Last month I wrote an essay detailing the dangers of criticizing Israeli aggression against Palestinians, particularly when one is in the United States, a country that not only supports Israel with $3.1 billion annually in military aid but also regularly vetoes any attempt by the United Nations Security Council to sanction Israel for war crimes.
The news that brilliant sociologist Steven Salaita had a job offer rescinded at the University of Illinois for expressing criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza came as no surprise. It seems practically inevitable, given the almost universal experience of everyone I’ve spoken to in the United States who has publicly condemned Israel’s behavior. By conflating Israel with Judaism — as Rabbi Michael Lerner phrased it succinctly for Salon, “by turning the Israeli nation state into ‘the Jewish state’ and making Israel into an idol to be worshiped rather than a political entity like any other political entity” — supporters of Israel deflect righteous criticism of the atrocities committed against the Palestinian people as anti-Semitic slurs.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton perfectly summarized the United States’ stance this week when she blamed Hamas’ “anti-Semitism” for the more than 2,000 Palestinian deaths in the most recent conflict — and not the arms the United States ships to Israel. No matter that The Times of Israel runs op-eds titled “When genocide is permissible” and Likud’s Moshe Feiglin, deputy speaker in the Knesset, calls for Gaza to be incorporated into Israel and for Palestinians to be driven into the Sinai. No matter that while the consequent rise of anti-Semitism is well documented by mainstream newspapers such as The New York Times, little time has been devoted to the similarly bigoted anti-Muslim, anti-Arab sentiments that inevitably increase in proportion. The U.S. government’s message to the world is clear: America will not hold Israel accountable. And we, in turn, will not hold our government accountable for its continued, quiet and yet blatant backing of Israel.
Thanks to an enormous defense budget, Israel boasts the 11th-most-powerful military in the world. This conflict has only reinforced its status, with $225 million approved last week by the U.S. Congress to maintain the Iron Dome, Israel’s missile shield. In turn, America’s corrupt lobbying industry and electoral politics explain why the American Israel Public Affairs Committee continues to exert such pressure on Capitol Hill. The U.S. government is exceptional among world governments in making itself reliant on the money of outside powerful interest groups — including the supporters of Israel. The U.S. has a vested interest in maintaining a white, Western, “democratic” stronghold in the Middle East, particularly one that has managed to successfully play neighboring Arab states against one another while encouraging U.S. military interventions in others that the U.S. wants. And Gaza has a wealth of recently discovered natural gas ripe for the picking, if The Ecologist is to be believed.
Whether any short-term cease-fire between Hamas and Israel can be maintained, conflict will surely recur in the near future, with similar results: mass Palestinian civilian deaths and far fewer but no less significant Israeli losses. In the interim, Palestinian casualties from Israel’s permanent militarized control of the occupied territories will go unremarked on for months, if not years — until an Israeli dies.
In a column for Truthout, Noam Chomsky quotes Middle East analyst Mouin Rabbani, who believes “the institutionalized disregard for Palestinian life in the West helps explain … why Palestinians resort to violence.” Any movement to condemn Israel is foiled by the unwavering support of the U.S. government, outcries of anti-Semitism by its backers and the unwillingness of any neighboring Arab countries — save Qatar and Turkey — to publicly support the Palestinian cause because of Hamas’ ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Given this dynamic, nothing will change unless, as Chomsky continually asserts, pressure is put not on Israel but on the United States.
The U.S. is well known for its previous support and funding of extremist right-wing paramilitary groups, coups, dictators and less-than-legitimate governments. When Chomsky and other intellectuals criticize the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel as an empty gesture, I’m not entirely in agreement, but they’re absolutely correct in their observation that BDS fails to adequately target one-half of the evil duo responsible for Palestinian suffering and injustice. The U.S. staunchly refuses to acknowledge its complicity as it systematically supports a country that promulgates racist and anti-democratic communal/ethnic distinctions. As my friend the journalist Arun Gupta says, “People who’ve lived in Brooklyn for generations have full citizenship rights in Israel and its occupied territories, while those who’ve lived there hundreds of years have virtually no rights.”
Israel’s end game appears to be the elimination of any possibility of Palestinian statehood and the permanent segregation — if not elimination — of the Palestinian people. The end game of the U.S. is harder to decipher, but as history has proved, our government certainly isn’t hostile to manufacturing conditions for unnecessary suffering and war. The problem is, they cannot seem to understand that inevitably, the chickens will come home to roost.