Israel has already lost this war. It has lost it because it is alienating influence leaders in U.S. mainstream opinion, the very supporters who have been so important in years gone by in insuring Israel’s freedom to do whatever it wants whenever it wants.
These opinion leaders are saying, Enough already; we went through this four years ago and stuffed the Goldstone Report for you! So Israel’s assault ultimately could represent a watershed in US policymaking.
What follows is a review of the conventional wisdom in the American discourse; it contains a surprising amount of anger toward Israel.
–James Fallows was on NPR’s All Things Considered Saturday, saying that Israel’s leaders have no vision:
most people inside Israel and around it know that sooner or later, the Palestinian issue has to be resolved and addressed. But day by day, week by week, year by year, the steps that Israel feels necessary to take for its own security make that all the more difficult…
–Here is a slideshow at today’s New York Times from the conflict. The first seven images are from Gaza and are horrifying. They include a devastating image of a dead child. By contrast, the Israel images include little palpable suffering and one image of Israelis as spectators of the conflict. As my friend Ed Moloney observes, the Times probably would not have run such a justifiably-lopsided portfolio during Cast Lead four years ago.
–Yesterday J Street, the liberal Israel lobby group, issued a statement that criticized Israel for promoting a “cycle” of violence and lamented the fact that Israelis have given up on peace. The implicit message is, We held the bag for you during the horrors of Cast Lead four years ago, and now you are doing this all over again? J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami writes:
Even more sadly, there is apparently little audience in Israel for such a message [a political resolution is necessary]. We are told the Israeli people have given up on peace, that we shouldn’t talk of peace, that it’s a dirty word today.
Our message to Israel’s government, and to our friends and family must be clear: we love you, we care about you, and the volcano on whose edge you sit is on the verge of erupting. We back your right to respond to unconscionable rocket fire, but we do not accept complacency or the argument that there is nothing to be done to resolve the conflict…
The statement is also important because American Jewish organizations have traditionally deferred to Israelis with the idea that they have to live with fierce Arabs, we don’t, so who are we to judge. But Ben-Ami is standing up for American Jewish independence, in a way that suggests a divorce between American Jews and Israelis is underway.
–The New York Times’s Ethan Bronner is widely believed to be a liberal Zionist. Even he has had enough, writing on the New York Times front page Saturday about Israel’s lack of vision:
Many analysts and diplomats outside Israel say the country today needs a different approach to Hamas and the Palestinians based more on acknowledging historic grievances and shifting alliances.
–Then there was Gershon Baskin’s op-ed in the New York Times three days ago, which squarely placed responsibility for this conflict on failed leadership in Israel:
I believe that Israel made a grave and irresponsible strategic error by deciding to kill Mr. Jabari….
Instead [of negotiations], Mr. Jabari is dead — and with him died the possibility of a long-term cease-fire. Israel may have also compromised the ability of Egyptian intelligence officials to mediate a short-term cease-fire and placed Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt at risk.
This was not inevitable, and cooler heads could have prevailed. Mr. Jabari’s assassination removes one of the more practical actors on the Hamas side.
I think all these statements reflect the crisis of the Israel lobby. The speakers have awakened to the fact that Israel is out of control; and that the U.S. has enabled this behavior by issuing the country a blank check.
Finally, I’d point out that Fallows, Ben-Ami and Bronner all issued implicit critiques of Zionism itself.
Fallows was most explicit. On NPR, he raised a fundamental issue, Does Zionism work?
People often discuss the other contradiction that Israel faces, of whether, in the long term, it can be a democratic state, including all the people, including non-Jews living in its territory or the kind of Jewish state that it was originally founded to be. These tensions would be a challenging in any circumstances.
Bronner also addressed the question of the sustainability of Zionism, quoting Rami Khouri on the Times front page:
“As long as the crime of dispossession and refugeehood that was committed against the Palestinian people in 1947-48 is not redressed through a peaceful and just negotiation that satisfies the legitimate rights of both sides, we will continue to see enhancements in both the determination and the capabilities of Palestinian fighters — as has been the case since the 1930s, in fact,” Rami G. Khouri, a professor at the American University of Beirut, wrote in an online column. “Only stupid or ideologically maniacal Zionists fail to come to terms with this fact.”
While Ben-Ami is quietly grappling with the end of the Zionist dream:
Without a serious effort promoted by the President to achieve two states now, we may well witness the end of our dream for Israel to exist as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people.
Of course the President is doing nothing now about those two states.
Three years ago Matthew Ygelsias said at J Street that while he was committed to a Jewish state, he was more committed to human rights, and he would not become a “Jewish fascist” in the name of supporting Israeli actions. The Israeli government’s blind and brutal assault on Gaza will force him and many other liberal Americans to choose; I believe they will come down on the right side.