When it became clear in November that Israel was about to welcome its most right-wing government in history, no one expected the United States, Israel’s unflinching ally, to signal any major policy shifts. But even by American standards, the White House’s excuse for doing nothing was laughable. Speaking at J Street’s annual conference in December, Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared that the Biden administration will “fully respect the democratic choice of the Israeli people” and, most notably, will “gauge the government by the policies it pursues rather than individual personalities.”
These remarks were a carefully worded act of political gymnastics. What Blinken did not want to admit out loud is the uncomfortable fact that Washington’s dear ally is currently being governed by figures who, even among the Jewish-Israeli public, are being described as fascists. In the space of a few weeks, Israel’s new coalition has reorganized large segments of the state’s bureaucracy to pursue all the policies that the Biden administration claims it stands against: an illiberal, theocratic, and racist regime that aims to unravel the judiciary, target ethnic and gender minorities, and unilaterally annex the occupied territories.
The most notorious “individual personalities” that Blinken refused to name are, of course, Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich — two far-right politicians with a record of statements, actions, and proposals that should have served as plenty of evidence by which to judge the new coalition. But the same should also be said of the returning prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Along with being the architect of this far-right alliance, Netanyahu has a total of 15 years in power from which to “gauge” his hostility to the “shared values” that Blinken touted in his speech; equality, democracy, and the two-state solution were in the crosshairs of every one of his coalitions.
Washington’s intransigence in the face of these cold realities — which Palestinians and their allies have been flagging for years — is not surprising. But it is a disturbing indication of how much the U.S. political establishment has washed away any “red lines” when it comes to Israel.