Pointing out the obvious won’t get you far in American politics. If you say that economic inequality in a country with the greatest wealth divide in human history is the ‘defining challenge of our times’ you get labeled a socialist and accused of instigating class warfare. If you admit that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been colossal failures, you’re a traitor and cheering against America.
The blatant colonization and brutalization of Palestine by Israel is no different. In America, it simply isn’t happening because politicians have tacitly agreed not to mention it. In America’s alternate reality, it is the Palestinians attacking Israel despite the fact that they had their land stolen from them, and they are the ones being occupied. According to Obama, Israel “Has the right to defend itself,” from the latest round of largely ineffective rocket assaults from Gaza, regardless of the fact that Israel is bombing Gaza to pieces killing mostly civilians.
So what is going on here, and why does Obama routinely ignore what is happening to the Palestinians?
As a Jew, I have a little more latitude when it comes to telling the truth. The fact is that powerful Jewish lobbying groups have so much sway in Washington that it has become politically impossible to support the Palestinians in any overt way. Not only do militantly anti Palestinian groups like AIPAC further the interests of Israel through millions of dollars in campaign contributions, they have made discussing their insidious influence tantamount to antisemitism. Writes Andrew Sullivan:
If you were to describe the Israel lobby as a secretive group that enforces the policies of the Israeli government on American politicians in private gatherings, you would be called an anti-Semite. The idea that the Israel lobby is secretive and underhand plays into ancient anti-Semitic tropes. If you were to say about AIPAC that “a lobby is a night flower, it thrives in the dark and dies in the sun,” you would be regarded as an anti-Semite for the same reasons. If you were to note that an AIPAC official once responded to the idea that the lobby had been weakened by pushing a napkin across a table and said “You see this napkin? In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin,” you would be called an anti-Semite. If you were to claim that AIPAC was “the most effective general interest group … across the entire planet,” you would be suspected of anti-Semitic tendencies.
Writing this, I am expecting the usual slew of insults and accusations that I am a self loathing, Israel hating, anti semite. Whatever. I’m not running for office, and I couldn’t really care less what racist ideologues think of my politics. For Obama, it isn’t quite so easy. As a darker skinned person whose middle name is ‘Hussein’, the President is basically an open target to virulent anti Arab voices in the post 9/11 world. Almost 20% of the population believes he is a Muslim (apparently a bad thing), making anything he says that is vaguely supportive of the Palestinians politically toxic.
It is well known that the President does not get on well with Benjamin Netanyahu, and that his administration is at odds with AIPAC, particularly on issues regarding Iran. Obama has reportedly barely spoken with Netanyahu since the latest round of violence flared up, indicating relations are in rapid decline. Nevertheless, Obama steadfastly refuses to say anything in support of the Palestinians, and applies little real pressure on Israel to make any significant policy changes. Israel recently announced a new land grab with plans for 3,300 settler homes to be built largely in the occupied territories (another conveniently ignored reason for the latest outburst of fighting). While Obama has expressed dismay at Israel’s consistent disregard for international law, there has been no talk of cutting the substantial military aid the country receives from US tax payers.
And so the vicious cycle of violence continues. Israel occupies Palestinian land, claims it is being attacked when Palestinians fight back, and the US, locked in a ridiculous stalemate of mutually agreed ignorance bankrolls the status quo regardless how damaging it is for its own interests.
It is hard to say whether Obama could make a real difference if he came out and told the truth. Support for Israel is declining in America, particularly amongst some of its more rabid supporters, and there is now open defiance on mainstream outlets. So it is entirely possible that serious action from the White House would stop Israel committing grievous crimes against the Palestinians. After all, force is the only language Netanyahu seems to understand. But we don’t know whether Obama could make a difference, because it’s almost entirely certain that he won’t. Just as Ronald Reagan kept close ties to South Africa’s apartheid government when it was politically convenient to do so, the notoriously cautious President won’t stake his political legacy on breaking up with Israel.
Sadly, Obama will be content to kick the can down the road for other Presidents to deal with, while Palestinians continue to suffer and lose what little is left of their land.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.