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March 4, 2015

The GOP is bewitched with Netanyahu, but Israel endorses many policies Republicans would loathe

By Zaid Jilani

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress yesterday marked a point of historic acrimony between our two countries, as it was the first time in modern history that a foreign leader spoke to Congress in a specific attempt to undermine U.S. policy. As former Bush ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer admits,  it was as if Netanyahu's “arrogance [has] reached a point where he assumes Israel will ask and the United States simply [says] yes.”

But for many American conservatives, the Netanyahu visit was a moment of celebration; some even openly wished that Netanyahu was our president instead of Obama. Here's one example, from Twitter:

 David Walker: I wish we had leadership as strong as Benjamin Netanyahu! He exhibits  remarkable strength & resolve! What a speech!

Public Policy Polling actually did a poll that found Netanyahu has a 57 percent approval rating among Republican voters, higher than any potential Republican presidential nominee.

But there are a number of reasons conservatives should be wary about wanting Netanyahu as president, ranging from Israel's left-wing healthcare policy to its lack of a constitution to limit government power. Here are five:

1. Israel's Universal Healthcare: While American conservatives rallied en masse in 2009 and 2010 to try to stop the modest Affordable Care Act, even Israel's most right-wing parties don't object to that country's universal healthcare system. Healthcare there today is managed by the 1995 National Health Insurance Law, which mandates that every Israeli citizen has a right to be covered by one of the country's four non-profit HMOs, with about 40 percent of the costs being covered through taxation from income and the state paying for the other 60 percent.

2. Israel's Government Directly Pays for Abortions: In the United States, even most Democrats do not call for state subsidies for abortion and numerous other reproductive healthcare options. But Israel last year included abortion in the basket of health services covered under state-approved HMOs; the Times of Israel notes that this makes Israel's abortion law “among the world's most liberal.”

3. Israel Allows Arab Muslims to Use Sharia Courts: The fear of “Sharia law” being imposed upon hapless Americans animates much of the Islamophobic here, but in Israel, it's simply the norm. The country allows its Arab Muslim citizenry to use Sharia courts to resolve personal issues, as sort of civil arbitration courts. No major figure in Israel's political system, including Benjamin Netanyahu, opposes them.

4. Israel Has No Constitution: Conservatives have used the Obama years to proclaim that just about everything the president does is unconstitutional. They endorse a theory of the Constitution that prevents the government from acting in the public interest, and view it instead as a tool to limit the social welfare capacities of the federal government. American right-wingers would be horrified to find that Israel actually doesn't have a constitution, meaning that the majority of checks on the government's power comes from the legislature itself, not courts trying to uphold basic restrictions on government power.

5. Israel Has a Powerful Labor Movement: Unlike the United States, where conservatives have succeeded in minimizing the power of labor unions particularly in the private sector, Israel's labor movement remains strong. Union density is about a third of the workforce, what it was in the heyday of America's labor movement. Going into the parliamentary elections, Israel's main union has made threats of shutting down part of the economy if a major company does not go back on its move to reduce its workforce.

It's not hard to see where conservative envy of Netanyahu comes from: he's a leader who projects himself as an outpost of Judeo-Christian civilization against barbarian hordes (in his AIPAC speech this week he referred to the countries outside of Israel as an “Arab noose”). But Israel is also a country that has a boatload of left-wing policy conservatives have feared for decades—policy their beloved Netanyahu oversees.

Zaid Jilani is an American blogger and campaigner for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), which is also known as