Future historians may bookmark Israel’s 11-day bombardment of Gaza, which left 258 Palestinians killed – including 67 children, as the Israeli government’s crossing of the Rubicon. It could be that its colonial and apartheid rule has reached a self-defeating point of no return, igniting a collective panic among pro-Israel groups and individuals.
At the heart of their fear and anxiety is polling data that show a hardening of American attitudes against Israel and a softening of hearts towards the Palestinian people. An Arab American Institute poll dated May 27, 2021 shows more than half (51 percent) of Democrat Party voters hold a favorable view of the Palestinians, with almost three-to-one saying Israel used “too much force” in Gaza, as opposed to the “right amount of force.”
This represents a huge shift away from Israel, driving a massive wedge into the Democratic Party, and representing the sum total of the Israeli occupation’s fears. This trepidation is compounded by the recent distancing from Israel by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). At the same time, more than 500 Democratic Party staffers signed an open letter urging President Biden to “hold Israel accountable.”
“People need to understand that this issue has been transformed in the past two weeks.’’
“People need to understand that this issue has been transformed in the past two weeks,’’ Gidi Grinstein, President of the Reut Group, an Israeli think tank, told the New York Times. “The place of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict inside American society and politics — and inside the Jewish community — has morphed from a bipartisan issue to a wedge issue,’’ he added.
Grinstein said that Israel has not only become a very divisive political issue between Democrats and Republicans, but also “between Democrats and Democrats.” “This is very bad news for Israel and for the Jewish people. Israel and Biden must urgently collaborate to defuse it,” he warned.
Thomas Friedman, a long-time commentator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, who has often taken a sympathetic pro-Israel line, argues there’s only one way for the Biden administration to defuse this and that’s to “preserve at least the potential of a two-state solution.” According to Friedman, this is because the “one-state reality that would emerge in its place won’t just blow-up Israel” but also the Democratic Party.
Friedman is articulating the feeling of pending dread and doom among members of the Israeli government and its most hawkish supporters in the United States, who understand that a two-state solution would demand an impossible evacuation of over 800,000 Jewish settlers from the occupied Palestinian Territories. And it would deny Israel its jealously guarded strategic depth and access to Palestinian land and resources, including water. At the same time, a one-state solution would force upon Israel a decision to choose between democracy (equal rights for Arab and Jewish citizens) and apartheid (Jewish supremacy).
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Wherever pro-Israel groups and individuals turn these days, they’re confronted with evidence that American attitudes are shifting towards the Palestinians. The May 26 front page of the New York Times print edition featured individual photographs of all 67 Palestinian children killed by Israeli missile fire in May, under the title “They Were Only Children.”
Such an unprecedented move sounded to them very much like a five-alarm fire. It even prompted Abraham Foxman, Director Emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League, to cancel his New York Times subscription, after absurdly accusing the newspaper of perpetuating a “blood libel” against the Jewish people.
“I am cancelling my subscription to NYTimes,” Foxman tweeted. “I grew up in America on the NYT—I delivered the NYT to my classmates—I learned civics—democracy and all the news ‘fit to print’ for 65 years but no more. Today’s blood libel of Israel and the Jewish people on the front page is enough.”
Similarly, when members of the Democratic Party congressional caucus cited a report by the highly respected US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), accusing Israel of operating a “system of apartheid” in the Palestinian Territories and within Israel’s 1948 borders, their pro-Israel counterparts – all of whom are Jewish – accused them of trafficking in “anti-Semitism.” They falsely argued that because Israel protects Jews, criticisms of Israeli apartheid are “antisemitic at the core”— a patently ridiculous notion, but emblematic of a constituency that is terrified by shifting American attitudes.
The HRW report itself — titled “A Threshold Crossed”— followed a widely shared paper issued on January 12 by the prominent Israeli Rights Organization B’Tselem, titled “A Regime of Jewish Supremacy From the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid.”
Their panic is not helped by the sight of hundreds of thousands of Americans participating in pro-Palestinian solidarity protests across the country.
Their panic is not helped by the sight of hundreds of thousands of Americans participating in pro-Palestinian solidarity protests across the country — with 50,000 in Chicago, 35,000 in Washington DC, and 12,000 in Los Angeles taking part during the last week of May alone. The large rallies were replicated in cities around the world.
The Israeli government and its supporters know better than anyone that without unconditional and blank check support from the US government and its taxpayers, the occupation of the Palestinian Territories and the veto-proof protection Israel enjoys at the United Nations can no longer endure. This reality was brought into view by Tel Aviv’s reported request for a further US$1 billion to replenish its Iron Dome missile defense system only two weeks after the Biden administration approved a US$735 million military aid package, in addition to the annual US$3.8 billion it’s been receiving.
In times past, this request would have hardly battered an eyelid, but in today’s changing political zeitgeist, an ever-growing chunk of the Democratic Party is pushing back, as are the country’s most esteemed foreign policy elites. This includes Stephen M. Walt, Professor of International Relations at Harvard University, who argues, Israel’s latest assault on Gaza has “provided more evidence that the United States should no longer give Israel unconditional economic, military, and diplomatic support.”
“The benefits of this policy are zero, and the costs are high and rising. Instead of a special relationship, the United States and Israel need a normal one,” Walt writes.
It’s for all of these reasons that pro-Israel groups and individuals are throwing everything and anything, including baseless charges of antisemitism and sympathy for “terrorism,” at the wall in hope that something sticks.
The freak out has begun.