Moshe Feiglin is the figurehead of far-right, free-the-weed libertarianism in Israel, a country where this barely makes the top ten weirdest ideological mash-ups. Back in 2013, when he was still a powerful player on the right-wing of the right-wing of the Likud, Feiglin gave an interview to the New American, the magazine of the John Birch Society. He used the opportunity to do something most ambitious Israeli politicians would never dream of doing: he called for an end to US military aid to Israel.
Noting America’s unemployment troubles at the time, Feiglin said he was ‘totally against this aid’ because it ‘doesn’t look moral to me’. He opposed the money, too, because:
‘This aid is not in our favour, not economically, not militarily, not in any way. This aid serves psychological purposes, not anything else.’
By psychological purposes, he meant not only the Israeli need for hyper security but a dependency mindset in which the Jewish state filtered its foreign and even some domestic policies through its relationship with the United States.
Eight years later, Feiglin is gone from the Knesset but his cause is being taken up by progressive Democrats in Congress. Their attempt to gut $1 billion (£730 million) in funding for the Iron Dome, the missile shield that prevents Hamas from firing rockets at Israeli civilians, was audacious. Unfortunately for them, though fortunately for Israel, their effort was spearheaded by the social media influencer who occasionally represents the New York 14th in Congress. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Instagram) wept on the floor of the House after colleagues defeated her plot and restored funding to the Iron Dome.
AOC was consoled by fellow progressives, and no wonder: you’d be upset too if you’d just failed to strip funding from a life-saving system that saves the wrong sort of lives. If it appears unseemly that a congresswoman would get so invested in defunding a civilian-protecting missile shield, welcome to the Democrat party in 2021. Firing rockets at Israeli civilians is part of Hamas’s culture so, when you think about it, the Iron Dome is actually racist.
I have an interest to declare in that I once shielded under the Iron Dome during a Hamas rocket attack near Israel’s boundary with Gaza, and although I was for the programme before, the experience shifted my position from solid support to ‘Why doesn’t this thing have space lasers?’
For all the outrage about the progressives’ move — and it was outrageous — it’s hard not to admire their candour. Earlier generations of Israel-haters on the left were careful to couch their hostility in talk of settlements, checkpoints, security detention and the military courts, complex matters that left some Israel supporters queasy. This crew are far less sneaky: they’re against a purely defensive anti-missile system that reduces the number of Israeli children blown up in their bedrooms, and they don’t mind you knowing it. With enemies like this, who needs Aipac?
These lawmakers are out to wreck the US-Israel relationship, a feat which even Barack Obama couldn’t pull off despite his best efforts. They subscribe to progressive dogma that sees Israel as a white supremacist colonial enterprise oppressing a non-white indigenous people.
That the Jews are indigenous to the Land of Israel, that they alone have ever been sovereign in the territory, that they were expelled by an actual empire and returned in defiance of multiple others, that they keep trying to give a state to the people they are supposed to be oppressing and keep getting blown up in response — none of this has any bearing on what is, in some instances, a fashionable hatred of the expensively miseducated and, in others, a much older animus.
As is standard with progressives, these Democrats are so convinced of their own virtue that thoughts of consequences never come into it. Certainly, there was no thought given to what this episode would do to their party’s already fractious internal politics, though given how weak and accommodating the leadership continues to be in the face of these so-called progressives it’s hard to muster much sympathy for the moderates.
The consequences run further than intra-party warfare in DC or the potential impact on jobs in the US defence industry, for which military aid to Israel is an elaborate federal subsidy. Moshe Feiglin was right about the psychological significance of financial military assistance and there is psychological significance in placing a question mark over it.
The Israelis are glad to see The Squad defeated but there will be more relief than elation. Given how far along the process the progressives got, this feels like a very close call. That defunding of the Iron Dome almost happened in the wake of the US abandonment of Afghanistan will still prompt concern in Jerusalem.
An AOC victory would have created ripe conditions for Israeli revisionism about the US-Israel alliance. Israeli nationalists would have recast that partnership as a shackling of Israel in service of American political objectives. It’s not as though those voices can’t already be heard but the Iron Dome debacle would have been a recruiting sergeant for them.
Progressive Democrats sensed their opportunity to slash or terminate the military aid link between DC and Jerusalem and will keep trying. Fair enough. Don’t fund the Iron Dome. In fact, end all US military assistance to Israel. But that is when the practicalities of a more independent Israel would set in.
An Israel that no longer factored in Capitol Hill or Pennsylvania Avenue when making major policy decisions would be an Israel free to build deeper and deeper in Judea and Samaria. An Israel ditched by America would be an Israel that would see its options for stopping a nuclear Iran in starker terms. An Israel under a scaled-back Iron Dome would be one in which more Hamas rockets would kill more civilians until Israeli tanks ended up back in Gaza. An Israel estranged from America would run its foreign and security affairs along lines much closer to its allies and enemies in the region and in the interests of Israel rather than America.
That AOC was outmanoeuvred is good news for Israel but even better for the United States. American influence is already crumbling in west Asia. It cannot afford to lose another ally.