Ever so slowly over the past two decades, and gaining momentum since the April 2002 Israeli destruction of the West Bank town of Jenin, American attitudes toward Israel are changing. The American Public Opinion and U.S. Foreign Policy polling unit, that works on behalf of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations has argued that the American opinion shift accelerates with each Israeli outrage such as the saturation bombing of much of south Lebanon and south Beirut during the July 2006 war, the civilian slaughter, more than one-third women and children, in Gaza during the winter of 2008/9, the May 2010 murders and carnage committed against the Mavi Marmara, including the assassination of 19-year old American Furkan Dogan, and the cumulative effect of a half century of Geneva Convention and international law violations by Israel against occupied Palestine and Lebanon. Some opinion analysts, like the 2009 Zogby International poll of American attitudes toward Israelis and Palestinians, express surprise by what they are learning from the American public and detect significant changes in American public attitudes favoring US disengagement from Israel.
The NYT’s Tom Friedman seemed to concur during meetings in Israel recently: “US support for Israel could shatter like Humpty Dumpty– and it could get ugly…You are losing the American people who believe me, are fed up with the Mideast in general. But they’re also fed up with Israel. When they see their president working hard to try to tee up an opportunity…. And you say ‘No, first pay me – let Jonathon Pollard out of jail, have Abu Mazen sing Hatikva in perfect Yiddish, and then we’ll think about testing.’ It rubs a lot of Americans the wrong way.”
Changes of US citizens attitudes toward Israel are evident in Lebanon also. Hundreds of Americans and other foreigners have visited Shatila and other Palestinian refugee Camps in Beirut in the past few years according to the Sabra Shatila Foundation that conducts tours of the camp. Many visiting Americans have been surveyed.
Zeinab Hajj (cousin of Hiba from Ein el Helwe camp) is a 30 something Palestinian born, raised and still living in Shatila Camp. A favorite of many visiting Americans, Zeinab holds a Masters degree in Accounting. She earned it the hard way, given the multiple hurdles to Palestinian refugees pursuing higher education in Lebanon, and has managed to find and hold an “illegal” job the past ten years, but at half the salary of each of the Lebanese office staff who work under her. She receives no social security benefits, although 20 per cent of her $ 500 per month salary is automatically deducted and paid into the Lebanese National Security Fund. Zeinab and her family have hosted many Americans in their small crowded rooms near where approximately 1000 victims of the 1982 Sabra-Shatila Massacre were dumped into the large Martyr’s Cemetery pit on 9/19/82. Zeinab’s parents trekked into Lebanon during the May 1948 Nakba.
“Americans don’t leave the same person they were when they entered Palestinian camps. We Arabs know that most Americans are not elitists, religion-crazed, or racists. When they come and see and learn for themselves, most Americans do understand what exactly was done to us and Israel’s almost unimaginable crimes and they support our goal to return to our country. We know the American people are fair minded but their government has been hijacked by Zionists as surely as our land has been stolen by Zionists. In one sense the American people and the Palestinian people share the same dilemma and we have the same need to liberate ourselves.”
One is the growing perception that Israel, despite its consistent claims of self defense and accidents, when it attacks and kills civilian populations, is in fact the aggressor and has no respect for non Jewish lives.
Growing American revulsion at the increasing incidents of verbal assaults on Arabs and Muslims, and racist hate speech graffiti by the Israeli public , internet defamation by elements of the US Israel lobby, and seeming encouragement by Israeli officials and some Rabbis ensconced among the more than 100 illegal colonies in occupied Palestine. Two recent examples often mentioned are:
The followers of the late Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu who broadcast his calls that: “All of the Palestinians must be killed; men, women, infants, and even their beasts.” And Rabbi Yizhak Shapiro, who lately published the book The King’s Torah in which he detailed the “jurisprudence” sanctioning the killing of Palestinian infants and children.
Americans are becoming weary of Israel constantly moving the goal post in the “peace negotiations ” and Israeli officials undercutting the American President and flaunting their power in Congress and using the US-Israel lobby and media juggernaut to ridicule him. When Obama condemns Israeli settlement building and calls for suspension, within days, Israel often announces more settlement construction, often claiming mere coincidence.
A growing belief among the American public that Israel takes them for granted and in only interested in its own, economic and military benefits at American expense. Just this week, President Obama criticized Israel for announcing another stage in the approval process of 1,300 housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa. He warned: “This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations. I’m concerned that we’re not seeing each side making the extra effort involved to get a breakthrough.”
Israel’s reaction was immediate, condemnatory and harsh. Knesset Members as well as AIPAC staff attacked President Obama, saying that he is ignoring the reality of Israel’s needs in Jerusalem. MK Avi Dichter, told the Jerusalem Post that the American people are smart enough to “understand that there is no chance that Jerusalem will return to the 1967 borders. But they are either not smart enough or still don’t understand that the most sensitive part of the negotiations is Jerusalem. For their President to deal with Jerusalem at the beginning of negotiations is a recipe for failure.” Bar Ilan University professor Ehud Gilboa added that he does not think Obama will “lay off” Israel in the near future. “I believe he has an obsession with Israel. He will want to get the talks between Israel and the Palestinians going only because he wants to be remembered in history as the one who is signed on the peace agreement. We expect him to be a one term President and I don’t think he warrants being taken seriously.”
More Americans appear to be tiring of Israeli officials telling them they don’t understand how to view Israeli land confiscations, ethnic cleansing and use of American cash and weapons.
One poll conducted during October 2010 of Americans living in Beirut asked about Israeli PM Netanyahu calling the United Nations’ Goldstone Report “a modern day blood libel.” Only 4 per cent of the Americans believed this. But 85 per cent believed that Israel manipulates this term and also the Nazi crimes against Jews during WW II to justify its occupation and treatment of Palestinians.
Opinion analysts at Rasmussen Polls Delaware believe changes in US public attitudes are also due to the collapsing American economy. The US public is getting angry, loud and distressed. Perhaps always a little paranoid, it now more despondent and pessimistic. Americans have generally believed in the country’s capacity for regeneration, that a new awakening is possible at any time. Now, according to 63 per cent of Americans don’t believe that they will be able to maintain their current standard of living. American companies like Apple and Coca-Cola, Google and Microsoft are putting their money in Asia, where labor is cheap and markets are growing, and very little in the United States. The US government’s debt exceeds 90 percent of the gross domestic product and more than half of all Americans don’t believe that the America Dream is still realistic and that their country is dysfunctional and its Congress corrupt.
It is not sure how the Tea Party will ultimately view Israel being given annually a total of approximately $ 5 billion and then investing 60 per cent of it in interest bearing accounts while every penny of the US taxpayer money it gets must be borrowed with US taxpayers paying the interest on cash gift to Israel in not yet clear. But isolationism and xenophobia are on the rise with growing numbers of American unhappy with what they see as Israeli shenanigans at US taxpayer expense. Likely Republican Majority leader Eric Canton, one of the three key leaders of the Israel lobby in Congress is reportedly terrified that the Tea Party will insist, as rumored, on enacting Legislation that terminates foreign aid of all kinds if the U.S. unemployment level rises above 4 per cent. Consideration would be given to restarting foreign aid when the unemployment level drops below 4 per cent and remains below 4 per cent for 12 months.
Whatever is happening with the American public distancing themselves from Israel, it is unlikely Congress will, in the short term follow. This conclusion is supported by the just passed congressional amendments that authorized the increase of U.S. weaponry, ammunition and war supplies stored in Israel to a record $1.2 billion, Defense News reported this week.. The value of U.S. weapons to be prepositioned in Israel will reach $1 billion in 2011, with another $200 million added in 2012. Once the weaponry arrives, the amount of U.S.-owned materiel available for Israel’s emergency use will have jumped threefold since 2007. Over the past two years, logisticians and war planners from U.S. European Command and the Israel Defense Forces elevated war stocks to the then congressionally authorized threshold of $ 800 of equipment. Ready for Israel’s next war against Lebanon or Syria or Iran-or all three countries.
One pro-Israel group dismayed by the shift in American public opinion is the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which sounded the alarm this week at the Canadian governments sponsored Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism (ICCA) held at Parliament in Ottowa “to inspire parliamentary action against anti-Semitism around the world.” Fifty countries from six continents sent delegations to help combat what ADL’s Abe Foxman claims is a dangerous softening of US public opinion for Israel. The conference adopted an Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism — building on the 2009 London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism of 2009, which has built on more than 50 similar initiatives over the past 98 years since ADL was launched in 1913. ADL’s current focus, according to Christopher Wolf, who chairs ADL’s Internet Task Force on “cyber hate”, is” to take the lead and show the American public why they must stick with Israel during these days of Islamist terror against Americans and their only reliable ally, Israel.”
One of Abe Foxman’s problems is that many Americans are distancing themselves from ADL’s nonstop “fear and smear” campaigns.
FRANKLIN LAMB is doing research in Lebanon and is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org