22 May 2021   Leave a comment

The recent conflict between Israel and Palestinians has revealed a small but distinct movement among some members of the US Democratic Party toward greater sympathy to the Palestinian people. Since the founding of Israel in 1948, members of both US political parties have been strong supporters of Israel. But recent polls suggest that the support is becoming less strong because the policies of the Netanyahu government have sharply circumscribed the possibilities for a viable Palestinian state next to Israel.

In many respects, this shift is a generational change. There is a large cohort of Americans who have never known any Israeli leader other than Netanyahu who has been Prime Minister since 2009. Additionally, that cohort has also witnessed the growth of the Black Lives Movement in the US which has exposed the reality of Black lives in the US which has never been witnessed before in US history (the cameras in smartphones has been a very important technological change for most Americans who very often know very little about how Blacks are treated in the US). Most Americans have never fully comprehended the reality of how Palestinians are forced to live under occupation.

It is also important to remember that there is no monolithic Jewish position on the occupation. The Pew Research Center has polling data which reveals the diversity of opinion among American Jews about the state of Israel. The polling has some interesting conclusions:

“Israel, the world’s only Jewish-majority country, is a subject of special concern to many Jews in the United States. Caring about Israel is ‘essential’ to what being Jewish means to 45% of U.S. Jewish adults, and an additional 37% say it is ‘important, but not essential’; according to a new Pew Research Center survey that was fielded from Nov. 19, 2019, to June 3, 2020 – well before the latest surge of violence in the region. Just 16% of U.S. Jewish adults say that caring about Israel is ‘not important’ to their Jewish identity.

“However, the survey found that Jewish Americans – much like the U.S. public overall – also hold widely differing views on Israel and its political leadership.

“Most Jewish Americans identify as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, and more than half gave negative ratings at the time of the survey both to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to then-President Donald Trump’s handling of U.S. policy toward Israel. But Orthodox Jews – 75% of whom are Republican or lean Republican – generally rated both Netanyahu and Trump positively.

“Orthodox Jews were also more likely than Jews in other denominations to say that the Israeli government was making a sincere effort to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians and that God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people. By contrast, most Jewish Americans said they did not think that either the Israeli government or Palestinian leaders were sincerely seeking peace. And most Jewish adults took the position that God ‘did not literally give’ the land of Israel to the Jewish people (42%) or said they do not believe in God or a higher power at all (24%)…

“More than half of all U.S. Jews belong to the two long-dominant branches of American Judaism: 37% identify as Reform and 17% as Conservative. Roughly one-in-ten (9%) describe themselves as Orthodox. Other branches, such as the Reconstructionist movement and Humanistic Judaism, total about 4%, and due to small sample sizes cannot be analyzed separately. One-third of Jewish adults (32%) do not identify with any particular stream or institutional branch of Judaism.”

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a cease-fire which looks fragile, but there is no question in my mind that attitudes toward Israel have changed because of the 11-day conflict. Writing for the New Yorker, Bernard Avishai suggests that the conflict has changed significantly:

“The situation, in short, is fluid, agitated, and reminiscent of the atmosphere after the 1973 war, when, in spite of a putative Israeli victory, the idea that military force was all the foreign policy Israel needed—and that the Palestinian question would wait—was suddenly revealed to Israelis as delusional and arrogant. Before that war, the government spoke not of deterrence but of “security borders,” which neighboring Arab states, it claimed, wouldn’t dare attack. They did. Now, as then, there is a growing sense that Israel cannot come out of this crisis the same country it was when it went into it. On the right, there is more bravado: calls to disarm Gaza, and to suppress Israeli Arabs as a fifth column. On the left, which has found renewed energy, there are calls for reëngagement with the Palestinian question, and, correspondingly, for democratic norms that are vital enough to resist theocracy and to lessen anti-Arab discrimination.”

President Biden preferred to stay out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–most Administrations have failed to make any substantive progress towards advancing peace. But I suspect that Biden will be forced to pay closer attention to the conflict during his Administration. It is time for new ideas.

Posted May 22, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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