Washington’s ridiculous, and problematic response to Itamar Ben-Gvir

Is the firebrand Israeli minister’s commitment to Israeli lives and interests really all that different from how the US behaves?

By Ryan Jones | | Topics: America
Itamar Ben-Gvir is just saying what most Israelis are thinking. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Itamar Ben-Gvir is just saying what most Israelis are thinking. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Washington, and many in Israel, are angry because National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir yesterday said the safety and security of Jews trumps Arabs’ freedom of movement in Judea and Samaria.

In other words, if new security measures to keep Jews from being killed makes it harder for Palestinian Arabs to move around, so be it.

The White House called the position “racist.”

But really, what they are saying is the reverse: That Arab freedom of movement trumps Jewish safety. That if a few Jews have to die so that Arabs are not inconvenienced, so be it.

And, of course, they are failing to look at the root of the problem: Arab violence against Jews. If that stopped, then there’d be safety for Jews and freedom of movement for Arabs.

Recent months have seen a sharp rise in Palestinian Arab violence against Jews of Judea and Samaria in general, and in deadly shooting attacks in particular. Israeli leaders called it a new and significant terror wave, and pointed at Iran as the driving force behind the escalation. In a Channel 12 News interview that was selectively cut to make Ben-Gvir sound like a racist, the minister called for tighter restrictions on Palestinians until the violence ceases or is brought under control.

“My right to life comes before their right to movement,” Ben-Gvir insisted. He later posted to Twitter to clarify exactly what he had said, all of it, after the media presented him as being bigoted and unreasonable.

The point here, however, is that Ben-Gvir’s remarks were a reaction. And if you aren’t happy with a reaction, it’s always best to first take a look at what elicited that reaction, to determine whether or not the reaction has some merit.

But never mind applying logic to politics and diplomacy.

This is one of the main problems that for decades has prevented Washington from presenting a plan acceptable to Israelis. The “West Bank” security barrier is a perfect example of this. No one, Israeli or Palestinian, likes that barrier, especially the portions of it that are a literal concrete wall, such as where it divides Jerusalem from Bethlehem. It’s an eyesore at best, and for residents of Bethlehem it has been detrimental to their livelihood. But it also worked. Suicide bombings in Jerusalem dropped dramatically after Israel blocked terrorists from simply walking into the city from neighboring Bethlehem. Jewish lives were saved at the cost of freedom of movement and economic wellbeing on the Palestinian side. And you won’t find many Israelis willing to apologize for that.

The White House, at least under the current administration, thinks Israel should apologize for counter-terrorism measures that negatively impact the Palestinian population. And in this they are entirely hypocritical.

I’ve lately been watching the Jack Ryan series on Amazon. It strikes me how often the American characters in the show stress the overriding importance of American interests, and especially American lives. In that setting, risking or putting American lives in danger is considered the most taboo thing a government official can do. And given the way real-life American politicians speak, it seems the show got that detail correct.

Why would Washington expect Israelis to behave any differently? Ben-Gvir isn’t an anomaly. He simply isn’t afraid to articulate, aggressively so, what most other Israelis are thinking: That there is nothing more taboo risking or putting Israeli lives in danger. That protecting Israeli interests and Israeli lives trumps all other considerations.

If the US wants to be taken seriously as a mediator and peace broker, and as a friend, it can’t play with double standards. Israelis feel the same about their interests and lives as Americans do about theirs.


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