Any review of the last decade in US foreign policy in Israel and Palestine has to begin with the negatives. Trump has only heightened the bias of the last administration, and made things worse by tearing up the Iran deal and giving a green light to annexation. Israel has continued human rights abuses with brutal impunity. If the decade began with Gaza massacres, those massacres got worse in 2014 and only more grisly after Trump’s embassy announcement, and the weekly maimings on the Gaza border that have stirred people of conscience everywhere.
Yet there has been progress over this decade in ways that I only imagined ten years ago. The conflict has finally been politicized inside the United States. Mainstream politicians are talking about BDS and Zionism. A portion of the Democratic Party is firmly committed to Palestinian human rights, because the Democratic base is demanding it.
That seems to me the good news of the last ten years, a discursive change: This is not some faraway conflict over land between two small groups of people. This is an American issue. America has sustained the conflict by supporting one side, and that support is at last being questioned in a concerted, open way in Washington, and in Brooklyn and Chicago and Boston and Virginia too.
I admit I’m a positive person, and also a privileged one. As so many Americans are privileged, especially in comparison to peoples of the Middle East whom our country bombs, or supplies the weapons for those bombings. But this progress seems indisputable to me, and a foundation for more progress in the next decade. They don’t call it a struggle for nothing.
Let me point to a few events before I go off and pop corks and pray for the end of the Trump era.
Lately the House of Representatives passed a resolution against annexation of the West Bank. Yes, a lame resolution, a step back from how liberal Zionists began the decade. Yet it is progress for two big reasons. One, the resolution seems to have helped persuade some rightwing Israeli politicians to stop talking about annexation. This is an important lesson. Israeli leaders respond to the hint of US official censure. That’s why BDS is so important. Secondly, a handful of elected officials on the left didn’t vote for the measure, and cited the meaninglessness of the language about settlements. That’s a real bloc. It didn’t exist even two years ago. It’s growing and led by a formidable politician, Rashida Tlaib.
BDS has made incredible strides in the last decade. It is debated in legislatures and the White House, too, and progressive students are all for it. Many of the kids speak out against Zionism as a form of racial supremacism. These shifts were unimaginable to me when a decade or so back a Palestinian friend shocked me by yelling on Broadway, My goal in life is to end Zionism. Hey, lots of folks say this now. Yes we are losing in official spaces. So what! The opposition to BDS in American politics and the rise of organizations here to fight BDS is great progress imho because it just goes to show, again, the battle is where it should be. We’re stripping away the idea that this is just a conflict far away. No it is American as apple pie. A dozen years after Jimmy Carter got pounded by the liberal press and the entire Dem Party for saying “apartheid,” Rep. Betty McCollum says so openly as she champions a human rights bill for Palestinian children under detention that has many cosponsors.
The opposition to BDS and Palestinian rights inside the Democratic Party has more addresses than ever. New organizations spring up all the time. Democratic Majority 4 Israel has Anne Lewis and AIPAC types at the helm. Meantime Alan Dershowitz says that he is going to stay a Democrat so as to keep the party on Israel’s side. Why is this progress? Again, it shows that the battle is joined; and we are going to win. The idea that the Democratic Party would even tolerate a pantaloon like Alan Dershowitz who is disinvited from the 92d Street Y is a sign of the power of the lobby and the importance of fighting it.
The New York Times is four square against Palestinian human rights. It’s declared itself as never before. Opinion editor Bari Weiss is now the lead spokesperson for the centrist Israel lobby. Why is this progress? Again, it is clarifying. The NYT brass are in a turret of the establishment. And they’re besieged. We will see the Times in turmoil over this issue in the next decade. Jeffrey Goldberg’s own quietism on the issue – I don’t write about this anymore, he said, while confessing the most unreconstructed and conservative views on the question – is a sign that intersectionality (which Dershowitz says is just antisemitism masked) has incredible power. Jeffrey Goldberg’s job is to be a pillar of the liberal discourse. So that means he has to shut up about Israel. And let’s acknowledge that the person who has replaced him, Bari Weiss (who says anti-Zionist Jews are like Jews who reversed circumcision to fit in with the cool crowed) is a gift to the other side, much as Benjamin Netanyahu is.
Netanyahu is such an unpleasant figure that he has advanced progress in countless ways, even as he has persecuted Palestinians in ways we didn’t imagine possible (Nation State Law). He has helped more than anyone to politicize the issue in the United States. I think Israeli leadership is going to get a lot more subtle in the next decade. But the damage is done. The parties are finally divided here.
Happy new year. Happy 2020’s.