Announcing the ReThinking Foreign Policy Podcast

Big news, and something to take up some of that free time the coronavirus has forced on you.

ReThinking Foreign Policy has launched a podcast, by the same name. Thanks to the good folks at Anchor.fm, it will be available on the major podcast platforms, Spotify, Apple Music/iTunes, etc.

The first episode, where I talk about Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempted coup in Israel and how it could set an example for Donald Trump and other authoritarian leaders is live right now, and you can listen to it here.

More than ever, I’d appreciate your feedback on this first episode. It’s my first go at a podcast, and it’s certainly rough around the edges. I need your help to make it better, and I think, with that support, I can make this a podcast that will be a valuable tool for many–and maybe even a bit entertaining once in a while!

Also, I know times are tough everywhere, so no hurry and no pressure, but when you can, the “donate” button on the home page will help me continue this podcast and expand both it and the web site.

I appreciate the support so many of you have given me over the years. Above all, please stay healthy and safe in these unprecedented and scary times.

Appearance on i24 in Israel, “Israel’s Northern Front Is Heating Up Again”

This short clip of me on Israel’s i24 channel, a show called “Strictly Security,” where I explain why recent attempts to get the US to recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights are doomed to failure…but this is Trump, and if it should become an issue he embraces, that could change.

Renaming and “Rethinking Foreign Policy”

You might have noticed that the name of my blog has changed. It’s a change that’s been a long time coming, as I’ve not been comfortable with the name, “The Third Way” for quite a while. But the change represents more than a mere marketing decision.

I began this blog when I was the co-director of Jewish Voice for Peace, nearly 15 years Jstreet2017-0595ago. At that time, I liked the name of the blog. I didn’t see it as reflecting a “middle path,” or a “compromise position” on the Israeli occupation. But I felt that it represented what I was trying to present: an analysis of the Israel-Palestine conflict born out of an understanding of and a sympathy for both Palestinian dispossession and lack of rights and Jewish history and realpolitik.

When I left JVP, I took the blog with me. The name still seemed to suit me for a time, but my discomfort with it soon emerged. That was in part due to my work for B’Tselem, which required me to rein in a lot of my political writing, a result of the misguided notion they held at the time that human rights work was somehow separate from political activism.

In more recent years, I’ve been sure that the name was wrong. That’s not because my views have shifted that much. They have inevitably evolved over 15 years, of course, but I still approach the issue with empathy for the shared history I have with other Jews as I work to make Americans recognize that the occupation is a horrific, ongoing crime that would have ended long ago were it not for the policies of the United States.

The name no longer fit for several reasons. First, I was writing about a lot more than the Israel-Palestine conflict. Second, the politics of the conflict had changed with the long-term split in Palestinian politics, the utter dominance of the Israeli right over Israeli policy, and the twin effects on discourse in the United States: while both parties in Washington had been pulled much farther to the right, liberal disconnect, both Jewish and non-Jewish, from Israel had grown and with it, so had more open criticism of Israeli policies.

I finally settled on the name “Rethinking Foreign Policy.” The fact that the US is the key enabler of the occupation is not given nearly enough attention. The discourse in the US sort of recognizes the huge role we play, as well as the unique position this foreign policy item occupies in US domestic politics. But it’s still discussed as an “over there” issue. No, friends, it’s a here and now issue. If the dark days of the Trump administration prove nothing else about Palestine-Israel, they prove that.

The word “rethink” has become popular lately, especially in progressive circles. ReThink Media, a very important organization working on the same issues I write about is one example. There’s a number of other really great organizations rethinking education, how to raise boys to resist the indoctrination toward sexual violence, behavioral health care and other issues. I’m not much for following trends, but this one seems like a good one.

The way Americans discuss foreign policy is rotten at the core. Our racism, belief in American exceptionalism, and apathy regarding our history, legacy, and ongoing policies that impoverish and dispossess people all around the world, as well a s here at home, underpin a lot of foreign policy thinking, including quite a bit of mainstream progressive thought. Even when intentions can go beyond those limitations, the often stodgy thinking dominated, as this field is, by excessively privileged white men is very slow to change.

Perhaps I am overly and unjustifiably flattering myself, but I choose to believe that I offer an analysis that is relatively independent. Anyone who claims to be unbiased is either lying or simply has no knowledge of the subject under discussion, as that is the only way to escape bias. But, as many of you know, I have spent much of the past decade unemployed, so I have been able to develop my thinking, writing, and analysis without any organizational constraints. and I’d like to think that makes me a little less biased than many others.

So I am trying to inspire a basic “rethinking” of our foreign policy. That’s the approach I have pursued and will continue to do so.

I plan to do more short blog posts that will appear here in their entirety, so this site won’t just be a collection of links to my articles and appearances at LobeLog and elsewhere. While I will still write a great deal on Palestine and Israel, I will also continue to expand my writing to include other major US foreign policy issues, as I have been doing with Iran, Syria, North Korea, and the Persian Gulf. I expect to also write more about China, Latin America, Trump’s slashing of our relationships with allies like Canada and the EU, and even some domestic issues.

That’s my plan, anyway, We’ll see if I can actually pull it off. Thanks for sticking with me through all of these years, and for continuing to follow my work.

Prospects for Peace: Obama’s Last Stand and Opportunities in the New Administration

Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon of Churches for Middle East Peace hosts Jim Zogby of the Arab American Institute, Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now and myself for this discussion about the end of the Obama era and the prospects of a Trump administration for Israel and Palestine.

Netanyahu’s Coalition of the Unwilling

After Benjamin Netanyahu’s surprising victory in Israel’s national elections in March, he took until the last possible Bennettminute to complete the process of forming the government for his fourth term as Israel’s prime minister. For all the time he invested, despite making it just under the wire, Netanyahu ended up with a fragile, ultra-right-wing coalition and more work ahead of him to bring in at least one more party.

The government Netanyahu presented to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was a bare majority of 61 seats out of the 120-seat Knesset. There are no fig leafs in this coalition, no Tzipi Livni or Ehud Barak for Netanyahu to send to talk fruitlessly with the Palestinians. One might think this would make the coalition more stable, since it consists entirely of the right wing. In this, one would be wrong.

Netanyahu is, in fact, desperate to add another party to the coalition because there is so much tension in the current majority, most visibly between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Naftali Bennett’s HaBayit HaYehudi. Likud leaders, including Netanyahu, feel that Bennett essentially held the coalition hostage to his demands. They are quite right about that, but the gambit paid off handsomely for Bennett.

HaBayit HaYehudi holds a mere eight seats in the Knesset. Yet Bennett and his party will get four ministries, the deputy defense minister post, as well as the chairs of two key Knesset committees dealing with Israel’s legal system. That is what you get when you play hardball with Netanyahu, a man who likes to talk tough but who is a political creature first and foremost and quickly backs off from a high-stakes fight he is not sure he can win.

As things stand, this coalition might not last the year. That is why, after Avigdor Lieberman quit his post as foreign minister and took his greatly diminished party into the opposition, Netanyahu left the post open by keeping that portfolio for himself. In reality, Netanyahu has been the foreign minister all along, so it is not an added burden for him.

Leaving the position open gives him a tempting carrot with which to try to lure Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog into a unity government (see my piece here for why that would be a terrible idea for all concerned) or to tempt Lieberman back in. Without one of those parties, the government is too fragile to last very long. Even if Lieberman does rejoin, the mere six seats he would bring offer only token stability. Herzog is the man Netanyahu needs.

Bennett’s Gamble

On the day that Netanyahu was supposed to present his government, he was still eight seats short of a majority. Luckily for Bennett, that was the exact number of seats he controlled and he let Netanyahu know just how lucky he was.

Bennett played a game of chicken with Netanyahu, pushing for more and more power within the government and knowing that Bibi was going to have a hard time saying no to anything. Bennett won, and the spoils were vast. The far-right HaBayit HaYehudi party now controls the ministries of education, agriculture, justice, and diaspora affairs. The position of deputy defense minister will also be theirs.

It is even worse than it sounds. With the ministry of agriculture comes control over the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, which funds the expansion of settlements. Uri Ariel, perhaps the most extreme pro-settler member of the Knesset, will have that portfolio.

It gets worse yet. Bennett gave the justice ministry to Ayelet Shaked. Shaked is a notorious racist who once proudly posted an article by a speechwriter named Uri Elitzur that named the entire Palestinian nation as enemies. Elitzur further agued that Palestinian mothers “must go” if their sons commit acts of violence because they raised a “snake” and would raise more “snakes.” In the context of calling every single Palestinian “the enemy,” this is clearly hate speech. Shaked tried to deny the contents of the post, saying it was mistranslated. Hebrew readers can judge for themselves here, where the post is archived. Although it is not quite a call for genocide, as some have suggested, it is clearly incitement and hate speech. This is the new minister of justice in Israel.

Lest there be any doubt about how much Shaked agrees with Elitzur, she said the following just before the full-scale war on Gaza last summer: “This is not a war against terror, and not a war against extremists, and not even a war against the Palestinian Authority. The reality is that this is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people. Why? Ask them, they started it.”

Shaked is certain to work hard to undermine Israel’s fragile legal system. She will also be heading the powerful Ministerial Committee for Legislation and the Judicial Appointments Committee, giving her even more leverage to eliminate a legal system that she sees as a bastion of the left. Moreover, she is very likely to be minister of justice when the next attorney general is appointed.

Uri Ariel can be equally certain to press hard for as much settlement expansion—all over the West Bank and, especially, in East Jerusalem—as the available shekels and the defense minister, who will still be Moshe Ya’alon, will allow. I would rather not even think about what Bennett, the new minister of education, is going to do to the minds of Israeli students. Academia is also thought of as a bastion of the left in Israel, and the climate for free thought in Israeli institutions is certainly threatened now.

A Question of Longevity

The real question about all of this is how long it will last. An ultra-right government like this one is not going to get along well with the Obama administration or most of Europe, although the Republican-led Congress is likely to fall in love with it. Some may hope that this will be a case of things getting so bad that political pressure for improvement must come. Sadly, such is not the history of Israel or of this conflict.

Netanyahu will be spending the next few months trying to woo Isaac Herzog into the government, and this is what the whole game comes down to. If Herzog joins and creates a national unity government of 85 seats, this government will survive. The Labor Party, which makes up most of the Zionist Union, is unlikely to provide much of a counter to the right-wing majority. Much more likely is that, as has happened in the past, many of Labor’s Knesset members and other leaders will bolt the party rather than serve as a fig leaf for such a far-right government.

If Herzog does not join the government, this fourth Netanyahu government will not outlast Barack Obama’s presidency, and might not even come close. The right wing does not play well together, and it will take nothing more than a few well-timed votes of no-confidence to take down this government even if none of the parties bolts. Even that scenario, however, offers little hope. The last elections were hailed as a comeback for Labor, but the center and left still cannot form a coalition without the Joint List (a coalition of mostly Arab parties), and that remains anathema in Israeli politics. In fact, little changed in the left-right balance in the last elections, and that is showing no signs of turning around.

It has never been clearer that positive change in Israel is going to require some sort of meaningful action by the United States and/or Europe. If that does not come, and it does not seem to be on the horizon, disaster looms.