The United States and Israel have a "special relationship."
Before there was Governor Rick Scott's defiance of the US Justice Department's order to stop purging Hispanics and other dark-skinned Democrats from the Florida voter rolls, there was Avigdor Lieberman, foreign minister in Israeli leader Bibi Netanyahu's ruling Likud coalition, who proposed that his country revoke the citizenship of all Israeli Arabs who did not swear loyalty to the "Jewish" State, its flag and national anthem.
Before there were those ALEC-sponsored bills aggressively advanced in nearly every Republican-controlled state to disenfranchise minorities, the poor and the young by means of voter ID laws, there was Netanyahju's housing minister, Ariel Attias of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Party, who claimed it was his "national duty to prevent the spread of a population that does not love the state of Israel" - meaning Israel's Arab citizens, as Daily Beast columnist Peter Beinart notes.
Before Republican-controlled legislatures in 2010 created gerrymandered, ballot-proof districts for themselves that were impervious to electorates eager to throw the Republican bums out, there was Avigor Lieberman once again, this time standing before the UN in 2010 to propose the "right-sizing" of Israeli by "moving borders to better reflect demographic realities" - thus, as Beinart points out, exiling hundreds of thousands of Arab citizens against their will.
When Meir Kahane's far right Kach Party advocated the forced "transfer" of Israel's Arab citizens in 1988, the Kach Party was banned from Israel's parliament, the Knesset. Just a decade later, Kahane protégé Lieberman now sits in Israel's cabinet as head of an equally far right Yisrael Beiteinu Party, whose membership has grown from four to 15 seats in the Knesset, representing what Beinart calls "the political reincarnation" of the anti-Arab racism which Israel's occupation of the West Bank inevitably breeds.
Peter Beinart's controversial new book, The Crisis of Zionism, spells out the "terrible irony" of a Jewish State launched in 1948 with such high hopes of spreading the liberal, Western democratic promise of "individual freedom and equality of opportunity, irrespective of gender, religion, race or creed," but which nevertheless succumbed to the same greedy, fearful, xenophobic tribalism that has always plagued the fractious Middle East.
Beinart's book thus offers a fresh perspective on the friendly debate New York magazine writer Jonathan Chait and political scientist Jonathan Bernstein were having recently on why American politics has become so polarized, dysfunctional and "broken," and what's become of the once Grand Old Party.
Beinart's book has earned its author charges he is a traitor to his own people. But it constitutes one long, agonized lament on the downward trajectory of a Zionism that was once committed to liberal, universalist ideals of individual liberty and dignity but has now become a belief system that is inward looking, exclusionary and designed to promote the group solidarity of those who see nothing but enemies around them.
The resort to the rhetoric of historic Jewish "victimhood" in order to silence critics of Israel and the Israeli government, while also turning a blind eye to the real power the Jewish State exerts over its Arab neighbors, marks a major turning point in Israeli history, says Beinart.
Zionism may not be a form of racism, to quote a scurrilous UN resolution offered by Israel's enemies back in the 1970s, but it may have tragically become a rationalization for it as Jewish demands for blind loyalty among the faithful signaled that "liberalism was out and tribalism was in," says Beinart.
The rhetoric of tribalism explains why former President Carter is not "wrong" but "bigoted" when he worries that Israel may have become an apartheid state through the occupation of the West Bank.
It's why human rights groups that complain of Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians are not "misinformed" but guilty of an "anti-Israel bias."
It is also why critics of Israel's actions are automatically stamped with the slur that they are "anti-Semitic."
It seems obscene to accuse anyone associated with a country established in large part as compensation for the horrors of the Holocaust of embodying manifestations of fascism themselves. But the racism, demand for group conformity, urge to purge and dehumanizing violence that are hallmarks of fascism do not respect national borders or particular ethnicities but are rooted in human nature.
Zionism, not as racism but as tribalism, has infected democratic Israeli, "stunting the growth of liberal values and spawning authoritarian ones instead," says Beinart.
Take the prohibition against the use of force to settle political disputes, one of democracy's most basic prerequisites, says Beinart.
Israeli human rights groups report that settler attacks against Palestinians has become "routine." They even have a name for it, says Beinart - the "price tag policy." For every attempt by the Israeli government to restrict settlement growth, settlers vandalize Palestinian homes, torch Palestinian fields and beat Palestinian men.
Palestinians attack Jewish settlers, too, says Beinart. The difference is that only Palestinians are punished for it. Jewish settlers accused of crimes in the West Bank are tried in civilian courts with all of the usual due process legal protections you'd expect in a democratic state.
Palestinians accused of crimes, on the other hand, are tried in military courts where the conviction rate is an astonishing 99%. In contrast, a 2011 study by the human rights group Yesh Din that Beinart cites, reports fewer than 10% of reported settler attacks against Palestinians result in indictments, let alone convictions.
In 2006, an enraged settler drove his car into another automobile carrying a cabinet minister from a "dovish" Meretz Party, trying to force it into a ditch. The settler was later made a representative of the official settler body, says Beinart.
In 2002, says Beinart, a Hebrew University professor was shot while trying to help Palestinians harvest their crops. The settler who did the shooting went free.
In 2006, settler Baruch Marzel, a leader of the far right Jewish National Front Party, declared at a campaign rally that the government should "carry out targeted killings" against anti-occupation activists whom Marzel accused of being "leftist collaborators."
The Shin Bet, Israel's secret service, repeatedly warns of assassination plots against leaders willing to give up parts of the West Bank, says Beinart. Yet, a rightest leader who openly calls for "targeted killings" of the political opposition is now a top aide in the Knesset.
"For all practical purposes," writes the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, "the law is not the law. The settlers are the sovereign."
It would be bad enough if only Jewish settlers in the West Bank acted with such impunity, says Beinart. "But people who grow habituated to lawlessness and violence do not shed those tendencies when they cross a line on a map."
For Beinart, as well as for many Americans like me, when Israel moved beyond its original borders, called the "green line," to establish what is now a 40-year old occupation of the West Bank following the 1967 Six Day War, it also crossed an important red line with many of us in terms of automatic American support for the Jewish State.
As Beinart correctly states, what America's Jewish leadership fails to grasp is that Israel's legitimacy is inextricably connected with its democratic character. And so by entrenching the occupation of the West Bank, Jewish leaders paradoxically bring about the result they fear most: The deligitimization of Israel as a Jewish state, caused by the fact that "the less democratic Zionism becomes in practice the more people across the world will question the legitimacy of Zionism itself."
Most Americans, I believe, are willing to sacrifice American blood and treasure to protect Israel within its pre-1967 borders. But the behavior since 1967 of those enthralled by visions of building a "Greater Israel" by permanently annexing the West Bank, exposes present-day Israel as an openly expansionist power that wants the United States, not as an ally for legitimate defense, but rather as a collaborator that has Israel's back, no questions asked, in whatever dispute it has with its neighbors.
As much as the American Jewish establishment wants to talk about Israeli power only as a means of survival, Beinart says the occupation of what amounts to an apartheid state on the West Bank shows that Jews, just like all other human beings, "can use power not merely to survive but to destroy."
And so the "illiberal Zionism" that manifests itself in the fear and hatred beyond the green line, "destroys the possibility of liberal Zionism inside it," says Beinart.
The occupation is also a breeding ground of intolerance toward both Arab Israeli citizens and dissident Israeli Jews, as was evidenced by a 2010 poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute which revealed more than half of Jewish Israelis want their government to force Israel's Arab citizens to leave.
It is just one poll, as Beinart says. But as a retired Israeli judge he quotes also points out: "Like in a children's connect-the-dots coloring book, if you connect a number of horrifying, multiplying incidents, you begin to see a monster."
So, what's all this have to do with the Republican party?
Jonathan Bernstein, writing in Salon, takes a mechanistic view of the problem, saying the Republican Party is broken not because its ideology is too conservative or "extreme" but rather because the party has adopted some very bad practical habits of politics and governing, among them: an aversion to normal bargaining or compromise; an inability to banish fringe factions and views from the mainstream of the party; an almost comical lack of interest in substantive policy formation; a willingness to ignore established norms and play "Constitutional hardball"; and finally, a belief that when out of office, the best play is always all-out obstruction.
While it is possible the Republican Party could heal itself through some kind of grassroots counterrevolution of moderates able to take on and topple the Tea Party conservatives who now control the GOP, more likely, says Bernstein, is some variant of the "Great Man" theory of politics whereby a charismatic leader like Ronald Reagan wins the presidency and then reforms the Republican Party by the power of good example.
Nonsense, counters Jonathan Chait, who insists: It's the ideology stupid.
Maybe it's true that Republicans prefer obstinacy to electoral victory, or are forever insisting on "pure" candidates to "politicians," he says. Maybe the "conservative marketplace" is one where there is lots of money to be made by sheer looniness. Maybe Republicans really do have no idea how to govern.
Even if you grant that these are all problems Republicans have, Chait still says each of them can be explained by conservative ideology.
An aversion to compromise is what you expect from rigid ideologues who view "bargaining" over government policies as playing on the other team's field, says Chait, while it's obvious why the GOP cannot banish its fringe: The whole point to the conservative movement is to take over the GOP so as to redefine the "maintream" by identifying moderation as the fringe.
As for a comical lack of interest in policy, Chait asks "if your ideologically determined goal is to restore the policies of the Coolidge administration, what sort of substantive policy formation do you actually need?" And as for all-out obstruction, if Republicans believe as a matter of conservative ideology that the enactment of any positive legislation merely supports a Welfare State they think has been out of control for 75 years, then there is hardly any downside to obstruction and quite a lot of upside, says Chait.
But the debate between the two Jonathans over what ails the Republican party is one of semantics because the problem with GOP isn't mechanical, procedural or even ideological. It is, as Peter Beinart writes of Israel, tribal. The "crisis" of Zionism and the crisis of Repuiblicanism are one and the same.
The GOP is no longer a national governing coalition but a creature of a right wing movement, almost entirely white and Christian, in which loyalty to that group is more important than fidelity to the universal beliefs and founding ideals that bind the larger society together.
The very same uncritical, unthinking and uncompromising politics that Beinart sees as a major threat to Israeli democracy and liberal Zionism is a struggle to this one as well, and for the same reasons.
The dysfunction in American politics today is a function of identity politics and tribalism, not ideas. Ideas about too high taxes and too much spending are just proxies for the inherent defensiveness of right wing groups who use politics to marginalize others in order to maintain their position in a rapidly changing and, from their perspective, frightening world.