Israel’s Right Should be Wary of U.S. Conservatives
Those who ought to be worried about the impending situation in the United States – a sweeping Republican majority in the 112th House of Representatives, which begins its term this month – are first and foremost people on the Israeli right. Those who should be especially worried are the prime minister and anyone else convinced that the strong Republican presence on Capitol Hill ensures enthusiastic support for Israel over the next two years that will serve as a brake and counterweight to the chill emanating from the White House.
For the current Republican majority is characterized by a large and demonstrative contingent of the vocal, activist, demanding right. This fact gives today’s Republican majority special significance that was absent during previous terms when the Republicans controlled Congress.
The impressive achievements of President Barack Obama, who managed to pass revolutionary legislation during the two weeks of the last Congress’ lame-duck session, refutes the assessment that has gladdened Israeli rightists’ heart: that the rout the Democrats suffered in the November elections punished and weakened the president. Now, the Israeli right should expect a less pleasant surprise.
Israel’s rightist coalition will discover that the presence of a large right-wing faction within the Republican majority, a faction with no parallel in the houses of the last several years, not only does not guarantee support for its policies but even carries the potential for aggressive opposition to its conduct of the peace process.
The new Republican right is in large part unfriendly. This is a new kind of right, which was hastily formed, developed outside the establishment and grew on the margins of local politics in response to the feelings of anger and depression that swept large portions of the public due to the economic recession and ongoing unemployment. Most of the new Republican members of Congress are angry local activists who view Washington as the source of many of the problems currently weighing down America.
The Tea Party representatives who were elected are aggressive radicals on social issues. To the degree that foreign policy and relations with countries across the ocean interest them at all, they tend toward isolationism. So far, this tendency has been hesitant and constrained. But with time, as they grow accustomed to the feeling of power conferred by being in the majority, their isolationism will presumably strengthen and erupt in full force. As one analyst for National Public Radio noted recently, this is a right that will show no mercy toward countries that challenge the United States.
What these new representatives of the Republican Party’s right wing deem far more critical is the lethal economic situation of many American states, some of which are on the brink of bankruptcy. Ensuring funding for schools and fire departments in peripheral areas of the country, or bolstering welfare services and community projects in large cities, top the list of priorities they will seek to advance in the new Congress.
Washington pundits predict that Tea Party representatives will try to cut foreign aid to other countries, including America’s closest allies. A major newspaper in Dallas, viewed as representative of the Republican Party’s right wing, recently published an editorial urging a cut-off of economic aid to Israel due to its refusal to accede to the administration’s demands in its efforts to advance the Middle East peace process.
For the first time in years, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives will not all be cut from the same cloth and will not act as a disciplined, unified bloc. Thus far, it has been the Democrats on Capitol Hill who suffered from internal strife and disagreements among the party’s various factions and interest groups; its leadership was forced to navigate the activity of its congressional representatives rather like an internal coalition. But the results of November’s election for the first time made the Republican Party’s representatives in Congress ideologically diverse, turning the faction into an arena for various forces and interests that will not always fall in line behind the leadership’s views.
“The majority leader in the House of Representatives will have a very hard time imposing discipline on his colleagues,” one Washington pundit said. This assessment, too, does not bode well for Israel’s right.