has risen since Saddam Hussein was ousted from power, is prominent in social, political, and economic spheres under the current Shia-led government.

Despite the range of tensions between these powers, relations with Iran are officially cordial. The diplomatic rhetoric of the Gulf States is cautiously optimistic about the deal, and Iran has reiterated its willingness to forge stronger ties with its neighbors. 
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif  said his government was willing to work together with Saudi Arabia in order “to promote peace” and achieve regional “stability.”

Looking forward, it is critical to keep Iran’s proliferation of nuclear arms in check and be cognizant of the implications of its growing regional power. Western countries who are eager to limit nuclear proliferation must also prepare for the rise of sectarianism and its threats to internal regional security. The Arab world and Iran have to work together closely at this crucial juncture. It is in everyone’s interest to establish stability to act preemptively as sectarian polarization intensifies, human rights conditions deteriorate, and a regional arms race is incited. Furthermore, in order to obtain any semblance of sustainable regional security order, the concerns of both regional and Western powers must be taken into account in dealings with Iran.

Having a rough semester? Providence weather got you down? Worried about job prospects, the dire state of your love life, your thesis advisor’s expectations (not to mention those of your parents)? Well, I’ve got good news for you: today you don’t have to worry about those things, because today is the first day of spring break. And as everyone knows, spring break is a time to just let go. Let go of your obligations, forget about your worries and your strife, sit on the beach and drink a pina colada. I mean, even Obama’s doing it.

Oh, you haven’t heard about Obama’s spring break plans? Man, your wild weekend at Ultra has nothing on what your president will be up to. He even got a two day jump on you! As of Wednesday, he’s living it up in Israel, and then after a crazy day or so in the West Bank, he’ll move on to Jordan for some well-deserved R&R (which is, as everyone knows, all there is to do in Amman). And if you thought #springbreak2013 and #caboproblems were the wittiest hashtags ever, think again – the President’s trip is so cool, it gets its own personal one (#ObamaInIsrael has been trending since yesterday).

Maybe I’m being a little hard on Obama. He’s really Sophomore Slumping, and he’s honestly got so much on his plate at the moment: that troublesome child in North Korea (decide for yourself whether I mean Dennis Rodman or Kim Jong-un), the first use of chemical weapons in Syria, and the ever-present threat of nuclear Iran, not to mention the complete stagnation in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. With all that weighing on him, no visit to Psych Services is going to make him feel better. What the President really needs is some vaca with his America’s best friend, Israel.

Don’t be ridiculous, you say – Obama is the President of the United States, and this is only his second official visit to the Middle East. Of course he is conducting important state business and attempting solutions to some of the region’s most pressing problems. But strangely enough, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Paradoxically, it appears that though the President is indeed visiting Israel because of the various crises described above, he does not intend to produce any concrete solutions or policy recommendations while in the region. Rather, Obama wants to reassure the Israeli people of his commitment to the US-Israel relationship, and to their safety in the face of the aforementioned monsters under the bed (Iranian nukes, Syrian extremists, Dennis Rodman, etc).

In fact, to the naked eye, what Obama’s doing is a lot like ass-kissing. He’s never been seen as much of a Friend to Israel, neither by government officials (Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu supported Romney in the 2012 elections), nor by the people themselves, who were deeply suspicious of Obama’s motives for visiting. With a new government taking the reins in Israel (that includes many pro-settlement ministers, but for the first time, no ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups), perhaps Obama believed the time was ripe for some government-to-government bonding. Or maybe all the years of being guilt tripped by Republicans for his lukewarm commitment to the Strategic Partnership have finally gotten to him. Either way, it seems that Obama is focused more on sucking up to the Israelis than resolving any of the very real foreign policy issues that are currently facing his administration.

Take, for example, the most pressing foreign policy issue in Israel: the conflict with the Palestinians. According to White House correspondent Mark Landler, who covered the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, Obama will not propose a new compromise (the reason for this being the still-painful memory of his first term, in which his efforts to form a peace plan were quickly shut down by PM Netanyahu). His new strategy, as his speech yesterday to an audience of young Israelis at the Jerusalem Convention Center demonstrates, is to make a personal appeal to the people. At first glance, this strikes me as the easy way out. Obama is sick and tired of the stubborn Israeli government ministers, who aren’t going to support a meaningful compromise anyway, so he’s ostensibly “dealing with the Israel-Palestine issue” by making a speech. Yes, we know, he’s got enough charisma to fill a football stadium – he’s still just avoiding looking for a concrete solution to the issue.

But let’s look at the subtext here. The first significant thing about the way Obama approached the Israel-Palestine issue is that he chose to address a roomful of young, passionate Israelis rather than the Knesset (Israeli parliament), which is full of old geezers politicians. In his speech, he emphasized the common ground between the Israeli and Palestinian experiences, and asked his audience to demand change from their government. In pursuing this bottom-up strategy, Obama simultaneously avoided an unproductive exchange with Israeli officials and created a gap between them and their populace. And unproductive a meeting with the Knesset certainly would have been, given that a big part of the President’s speech was about the need to punish settlers in the occupied territories (a tough sell to a parliament composed largely of pro-settlement ministers).

On the surface, it doesn’t look like this trip will accomplish anything concrete. Obama’s diplomatic efforts (which included assuring Netanyahu of US support against Iran and a plea to Palestinians in Ramallah to negotiate without any preconditions) appear designed to pander to the Israeli people. But here we reach the heart of the matter – if we take for granted that no definite policy proposals will come out of this visit (as we should, given the near-hysterical insistence of US government officials that “seriously you guys, nothing of any actual value at all could ever happen on this trip in a million years”), there are still Obama’s intentions to consider. So he’s buttering up the Israelis – but why? In his fifth year as President, has he finally accepted the bromance between Congress and Israel (with AIPAC as a wingman – this is a great metaphor) and decided that bolstering the US-Israel relationship is essential to both his popularity rating and US security interests in the region? It seems, instead, that he is going over the head of Netanyahu (whom he’s never liked much anyway) and making a bold play for the hearts and minds of the Israeli people to aid in a future push for a just compromise between them and the Palestinians.

Though not much appears to be happening on this trip to Israel, Obama’s speech indicates that he may have something hidden up his sleeve for the future. In keeping with my (admittedly rather crass and trivializing) spring break metaphor, what Obama has done is the rough equivalent of not actually hooking up with that Sigma in Cabo, but planting a seed that will totally pay off during Spring Weekend. It seems that when it comes to Obama Gone Wild – Israel Edition, that age-old adage “what happens on spring break, stays on spring break” may need to be adjusted: “Though nothing obvious really happened in Israel, the subtle things that did will most definitely not stay in Israel.”

Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, classmate of Sr. Romney, has outdone himself.

In what is now a legendarily cavalier portrait of recklessly reductive thinking on the topic of nuclear threat, Bibi holds a graphic poster of a simplistic bomb with a red line near the neck. It is meant to indicate his government’s breaking point where they will conduct offensive military action to stem the Iranian Threat.

Twitter user @BuzzfeedAndrew, comments on the viral image: “I didn’t realize nuclear bombs looked like the bombs from Super Mario”. Neither did I. We were wrong.

Importantly, even images as as inane as this one cannot be discounted. Surely, few people need the astonishingly facile if not out right condescending “red line bomb” graphic to understand the tense nuclear standoff between Israel and Iran. That said, we would be missing the point to write off the image as innocuous political posturing. Instead, this image belies the explosive mixture of political posturing, truculent rhetoric, callous indifference to the threat of enemy, and simplistic binary thinking that makes politicians dangerous.

Bibi appears to be stuck appealing to Israel’s right wing. The Kadima-Likud coalition broke apart only a short time after it’s inception. If this is the kind of posturing that wins the trust of Israel’s fear-mongering right, then it is doubly upsetting. First, it is a sad reflection of Bibi’s willingness to adopt the kind of tough-guy posturing that has no place in international diplomacy, especially diplomacy with major ontological significance for the people of both Iran and Israel. Secondly, the gesture’s presumed domestic audience itself comes off looking truculent and easily pacified by an unctuous leader, desperate for support. Cheering for a leader who holds up such inane drawings to the most important supranational assembly on earth does not incur good feelings from external onlookers.

Sure, it doesn’t look like Bibi’s Israel will not carry out any military activity without more international support. That is until they do.

The fact that this image is now in the beginnings stages of a viral meme is a source of uncomfortable laughter.