Is Israel a ‘Tea Party Nation’?

Is Israel a ‘Tea Party Nation’?

On the evening of Oct. 20, I attended a Manhattan forum organized by AlterNet, on the Tea Party—the populist but rabidly right-wing movement that has helped energize the Republican electoral wave set to sweep the nation today.  The AlterNet writers who spoke (forgive me for having forgotten their names) had reasonable observations to make on the Tea Party; one of them has just edited a book on this subject. 

Also participating was Max Blumenthal, a writer primarily for The Daily Beast and The Nation (and a fellow at The Nation Institute) and the author of “Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party.”  I first became aware of Blumenthal’s existence at last year’s J Street conference, where he participated in the unofficial bloggers’ panel, which mostly sniped at J Street from the left (with the notable exception of Palestinian-American Chicagoan Ray Hanania who praised it).

Blumenthal’s an articulate and acerbic speaker and is especially vitriolic regarding Israel, which he dubbed “the Tea Party Nation.”  This came up because he mentioned having just returned from Israel researching a new book, which is likely to be a vicious hatchet job. (Yet I did appreciate his quip that the Anti-Defamation League should be called “the Defamation League.”)

I’ve read Time magazine’s controversial Sept. 13th cover story, “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace” by Karl Vick, its Jerusalem bureau chief.    Time’s cover page headline was meant to be provocative and was probably not the writer’s choice; the tamer title on the inside is “The Good Life And Its Dangers,” followed by this summary: “Israelis feel prosperous, secure—and disengaged from the peace process.  Is that wise?” Time’s editors have chosen to frame the story in a way that can be read as hostile to Israelis.

But Vick makes the point that most Israelis are bitterly disappointed by the bloody intifada that followed the peace process of the 1990s: “….Yasser Arafat turned down a striking package of Israeli concessions at Camp David. What came next was the second intifadeh, a watershed of terror for an Israeli majority who, watching and suffering waves of suicide bombings, saw no reason to keep hope alive.” The article indicates that most Israelis are resigned to the situation, and getting on with their lives while largely profiting from a vibrant economy.  Unlike Blumenthal, Vick focuses on the mainstream, not its right-wing fanatics.   

Last Thursday, Oct. 28, Meretz USA welcomed a favorite frequent guest, the former Meretz Member of Knesset, Avshalom (Abu) Vilan.  Abu directly addressed this matter of Israeli attitudes.  Like Vick, he sees a desire for peace and even a majority opposition to settlements, but he also observes a lack of trust in the intentions of the Palestinians.   If there is a breakthrough in negotiations, he sees this cynicism as changing.

And he sees Netanyahu (whom he knew as a young man when both served in an army unit commanded by Ehud Barak), as having a hard time deciding whether he’s willing to risk the necessary steps for peace.  Netanyahu is weighing his options, partly because he doesn’t want a breach with the Obama administration, and (according to Abu) because he would very much like the achievement of peace to be his legacy.   At the same time, Abu sees Netanyahu as very much influenced by Barak, who as minister of defense is taking over most of the important functions of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman—the latter being unwelcome in most international diplomatic circles.  Abu characterizes Barak as the most unpopular figure in Israeli politics, but sees Netanyahu as his last fan.

Abu is skeptical of the potential of the Kadima party, which he discounts as “Likud light.”  As for the left, he sees the need for a “broad front,” and warns against the left-wing tendency to split the vote for new electoral lists.  He does not see new elections in the near term, as he regards Netanyahu’s coalition as stable.

By | 2010-11-02T15:44:00-04:00 November 2nd, 2010|Blog|6 Comments


  1. Ron Skolnik November 2, 2010 at 7:54 pm - Reply

    Apropos the Tea Party: When Abu Vilan was asked at the event whether Israel was careening towards fascism, he expressed concern that it might be. Although he believes that the majority of Israelis still cherish democracy, he indicated that Israel is in danger of being run by its own version of the Tea Party: In Israel’s case, a loose coalition of constituencies from the ultra-Orthodox, national-religious, former Soviet Union, and segments of the secular right-wing communities – who might differ on some issues, but who hold in common a sense that democracy was rather expendable.

    Although Abu cited stats showing that a majority of Israelis still support the 2-state solution, he also presented some more worrying data: A majority of Israelis, 51%-43%, feel that Avigdor Lieberman is fit to continue as Israel’s foreign minister. And a whopping 74% (!) support Lieberman’s “Loyalty Oath Law”.

  2. Ray Hanania November 4, 2010 at 12:38 am - Reply

    The most obnoxious comments came from Gaza Mom, Laila al-Haddad who attacked me for saying that Hamas is a terrorist extremist organization, ridiculed the idea that Israeli civilians have rights and argued that only Palestinian civilians have rights — while I argued both civilians have rights despite Israel’s superior political and military power and the imbalance of Palestinian-Israeli power politics. She is a phony and a racist who can’t argue the points but only attacks the person. So, I figure, she deserves to have here biased hateful views called out as often as possible. She has no right to represent the Palestinians and when she tries she only de-legitimizes our just cause and rights
    Ray Hanania

  3. Anonymous November 4, 2010 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    Thanks for adding that non-sequitur Ray. Seems like you’re feeling a little defensive there and seeking out a sympatehtic audience.

    Odd that many people, including me, find Laila to be an insightful, intelligent and well-informed supporter of Palestinian rights and of human rights.

    Could it be that she used intellect, insight and knowldege of Palestinian rights to critique your positions?

    By the way, is Bradley Burston still supporting you as the next Palestinian president? I forgot, does he get to vote?


  4. Werner Cohn November 7, 2010 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    Your posting here caused me to reflect on the usage of “Left” and “Right”. You say that the Tea Party is rabidly Right-wing, or words to that effect. Right in whose eyes ? “Right-wing” is a term used by others, not by the actors themselves. On the other hand, “Left,” as for instance applied to the Nation magazine, conflates two opposing traditions: a) democratic socialists, with humanitarian aspirations; and b) a rabidly malicious, often anti-Semitic politics. The Nation is of the latter type of “Leftism.”

  5. Anonymous November 8, 2010 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    Hi Werner,

    I’d certainly be illuminated if you could explain to all of us speciic examples of how The Nation promotes “malicious, often anti-Semitic politics.”

    Thanks very much,


  6. Yehuda Erdman November 12, 2010 at 6:52 am - Reply

    I am seeing much that is self contradictary in some of the posts above, but that is par for the course in the Middle East and also in commentary from the Jewish Diaspora (also the palestinian one but not in this narrative). Those of us in the World Union of Meretz, in my case Meretz UK who have almost come to dispair of any peace settlement, nevertheless being optimists always try to credit individuals with good motives however obtuse they may be.
    Netanyahu is ploughing a lonely furrow, and by trying to counterbalance many sides against the middles he risks failing in this premiership as he did in his first term. The idea of launching a second insolent defence of building in East Jerusalem, when Obama is abroad defies belief. You just do not do that to your greatest ally. When Biden says he thought the damage of the first major personal attack against him on his visit to Israel, was being repaired, another “torpedo” is launched.
    I took on board some of the analysis by Abu Vilan regarding Barak’s special relationship with Netanyahu dating from their military careers, which resonates with the long history of Israeli military men entering politics after their army days are over.
    Yet Barak has done great damage to the israeli labour party by consistently supporting right wing policies, which are frankly embarrassing to his own electorate.
    A re-alignment of the israeli Left and Zionist left is still on the cards to provide a counterbalancing force.

Leave A Comment