Many of us have been excited by the accounts by pseudonymous F.E. Felson on this site, describing the power of the Israel lobby in New Jersey local politics and Congress. Felson is an accomplished journalist who woke up to this issue slowly, and on his own. That excites me. I regard Felson as an American Everyman. I wrote to him recently: You weren't steeped in this, you
came to it by your own lights, now you're appalled. I am hopeful that
others will make this journey. How do we
Actually, my own experience makes me something of a pessimist.
Yeah, I eventually woke up about this stuff, but what I hoped people
would realize in my essay was how typical I was before I started doing
my homework — how easy, effortless and NATURAL it is to be only
vaguely aware of the Middle East and to filter out news related to it.
I grew up with culturally liberal parents (well, at least my mother) in
a culturally liberal town with excellent public schools; I went to a
reputable university; I was politically knowledgeable (on domestic
politics); I talked about current events and politics with my friends;
I have covered politics as a journalist. And through all of this, nothing
ever intruded on my indifference to the Middle East.
Some of the commenters on my essay were appalled (and angry)
when I described this, especially because of my occupation. I get why
they would be, but they're missing the point: I finally addressed my
ignorance, but how many more like me are still out there?
transformation or sea-change going on the U.S. or in the media. I see
little things here and there — the NYT allows Khalidi a (brief) op-ed,
60 Minutes runs a terrific segment on the settlements — but I think
they've always been there. But now you and I are looking for them. But
I bet the NYT allowed a Khalidi-like op-ed during the '82 Lebanon war,
too, and I think 60 Minutes has run similar pieces before (just as
they've done PR for the IDF).
My pessimism is influenced by something I
noticed covering politics: When a low-profile candidate lands a story
on page A7 of a newspaper, his/her campaign always gets excited — it's
a coup, people are taking notice, we're on the move! But they're the
only ones who noticed. It's page A7! It's a newspaper! The electorate
is indifferent to politics; no average voter is reading the page A7
story. To shake up mass opinion, the news has to be big, loud and
persistent. I don't see any momentum in that direction for the
Palestinian cause in the U.S.
Weiss rejoinder. Here's my hopeful chant:
Something's changed. I just
feel it. You're a fairminded Everyman. There are more American Everymen
now engaged by this. A few anyway. (Steve Walt and Duncan Kennedy being
two examples) I didn't follow Lebanon 82 but I followed Lebanon 06 and my theory of
history is It doesn't stay in one place. You cant do the same stupid
thing twice. Iraq showed Americans you dont win occupations. That
understanding played some role in 06/08 elections. Jewish identity
changes are significant. In Lebanon '82 Begin said, We're going to
Hitler's bunker (Arafat in Beirut). They still say that stuff, but it's 26
years later and my mom's generation might buy it but not my nephew.
Felson: I hear you, and I am tempted to feel the same way — I'd certainly like
to. I just don't see people putting the pieces together. To me, the
biggest thing that stuck out about the politics of Iraq was this: In
the summer of '08, when 70 percent of the country was convinced the war
was a mistake and never should have been waged, the same polls showed
that voters believed that McCain would handle Iraq better than Obama.
It was a perfect example of how disengaged from news, information and
history mass opinion is. The volume of news coverage had satisfied just
about everyone that Iraq was dumb. But why? They didn't understand. And
there was McCain, Mr. War Hero and Maverick — God, wouldn't he be
perfect to clean up that mess? I imagine the numbers shifted as the
campaign progressed, and the economy ended up being the big issue in
the end, but I think that's an instructive example — the public had
been listening to John McCain for 10 years and they still didn't
understand anything about what he was saying (or doing in the Senate).
I think that applies to the Israel-Palestine situation. People get that
some serious shit just went down in Gaza and that civilians paid a
price. But I don't think it's going to prompt them to put the pieces
together any more than they did with Iraq and McCain.