Time for the US to show Israel some tough love by barring Bezalel Smotrich

Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib

Settlers on Monday wounded five Palestinians in a new attack on Hawara, only a week after their deadly rampage through the town. Israeli soldiers were even filmed dancing with the settlers as they together celebrated Purim, the Jewish holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from annihilation. This is the latest in a series of atrocities that have been conducted against Palestinians since the most right-wing government the country has ever known came to power at the end of last year.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is becoming vocal in its persecution of Palestinians. There has been a lot of controversy around Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister, who called for Hawara to be “wiped out.” He is due to visit the US in the coming days. More and more voices are calling for him to be barred from entering the country. Though Smotrich tried to excuse himself by saying it was a slip of tongue, such slips usually reveal the real intentions of the person. Netanyahu is trying to keep the balance between pleasing his racist allies and appeasing the international community. However, the truth is so obvious, not only regarding the treatment of the Palestinians, but also when it comes to respecting any democratic norms. The government’s judicial overhaul is a clear manipulation and distortion of the law to suit the interests of Netanyahu. Is that not what happens in autocratic countries? Isn’t “democracy” the main reason why the US supports Israel? It is its supposed shared democratic values that make Israel so special and so similar to the US.
However, Israel is showing that its democratic narrative does not match its daily reality, which is becoming increasingly racist. If we rewind, a major reason why the US has no credibility in the Arab and Islamic worlds is because of its biased attitude, its favoritism. Israel is treated on a different scale to everyone else. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, while interviewing Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian last week, tried to get from her guest an answer on what his own female family members think about the protests in Iran and whether they think women should have the freedom to wear the hijab or not. Amir-Abdollahian intelligently diverted the conversation by asking Amanpour if the US defended Shireen Abu Akleh, her fellow journalist, woman and Christian. He asked her if a UN resolution similar to the one issued against Iran was issued against Israel. Amanpour could not give him an answer. Why was Israel allowed to act with impunity? Why were Abu Akleh’s killers not brought to justice?
No Israel advocate can defend the current government and say it is being democratic. No one can defend the demolition of homes or the pogroms like the one conducted in Hawara. If anything, the incident in Hawara reminds us of the antisemitic actions in Europe ahead of the Second World War. Israel has been able to act with impunity because it benefits from the muscle of the US in the UN Security Council. Washington has consistently vetoed any resolution aimed at containing Israel’s unbridled behavior. The only exception was during the presidency of Barack Obama. Toward the end of his second term, the US did not veto a resolution condemning the illegal settlements. He took this step as he was exiting the White House and knew that the pro-Israel lobby could not go after him. However, Israel is now becoming an embarrassment to its own supporters. The racist, Jewish supremacist ministers who are openly calling for Palestinians to be kicked out of their homes feel empowered. They know that, without them, Netanyahu would go to prison. They are no longer shy about showing their true colors. They are vocal about their real intentions. How can the US continue to justify its unconditional support for Israel? How can it veto any action in the UNSC?
The UAE last month decided against putting a draft resolution on Israel’s settlement expansion plans to a vote. Instead, the UNSC issued a useless statement. We do not know what the inner workings were that led to this move, but it would have obviously been very embarrassing for the US to have to use its veto to defend Israel, especially as Russia is being criticized for using its veto power to block any resolution condemning its actions in Ukraine. Instead, the US has been going to the General Assembly to pass resolutions against Russia because Moscow can paralyze the Security Council. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, unlike those of the UNSC. More and more, the US’ use of its veto to defend the indefensible is looking like an abuse of power, very much similar to what Russia is doing to defend its invasion of Ukraine. Is the US getting a taste of its own medicine? It seems like it. No matter how you look at it, the US is getting squeezed into a tighter and tighter corner and its unconditional defense of Israel is becoming ever more difficult to justify.
Israel’s far-right fanatics are experiencing what we call the arrogance of power. They do not feel they have to abide by anything except their blind racism and hatred of the Palestinians. However, the far right does not realize one important thing: The more it shows power, the more it is, in fact, losing power because it will be losing support. Losing the support of American Jewry is not an issue that the likes of Itamar Ben-Gvir and Smotrich should take lightly. The first step for the US to save its credibility – not only in front of the Arab and Islamic worlds but in front of its own audience, the American people – should be to deny the racist minister a visa to enter the country. The second step should be to stop using the veto to block any resolution condemning the illegal settlements. These steps would not only save America’s reputation, they would also save Israel from a third intifada. The racist measures taken by the Netanyahu government will not allow Israel to get rid of Palestinians, but they will likely push the Palestinians to conduct a third intifada. Would Netanyahu want that? Would the US want that? Surely not. This is the time for the US to show Israel some tough love.