Oddities in U.S. "Debate" Over Israel/Gaza
- Even for those insisting that Israel's attack on Gaza is both wise
and just, what possible interest does the U.S. have in involving
itself so directly in this dispute?
More Oddities in the U.S. "Debate" Over Israel/Gaza
by Glenn Greenwald
January 02, 2009
This Rasmussen Reports poll -- the first to survey American public
opinion specifically regarding the Israeli attack on Gaza -- strongly
bolsters the severe disconnect I documented the other day between (a)
American public opinion on U.S. policy towards Israel and (b) the
consensus views expressed by America's political leadership. Not
only does Rasmussen find that Americans generally "are closely
divided over whether the Jewish state should be taking military
action against militants in the Gaza Strip" (44-41%, with 15%
undecided), but Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli
offensive -- by a 24-point margin (31-55%). By stark constrast,
Republicans, as one would expect (in light of their history of
supporting virtually any proposed attack on Arabs and Muslims),
overwhelmingly support the Israeli bombing campaign (62-27%).
It's not at all surprising, then, that Republican leaders -- from
Dick Cheney and John Bolton to virtually all appendages of the right-
wing noise machine, from talk radio and Fox News to right-wing blogs
and neoconservative journals -- are unquestioning supporters of the
Israeli attack. After all, they're expressing the core ideology of
the overwhelming majority of their voters and audience.
Much more notable is the fact that Democratic Party leaders --
including Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi -- are just as lockstep in
their blind, uncritical support for the Israeli attack, in their
absolute refusal to utter a word of criticism of, or even
reservations about, Israeli actions. While some Democratic
politicians who are marginalized by the party's leadership are
willing to express the views which Democratic voters overwhelmingly
embrace, the suffocating, fully bipartisan orthodoxy which typically
predominates in America when it comes to Israel -- thou shalt not
speak ill of Israel, thou shalt support all actions it takes -- is in
full force with this latest conflict.
Is there any other significant issue in American political life,
besides Israel, where (a) citizens split almost evenly in their
views, yet (b) the leaders of both parties adopt identical lockstep
positions which leave half of the citizenry with no real voice? More
notably still, is there any other position, besides Israel, where (a)
a party's voters overwhelmingly embrace one position (Israel should
not have attacked Gaza) but (b) that party's leadership unanimously
embraces the exact opposite position (Israel was absolutely right to
attack Gaza and the U.S. must support Israel unequivocally)? Does
that happen with any other issue?
Equally noteworthy is that the factional breakdown regarding Israel-
Gaza mirrors quite closely the factional alliances that arose with
regard to the Iraq War. Just as was true with Iraq, one finds
vigorous pro-war sentiment among the Dick Cheney/National
Review/neoconservative/hard-core-GOP crowd, joined (as was true for
Iraq) by some American liberals who typically oppose that faction yet
eagerly join with them when it comes to Israel. Meanwhile, most of
the rest of the world -- Europe, South America, Asia, the Middle
East, the U.N. leadership -- opposes and condemns the attack, all to
no avail. The parties with the superior military might (the U.S. and
Israel) dismiss world opinion as essentially irrelevant. Even the
pro-war rhetorical tactics are the same (just as those who opposed
the Iraq War were demonized as being "pro-Saddam," those who oppose
the Israeli attack on Gaza are now "pro-Hamas").
Substantively, there are certainly meaningful differences between the
U.S. attack on Iraq and the Israeli attack on Gaza (most notably the
fact that Hamas really does shoot rockets into Israel and has killed
Israeli civilians and Israel really is blockading and occupying
Palestinian land, whereas Iraq did not attack and could not attack
the U.S. as the U.S. was sanctioning them and controlling their
airspace). But the underlying logic of both wars are far more
similar than different: military attacks, invasions and occupations
will end rather than exacerbate terrorism; the Muslim world only
understands brute force; the root causes of the disputes are
irrelevant; diplomacy and the U.N. are largely worthless. It's
therefore entirely unsurprising that the sides split along the same
general lines. What's actually somewhat remarkable is that there is
even more lockstep consensus among America's political leadership
supporting the Israeli attack on Gaza than there was supporting the
U.S.'s own attack on Iraq (at least a few Democratic Congressional
leaders opposed the war on Iraq, unlike for Israel's bombing of Gaza,
where they virtually all unequivocally support it).
* * * * *
Ultimately, what is most notable about the "debate" in the U.S. over
Israel-Gaza is that virtually all of it occurs from the perspective
of Israeli interests but almost none of it is conducted from the
perspective of American interests. There is endless debate over
whether Israel's security is enhanced or undermined by the attack on
Gaza and whether the 40-year-old Israeli occupation, expanding West
Bank settlements and recent devastating blockade or Hamas militancy
and attacks on Israeli civilians bear more of the blame. American
opinion-making elites march forward to opine on the historical rights
and wrongs of the endless Israeli-Palestinian territorial conflict
with such fervor and fixation that it's often easy to forget that the
U.S. is not actually a direct party to this dispute.
Though the ins-and-outs of Israeli grievances and strategic
considerations are endlessly examined, there is virtually no debate
over whether the U.S. should continue to play such an active, one-
sided role in this dispute. It's the American taxpayer, with their
incredibly consequential yet never-debated multi-billion-dollar aid
packages to Israel, who are vital in funding this costly Israeli
assault on Gaza. Just as was true for Israel's bombing of Lebanon,
it's American bombs that -- with the whole world watching -- are
blowing up children and mosques, along with Hamas militants, in
Gaza. And it's the American veto power that, time and again, blocks
any U.N. action to stop these wars.
For those reasons, the pervasive opposition and anger around the
world from the Israeli assault on Gaza is not only directed to Israel
but -- quite rationally and understandably -- to America as well.
Virtually the entire world, other than large segments of the American
public, see Israeli actions as American actions. The attack on Gaza
thus harms not only Israel's reputation and credibility, but
America's reputation and credibility as well.
And for what? Even for those Americans who, for whatever their
reasons, want endlessly to fixate on the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, who care deeply and passionately about whether the Israelis
or the Palestinians control this or that West Bank hill or village
and want to spend the rest of their days arguing about who did what
to whom in 1948 and 1967, what possible interests do Americans
generally have in any of that, sufficient to involve ourselves so
directly and vigorously on one side, and thereby subject ourselves to
the significant costs -- financial, reputational, diplomatic and
security -- from doing so?
It's one thing to argue that Israel is being both wise and just by
bombing the densely populated Gaza Strip. It's another thing
entirely to argue that the U.S. should use all of its resources to
support Israel as it does so. Those are two entirely separate
questions. Arguments insisting that the Gaza attack is good and
right for Israel don't mean that they are good and right for the
U.S. Yet unstinting, unquestioning American support for whatever
Israel does is just tacitly assumed in most of these discussions. The
core assumption is that if it can be established that this is the
right thing for Israel to do, then it must be the right thing for the
U.S. to support it. The notion that the two countries may have
separate interests -- that this may be good for Israel to do but not
for the U.S. to support -- is the one issue that, above all else, may
never be examined.
The "change" that many anticipate (or, more accurately, hope) that
Obama will bring about is often invoked as a substance-free mantra, a
feel-good political slogan. But to the extent it means anything
specific, at the very least it has to entail that there will be a
substantial shift in how America is perceived in the world, the role
that we in fact play, the civil-liberties-erosions and militarized
culture that inevitably arise from endlessly involving ourselves in
numerous, hate-fueled military conflicts around the world. Our blind
support for Israel, our eagerness to make all of its disputes our own
disputes, our refusal to acknowledge any divergence of interests
between us and that other country, our active impeding rather than
facilitating of diplomatic resolutions between it and its neighbors
are major impediments to any meaningful progress in those areas.
UPDATE: One related point: I have little appreciation for those who
believe, one way or the other, that they can reliably predict what
Obama is going to do -- either on this issue or others. That
requires a clairvoyance which I believe people lack.
Some argue that Obama has filled key positions with politicians who
have a history of virtually absolute support for Israeli actions --
Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Rahm Emanuel -- because Obama intends to
continue, more or less, the Bush policy of blind support for Israel.
Others argue the opposite: that those appointments are necessary to
vest the Obama administration with the credibility to take a more
active role in pushing the Israelis to a negotiated settlement with
the Palestinians, and that in particular, Clinton would not have left
her Senate seat unless she believed she could finish Bill Clinton's
work and obtain for herself the legacy-building accomplishment of
forging an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians (this
morning's NYT hints at that scenario).
I personally find the latter theory marginally more persuasive, but
there is simply no way to know until Obama is inaugurated. Whatever
else is true, the more domestic political pressure is exerted
demanding that the U.S. play a more even-handed and constructive role
in facilitating a diplomatic resolution, the more likely it is that
this will happen.
UPDATE II: Donna Edwards, the newly elected, netroots-supported
Democratic Congresswoman from Maryland, who removed the standard
establishment Democratic incumbent Al Wynn from office this year, has
the following to say about Israel/Gaza:
I am deeply disturbed by this week's escalation of hostilities in the
Gaza Strip, as I have been by the ongoing rocket fire into southern
Israel. To support Israel and to ease the humanitarian crisis facing
the people of Gaza, the United States must work actively for an
immediate ceasefire that ends the violence, stops the rockets, and
removes the blockade of Gaza.
That's much further than most national Democrats have been willing to
go. And it illustrates that primary challenges can -- slowly but
meaningfully -- change the face of the Democratic Party.
Glenn Greenwald is a former constitutional lawyer turned political
and legal blogger. His Salon blog, Unclaimed Territory, started in
October of 2005, quickly became one of the most popular and highest-
trafficked in the blogosphere. He is the author of three books, the
most recent of which is "Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big
Myths of Republican Politics", published by Crown (Random House) in
April 2008. He has a J.D. from New York University School of Law
(1994) and a B.A. from George Washington University (1990).
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