This is likely being interpreted by some as a break with the norm — Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who previously basically apologized and groveled before the pro-Israel lobby, is breaking with the status quo by criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alliance with a far-right political movement:
Here’s the problem. So did Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar:
So has…the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, you know, the powerful right-wing group that helps freeze US-Israel policy in place.
What’s happening here is pretty clear. Netanyahu is being turned into a scapegoat by pro-Israel activists because it looks like he might end up in jail or his party will be defeated in the election by a coalition led by someone who bragged about how much destruction he caused in Gaza. Then the US-Israel relationship can continue at pace.
Is criticizing Netanyahu really all that bold? In terms of the context of the wider debate, not really. Dozens of House Democrats refused to attend his address to Congress during the debate over the Iran deal, that relationship has been soured for years. The bigger question is what US policy towards the Israeli government should be, and neither O’Rourke nor Klobuchar have dissented on that question at all. Imagine if this was the sort of line we drew for other policy areas — it doesn’t matter what your health care policy is, you just need to criticize Aetna. It wouldn’t fly. (And for what it’s worth, O’Rourke also took some shots at the Palestinian Authority, which while far from perfect has basically bent over backwards to Netanyahu in negotiations and got nothing for it.)
The litmus test for activists shouldn’t be criticizing Netanyahu. Even AIPAC is doing that. The litmus test should be US military aid to Israel, sanctions on Israeli settlements, and protecting Israel’s government at the UN.
To date, Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders is the only one who has loudly condemned actual Israeli policies and written letters to the Israeli government demanding the end of specific policy like home demolitions; Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren has joined him in some of these endeavors. O’Rourke and Klobuchar, on the other hand, are basically just touting AIPAC’s line: Netanyahu personally is a problem, but US-Israel policy is basically fine.