Why Israel should care about US public opinion regarding the war in Gaza

According to the Pew Research Center, “Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 29 percent blame Israel more for the current wave of violence, while 21% blame Hamas.”

August 14, 2014 13:49
4 minute read.

Two people wearing Israeli flags are told to leave by a protest organizer during a pro-Palestinian demonstration against Israel's military action in the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Washington Post recently published an article titled, “Young Americans take a dim view of Israel’s actions,” shedding some light upon the growing divide in American public opinion about the war in Gaza.

Although acknowledging that most Americans blame Hamas for the current crisis, according to the Pew Research Center, “Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 29 percent blame Israel more for the current wave of violence, while 21% blame Hamas.”

Echoing the Pew findings, a recent Gallup poll states that, “Americans remain roughly divided on the issue of whether the actions of the Israelis against... Hamas are justified.”

Furthermore, a recent article in The National Journal explains that, “A generation of global citizens is rising to power without the Israeli narrative embedded so firmly in its consciousness.”

Therefore, not all Americans see the Gaza war as a monolithic terrorist group intent on destroying a small nation surrounded by enemies.

Also, since the US gives Israel $3.1 billion annually including a Congressional vote for $225 million to fund the Iron Dome missile defense system, increased scrutiny is bound to take place when fighter jets are strafing civilian areas and bombing hospitals.

The aid to Israel, combined with the obvious power disparity between Hamas and Israel, leads to the reality that American public opinion might change dramatically in the future. If this happens, everything from the billions in aid money to the traditional US support that balances out European and UN condemnation during wars could be jeopardized; especially when the young Americans of today become future policy makers and voting constituencies.

First, few people disagree with Israel’s right to self defense, but the asymmetric nature of the conflict has caused many Americans to question Israeli tactics. New York Times articles with titles like “Questions About Tactics and Targets as Civilian Toll Climbs in Israeli Strikes” illustrate the human toll of the war in Gaza, not simply the view that insane terrorists are intent upon destroying Israel. Within that particular article, we read that an Israeli airstrike “leveled a four-story house in the southern Gaza Strip the night before, it also killed 25 members of four family households – including 19 children – gathered to break the daily Ramadan fast together.” Sorry, but there’s no way to link 19 children to Hamas, even if Hamas or other terrorists hid weapons in their building.

Furthermore, more Palestinian children have died in one month than all the Israeli soldiers who’ve lost their lives in military operations since 2006. When one side’s children are dying at a faster rate than another side’s soldiers, the legitimacy behind engaging in tactics that elicit worldwide condemnation is further undermined. With each aerial bombardment, weapons under hospitals or apartment buildings might be eradicated, but so are the lives of over 400 innocent children who had no role in hiding those weapons. Even the US State Department called the recent bombing of a UN school “disgraceful.”

Hamas might have the charter calling for Israel’s destruction, but young Americans have grown up viewing Israel as a nuclear power and the most powerful military in the Middle East.

When over 1,900 Palestinians, including over 400 children, 215 women and at least (by UN estimates) 1,354 confirmed civilians have died from IDF aerial bombardment, spectators who haven’t grown up with the traditional narrative of Israel surrounded by enemies will question such military tactics. Yes, Hamas uses human shields, but Israel doesn’t necessarily have to bomb these residential locations, hospitals and schools; especially since doing so hasn’t stopped the rockets from being launched.

Most importantly, the carnage hasn’t prevented Hamas from launching rockets; over 100 rockets were launched last weekend. The fact that rockets are still being launched undermines the legitimacy (in the view of many Americans) that air raids against civilian areas are essential to security and the death of civilians is a necessary evil. If Hamas is simply going to build more tunnels and purchase more rockets to smuggle into the Gaza Strip, then are all those civilian deaths a waste of life? Also, many Americans feel that if Israel is currently negotiating with Hamas over a cease-fire, why doesn’t it also negotiate for a lasting peace? As stated by a pro-Israel analyst in a recent Business Week article, “The view that Israel can now go on its own and cut ties with the United States is sort of a naive, hypothetical type of viewpoint at this time.”

Articles in The Houston Chronicle like “Unconditional US support does not Serve US Interests,” and in The Wall Street Journal like “Why Tensions Are Climbing Between Israel and the US,” might foreshadow a future where American support isn’t always guaranteed.

Israel should defend its interest, but it should also remember that keeping American support is essential to its long-term security goals.

The writer is an author and journalist as well as a contributor to
The Huffington Post and other publications.

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