James North & Philip Weiss
Mondoweiss / September 30, 2021
In today’s New York Times, Robert Wexler, a longtime Israel advocate and former Florida Congressman, says what our site has been saying for a while — the U.S. political debate over Israel/Palestine is veering left, and progressives are bringing an end to “unflinching [American] support for Israel.”
“[T]he debate over the Iron Dome system represents a tectonic shift in the discourse among Democrats, one that is likely to shape U.S.-Israel relations for decades. Indeed, a small group of progressive Democrats have now forced a simmering debate within the party, and in their constituency, to the surface. . .
For a number of years now progressive activists, and some politicians, have challenged what was once orthodoxy: resolute U.S. support for Israel. Whereas previous congressional debates were characterized by bipartisan, reflexive support for Israel’s security interests, progressives have successfully infused Palestinian rights into the equation.”
Wexler’s answer to that simmering leftwing agenda of “Palestinian rights” is. … to double down on the two-state solution. This is now the liberal Zionist answer. J Street, Americans for Peace Now and other kindred groups are backing the Rep. Andy Levin legislation that says vaguely that U.S. aid should not go toward perpetuating a 54-year-long occupation.
Wexler is head of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, and his piece is typical of arguments by the more liberal wing of the Israel lobby. He congratulates the new Israeli government for taking steps toward supposedly easing life for Palestinians under occupation. He exalts the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel in religious, economic and strategic terms (“a relationship deeply meshed into the U.S. economy in dozens of states and integral in ensuring the United States commands the new frontiers of security in cyberspace”).
But the best thing about the article is that Wexler admits that Israel commits human rights abuses. Three times he refers to killings of civilians.
“[T]here is increasingly vocal criticism of expanding settlements in the West Bank, housing demolitions and civilian deaths.”
Yes — Israeli snipers have killed 40 protesters there in recent months, to the point that the army chief told them to “relax.”
Wexler goes on to admit that Israeli “raids against Hamas … have killed civilians.” And he offers this twisted logic about why Israel kills “innocent Palestinians” in Gaza.
“The [Iron Dome] system is defensive; it protects countless numbers of innocent Israelis from Hamas rocket attacks and saves numerous innocent Palestinians by avoiding even more punishing Israeli military responses to those attacks.”
Notice the framing, it is a trap (says Donald Johnson who pointed this passage out). Hamas attacks; Israel defends itself and also hits innocent civilians. So Hamas isn’t responding— no, they are attacking, and Palestinians can be divided into categories of innocent civilians and guilty attackers.
Why don’t we have those categories for Israelis ? Are Palestinians ever justified in using force to defend themselves? Are there any guilty Israelis deserving of a military response ?
In this framing (Johnson goes on), we are the civilized people who can work with the present “civilized” Israeli government in gradually nudging Israel towards treating Palestinians almost as though they had rights. So the U.S. should adopt the liberal Zionist view and continue trusting and supporting the Israeli government.
This just isn’t good enough. Israel has decades of experience in pretending to move toward a two-state solution, while instead consolidating the occupation and strengthening the system of apartheid. Wexler says he’s met with Palestinians, but he nowhere quotes the skepticism that most of them share. He won’t or can’t recognize that Palestinians must be central players in their own liberation.
Some day he and other liberal Zionists will have to concede that, too.
James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006