Maher Bitar and Israel’s Ideological Elections

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Israel’s March 23 elections are being presented as a simple referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The media and Netanyahu’s opponents would have us believe that there is no ideological struggle. It’s all just a question of whether you love or hate Bibi.

But this is untrue. The coming elections are primarily about ideology. To understand why this is the case, we need to look no further than President Joe Biden’s appointments.

This week the White House announced that Maher Bitar has been appointed to serve as the senior director for Intelligence at the National Security Council. The position is one of the most powerful posts in the US intelligence community. The senior director is the node to which all intelligence from all agencies flows. He decides what to share with the President. And in the name of the President, he determines priorities for intelligence operations and collection.

The senior director of intelligence also determines what information the US intelligence community will share with foreign intelligence services. Likewise, he decides how to relate to information that foreign intelligence agencies share with the Americans.

As one former senior national security council member explained, “The senior director for intelligence controls the information everyone sees. And by controlling information, he controls the conversation.”

Usually, the sensitive position is reserved for a CIA officer who is detailed to the National Security Council. Bitar, however, is not an intelligence professional. He is an anti-Israel political activist.

As Daniel Greenfield reported at Frontpage online magazine, in 2006, as a student at Georgetown University, Bitar was a leader of the anti-Semitic, Muslim Brotherhood aligned Students for Justice in Palestine. As an SJP leader, he organized a so-called “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” campaign against Israel and its supporters on his campus. Greenfield reported that Bitar chaired a panel at a BDS conference where participants discussed how to indoctrinate Christians to believe that Israel has no right to exist.

After receiving a law degree from Georgetown, Bitar received a Master’s from Oxford in “Forced Migration.” He wrote a thesis about the “Nakba,” or catastrophe of Israel’s founding.

From Oxford, he moved to Jerusalem where he worked for UNRWA, the UN agency dedicated to keeping the descendants of Arabs who left Israel in 1948 in a state of perpetual limbo by blocking their naturalization in countries they have lived in for five generations. UNRWA’s efforts to eternalize their misery are motivated by its institutional commitment to preventing any resolution of the Palestinian conflict with Israel.

During the Obama presidency, Bitar served on the National Security Council as the Israeli-Palestinian officer. He was Samantha Power’s deputy. In 2016, as UN ambassador, Power played a key role in the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which labeled Israeli neighborhoods in unified Jerusalem and Israeli towns and cities in Judea and Samaria as a “flagrant violation of international law.”

Bitar’s appointment highlights perhaps the central dilemma now facing Israel’s national leadership: How should Israel contend with what is shaping up to be the most hostile US administration ever?

This is not simply a policy question. It is an ideological issue. Israel has but two options for dealing with the administration. It can stand up for its interests and rights even at the cost of a confrontation with the administration. Or, it can appease Bitar and his colleagues to maintain the appearance of business as usual, and so risk its national interests.

Led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for the eleven years, Israel has chosen the first option. When Netanyahu and the nationalist camp he leads were compelled to deal with the hostile Obama administration, Israel’s policy involved cooperating where possible, keeping its head down when feasible, and finding ways to operate independently or with new partners in defiance of the Obama administration when necessary. Since Biden was declared the victor of the November elections, Netanyahu has been engaging with Biden’s team using the model he developed during the Obama administration.

Currently opposing Netanyahu are two allied but distinct camps, both of which operate under the banner of appeasement. The first camp is the legal fraternity, which is waging an open ideological war against Netanyahu and the national camp. With the active support of the media and powerful non-governmental legal and national security elites, Israel’s all-powerful government lawyers have dedicated their careers to overthrowing Netanyahu and blocking the implementation of nationalist policies across the board.

By presenting themselves as the guardians of “the rule of law,” the lawyers have forced government ministers to implement radical leftist, post-nationalist policies. Whether the issue involves Israeli property rights in Judea and Samaria, the enforcement of Israel’s immigration laws to remove illegal aliens from the country, or Jewish ritual observance in the public square, the state prosecution, attorney general and the Supreme Court use their power to force the government to accept radical, post-Zionist positions that the public opposes.

They view the election not as a referendum on Netanyahu per se, but as a referendum on their continued power to seize governmental and legislative powers to advance their radical agenda. The legal fraternity has long taken its inspiration from activist jurists in Europe and the US and given its ideological radicalism, embraces appeasement of Israel’s foes over a stalwart defense of the national interest.

The second camp standing against Netanyahu is comprised of his political foes. Unlike open leftists like Labor leader Meirav Michaeli, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazy and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid do not expose their ideological cards for all to see. They just talk about hating Bibi.

But their statements and actions make clear that they will not stand up to the Biden administration to defend Israel’s rights and interests in Judea and Samaria and they will not stand against the administration to block it from returning the US to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran which guarantees that Iran will become a nuclear power. While bragging about their warm ties with Biden’s team, they never mention that they understand that those ties are based on their willingness to go along to get along, regardless of what that means for the country’s strategic posture and interests.

Netanyahu’s political opponents aren’t only on the left side of the spectrum. There are two ostensibly right-wing parties – Yisrael Beytenu and New Hope – that have joined with the left in their common dedication to defeating Netanyahu. Unfortunately, although they deny it, they are also members of the appeasement camp. Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, of course, proved this to be the case by refusing to join a Netanyahu-led government and so blocking the formation of a rightist coalition after three successive elections in 2019 and 2020.

As for New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, his appeasement bent is exposed both by his political positions and actions and those of his colleagues.

Since bolting Likud, Sa’ar has joined Liberman in announcing that he will not join a Netanyahu government. Since the only other option is to join a leftist government, by default Sa’ar has placed his “right-wing” party on the Left.

Equally telling, Sa’ar has provided blanket support for the legal fraternity and so legitimized the ongoing efforts of the state prosecution, the attorney general and to the Supreme Court to seize what remains of the executive powers of the government to determine national policy and the legislative powers of the Knesset to pass laws.

Last week, Sa’ar “diplomatic draft,” former Consul General in New York Dani Dayan made clear in an interview with Makor Rishon that a Sa’ar government would happily concede Israel’s national interests for good relations with the Biden administration.

Dayan, who served in New York from 2016 to 2020, bragged to the interviewer that as consul general, he deliberately disregarded the instructions he received from Netanyahu, who appointed him to his post. In his words, in a number of “central issues that were under the direct authority of the consul general, I operated to a degree contrary to Netanyahu’s policies.”

Among the policies Dayan mentioned, were Netanyahu’s instructions related to his dealings with American Jews and Democratic politicians.

During Dayan’s tenure, pro-Israel Democrat lawmakers were roundly defeated in primaries by anti-Israel progressive candidates. BDS activists seized leadership roles in the party’s activist base and legislative bodies at the municipal, state and federal levels.

New York’s mayor and governor turned a blind eye to rising levels of anti-Semitic assaults and violence against Jews in the New York metropolitan area. As for the Jewish community, anti-Israel far-left Jewish activists seized leadership roles in mainstream communal organizations.

Rather than serve as a voice of moral clarity in the midst of these events, Dayan minimized the dangers. As he told Makor Rishon, against Netanyahu’s instructions, he reached out to progressive Jewish groups like J Street. The result did not temper J Street’s hostility to Israel. But it appears to have influenced Dayan.

Bitar isn’t the only BDS activist now occupying a senior position in the Biden administration. And the rise of these anti-Israel extremists to positions of power is a testament to the authoritative position Israel haters now enjoy in today’s Democrat Party. Yet Dayan – now a seasoned diplomat – makes light of the danger.

“We [Israelis] are the best public relations firm [for the BDS movement]. I’m not saying that there aren’t problems with the delegitimization of Israel. Of course, there are. But in certain ways, it’s exaggerated,” he said.

The outtake from Dayan’s interview is clear. To cultivate good relations with Democrats and progressive Jews, he abandoned Israel’s interest – indeed, its moral responsibility – to fight the boycott movement which seeks to undermine US support for Israel, to deny the civil rights of American Jews to openly support Israel, and to delegitimize the Jewish people’s right to national self-determination. And now, he argues, Israelis should trust him and Sa’ar to navigate Israel’s relations with the Biden administration because thanks to his efforts in New York, unlike Netanyahu, they have warm ties with the Democrats and the progressive Jews.

When word got out about Bitar’s appointment, former national security council spokesman under Trump and long-time CIA officer Fred Fleitz asked incredulously and rhetorically if Biden and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan approved the appointment or if they were “unaware of what is going on in their administration?”

Obviously, Bitar was not appointed despite his obvious support for Israel’s demise, but in light of it.

The inherent hostility of the Biden administration makes clear that contrary to the media spin, the March elections will be a pivotal ideological event. They will decide whether Israel stands up for Zionism or embraces post-Zionism, whether Israel will fight for its sovereignty and its interests or concede both in favor of good relations with Israel haters.

Originally published in Israel Hayom.

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