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How Israeli Militarism Is Driving a Wedge Between American Progressives and the Jewish State

Liberals around the world are losing their sympathy for Israel.

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Congress, suspicious of the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which Morsi hails, has been determined to press hard on the Egyptian president. The attitude echoes congressional hostility to the Palestinian choice of Hamas in their last elections in 2006. But Obama encouraged Morsi to cut the deal, and the cease-fire, which reflected terms that were surprisingly favorable for Hamas, apparently had Obama’s blessing. Obama must also have been aware that this was going to elevate Morsi’s status in diplomatic circles to a significant degree. Whether Obama also knew that Morsi was going to cash in on some of his newfound prestige the very next day by grabbing sweeping and supreme powers in Egypt is an open question.

But the relatively muted response that has come from Washington in response to that action suggests Obama had at least some idea, and essentially, has moved to duplicate US policy during the Mubarak era: ignore Egyptian domestic issues as long as the leader works to maintain quiet with Israel. The support US citizens have generally shown toward Egyptian aspirations for democracy doesn’t mesh well with this attitude, although the general consternation many Americans feel at the election of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s first free election has blunted a lot of that enthusiasm.

An even greater divide on Israel policy can be seen between the president and the rank and file of his own party. A CNN/ORC International poll showed that 57% of US citizens supported Israel’s action in Gaza. Again, seems like business as usual, right? Well, this calls for a deeper look.

In 2009, a similar poll was executed, but with this one going on well into Israel’s ground operation. By the time that poll had been conducted, there were many accusations against Israel of using white phosphorous and other illegal weapons, of targeting mosques and other civilian structures and firing on unarmed civilians, even in some cases where white flags were being waved. In 2012, there was nothing like that in mainstream media, and far less even among less well-read sources. Not to mention the fact that by the time of the ’09 poll, there was widespread devastation and many hundreds of dead (the final toll would be 1,397 Gazans dead, more than half of them non-combatants). In 2012, some 156 Gazans were killed. That is still tragic, but obviously a far smaller number than in ’09. Yet the approval number ticked down anyway.

There’s more in these two polls. Republican support in the two polls was virtually identical, at 75%. But in 2009, 52% of Democrats supported Israel’s actions, while this year that number went down to a mere 40%. That is a significant dip, and it doesn’t happen in isolation. It is one of many indicators that liberals around the world are losing their sympathy for Israel, and even the United States is not immune to this trend.

During the presidential election campaign, the Republicans worked hard, with the unqualified support of their partner, Benjamin Netanyahu, to abandon the long-standing bipartisanship around Israel and identify themselves as the only truly “pro-Israel” party. Obama and the Democrats responded by falling over themselves to show their support for Israel.

Democratic elected officials are thus demonstrating that, when it comes to Israel, they are distinctly different from their constituents. This dynamic was on full display this past summer, at the Democratic National Convention.

At the convention, the Democrats’ leadership went into a panic at the media reaction to the Israel plank in their platform, which did not include a statement affirming Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal, undivided capital.” The omission was not accidental, but was an attempt to square the party’s platform with the Obama administration’s own policy, the same policy which has been held by every US administration of both parties since Lyndon Johnson. That policy regards East Jerusalem, the part which had been captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as a matter of dispute to be dealt with as part of a final peace agreement. Presidential candidates, again from both parties, frequently say that they support Jerusalem being Israel’s undivided capital, and party platforms often have included this. But no administration has ever actually made it part of their policy.

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