Haley shakes hands with Netanyahu Haley meets with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, June 2017. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Haley’s signature contribution to international affairs during her ambassadorship has been her trumpet-section support for Israel, writes Susan Ram

The announcement, on October 9, that Nikki Haley, Donald Trump’s hand-picked Ambassador to the United Nations, had tendered her resignation (effective from the end of the year) prompted a variety of responses. 

Inside the Washington bubble, pundits, pollsters and lobbyists were in shock (why had no one tipped them off?) Over at UN Headquarters in New York, and throughout the wider UN system, sighs of relief echoed in meeting rooms and down the corridors: an end was in sight to Haley’s 22-month reign of carping, badgering, bullying and pontificating, always in the cause of the reactionary, the belligerent and the indefensible.

From the redoubts of the Likud government in Israel issued lamentations at the loss of a supremely dependable ally, a warrior queen who devoted much of her innings at the UN to defending and facilitating the Zionist apartheid project. Indeed, Haley’s signature contribution to international affairs during her ambassadorship has been her trumpet-section support for Israel. A tweet from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on October 9, hailing Haley’s “unwavering support”, together with a stream of  encomiums from Netanyahu and company, set off a twitter storm among Americans  protesting that “we thought she was supposed to be representing us!” 

Staunch US allies apart, there can be few countries – and not a single progressive movement — around the world sorry to see Haley go. As the journalist Ian Williams notes, “in the past, there have been some outstandingly annoying US permanent representatives at the UN, but Nikki Haley is egregious even in such a crowded field.” Wherever an opportunity has arisen to hit out at the weak or disadvantaged, or to beat the drum for the latest Trump-endorsed menace to world peace, or to stand reality on its head by positioning Palestinians as the perpetrators of their own torment and bloody elimination, Haley has been on the job, revelling in it all.  

Some samples of the ‘diplomat’ and ‘moderate Republican’ (the New York Times’ choice of phrase), at work: 

  • In May 2017, Haley signalled a change of direction at the top when she told the Christian Broadcasting Network that the Western Wall in Jerusalem belonged to Israel, thereby breaking with the longstanding US policy of not taking a position on the status of the holy sites. 
  • In October 2017, she announced the withdrawal of the US from UNESCO, the UN’s educational, science and cultural organisation, describing it as a “chronic embarrassment” for the help it was giving Palestinians.
  • She followed this up in December 2017 by leading the US withdrawal from the UN’s New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. The UN’s “global approach”, she said, was “simply not compatible with US sovereignty… our decisions on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone.”
  • Also in December 2017, Haley burnished her credentials as cheerleader-in-chief for the shift of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem by again training her guns on the UN:  “To its shame”, she avowed, “the United Nations has long been a hostile place for the state of Israel… I’ve often wondered why, in the face of such hostility, Israel has chosen to remain a member of this body. And then I remember that Israel has chosen to remain in this institution because it’s important to stand up for yourself. Israel must stand up for its own survival as a nation; but it also stands up for the ideals of freedom and human dignity that the United Nations is supposed to be about.” 
  • In May 2018, her response to the killing of 62 Palestinians in Gaza in a single day was to praise Israel’s “restraint” before walking out of the UN Security Council chamber as the Palestinian ambassador began making his statement.  
  • As Palestinian bodies accumulated at the Gaza border, Haley introduced a security Council resolution condemning Hamas, while vetoing a resolution from all the other members demanding that Israel stop shooting unarmed protestors (tellingly, Haley’s anti-Hamas intervention failed to win even a seconder).
  • In June 2018, she oversaw the withdrawal of the US from the UN Human Rights Council, chiding the body for its “chronic bias against Israel”. 
  • The same month saw Haley defending the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating children from their parents at the US-Mexico border: “Neither the United nations nor anyone else will dictate how the United States upholds its borders,” she proudly declared.

A closer look at Haley’s political career thus far helps contextualise her beyond-the-call-of-duty enthusiasm for Israel, and her rapturous endorsement of Trump’s campaign to ‘make America great again.’ Her particular ascent up the greasy pole offers an instructive case study of how a right-wing US politician on the make can  flourish in Trumpland while positioning herself for what lies beyond it. 

Despite her all-American name and Christian faith, Haley is of Indian Sikh origin; both her parents are first generation immigrants from the Indian Punjab who settled in South Carolina. The family thus forms part of America’s best educated and highest earning demographic. All available data reveals Indian-Americans to be outpacing every other ethnic group in socio-economic terms, with 72 per cent of adults educated to degree level or beyond and only 7 per cent living in poverty (against a national average of 14 per cent, as per 2015). Median income for Indian-Americans stood at $101,591 in 2015, against a median of $51,000 for immigrants in general, and $56,000 for ‘native-born’ Americans. 

Politically, Indian-Americans once tended towards the liberal left and support for the Democrats. Much has changed over recent years, with the bourgeois class character of the community manifesting itself in growing support for the hard right Modi government in India – and for the Republicans at home.  

Nimrata (‘Nikki’) Haley (nee Randwala) was ahead of the game when, in 2004, she ran for election to the South Carolina House of Representatives as a Republican – and won. By 2010, she was the 116th Governor of South Carolina, the first woman to hold that position and only the second American-Indian to serve as a US governor. This role provided plenty of scope for across-the-board reactionary interventions, from support to charter schools to ‘pro-life’ initiatives and assent for a crack-down on illegal immigration. Haley memorably signed a bill to block the activities of the BDS movement in South Carolina; the first legislation of its kind on a state-wide level.  

By now the avariciously ambitious politician with high approval ratings and what The Economist described approvingly as “fiscal ferocity” was creating ripples further afield. In 2012, presidential candidate Mitt Romney reportedly considered Haley as his running mate. During the 2016 elections, the Governor of South Carolina played a careful hand, lending her support first to Marco Rubio, then to Ted Cruz, all the while keeping a critical distance from Trump. It therefore came as a surprise when, on November 23 2016, Trump nominated her for the position of US Ambassador to the UN. She romped through the subsequent Senate confirmation hearings; Bernie Sanders was one of only four senators to vote against her. 

Nikki Haley’s extraordinary devotion to Israel, along with her carefully calibrated relationship with the Trump administration, makes sense in the context of her unrelenting pursuit of power. From this perspective, enthusiasm for the Zionist project can only strengthen her standing with the Republican base, including its hefty evangelical Christian component. Her position as a woman, one too from a ‘successful’, increasingly conservative demographic, ticks important boxes as Republicans look to widen their electoral appeal and draw on new bases of support.   

By stepping down before the November mid-term elections (getting out while the going is good?) Haley seems to be sending out a signal or two. While she has pointedly assured Trump that she won’t be running for president in 2020, two years has always been rated a long time in politics.

Like the comet with which she shares a name and also key characteristics (a comet, according to the dictionary definition, is “a hazy object usually with a nucleus of ice and dust surrounded by gas”), Haley threatens to return.

Susan Ram

Susan Ram is a writer, editor and journalist based in south-west France. She's currently at work on a book about the French Left, for publication in India, where she lived for many years.

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