May 30, 2023
Sondra Oster Baras
I am getting tired of foreign interference in internal Israeli politics. I realize that there is a long history of foreign interference in Israel, particularly from the US and Europe. These countries can be counted among Israel’s strongest allies and for that reason, their interference is often the most potent. But what we are seeing today has crossed all lines.
For years, both the US and Europe have been particularly vehement in their opposition to settlement in Judea and Samaria. Most European countries consider Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria to be outright illegal. For most of the years since 1967, the US did not consider settlement activity illegal but that changed somewhat during the Obama Administration. In any case, all US governments, with the exception of the Trump Administration, considered settlement activity to be unwise and contrary to US policy.
Various US presidents over the years would explicitly or implicitly threaten Israel with reduced military aid or reduced support in the United Nations should Israel continue authorizing expansion of the Jewish population in Judea and Samaria. One of the most extreme examples of this was a 10 month building freeze that was imposed by the Israeli government on all private and public building in Judea and Samaria in response to enormous pressure from President Obama.
Towards the end of his tenure as president, Obama took the unprecedented step of secretly engineering UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which declared Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria contrary to international law. The Obama Administration concealed its leadership role in this resolution from the public and abstained from the vote in the Security Council. By abstaining, rather than voting for the resolution, the US attempted to hide its involvement in promoting the resolution. But it was one of very few incidents when the US refused to use its veto power to protect Israel’s interests. This resolution has arguably changed the status of Israel’s claims to Judea and Samaria under international law — a terrible consequence of Obama’s actions.
But Israel has not only suffered from this sort of interference under Democratic presidents. President George H. W. Bush launched one of the most financially damaging policies to Israel in response to Israeli expansion in Judea and Samaria.
In the early 1990’s, the Iron Curtain had just fallen and Jews from the Former Soviet Union were streaming to Israel in record numbers. Approximately one million Russian Jews made Aliyah during the 1990’s! Israel was desperate to provide housing for these refugees and sought economic assistance from the US in the form of loan guarantees. Israel was not asking for money. It was asking for the US to put its credit at the disposal of Israel. By providing guarantees for loans to Israel to construct housing for these new immigrants, Israel would be able to pay far less interest on those loans. There was never any doubt in the minds of the US Government that Israel would pay back those loans.
President Bush came up with a wicked plan. He was concerned that some of the immigrants would choose to settle in Judea and Samaria. In fact, the administration at that time discussed this possibility as Israel “settling” these refugees in Judea and Samaria. No amount of clarification on the part of Israel that no one “settles” people in Judea and Samaria, that people choose of their own accord where to live, made a difference. The US reduced the level of the loan guarantees for every house constructed in Judea and Samaria at that time. Israel paid a high price for its right to choose.
While these and other examples of foreign interference in Israeli policy are frustrating and often unfair, it does make some sense. If, indeed, the US views Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria as contrary to its interests in the Middle East; if it believes that “settlement expansion” indeed compromises US relationships with the Arab states in the region; then this sort of interference makes sense. It is not the way allies should behave but there is logic to it.
But what possible logic is there in the Biden Administration interfering in the current debate in Israel over judicial reform. This is a debate that focuses exclusively on domestic policy. How Israel selects its judges and whether the Supreme Court has the right to over-rule the Knesset, has nothing to do with relations in the Middle East. It may well affect the extent to which Ultra-Orthodox young men will serve in the IDF but why is that of concern to the US?
And yet, the Biden Administration has refused to invite Netanyahu to the White House unless and until he freezes Judicial Reform. And just a few days ago, Biden announced further sanctions against Israel if the Knesset passes a law restricting foreign government support of Israeli NGO’s. This proposed legislation is aimed at curbing a whole different avenue of foreign intervention.
Foreign governments are providing huge levels of funding to radical left-wing Israeli NGO’s. Some countries have supported the election campaigns of left-wing candidates. Others have built illegal housing for Palestinians in Area C. Still others are funding the demonstrations against legal reform. Money is influence, and these government donors are trying to change Israeli government policies through these donations. The Knesset is fighting back by passing a law that will limit this kind of illicit foreign intervention in Israeli affairs
The US wants to exercise undue influence on Israeli politics by channeling funds to NGO’s that support US positions. This is a total violation of democratic principles whereby the citizens of a country choose their leaders and vote for the policies that suit their needs and values. What right does the US and Europe have to interfere in that? What right do they have to fund illegal activities in Israel? This makes no sense!