Oakland, Ca. (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – The political fallout from Israel’s response to the invasion, murders and kidnappings of its innocent civilians is impacting the American electorate as never before. Indirectly, US foreign policy in Israel-Palestine has become a threat to our own democracy. Young people, especially of color are turning away from President Joe Biden over full-throated support of the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza. As with Trump, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) has been trying to make himself the State. Their parallel efforts to remain in office to avoid criminal charges have fueled one another.
This is beginning to feel apocalyptic. The horrors that Hamas committed against innocent Israelis were a death sentence for the people of Gaza. Hamas leaders in their comfortable Cairo and Doha offices had to know that. How did they think the Israeli government, which is notoriously trigger-happy even in the best of circumstances, would respond to a brutal slaughter of over 1400 innocent civilians, and kidnapping over 200 whose fates have only fearful projections?
Writer Karen Attiah clarifies the current dilemma thusly, “Many of us were horrified at the initial attack and hostage-taking by Hamas, while also feeling as though we are currently watching the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in real time. Palestinian casualties skyrocket, while President Biden and Black members of his administration have said yes to more weapons and no to cease-fires.”
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SDEROT, ISRAEL – OCTOBER 29: Smoke rises after Israeli attacks as tanks of Israeli forces are deployed on agricultural lands near the town of Beit Hanoun in the north of Gaza Strip in Sderot, Israel on October 29, 2023. Israel’s attacks on Gaza, where approximately 2.3 million Palestinians live, continue on its 23rd day. (Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu via Getty Images)
At the core of this complexity is a history of blind American support for Israel, and a failure to recognize political realities. Other than Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama; no US president has recognized how the realities of Middle Eastern history going back to WWI impact the present moment.
The the victims on October 7 were for the most part innocent noncombatants, who met a horrifying fate at the hands of Hamas. Prof. Juan Cole eloquently pointed out how the Palestinian brutalities of that day violate Shari’a (Islamic Law). Israel’s historic brutalities against Palestinians since 1948, however, also violate Halacha (Jewish Law) in more ways than I can enumerate. Over objections of some of my thoughtful Israeli friends, I argue that Zionism is not Judaism, just as Hamas is not Islam. How tragic is it that Zionism morphed from a movement dedicated to saving and protecting Jews, into one that persecutes another group of people, and ghettoizes them?
We cannot understand our present moment in a historical vacuum. The context is 75 years of brutal occupation, oppression and illegal government acts. Great Britain made two separate agreements with both the Jews and Arabs over the same piece of real estate. The 1917 Balfour Declaration proclaimed their support for a Jewish home in Palestine, one year after Foreign Secretary Henry McMahon had formalized a series of agreements with Hussain ibn Ali, of Mecca, the “Guardian of the Islamic Holy Sites. The Hussain-McMahon correspondence had created an alliance with the Arab nations to defeat the German-Ottoman alliance of WWI, and guaranteed Hussain an Arab state in what is now Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Syria. Before 1956, Israel had been a client state of Great Britain and France. After their failed tri-partite invasion of the Suez Canal that year, the US supplanted their European allies as the “guardian of the Straits of the Suez Canal.”
In my view, the world was humming along nicely until the late 1970s and early 1980s when Israel elected Menachem Begin as PM, the US elected Ronald Reagan, and Great Britain chose Margaret Thatcher. All three quickly and forcefully steered their nations to the far- right wing fringes of their political spectrums. As a long-term consequent of this rightward turn, today, the democracies of the US and Israel are more fragile than ever. The far, far right has never been stronger throughout the world, despite periods of dormancy. The Trumpian Effect on US politics has empowered unprecedented growth of Fascist organizations in the US, with a corresponding rise in hate crimes aimed primarily at people of color, Jews and other minorities.
Zionism did not begin as an apartheid style ideology. Exclusionary in favor of Jewish settlement, yes. But it not begin as a brutal collective of persecution of another group of people; who by the way, have also claimed Palestine as their home for thousands of years. It’s important to examine the present in the entire historical context, and not the most recent atrocity. In 1981 I had the occasion at a conference to pose a question to American Indian leader Russell Means: “How do you compare the plight of the American Indians with the Palestinians?” He answered, “We are the Palestinians of America, and Palestinians are the Indians of the Middle East.”
Things got worse this year. Netanyahu’s appointment of the Israeli equivalent of American Proud Boys to key cabinet positions, and efforts to cripple the power of their Justice system, to avoid criminal charges turned most of the nation against him. This elicited political demonstrations against him, unprecedented in size and scope. But now progressive Israelis have united behind the war effort, and no one of consequence has demanded that the prime minister resign, despite a widespread conviction that Netanyahu’s miscalculations exposed Israel to the worst act of terrorism it has ever experienced.
The utter cruelty of Bibi’s Gaza policy is exemplified by his ordering people to evacuate when they have no place to go. Hundreds of thousands of people have been trapped in a massive open-air ghetto, not unlike what Jews experienced in Warsaw! This cruel policy has been part of the Zionist narrative, which took on an increasingly imperial character beginning under Begin, and accelerated under Netanyahu’s governments.
Though Palestinians have often been brutalized by collective punishment meted by Israel, the siege of Gaza rises to an unprecedented level of war crimes. While the Western media continues to slant reporting, the rest of the world is witnessing a cold disregard for civilian lives, since it doesn’t view these atrocities through the lens of CNN, ABC and Fox News. The US foreign policy establishment and media don’t recognize that 75 years of Israeli persecution made Gaza into a ticking time bomb that exploded on October 7. They’re still parroting the primitive Temple Sunday School myth says that Israel and Jews are blameless, and that Israel has been under siege since 1948.
How tragic is it that Zionism morphed from a movement dedicated to saving and protecting Jews, into one that persecutes another group of people, and tries to erase their rightful heritage to their land? While the original ideal of Zionism remains the focus of Judaism for Israeli Jews and many the world over, its political evolution has become toxic for themselves and the world.
As for the United States, disaffection with Biden’s full backing of the assault on Gaza’s children (half the population of the Strip) is growing at a time when American democracy is more fragile than ever. Biden can ill afford to lose any consequential demographic, as Republicans bask in their own dysfunction, driven by their adulation and fear of Trump. Any votes siphoned away from Biden by his hypocritical disregard of the laws of war when it comes to Israel-Palestine strengthen the chances of another Republican president in the mold of Donald Trump, if not Trump himself. We may be living in the worst of all political moments.