On January 11, 2008, the both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives passed resolutions declaring their strong support for Israel and its right to defend itself. The two non-binding resolutions were exceptionally similar in their language expressing “vigorous support and unwavering commitment to Israel”. The Congressional resolution went on to “condemn Hamas for deliberately embedding its fighters, leaders, and weapons in private homes, schools, mosques, hospitals, and otherwise using Palestinian civilians as human shields, while simultaneously targeting Israeli civilians.”
The text of the House resolution, the generally one-sided nature of America’s position on Israel in general and the recent incursion into Gaza in particular are not news to anyone. No sooner had Israel begun its year-end assault on Gaza that a virtual cabal of pro-Israel commentators and intellectuals took to the American airwaves waxing endlessly about Israel’s righteous war.
Alan Dershowitz called the reaction “perfectly proportional” and the Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer described the Israeli position as one of uncomplicated moral clarity where Israel is clearly in the right.
However, amid the expected cheerleading for Israel’s unrelenting campaign of murder and mayhem, there are some new voices in the American public sphere that are worthy of note and point to significant change in the post-Iraq American psyche.
The most widely talked about change in tenor came through the widely viewed political comedy/satire programme called “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”, which aired a cynical skit on the spin being put on the conflict. Stewart, himself a Jew and once a vociferous supporter of Israel, roundly denounced and poked fun at the ridiculously one-sided political assessment of the conflict by US lawmakers criticising Palestinians without listening to their grievances.
And Stewart has not been alone in critiquing American media coverage and political assessment of the ongoing conflict. Several young progressive Jewish writers, many of them active in the Obama campaign, have expressed strong resentment against the actions of the Israeli state. One such writer, Ezra Klein, wrote: “There is nothing proportionate in this response. No way to fit it into a larger strategy that leads towards eventual peace. No way to fool ourselves into believing that it will reduce bloodshed and stop terrorist attacks. It is simple vengeance. There’s a saying in the Jewish community: ‘Israel, right or wrong’. But sometimes Israel is simply wrong.”
The changing sentiment is not restricted to Jewish Americans. A recent poll conducted by Rasmussen found that Americans, while still supporting Israel’s military action against Hamas in Gaza by a slight margin, are increasingly veering toward questioning the position that Israel is always and unwaveringly correct in its positions.
According to the poll, 44 percent of Americans say they support Israel’s actions while 41 percent say that Israel should have pursued diplomatic options before attacking Gaza. While the poll is still quite visibly in favour of Israel (55 percent believing that the Palestinians are to blame for the current crisis), the near-split opinion on the question of whether diplomatic options should have been pursued prior to a military strike are quite notable.
This change in sentiment is reflected not simply in the shift in American public opinion but also perhaps in some erosion in the hold of the powerful American Israeli Public Affairs Committee in its ability to dictate the Jewish-American perspective on the Middle East conflict.
In an essay written in Harper’s entitled “Obama’s Jews”, Bernard Avishai talks about how the Obama campaign, and notably rumours of his connections to Muslims, exposed the fault-lines among American Jews and spoke of a growing disconnect between the leaders of traditional Jewish organisations like AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, and the constituencies they represent. The reason for the persistence of such groups thus, is not because a majority of American Jews support them but because the vocal minorities that do are very politically active and financially integral to raising money for congressional campaigns.
It is ultimately Avishai’s final conclusion regarding the relationship between Bush’s foreign policy and Israeli actions in Palestine that present the ultimate truth that may be signalled by the arrival of an Obama administration.
He says: “the Israeli government’s ambivalence about ending its occupation, its default to military force, its tensions with Iran, etc., have seemed a kind of US policy agenda in microcosm.”
The logic thus is simple: since current Israeli policy has reflected the philosophies of the Bush Administration, it only follows that the change in philosophy marked by the incoming Obama Administration will mark less tolerance for such policies. While this obviously does not mean that American support for Israel will cease or that an Obama administration would suddenly begin to champion the Palestinian cause. What it does mean is that post-Iraq America, an America fed up of pre-emptive wars and occupations, in general is likely to be far more sceptical of supporting an ally that indulged in the same policies that Americans have so resoundingly rejected in the polls.
The argument I am making here is thus an argument marking a gradual shift in tone and position rather than a radical change. It is undoubted given the voting records of the resolutions passed in the House and Senate (only five members of Congress voted “nay”) that AIPAC continues to maintain a strong and visible hold over American politics. The point, however, is that the arrival of the Age of Obama, marking as it does a visible retreat from the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war, signals a departure from the philosophies of old.
The most pressing and resounding argument in favour of Obama’s election this past November was the American public’s rejection of the war in Iraq as an occupation borne of an arrogant militarism. Given this, it is perhaps possible to expect that Obama’s America will be more sceptical of other nations that continue to follow the very philosophy whose rejection will be marked on January 20, 2009.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at email@example.com
Reproduced by permission of the Author and Daily Times