Middle East Monitor / May 23, 2023
Though the United States remains a strong supporter of Israel, there are some indications that the supposed ‘unbreakable bond’ with Tel Aviv is faltering, though more in language than in deeds.
Following the provocative ‘Flag March‘ on 18 May, which is carried out annually by Israeli Jewish extremists in the occupied Palestinian city of East Jerusalem, the US joined other countries around the world in condemning the racism displayed at the event.
The language used by the US State Department was firm, but also guarded. Spokesman Matthew Miller did not condemn the racist, provocative march – which involved leading Israeli officials – but the language used by the large crowds, most of whom are strong supporters of the far-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The United States unequivocally opposes racist language of any form,” Miller tweeted. “We condemn the hateful chants such as ‘Death to the Arabs [Palestinians]’ during today’s marches in Jerusalem.”
Carefully articulated not to appear as a condemnation of Israel itself, the US position is still more ‘balanced’ than previous positions, where Palestinians were often the ones associated with the US use of words such as “condemnation”, “incitement” and the like.
On the other hand, during the Israeli bloody five-day war on Gaza, starting on 9 May, Washington had resorted to the same old script, that of Israel having the ‘right to defend itself’, thus entirely misrepresenting the events which led to the war in the first place.
This US position on Israel’s war on Gaza suggests that Netanyahu is the ‘defender’ of Israel against supposed Palestinian violence and ‘terrorism’. But this purported champion of Israeli rights is yet to be invited to the White House five months after he returned to power at the helm of Israel’s most right-wing government in history.
Some want to believe that the decision by the Joe Biden administration to distance itself from Netanyahu was entirely altruistic. But that cannot be the case, as the US continues to back Israel militarily, financially, politically and in every other way.
The answer lies in Netanyahu’s major miscalculations of the past, when he crossed a dangerous line, by turning against the Democratic Party and allying his country entirely with Republicans. His tactics paid dividends during the term of Republican President Donald Trump, but backfired when Trump left the White House.
Biden is unquestionably pro-Israel. Per his own repeated remarks, his support for Israel is not only political but ideological as well. “I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist,” he has repeated, and proudly so, on several occasions.
But the US president is also anti-Netanyahu, a dislike that even preceded the Trump-Netanyahu love affair. It mostly dates back to Barack Obama’s two terms in office, when Biden was the vice president.
Netanyahu’s political shenanigans and relentless attacks on the Obama Administration at the time taught Biden that Netanyahu simply cannot be trusted.
Yet, Biden, with historically low ratings among ordinary Americans, cannot possibly, on his own, challenge Netanyahu and Israel’s stronghold on Washington through its influential lobby.
Something else is at work, namely, the fact that the Democratic Party as a whole had shifted allegiances, from Israel to Palestine.
This assertion would have been unthinkable in the past, but the change is real, confirmed time and again by credible polling companies. The latest was in March.
“After a decade in which Democrats have shown increasing affinity toward the Palestinians, their sympathies … now lie more with the Palestinians than the Israelis, 49% versus 38%,” the Gallup poll concluded.
The fact that such growing ‘affinity’ with Palestine has been taking place for at least a decade suggests that the position of the Democrats was a generational one, not an outcome of a single event.
Indeed, numerous organizations and countless individuals are working on a daily basis to create a link between ‘affinity’ and policy.
Buoyed by the growing sympathies for Palestine, long-time advocate of Palestinians’ rights in the US Congress, Representative Betty McCollum reintroduced, on 5 May, the ‘Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act’.
Co-sponsored by 16 other members of Congress, the legislation demands that Israel must be prohibited from using “US taxpayer dollars in the Occupied West Bank for the military detention, abuse or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.”
Two years earlier, The Intercept had reported that McCollum and her supporters were pushing towards barring US aid to Israel from “subsidizing a wider array of Israeli occupation tactics.”
Alex Kane wrote, this is “an indication of just how far the debate over the US aid to Israel has come in the past six years”, a reference to 2015, when McCollum introduced the first legislation on the matter.
Since then, things have moved forward at an even more accelerated speed. The effort to hold Israel accountable has now reached the New York state assembly.
On 16 May, the New York Post reported that legislation was introduced by several Democratic lawmakers aimed at blocking registered US charities from funneling money to fund illegal Israeli Jewish settlements.
The legislation, “Not on Our Dime!: Ending New York Funding of Israeli Settler Violence Act”, dares to challenge Israel on multiple fronts: the traditional power of the pro-Israel lobby, questioning US funding of Israel and confronting the channeling of funds to illegal settlements in the name of charity work.
Several reasons compel us to believe that the shift in US policy on Palestine and Israel, though slow, nuanced and, at times, symbolic, will likely continue.
One is the fact that Israel is turning towards far-right nationalism, which is increasingly difficult to defend by US liberal government and media.
Two, the steadfastness of Palestinians and their ability to overcome mainstream media restrictions and censorship that had prevented them from having any fair representation.
And, finally, the dedication of numerous civil society organizations and the widening network of support for Palestinians throughout the US, which allowed courageous lawmakers to push for substantive change in policy.
Time will tell what direction Washington will take in the future. But, considering the current evidence, support for Israel is dwindling at rates that are unprecedented.
For those advocating a just peace in Palestine, this is a good thing.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle; his latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak out