You are a disappointment, in so many ways.
My cousin posted that on my Facebook wall this week. We have always had a good relationship, but she was responding to a link I had posted that she perceived to be “anti-Israel.” And with Israel in the midst of Operation: Protective Edge, an aggressive assault on the Palestinian population of Gaza, my perceived affront to Israel’s moral authority to kill civilians was reason enough to take the kid gloves off.
My dad is Jewish, my mom is Catholic, which, according to the matrilineal Jewish tradition, makes me “not a real Jew” even though half of my family are. And, like so many American Jews, most of that side of my family—especially the older generations—are steadfast defenders of Israel through hell or high water.
Last Wednesday, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning Israel’s “widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms” (only one nation voted against the resolution: the United States). The next day, Israel bombed a United Nations-run school that was being used as a refugee shelter for around 800 Palestinians that had fled their homes during more than two weeks of bombardment. At least 16 innocent civilians were killed and 150 injured. Most were women and children.
The UN spokesperson claims they had given the IDF the coordinates of the school multiple times, including that morning and that they were given no warning before multiple shells hit the premises. This is a war crime. And even with such war crimes happening daily, my family members and others do not waiver. What makes it all so befuddling is that most of these people are otherwise liberal progressives: people who support gay rights, think Bush and Cheney should be prosecuted for the Iraq War, and that there is a special place in hell for Syrian tyrant Bashar al Assad. Yet they teach their children to hold Israel to a different standard. As my cousin readily admitted in our spat, when it comes to Israel “I cannot only speak with my head, my heart is stronger.” The day after the attack on the UN school, she changed her Facebook avatar to an image of the Israeli flag with the text, “Wherever I stand, I stand with Israel.” She’s not alone. That is also the unofficial motto of the United States government. Since Israel’s founding, the USG has given Israel more than $121 billion in direct aid— principally in military funding and loan guarantees. This year alone, the total is more than $3 billion. America’s unyielding, decades-long support for Israel is too complex and multifaceted to unravel here, but one of the principal tent poles of the policy is the American Zionist lobby. They are true believers in Israel as the rightful home of global Jewry, both spiritual and religious, and they have created powerful organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to argue their case. These groups are extremely influential and well connected in Washington and would make any self-preserving politician think twice before uttering a word that could maybe, possibly, perhaps be construed as anti-Semitic (a label they often use when “anti-Zionist” or “anti-militarist” would be more appropriate).
Hardline defenders of Israel have lobbed the charge of “anti-Semitism” consistently and wantonly at anyone who dares question Israeli government policy—especially at other Jews. They wield the memory of the Holocaust as a weapon against their political foes and maintain a firm “either you’re with us or against us” position. Even those that loudly proclaim their support for Israel but meekly whisper that government actions are perhaps counter-productive to Israel’s long-term interests are bludgeoned with the same rhetorical club by AIPAC and it’s allies. But in so doing, they are committing a logical fallacy and have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. As British historian Tony Judt explains:
“When Israel breaks international law in the occupied territories, when Israel publicly humiliates the subject populations whose land it has seized – but then responds to its critics with loud cries of “anti-Semitism” – it is in effect saying that these acts are not Israeli acts, they are Jewish acts: The occupation is not an Israeli occupation, it is a Jewish occupation, and if you don’t like these things it is because you don’t like Jews.
In many parts of the world this is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling assertion: Israel’s reckless behavior and insistent identification of all criticism with anti-Semitism is now the leading source of anti-Jewish sentiment in Western Europe and much of Asia.”
Hardline Israeli nationalists are the ones conducting the unconscionable slaughter in Gaza, but they are being enabled by direct funding, logistical assistance, and international diplomatic cover from the United States government and select allies. And all of this is being done in my name both as a (“fake”) Jew and as an American citizen. It makes my blood boil.
US support discourages Israel from making the difficult political choices it must eventually pursue. Instead, since Israel captured Gaza and the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War, it has built illegal settlements for hundreds of thousands in the West Bank, displaced thousands of Palestinians from their homes, built massive “separation walls” to divide Palestinian settlements from Israelis, created an oppressive security regime that restricts Palestinian movement in their own territory, enacted economic blockades that strangle the Palestinian economy, and have intentionally squandered political solutions with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The collective result of these policies: the rise to power of reactionary movements like Hamas. Israel has chosen land (and the cyclical violence that comes with it) over peace and is not serious about a political solution. That is why I criticize Israeli policy and generally discount their arguments about the perniciousness of Hamas. And, in turn, Israel’s defenders accuse me (and other who share my views) of supporting Hamas. For the record, I do not. My boss, an American journalist who is often accused of being anti-American/anti-Israel for his work, likes to respond to these criticisms with a quote from Noam Chomsky:
“My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else. That has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century.”
Without United States funding and their key veto in the UN Security Council, Israel would never be able to do what it does in Gaza and the West Bank. As an American, I am partially responsible for every Israeli bomb that falls on the head of a Palestinian child. And, as an American I have the ability and the moral imperative to do something—at the very least to speak up and engage with my peers—to change the situation.
And things are changing. Ever so slowly. Last week, a Gallup poll came out showing that a plurality of Americans (42%) believe Israel’s Operation: Protective Edge is justified (39% believe it is unjustified, 20% have no opinion). But when you dig a little deeper, you see that among 18-29 year olds, only 25% responded that Israel is justified and a whopping 51% responded it was unjustified. This is a big deal. We are on the verge of a major political shift. AIPAC’s cries of anti-Semitism and “remember the Holocaust” do not resonate among a generation in which the Holocaust is ancient history; multiculturalism, not ethnocentrism, is the ideal; and which, in their lifetime, Israel has always been ascendant while Palestinians have always suffered daily indignities and oppression under military occupation and economic blockade.
Over the last few weeks, a barrage of news reports (accompanied by outrage, vitriol, propaganda, recriminations, and ad hominem attacks) have flooded my social media feeds. People are engaging on the issue. Since June 28, the hashtag #GazaUnderAttack has been used over 5.5 million times on Twitter while #IsraelUnderFire has only been used almost 300,000 times. Israel is coming under increasing pressure to change its ways because it is losing war of public opinion more than ever before, even as it militarily dominates on the streets of Gaza. But will this pressure lead to tangible results? If we use history as our guide, the answer is clearly no. Since the days of the British Mandate of Palestine, Jewish Zionists have consistently and brutally denied the basic humanity and dignity of their Palestinian neighbors through almost any means at their disposal. And I think that is why any criticism of Israel makes people like my cousin so nervous. The callousness of Operation Protective Edge is not an aberration; it is the status quo in Israel-Palestine. To acknowledge Israel’s actions in 2014 as immoral is to concede that their country has always been on the wrong side of history. That is not an intellectual path most Israel supporters care to walk down. They are not going to change, but with every bomb, more people like me are speaking out. So it’s up to the rest of us to do all that we can to force the US government to finally reconsider its tragic relationship with Israel.