Yalla Peace: The Israel question

Extremists in America force many to examine its policies more closely.

American Jewry 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
American Jewry 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
A seismic shift in American politics has occurred over the past decade that has created a gap so wide and so bitter that America is a nation of growing polarization where issues once embraced by both sides are now being challenged.
In the shift, the far right has embraced Israel as a means of separating itself from Democrats, causing many Americans to question what, until then, has been unquestioned loyalty.
Although Israelis have always enjoyed support from both mainstream political parties, the extremists in America who are using support of Israel as a litmus test are forcing many to examine its policies more closely.
Israel has become a flagship platform issue for far-right groups like the Tea Party, which has come under attack from groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which has accused it of being plagued by bigots and racists.
For the first time, many Americans are saying they support Israel, but question the occupation of the West Bank, its exclusive claim to Jerusalem and the conduct of its military.
CAN AMERICANS support Israel’s security and still criticize its policies? It’s a question now being raised in the heated race for the US Senate in Pennsylvania, where the public’s rock-solid support for Israel is coming apart at the seams.
Joe Sestak is the Democratic candidate who defeated longtime Israel champion Arlen Specter in last May’s primary. Specter had switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party in a state that is overwhelmingly Democratic.
Sestak is no left-wing extremist and represents the American mainstream. He supports Israel, but he is critical of some of its policies, including its use of “collective punishment” – a policy that challenges international laws and human rights.
While Pat Toomey, his Republican opponent, has made Sestak’s questioning of Israel a priority attack issue, Sestak has stood firm, insisting he supports Israel but making it clear not all of Israel’s policies are acceptable. He has responded to Toomey by tying the Republican to the hated bankers on Wall Street and the nation’s economic decline.
Toomey’s allies, like the Emergency Committee for Israel, have accused Sestak of donating to a Hamas “front group,” pointing an accusatory finger at his speech to a dinner hosted by the Council on American Islamic Relations.
The accusation is outrageous. Sestak was accompanied to the dinner by Pennsylvania Governor and Democrat Ed Rendell, who is Jewish, showing there is no place for Islamaphobia in American politics.
Yet Islamaphobia is the cornerstone of right-wing ideology. The more groups like the Tea Party wrap themselves in Israel’s flag, the more Americans start to question Israeli actions, including the killing of a dual American-Turkish citizen aboard the Gaza flotilla in late May.
For many voters, Israel is becoming a point of division. The election will be decided on other, more important issues, such as the deteriorating economy and the need for jobs.
The Sestak-Toomey fight over Israel will force voters to take sides. Sestak may have issues with Israel, but is popular on many other mainstream American issues that are more important.
IN THE past, most American voters have not distinguished between Israel’s interests and the interests of the US. They have supported Israel even when its policies have crossed the line.
That has come from the imbalance in how Arabs and Israelis manage public relations. The Arabs fumble through public relations on emotion and chance.
Israel manages public relations through a sophisticated strategy that is well funded.
American perspectives are built on decades-long exposure to sophisticated pro-Israel marketing strategies in the news media and entertainment. The book Exodus set the tone in the American mindset in the 1960s and has been reinforced by years of solid PR.
But that glass ceiling is breaking across many fronts as issues that hit close to home trump even the best PR efforts.
Earlier this year, Gen. David Petraeus said that American policies regarding Israel have put the lives of American soldiers in jeopardy.
In prepared testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, he stated, “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in Centcom’s area of operations and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.”
The more American extremists embrace Israel, the more they undermine its standing, regardless of who wins the Pennsylvania election.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. www.YallaPeace.com