The media’s pornographic, context-free reporting of the Gaza casualty count, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s Hamas-friendly cease-fire plan, US President Barack Obama’s weary impotence and various American Jewish mea culpas have stirred Israeli worries about losing American support. But don’t worry Israel: Americans (along with Canadians) remain our best friends.
Surveys confirm that the US has “a pro-Israel public.”
Twice as many Americans blame Hamas for this war than blame Israel. For decades now, most American have supported democratic Israel while condemning Palestinian nihilism and terrorism.
The mass Congressional support for Israel, therefore, accurately represents Americans’ love for Israel. Contrary to Stephen “Israel Lobby” Walt’s recent Huffington Post screed claiming “AIPAC Is the Only Explanation for America’s Morally Bankrupt Israel Policy,” the American ability to distinguish right from wrong and democrat from dictator best explains America’s moral and self-protective pro-Israel policy. Americans are not dupes. No lobby could manufacture such warm, authentic grassroots enthusiasm nationwide.
Traveling in Las Vegas in mid-July, we were repeatedly high-fived, saluted and supported when people saw my sons’ kippas. When we told our border control officer we were arriving from Jerusalem, he said: “Pretty tough there with all those rockets.” My kids bravely dismissed it, but he insisted: “No one should be subjected to that kind of rocket fire.... You guys do what you gotta do.” We had similar conversations in the US and Canada, whose prime minister, Stephen Harper, recognizes that Hamas reflects a broader Islamist threat to freedom.
Those who appreciate the worldwide resonance of Israel’s fight for democracy and survival also understand its high cost. Modern democratic armies inevitably, tragically, cause great harm when they fight. Approximately 6,700 Iraqi civilians died in the first three weeks of fighting in 2003 and nearly 20,000 Afghanistani civilians have died since 2001.
Unfortunately, America’s president and secretary of state too often misread the global stakes. John Kerry’s now infamous Hamas-friendly cease-fire proposal, suggesting lifting the Gaza blockade which inevitably would have rearmed Hamas, reflected his CNN-distorted worldview.
Panicking to stop the headlines emphasizing the truly lamentable civilian casualties only guarantees more rounds of this Hamas-induced war, with more suffering on both sides.
With Israel united – thanks, Hamas – Egypt blocking the smuggling tunnels, and many Arabs disgusted by the Islamists, Israel needs time to finish destroying the tunnels, depose the Hamas leadership and deter future attacks by restoring the balance of fear.
As Kerry grovels for peace at any price, Obama seems too weary to provide the bold leadership required. Obama’s August 1 press conference offered a Carteresque symphony of sighs, as 2008’s “Yes We Can” candidate sounded like a “No We Can’t” defeatist and relativist. Making the White House the Whine House, Obama emphasized American power’s “finite” limits, limply called Hamas “incredibly irresponsible” – not, say, despicably depraved – and spoke in the passive tense about 9/11, referring to when the Twin Towers and United Airlines 93 “fell,” as if these terrorist-caused mass murders were accidents.
Pro-Israel Democrats beware. Kerry, Obama and most Democrats are pro-Israel. Support for Israel remains bipartisan – an important gift to American politics, too, which needs more issues uniting Democrats and Republicans.
But the systematic delegitimization campaign against Israel is bearing its poisoned fruit. The New York Times and company’s caricature of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s still-democratic Israel as right wing, obstructionist, racist and theocratic has blinded many progressives to Hamas’s totalitarianism. Seeing Israel through this distorted lens blurs Israel-free Gaza with the Israel-controlled West Bank, Hamas’s dictatorship with the moderate progressives hope to find in Mahmoud Abbas, Israel’s missteps with Hamas’s horrific (and under-reported) plan for tunnel-facilitated mass murders.
This anti-Israel propaganda barrage has wooed more Democrats than Republicans. Far Left Blame-Israel-Firsters are Democrats. In 1992, the conservative William F. Buckley confronted Pat Buchanan and other Israel haters in his classic In Search of anti-Semitism. Buckley did not want his conservative circles hosting anti-Semites and anti-Zionists. Democrats today need a similar house-cleaning. Obama’s defeatism, and Kerry’s relativism, unintentionally encourage Leftist extremists who enable Hamas’s totalitarianism.
Too much modern-day Leftism has become apologetic and self-loathing. Such self-blame demonizes Western actors like Israel while condescendingly absolving Palestinians and other Third-Worlders of responsibility.
While genuinely mourning the suffering on both sides, and especially the Gazans’ tragedies, I can only go so far in the self-blame game. I will say: Yes, we did it. We left Gaza, even removing troops from the Philadelphia corridor so not one inch of Gaza would remain “occupied.” We uprooted 7,000 Israelis and destroyed their lives’ work. We facilitated the raising of $14 million charitable dollars to purchase the Gaza settlers’ greenhouses and donate them to the Palestinians, only to see them trashed. We provided food, electricity, cement and other building materials for “humanitarian” purposes – while Hamas hijacked them to build Gaza’s underground city of death.
But ultimately, I, and most Americans, blame Hamas – for its destructive charter, nihilistic culture, dictatorial politics and manipulative sacrifice of Palestinian women and children while targeting innocent Israelis. Ironically, blaming them reflects respect, acknowledging Palestinians’ “agency,” meaning choice and responsibility.
While seeking support for Israel, there are some supporters I loathe. Bigots who demean Palestinians and insult Islam betray our values. Militarists who too-clinically call lamentable deaths “collateral damage” or even worse, justifiable revenge, betray our cause. Israel faces the ultimate Zionist and democratic challenge to fight its enemy – in this case Hamas and company – as aggressively as possible while minimizing civilian deaths, without succumbing to demonization, revenge-talk, and hate.
Last week, one friend, dismissing the Obama-Kerry cease-fire farce, said, “I’ve never been so embarrassed to be American.” I disagree. Ignoring marginal critics who exaggerate their own popularity, watching Americans once again rally around Israel, hearing most Americans’ moral clarity, I remain proud to be an American.
The author is professor of History at McGill University and will be teaching this fall at the IDC in Herzliya. The author of eight books on American history, his latest book, Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, was published by Oxford University Press.