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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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The Democratic leadership scrambled to put the statement on Jerusalem back in. In order to do that, they needed a voice vote on the floor of the convention. This is usually a rubber stamp, but this time, the kindest interpretation of the voice vote would be that it was split, though in truth, it seemed pretty clear that the no votes were stronger. In any case, it was absurd for anyone to claim that there was the required two-thirds approval. Yet, that is what the convention chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, declared. This was supported by the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, a favorite of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee

What this event showed was just how far the Democratic position, and the policies of President Barack Obama, have drifted away from the rank and file of the Democratic Party. Indeed, polls have consistently shown that Americans support Israel, but want their government to be even-handed in dealing with the Israel-Palestine conflict.

After the convention debacle, John Mearsheimer, one of the premier figures in international relations and co-author of the controversial book, The Israel Lobby, told me: “If you look at public opinion polls on how the American people think about our special relationship with Israel, the evidence is clear that the public is generally pro-Israel, but not so much as to justify the present relationship, where we give Israel more aid than any other country and give it unconditionally. What makes the special relationship work is the fact that the lobby is deadly effective at putting pressure on American politicians and policymakers to support Israel no matter what. If the public had a real say in our policy toward Israel, we would have a very different policy than we now have.”

Put another way, Americans generally support Israel and support its security, but do not support the occupation and do not want to see their government abetting it. This was evident at the convention, but it’s not exclusive to Democrats. The fading wing of the Republican Party that held to a “realist” position on Middle East policy (best exemplified by the George H.W. Bush administration) voices a similar sentiment. At the DNC, the audience clearly opposed a plank that would change the issue of Jerusalem from a “final status issue” that needed to be negotiated to one which they advocated as pre-determined, at least as far as US policy would be concerned.

That gap is growing. Only a few years ago, it was unthinkable that Christian leaders from a broad spectrum of Protestant denominations would explicitly call for military aid to Israel to be scrutinized for compliance with relevant US law. But that is precisely what happened this fall, and while Jewish groups as well as Christian Zionist extremists got up in arms, the debate within these mainstream denominations has been much calmer. In earlier years, such leaders would not have been leaders anymore.

And now, with Israel announcing a major expansion of settlements we may see even greater opposition to Israeli policies among Democrats. The expansion includes plans to build in the E-1 corridor, which connects Jerusalem with the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, a line which, if filled in, would effectively bisect the West Bank and make a Palestinian state unviable even in the view of those who cling to the belief that such a state could be brought into being as things stand now.

J Street, the US Jewish lobbying group that pushes hard for a two-state solution, wrote onits blog: “That land is so vital to the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state that experts have called its possible development ‘the death knell for the two-state solution.’”

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