Olmert calls on Biden to boycott extremist Israeli government

Jul 21, 2023
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert holds the Israeli flag during a demonstration held by anti government protestors outside Israel's main international airport against PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's hard-right government judicial system plan that aims to weaken the country's Supreme Court, at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on July 3, 2023 in Lod, Israel Image: Alamy/Eddie Gerald

President Biden hosted Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the White House on Tuesday. Herzog is addressing a joint session of Congress, which a handful of progressive Democrats are boycotting. The same members of Congress also boycotted the address of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a far right Hindu nationalist who is implicated in an anti-Muslim pogrom.

Biden’s hall of shame invitees are nothing new in Washington politics. As Henry Kissinger said, “Diplomacy is a game you play with the pieces on the board.” He thought Jimmy Carter’s invocation of human rights in US foreign policy a foolish distraction. Biden appears to tilt to the Realist side in this regard.

It should be remembered that Ronald Reagan invited the South African Apartheid leader, Pik Botha, to the White House in 1981. Reagan did not care that Pretoria was keeping Blacks segregated and without the vote. He discussed with Botha their common anti-Communism in Africa. He also seemed to give South Africa a green light on its nuclear program. Six years later, when Congress in a rare fit of uprightness voted to boycott the South African economy, Reagan tried and failed to veto the measure.

Despite the resistance to the idea in the US Congress, Israel is today’s Apartheid state, as described at length by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem and other respected human rights groups.

You would not know it from the Israel derangement syndrome raging at full force in Washington, D.C., but boycotting this Israeli government has important advocates in Israel itself.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a man of the Israeli right wing who prosecuted the 2006 war on Lebanon, and whom no one ever accused of being a bleeding heart liberal, on Sunday called for governments to boycott his successor, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the latter’s ongoing attempt to gut the country’s Supreme Court and over his having invited into his cabinet the most extreme politicians on the fascist side of the Israeli political spectrum.

The Jewish Chronicle quotes Olmert as saying,

    “I call on the United States to make a new assessment of relations with Israel for all that this implies. I call on world leaders not to meet with [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. Biden, if he loves Israel, must act against the government… to make it clear to the violent group that supports Netanyahu what the price that the State of Israel will pay for its actions is.”

Unfortunately, President Biden has ignored this advice from a seasoned member and observer of the Israeli political scene, and has agreed to a meeting with the far right racist, Netanyahu.

Also boycotting the government are 161 Israeli officers of the Air Force reserves, who have said they will not show up for training as usual. Dan Williams at Reuters reports that they comprise majors through brigadier generals.

So that’s Olmert and some generals lining up with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other boycotting congressmen. The left wing of the Democratic Party in the US takes positions similar to just ordinary people in other democracies, while the right wing of the Democratic Party would be their conservatives, like the Tories in the UK. The Republican Party in the US does not have an obvious analogue in other industrialised democracies, though I suppose Marine LePen’s far right French Nationalist party or the AfD in Germany would be the closest parallels.

On Tuesday, a large crowd of protesters in Tel Aviv, including army reservists, blocked an army building.

Others invaded the stock market briefly. Capital has been fleeing Israel with alacrity since Netanyahu announced his plans to castrate the Supreme Court, since investors will be left at the mercy of the prime minister’s extremist coalition and they cannot trust that their money will be safe in a parliamentary dictatorship on the Turkish model.

Protesters had announced an intention of shutting down the rail system, and the trains did stop running for a while, but it is not clear whether it was because of the demonstrators.

Netanyahu’s extremist cabinet plans to pass the bill neutering the Supreme Court by July 30, despite massive nationwide protests.

Histadrut, the country’s general labor union, threatened a paralysing strike if plans to pass the legislation go through.

Opinion polls show that a majority of Israelis oppose the current extremist government and would turn it out of office if given the opportunity to go to the polls.

The protesters have not foregrounded the other big issue in Israeli politics, the drive of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir to accelerate the Israeli colonisation of the Palestinian West Bank with an eye ultimately to annexing it, while keeping its 3 million Palestinian inhabitants stateless and without rights. While a significant segment of Israeli public opinion opposes this course, others are not so vehement or even have a soft spot for the Israeli squatter-settlers, and so highlighting the Palestine file would risk splitting the protest movement.


First published in Informed Comment July 19, 2023

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