We’re at a defining moment in the history of the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Israel wants a war and the American people don’t– still, American leadership is pressing ahead. This groundswell of American opposition has fostered a willingness on the part of the American media to broach the issue of blind American support for Israel.
Last night, NBC Nightly News led not with the Senate Foreign Relations committee’s vote to approve military action against Syria, but with the American people– with the “loud and lopsided” opposition across the country to taking a military strike on Syria. In “packed town hall meetings from Connecticut to Oklahoma,” Kelly O’Donnell reported, Americans are voicing opposition to interfering in the Syrian civil war. And she featured Justin Amash, the Michigan freshman Republican, who has Syrian ancestors and opposes a strike, as does nearly everyone at his town halls.
Senator Bernie Sanders said on MSNBC that the phones are popping off in his office, and “almost unanimously people are opposed to what the president is talking about.” 98 percent of my district says No, Ted Yoho, an emerging Florida Republican congressman, said on the same network.
“Our foreign policy of the last 30 years has led us into this,” Yoho went on. “It’s Groundhog Day and we need to take foreign policy in a new direction.. We need diplomacy at this point of time.”
These are all signs of a groundswell in the wings of both parties, challenging the leadership. This is a “very dangerous place for the president to be,” Howard Fineman put it on MSNBC yesterday. Democrats are wondering “how the Democratic Party suddenly became the war party.” Good question.
For the seven years this site has been around, we have challenged Americans to look at one root of the conflict in the Middle East, and one root of the Democratic war party– in Israel’s occupation and Jim Crow policies that Americans would find objectionable in their own land. If politicians like Yoho are determined to reexamine foreign policy, then blind support for Israel is bound to come under the microscope. He should find support from liberals. Chris Matthews last night repeatedly called out the neocons and “AIPAC” as supporters of the military action– alas without explaining to the general viewer what AIPAC stands for, American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Mentioning the Israel angle is still too radioactive for Matthews.
The coming political question is a cultural one: whether the rightwing national interest types, caricatured as isolationists, can build a coalition with the leftwing antiwar types. Both sides are corrupted, the Dems by neoliberalism and doctrinal attachment to liberal Zionism, the right by the Tea Party and a legacy of racism. On Hardball, Chris Matthews warmed up to Yoho, even as he subjected him to questions about Obama’s birth certificate.
I believe these differences can be overcome by the urgency of opposing a Syrian strike and, worse, an attack on Iran that the lobby has in its sights. But this coalition will only be effective if we challenge the orthodoxies of the special relationship–the need to support Israel through one conflict after another, neverending– and look for nonviolent ways out of this morass.
The presence of non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews will be critical to this movement. We demonstrate that opposing the policies of a religious state is not the same as anti-Semitism. No it is a hallmark of American liberalism. And as the agenda of the Israel lobbyists becomes clearer to the American public — one war after another, into the future, because Israel as it is constituted is not accepted by half its population or its neighbors — our own agenda will have to be discussed at last. Sanctions, BDS, nonviolent pressure to transform what Bassam Haddad called a “settler colonial” state on MSNBC the other day. Then mainstream American figures will finally ask, Where is the Israeli de Klerk?