Monday, 5 April 2010

US public support waning for Israel

Just like its predecessors, the Obama administration remains in practical service to Israel. Yet, the gathering fears being expressed by US military elites over the 'security' of US troops in the Middle East is serving to undercut the 'special relationship'. By inflaming Arab hatred and sensitivities, they say, Israel's continuing intransigence over the so-called 'peace process' is compromising US military lives.

Avi Shlaim makes the point:
"General David Petraeus, the head of Central Command, told the Senate armed services committee last week that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a root cause of instability in the Middle East and Asia, and that it "foments anti-American sentiment due to a perception of US favouritism for Israel". In private, Joe Biden told the Israelis that their intransigence was undermining America's credibility with Arab and Muslim nations and endangering American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Small wonder that the announcement of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem provoked such intense anger at all levels of the Obama administration. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's apology related only to the timing and not to the substance of the announcement. Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, demanded the cancellation of the housing project, a substantial confidence-building measure towards the Palestinians, and a pledge to negotiate on all the core issues of the dispute, including the borders of a Palestinian state. Senator George Mitchell's visit to Israel was postponed."

The statement from Petraeus, in practice, affords a certain political cover for Obama/Clinton. It also ratchets-up the concern that uncritical US support for Israel is becoming a too-costly expense, requiring fresh analysis of immediate US interests.

Jeffrey Blankfort amplifies the point:
"In other words, in the view of Gen. Petraeus, resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict is critical to the US national interest and that, plus his reference to the “perception” of Washington’s pro-Israel bias, is what may have been what, for the moment, occasioned President Obama through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ratchet up the criticism and publicly brand Israel’s treatment of Biden as “insulting.”"
Under constant scrutiny from AIPAC, Obama/Clinton have no serious intentions of taking their 'rebuke' of Netanyahu much further. It's a tiff, a jockeying for position within the still-understood boundaries defining Washington's alliance with Israel. The military-flagged fear of gathering US body-bags allows a little added latitude for the White House to 'chide and guide'.

But this in itself is less significant than the message being sent out by such declarations to Main Street America, serving to diminish public support for Israel.

That worries Israel and AIPAC potentially more than Netanyahu's and the lobby's ability to influence and direct Obama. The problem for AIPAC is that it finds itself increasingly on the wrong side of US popular opinion, appearing evermore doctrinaire, overtly hostile to Obama and, seemingly, indifferent to US interests.

As Philip Weiss discusses,"a large shift in American policy and opinion has left the lead institution of the lobby exposed, and worse, mocked." Weiss also cites a significant email opinion from John Mearsheimer on AIPAC's troubles and divergence:
“Listening to the speeches at the AIPAC conference—especially Alan Dershowitz’s—I had the sense that the hardliners in the lobby are getting desperate because they recognize that more and more Americans are coming to understand that Israel is a strategic liability for the United States. Plus there is the not so small matter that Israel is turning itself into an apartheid state, and more and more people are seeing that, too.”
It's all part of Israel's gathering image deficit, the serious erosion of its international legitimacy.

Richard Falk writes that, while Israel is still enjoying political-judicial protection over war crimes, it is fast losing the legitimacy war:
"It is my view that this surfacing of criminal charges against Israel during and after its attacks on Gaza resulted in major gains on the legitimacy front for the Palestinians. The widespread popular perceptions of Israeli criminality, especially the sense of waging war against a defenceless population with modern weaponry, has prompted people around the world to propose boycotts, divestments and sanctions. This mobilisation exerts pressure on governments and corporations to desist from relations with Israel, and is reminiscent of the worldwide anti-apartheid campaign that did so much to alter the political landscape in South Africa. Winning the legitimacy war is no guarantee that Palestinian self-determination will be achieved in the coming years. But it does change the political equation in ways that are not fully discernable at this time.

The global setup provides a legal framework capable of imposing international criminal law, but it will not be implemented unless the political will is present. Israel is likely to be insulated from formal judicial initiatives addressing war crimes charges, but will face the fallout arising from the credibility that these charges possess for world public opinion. This fallout is reshaping the underlying Israel/Palestine struggle, and giving far greater salience to the legitimacy war (fought on a global political battlefield) than was previously the case."

US military fears about Israeli belligerence and its effects have not, of course, prevented ongoing military procurements to Tel Aviv. The Pentagon has just, for example, approved a $250 million deal to supply Israel with C-130J transport aircraft. So, while sections of the military top brass are voicing concerns about the political fallout from US combat deaths in the region, the corporate-military contracts are still being dutifully signed-off.

Why, one may ask, are the American public so slow to see Israel's aid-demanding aggressions and America's complicit part in that economy of death? And how is Israel so able to defy its primary paymaster?

As Ramzy Baroud puts it:
"Where does a feeble politician like Netanyahu find the courage to defy the president of the very country that supplied his own with many billions of taxpayer dollars? Of course, we know that much of the fund was used to occupy, torment and wage war on Palestinians for many years. This is the atrocious fact that Americans need to understand fully: Israeli war crimes were made possible because of American funds, weapons and political cover. America is not an outside party to the conflict. It has done more than its fair share in the ongoing Palestinian tragedy."
It's a moral outrage which may register with many American liberals. But not enough, in itself, to threaten the 'special arrangement'. That will involve slow-release calculations of base self-interest. With ongoing recessionary woes, more troubled realisations over Israeli arrogance and US supplication to it will have to register in the minds of tax-dollar paying Americans.

An important encouragement to such reflection may be coming from many American Jews themselves. As Slate editor Jacob Weisberg calculates, the level of support and attachment to Israel is on the wane:
"If you want numbers, various polls document the disenchantment. Shmuel Rosner, an astute Israeli journalist who blogs for the Jerusalem Post and writes for Slate pays a lot of attention to the partisan gap in support for Israel. It has jumped dramatically of late, with 80 percent of Republicans expressing favorable view of Israel, according to Gallup, as compared with only 53 percent of Democrats. One recent study found that only 54 percent of Jews under 35 who aren't Orthodox are "comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state" (as compared to more than 80 percent of those over 65). Among younger Jews, only 20 percent rated as "highly attached" to Israel in another poll. If you want examples of the shift in sentiment, read just about any Jewish columnist for a major newspaper. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times spent last week arguing that Biden under-reacted to Israel's announcement about the new housing units in East Jerusalem, comparing Israel's policies to drunken driving. Richard Cohen of the Washington Post is writing a book arguing that the founding of Israel was a well-intentioned mistake. "
This may well be the expression of tortured liberal Zionism. But it also illustrates the decisive shift taking place in the thoughts of many American Jews, a level of disillusion with Israel and its aggressions which may, in turn, become part of a wider public sentiment in America.



Julia Riber Pitt said...

No wonder the Israel lobby is working overtime. I think the Jewish people my age (18-25) are losing support for Israel and are feeling more comfortable with dissenting views is due to their access to the internet and the vast amounts of knowledge and views it hosts. Unconditional support for any state is disgusting in my view, so the statistics give me hope in one sense.

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