Netanyahu & Boehner: How Israel went from being a Democratic to a Republican Project

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) —

The audacity of Speaker of the House John Boehner colluding with the prime minister of a foreign country to undermine a sitting president is, I think, still not entirely appreciated. And the whole point of the plot with Binyamin Netanyahu is to stop a sitting president from successfully making an opening to a former enemy, reducing the likelihood of war.

Just think what the equivalent would have been.

It would be as though Rep. Joseph William Martin, Jr., the Speaker of the House after WW II, had managed to swing a visit to Congress in 1947 from Mustafa Barzani, the Kurdish leader, to stop Harry Truman from promulgating his Truman Doctrine and including Turkey in the aid package that became the Marshall Plan.

Or, it would be as though Rep. John William McCormack, Speaker of the House in 1971, had without Nixon’s knowledge invited Spanish leader Francisco Franco to address Congress and warn against any deal with Communist China.

I think we know how Truman (a hothead) and Nixon (a sociopath) would have responded to that kind of, well, treason. And frankly I don’t think a Speaker would have dared try to treat a white president that way.

That Netanyahu gleefully joined in this naked power play for the Republican Party, moreover, signals a turning point in the partisan valence of Israel itself.

In a 2-party system, the parties are enormous big-tent conglomerations of groups. But at a certain point in the 20th century, the Democratic Party picked up as constituents, in addition to Southern Baptist rural whites, the urban working and middle classes, including religious minorities (Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Jews were very disproportionately urban, while rural areas were largely Protestant). Among the Democrats, of course, were some wealthy traitors to their own class like FDR himself, who despite their privilege stood up for urban workers (even if they were not personally enthusiastic about Catholics and Jews). Those few middle class African Americans who could vote in mid-century tended to be Republicans, but most were excluded from the political system.

The narrative of the Democratic Party under the New Deal and after was government-backed uplift and opportunity for minorities and workers. That message resonated with the “Exodus” narrative of Israel as the creation of persecuted people reduced to the most straitened circumstances, who by forming a socialist state created the first modern industrial Middle Eastern nation– which perhaps even had the potential to modernize the feudal emirates and principalities still battening upon the oppressed Arab workers and peasants.

In contrast, the Republican Party was led by wealthy and established WASPs, who allied with upper middle class neighborhoods and some Midwestern farmers. Its message, even in the 1930s and 1940s, was that private business, if only untaxed and unregulated, could create a dynamic economy and a tide that would lift all boats. That discourse was completely unaffected by its utter failure in the Great Depression. The GOP was hostile to the kind of big government FDR championed and that the Israelis constructed in the late 40s and 1950s, and had vanishingly few Jewish or Catholic constituents.

A Republican like Eisenhower was as eager in the 1950s to have good relations with Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt as with Israel, and reacted harshly to Israel’s war of aggression, in conjunction with Britain and France, on Egypt in 1956. Eisenhower had few domestic Jewish constituents and did not care that they were disappointed when he made David Ben Gurion relinquish the Sinai Peninsula back to its lawful owner, Egypt, in 1957. He appears to have been afraid that Israel’s aggressive expansionism would drive Egypt into the arms of the Soviet Union, and with it much of the Arab world. Socialist Jews running about interfering in US Cold War aims did not exactly produce fanboy sentiments in the Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran businessmen and military officers at the top of the Republican Party.

In contrast, the Democratic Johnson administration was, in 1967, virtually a cheering section for Israel in that war, in which Israel also fired the first shot.

But from the late 1970s, the Israeli right wing began winning national elections. Some of it, as with the Likud Party, resembled Franco’s Spanish fascists, having a similar origin in the far right wing mass movements of the 1930s in Europe. It reached out to the Mizrahis or Jews from the Middle East who had fled or been expelled after the rise of Israel made them (quite unfairly) controversial at home. Then in the 1990s, a million immigrants came to Israel from the former Soviet Union and East Bloc, only about half of them actually what you might call Jewish. The definition of Neoconservatives, most of them wanted nothing to do with socialism or the Labor Party.

The old Central European Labor Party elite and its socialist institutions such as the Histadrut workers’ union, declined rapidly in influence. A new class of billionaires emerged, and workers began having difficulty paying rent. Class divisions increased. To deflect any backlash from downwardly mobile workers, the Right pushed the colonization of the Palestinian West Bank (socialism has always been acceptable to the European Right if deployed by imperial viceroys in the service of colonialism abroad). There, essentially subsidized housing on stolen Palestinian property kept living expenses bearable and had the further advantage of creating a new constituency that would vote for right wing pro-colonization governments.

Israel’s narrative today is much more like the grand Republican one than like that of New Deal Democrats. It is a land of capitalists and IPOs, of a handful of billionaires who buy Netanyahu his elections and increasingly poorly paid workers (who are still better off than the Palestinian underclass). A few years ago I went to a conference in Israel and they kindly put us up in a kibbutz. We got to see the communal dining halls and the exhortations to community. But the kibbutz was being sold off as vacation homes.

Republican ideology is latently about hierarchy. Older white wealthy Protestant males were at the top of the hierarchy, followed by younger white wealthy Protestant males and then by white wealthy Protestant females. More recently wealthy Jews and Mormons have been granted honorary “Protestant” status in the party, just as the Apartheid Afrikaners decided to proclaim Japanese as “white” for business purposes. For an African-American to be president deeply violates this unstated hierarchy, which is why they treat President Obama with such lack of respect; disrespecting someone in public in primate societies is a way of putting them in their place and restoring power hierarchies. Keeping African-Americans and poor Latinos from voting is not only a partisan strategy (they don’t vote Republican on the whole) but it also underlines the hierarchy, which assumes whiteness and property as connoting ‘real’ Americans. Famously, some of the white working class is attached to the Republican elite because they are told that thereby they become better than workers of the lower (as they think of it when not in public) races.

African-Americans are deployed in much Republican discourse just as Palestinians are deployed in right wing Israeli discourse, and racism functions the same way in making the Israeli working class unwilling to ally with Palestinian workers nowadays (Zachary Lockman showed that such alliances were common in the 1930s).

So for Israel to function as a Republican Trojan Horse in the debate on the Hill about Iran negotiations is an announcement that the old big-government socialist Israel of the Ashkenazi survivors of Nazism is over. Israel has about 1 million such Ashkenazis. But it has nearly 3 million Mizrahim, eastern Jews not steeped in Labor socialism. And it has a million recently arrived Eastern Europeans who were mauled by Soviet excesses and were pushed to the right, just as Hungarians have been.

The 1960s now look like the heyday of the congruence of the Democratic Great Society and the Israeli Labor Socialism of Levi Eshkol, both of them anti-Soviet but both of them standing against unregulated capitalism and in favor of using government to help people lift themselves up.

That American Jews are the religious group most enthusiastic about the Democratic Party and President Obama, yet also something like 63 percent of them are strong supporters of Israel, can only create a mammoth case of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance (mental stress from holding contradictory ideals simultaneously).

Now, with the long dominance of the Israeli Right and the attenuation of Labor and Meretz, Israel is a Republican project, and being deployed in American politics primarily for Republican purposes.

Related video:

CNN: “White House furious over Netanyahu and Boehner meeting”

22 Responses

  1. Given the current and probable long term political make up of Israel and the probable long term make up of the USA, Israelis in for a very, very bad future.

    Currently the USA has a deep divide between the rural people who have lots of land, but a small part of the population and the suburban/urban people that have only a small part of the land, but over 75% of the population.

    The rural people still believe the myth about “frontier self reliance” (they are not actually “self reliant and need big government just like everyone else). Whereas the non-rural need all the services that governments can provide (along with taxes to provide those services).

    The rural are predominantly white and profess to be “christian” (although few actually practice the principles of Jesus Christ). The non-rural are a mixture of races and religions.

    Right now the rural whites have been able to maintain more power than they deserve, but as California has demonstrated, eventually the large population centers will simply yank power away from the rural areas and relegate them to powerlessness (This is why the rural parts of California want to form their own state, even though ti would be bankrupt the day it started).

    That is, over time the republicans will become a fragmented, almost powerless political party in the USA, especially as most of their core ideas are proven in the real world to be down right crazy (Kansas is proving that as I write).

    Basically demographics are against the republicans:

    – the boomers are dying off at a rate of about 2000/week and over the next 20 years most will no longer be voting (hard to do when they are dead).

    – Most of the voters and potential voters under 40 do NOT care about social issues like gay marriage, abortion, etc.

    – Younger voters want the services that government provides. They grew up with those services after WW2 and expect them to continue. the Republican idea of eliminating services does not sit well with the younger voters.

    – All religious groups are rapidly declining (Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, etc), with the steepest decline in conservative religions (Catholic, Evangelicals and Mormons – The LDS church shows declines in the USA and slight increases outside the USA).

    – While Racism is still deeply ingrained in some parts of the USA, for the most part it is declining overall, especially with the white population decreasing as percentage of the USA population.

    – The middle class is decreasing, especially the white middle class. As a result, as Romney correctly pointed out, almost half the people in the USA will no longer respond to the republican mantra of low taxes for the rich, especially since 75% of the population is non-rural and need the services government provides.

    The bottom line is the old republican constituency of white, racist, rich, angry white MEN is rapidly decreasing in size, meaning that over time, no matter how they try to rig the books, the republicans will lose power, meaning that Israel has tied their future to a losing team and alienated the winners.

    Bibi has broken the old Israeli model of buying every USA politician, no matter where they were on the political spectrum and has misread the American population (republicans have a long history of being delusional).

    If Israelis really want a long term relationship with the USA, instead of insulting Obama, they should be trying to make nice with Obama and every other politician they can while ignoring the deep divide in the USA. It is foolish to get sucked into the partisan politics of the USA.

    • Spyguy – you make good points, but the view from rural America is expressed by Mike Huckabee who claims that those in the cities are living in a bubble. I think the perception is still that white America is “real” America and everything else is an aberration that must be stopped. The relentless march of demographics won’t stop ever more strident and extreme behavior from the right, let’s just hope its ability to determine national policy will soon diminish.

    • Younger voters want the services that government provides. They grew up with those services after WW2 and expect them to continue. the Republican idea of eliminating services does not sit well with the younger voters.

      The republicans do not want to eliminate services: they want to turn these into privileges exclusively granted to their constituency in exchange for they submissiveness toward the moneyed dynasties.


      If Israelis really want a long term relationship with the USA

      I don’t think the israeli ruling class wants any long term relationship with anyone: they want to keep the social hierarchy which benefit them to keep on going as long as possible before migrating back to Europe’s and US’ wealthy neighborhoods while leaving their middle and lower-class compatriots alone to deal with their policies’ fallout.

    • You are assuming that the rich have any intention of allowing future America to be a democracy. Israel is being used as a testbed for what will happen instead.

  2. “And frankly I don’t think a Speaker would have dared try to treat a white president that way.” If this was 16 years ago, I have no doubt Boehner would have done this while Clinton was president.

  3. This post is, as usual, useful, but it’s illustrative of the problem in communicating the importance of such things in that it demands too much focus (if not background). Not to be too critical, but analogizing between Netanyahu and Barzani or Franco, detracts hugely from the simple eloquence of your first paragraph.

    The accepted science on these things in cognitive psychology is that when presented with too much new or contradictory information, brains default to their pre-existing prejudices. The threshold at which human’s mental “fuses” blow, whether they be progressives OR conservatives, is really rather low (depressingly so). Which is why this website, as well as ones like Red-State, have such big Amen Choruses. People wittingly or unwitting triggering this phenomena goes far to explain the increase in political polarization over the last decade or so.

    There are, of course, critical readers of all stripes who may divert the mental voltage necessary to appreciate your point more fully. But it strikes me that it would be possible to be more effective by being simpler and more direct…..without going all simplistic.

    Otherwise, Amen Brother.

  4. The audacity of Speaker of the House John Boehner colluding with the prime minister of a foreign country to undermine a sitting president is, I think, still not entirely appreciated.

    But not surprising. Perhaps instead of charging Boehner with audacity he should be charged with bungling incompetence.

    On the other hand, the White House and Congress have colluded with Israel in its treating the United States with contempt for decades. “Benjamin Netanyahu: the Anti-American Obstructionist: Has He Gone Too Far This Time?” by MELVIN A. GOODMAN link to

  5. Useful in the long run, perhaps, to peel American Jews from the Democratic Party? Assuming it doesn’t all blow up in their faces

    • No need to do any “peeling” at all.

      Max Fisher, a heavy hitter in the GOP, and director of United Jewish Appeal, had been a personal friend of every single U.S. president since Eisenhower until his death in 2005. He was an ardent Zionist. His death at age 96 made front-page news in Israel.

      Murray Chotiner in the 1950s and 60s engineered the political rise of Richard Nixon and was likely Nixon’s closest confidante and friend. Henry Kissinger was Nixon’s chief confidante on foreign affairs issues.

      The Republican Party has many influential Jewish leaders that support Israel.

  6. No mention is made here of the Christian Fundamentalists who believe fomenting war in the Middle East will help bring about the End Times. How significant a factor are they in the Republican Party?

    • They are a very powerful voice at the grassroots level.

      The Moral Majority that propelled Reagan to the presidency in 1980 is an example.

    • I heavily suspect that Christian fundies are less motivated by apocalyptic belief and more by sheer racism against a non-white ethnicity (a majority of Israeli Jews are actually arabs themselves being blissfully ignored).

      • “(a majority of Israeli Jews are actually arabs themselves being blissfully ignored)”

        Yeah, well what US supporters of Israel don’t know about the Israeli experiment is basically EVERYTHING in Israel’s history.

    • That’s the Southern revision of the traditional Republican model that Prof. Cole laid out. And it’s a big revision. For the North, Blacks were a problem to be explained away. But the South brought in Blacks as the foundation of their whole system of exploitation (which exploits many whites as well), and any religion that has prospered there has come to accept that reality.

      The narrow purpose of this religion in the current context is to create an Apocalyptic panic, then a retaliatory Crusade against the outside world. But the belief system will impose its inherent agenda on us. The Faithful/Patriot minority will overwhelm democracy by sheer doggedness, envisioning themselves as a feudal elite, a sort of… Invisible Knighthood, perhaps, serving the capitalist nobility. Or you can use the Old Testament Patriarchy as the model; both insane analogies were present in the old slave South as models.

      But most of all, religion serves the Right in its most essential goal: to destroy the belief in our society of the ability of the government to accomplish secular improvement in our lives. Note the word “secular”, as in objective goals, not absurd and hypocritical holy crusades to distract the masses.

    • I judged the power of the Evangelical movement in the GOP by what happens in their stronghold—IOWA. In 2008, their support caused Mick Huckabee to upset the field but today, they don’t seem as powerful. The big money players like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson seem to drive Republican politics. At the recently concluded Iowa Freedom Summit neither Romney or Jeb Bush attended.

  7. It would be like a former security advisor making private representations to a foreign government with whom the United States is at war to wait for a new president to be elected before making a peace deal…. Oh wait – that happened. Remind me why Henry Kissinger is not in jail for treason.

  8. “Boehner seem to have concluded that new sanctions on Iran, even if it aborts negotiations and brings on a war with Iran, will be rewarded by the electorate in 2016.” Patrick Buchanan
    link to

    • …and the American people expect these kind of considerations. The American people respect politicians whose first political purpose is to get (re)elected. Moreover, most Americans would love to have a war with Iran.
      So Boehner (and Bibi too) is playing his political cards very skillfully.

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