Don't Worry, Israelis: Beto Knows What You Want Better Than You Do

Beto O'Rourke / Getty
April 8, 2019

Nearly a month after Beto O'Rourke announced his candidacy for president, the Texas Democrat has yet to articulate any meaningful views on policy. His campaign is a series of empty platitudes, lacking any substance. To the extent that O'Rourke discusses actual issues, he just calls for debates or national conversations to determine what to do, no matter the subject. Interested in concrete solutions to the problems facing the American people? Do not look to O'Rourke, who, during six years in the House of Representatives, sponsored no major legislation and only passed three bills. Even liberal and leftist publications have castigated O'Rourke for his lack of specifics, arguing he has no clear agenda or ideology. As the Atlantic reported last month, while the candidate wants to offer hope that America can rise above its partisanship and hateful politics, "he hasn't landed on how he'll propose to actually make that happen."

On Sunday, however, O'Rourke ventured into the great unknown and directly addressed an area of policy: the U.S.-Israel relationship. For his sake, maybe the presidential hopeful should stick with the vague platitudes.

O'Rourke was asked about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process while campaigning in Iowa, and at first his response was pretty good. "The U.S.-Israel relationship is one of the most important relationships that we have on the planet, and that relationship, if it is to be successful, must transcend partisanship in the United States," he said.

Then O'Rourke kept talking, and his hatred of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became clear. "[The relationship] must be able to transcend a prime minister who is racist, as he warns about Arabs coming to the polls, who wants to defy any prospect for peace as he threatens to annex the West Bank, and who has sided with a far-right racist party in order to maintain his hold on power," he continued. "I don't think that Benjamin Netanyahu represents the true will of the Israeli people, or the best interests of the U.S.-Israel relationship, or any path to peace for the people of the Palestinian Authority, the Gaza Strip, and the state of Israel."

That last sentence is the most striking. Apparently O'Rourke thinks he knows what the Israeli people want better than Israelis themselves. On Tuesday, Israelis will show whether Netanyahu does in fact represent their "true will" in Israel's elections, but, regardless of the outcome, the premier has sure done so for the past 10 years. Perhaps O'Rourke is unaware that, unlike any other country in the Middle East, Israel has these things called free and fair elections, by which Israeli citizens vote for leaders to represent their interests. And, since 2009, Israelis have elected Netanyahu as prime minister three times in a row (not to mention another time in 1996). So, despite what O'Rourke thinks about the true will of the Israeli people, the Israeli electorate has made its thoughts clear over the past decade. For O'Rourke to suggest that he knows better is reminiscent of how colonizers thought of their colonies: as inferior, less civilized people who needed to be shown what was best for them. That is most likely not what O'Rourke meant, but the same sentiment is there nonetheless.

Even more troubling is the broader implication of O'Rourke’s words if Netanyahu wins. Think about it: if Netanyahu is a racist, and he is reelected on Tuesday, then, logically, how are his comments not an indictment of the entire Israeli electorate? O'Rourke is ignoring the reasons why Israelis have voted for Netanyahu, despite the charges of corruption and racism from the political left (and the charges of corruption and weakness from the right): economic prosperity, competent security policy, and deft international diplomacy.

The other striking part of O'Rourke's comments is calling Netanyahu a racist. For the American political left, Netanyahu is a corrupt and racist authoritarian, second only to Donald Trump as a threat to liberal democracy. Indeed, several Democratic presidential candidates have castigated Netanyahu in public just days before the election. I have written before how progressives oppose Israel because it is the world's only Jewish state, not because of Netanyahu. But still, they do hate Israel's premier. Of course their evidence of racism is scant. They point to Netanyahu's rhetoric days before heated elections, which should always be viewed as political posturing (though that does not necessarily make it right) rather than genuine belief. They also point to a recently passed law that affirms Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people—in other words, simply codifying obvious reality—and does not infringe on the individual rights of any citizens. And they point to Netanyahu not embracing a Palestinian state when, in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority rewards terrorists who attack Israelis and, in the Gaza Strip, Hamas plots Israel's destruction. Calling Netanyahu a racist is a talking point lacking in actual evidence.

O'Rourke may not have much of a policy record in general, but there is enough to know that he is not pro-Israel. In 2014, O'Rourke was one of only eight members of the House to vote against funding for Israel's Iron Dome air defense system. O'Rourke explained that he opposed the fact that there had not been—of course—a debate about the funding. Seriously? This issue should be a no-brainer. Israel, a moral and strategic ally, is surrounded by enemies of the United States, not just of Israel, that target the Jewish state with missiles. And he needs a robust debate to determine whether Washington should send the Israelis just $225 million (a small amount by government standards) to help them? Remember, 2014 was the year when Israel and Hamas fought a war during which the terrorist group fired rockets at Israeli civilians throughout the summer.

But worry not: the following year, O'Rourke and other Democratic lawmakers visited Israel as part of a delegation sponsored by J Street, a progressive lobbying group with a reputation for being hostile to Israel. Prominent liberal lawyer Alan Dershowitz has described J Street as "the most damaging organization in American history against Israel."

"J Street has done more to turn young people against Israel than any organization in the whole of history," he said. "It will go down in history as one of the most virulent, anti-Israel organizations in the history of Zionism and Judaism. It has given cover to anti-Israel attitudes on campus and particularly its approach to Israel's self defense."

In the 2018 election cycle, J Street contributed $182,934 to O'Rourke’s failed senatorial campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

O'Rourke should not get a pass for his comments, which warrant criticism not only for their substance, but also for their timing, two days before Israel's elections. Imagine if an American politician castigated any other foreign leader days before they were up for reelection. Would that not be meddling in their electoral process? How are the Democratic presidential candidates, most recently O'Rourke, not interfering in the Israeli elections by verbally flogging Netanyahu? They obviously want him to lose and seem to be doing everything in their power, given their public platforms, to make that happen. And Israel is a democratic ally, not even a hostile country! This display is simply shameful, and should be called out for what it is: a campaign to remove Israel's incumbent prime minister from office.

Maybe the Israeli electorate will vote for Netanyahu's Likud Party, or maybe not. But that decision is up to the Israeli people, who know what is in their best interest—not Beto O'Rourke, who is too busy thinking of abstract, meaningless platitudes to have any concrete views on policy.