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Week in Review

In light of Obama’s Israel trip this week, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at the roots of the U.S.-Israel relationship and why Americans consistently support Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. Despite the beliefs of much of the world, it has little to do with the so-called “Israel lobby”:

But those who think right wing, ultra-Zionist Jews control the American debate over Israel policy don’t understand American politics very well. In the first place, a politician simply motivated by the desire to get Jewish campaign contributions would have better luck working the anti-AIPAC side of the street. Liberal Hollywood and the overwhelming preponderance of wealthy Jews who care about the Middle East prefer politicians who take a softer and more nuanced line.

In the second place, there are some things AIPAC and its peers can do, and many others they cannot. For 26 years now the “Israel lobby” has been trying to spring Jonathan Pollard; for 26 years he has been rotting in jail.

There are other things the “Israel lobby” opposes that the United States regularly does. Many of our Gulf Arab allies now have access to some of the most advanced weapons we possess. Ultra-Zionist groups don’t want the United States to pressure Israel at all over settlements and have never liked the two-state formula, but the United States continues to oppose settlements and continues to predicate its peace diplomacy on the two-state solution. The “Israel lobby” has been fighting for decades to get the United States to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The embassy remains in Tel Aviv.

The reality is that the “Israel lobby” is extremely powerful when its goals accord with non-Jewish American public opinion, but it runs out of steam when it goes against that opinion. It is irresistible when its demands accord with the general disposition of non-Jewish Americans to support the Jewish state; it immediately becomes feeble if it takes up an issue (like a pardon for Pollard) that this public opinion dislikes.

Events in Australia dominated the Asia-Pacific region this week, as Prime Minister Julia Gillard fought off a coup attempt from within her own party only months before the next election. Meanwhile, times are getting more difficult for Beijing, as the country’s leading solar panel manufacturer defaulted on $541 million bond payment, while a chronic labor shortage has led workers to become more demanding. Meanwhile, President Xi made his first foreign visit to Moscow this week, and appears to be looking for a calmer relationship with Japan as well.

The biggest stories in the Middle East this week were Obama’s visit to Israel and the ten-year anniversary of the Iraq War, which America has marked with tough talk towards Syria and Iran. The Israel trip looks like a success for Obama, as he made significant progress in repairing the important Israel-Turkey relationship which had been fraying for years. Elsewhere in the region, an interesting cast of characters is preparing for Iran’s next presidential election, while the Saudi Grand Mufti is warning his countrymen against the use of Twitter.

Europe this week was consumed by news from Cyprus, where the EU, Russia and Cyprus itself are now engaged in a dangerous game of chicken after a week of disagreements between the three actors over how best to rescue the country’s failing banks. But all was not quiet on the rest of the continent: The UK has finally set a date for a referendum on Scottish independence, while the rest of the country debates the broad new powers of the government’s press regulator. Meanwhile, France is finally giving up on the proposed 75 percent tax on its richest citizens, while Germany has been forced to scrap many of its green programs due to the failure of Europe’s cap-and-trade scheme.

Domestic news this week continued to focus on California, Michigan and Illinois, each of which has been struggling with decades of destructive blue politics. In Illinois, the State Senate passed a slight modification to teacher’s pensions but put off meaningful pension reform for the future, even as funding problems caused Chicago to shut down over 10 percent of its public schools. In Michigan, Detroit prepared for its new emergency manager while state unions fought to put off the new right to work law for nearly a decade. And despite news of California’s “comeback” the state retains the highest unemployment rate in the nation, and a board member on the state pension fund was just indicted on charges of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction.

The week was also rich with news on healthcare and education. Obamacare appears to be causing insurance premium spikes across the country, and a number of states are falling behind on price transparency for health insurance, making it difficult for consumers to choose the plan that best suits them. Meanwhile, a scandal at a successful VA hospital points to the dangers of single-payer healthcare systems.

In education, vocational certificate programs are emerging as a promising and cheaper alternative to traditional bachelor’s degrees. Elsewhere, pension spending is making a massive dent in state spending on higher education, while a regulatory “blob” of school administrators, politicians and bureaucrats are making meaningful education reform difficult at the K-12 level.

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