For the first time, significant cohorts of Americans offer more support for Palestinians than Israelis. This marks a radical shift from decades of polling showing Americans from both parties and all age groups overwhelmingly supported Israelis over Palestinians.
Young people (age 18-29) support Palestinians 61-56%. The gap between Palestinians and Israelis among liberal Democrats is 24%. The trend should be worrying Israel and its leaders, who rely on knee-jerk support from Congress and Presidents for multi-billion dollar weapons authorizations.
— FiveThirtyEight (@FiveThirtyEight) September 24, 2022
Progressive Democrats are increasingly restive over maintaining a historical consensus favoring Israel. They also rebel against strictures placed upon them by the Israel Lobby, as it demands they vote in lockstep on legislation deemed in Israel’s interest. This wing of the Party will drag the mainstream increasingly to the left. In the coming years, the voices of the Pelosis, Clintons, Bidens and Obamas will be drowned out by new, young voices like those of Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar (among others). This will mean that Israel can no longer count on automatic support for its wars against Palestinians and its perpetual rejection of a reasonable settlement between the two peoples.
Another critical factor in the decline in support for Israel is the growing solidarity between the Black Lives Matter and Palestinian rights movements. African Americans realize that to effect real change they must expand their base and seek global allies facing similar struggles and suffering. Together, both vastly expand their political power and reach. Such intersectionality frightens the Israel Lobby because it has no corresponding relationship with American minorities. While it seeks to co-opt African-American leaders with free Israel junkets, this cannot substitute for a grassroots alliance based on true shared values.
J Street offers an example of a purported liberal Israel Lobby group which exists to neutralize a truly progressive view on this intersectional phenomenon:
“It can be a starting point for people new to the conflict, but I caution against taking the comparison too far. That’s ignoring a lot of more complicated dynamics and history,” said Laura Birnbaum, the national political director of J Street, a prominent pro-Israel advocacy group… Comparing the BLM and pro-Palestine movements isn’t something everyone will see as fair, Birnbaum said. She and other supporters of Israel don’t think it’s reasonable to analogize Jews in Israel as white, slave-owning colonizers when the Jewish state exists because of the historical oppression of its people.
Ah yes, the tired mantra of the hasbaraniks: it’s complicated. When it’s not complicated at all. What it is for them is uncomfortable and inconvenient. Further, it is perfectly reasonable to analogize Israelis to white slave-owning Southerners because the “Jewish state” was founded on the expulsion of most of its indigenous Palestinian inhabitants. The only reason America didn’t do the same is that Southerners needed the enslaved as the work force to fuel their economy. The ancient history of Jewish suffering and “oppression” only goes so far in justifying apartheid Israel’s oppression of its Palestinian citizens. The only current oppression is of its “colonized” non-Jewish minority.
Increasing support for Palestinians among Americans may also mean the end of blank-check policy-making and funding. Currently, the farthest progressive Democrats have been willing to go is to call for ending US support for Israeli policies which violate international law. While that clearly refers to Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise, it could also extend to the use of US-made weapons against Palestinians. Nor is this a theoretical issue: the International Criminal Court is currently considering opening an investigation of Israeli war crimes. One facet of the inquiry will revolve around Israel’s indiscriminate slaughter of Gazans during its 2014 invasion. If this and other Israeli actions are deemed to be war crimes, then future US leaders could withhold funding or weapons sales to Israel.
In order to placate Bibi Netanyahu during negotiations over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Pres. Obama devised a $30-billion 10-year package of military aid to Israel. Such largess may become more contentious given the polling trends in this country. Indeed, last year progressives temporarily held up a $500-million appropriation permitting Israel to replenish Iron Dome missiles used against Hamas rockets during Israel’s 2021 attack.
Another phenomenon reflecting this is the Israel Lobby’s targeting of progressive Democrats in Party primaries. In the last few months, various PACs associated with Aipac spent over $30-million seeking to defeat nearly a dozen such candidates. Not a negative word was heard from any of them about Israel. But they had run afoul of the Lobby by expressing opposition to legislation that would prohibit support of BDS; or they had suggested conditioning US aid on Israel’s adherence to international law.
Curiously, none of the thousands of ads Aipac ran featured any mention of Israel. Instead, they focused on bread and butter issues relevant to local voters. They were almost always attack ads, And almost always lied or smeared progressive candidates who were largely gay, women and minorities.
While Aipac succeeded in defeating a number of such candidates, it failed decisively in other races. But given the demographic and political trends, it’s questionable how long such a strategy can work. The more media coverage of such election chicanery (almost all the funding for these PACs actually comes from billionaire GOP donors), the less effective they will become. Not to mention as voter attitudes toward Israel become more hostile, the Lobby will find its covert intervention in such campaigns more and more controversial.
Aipac steered away from Israel in these races not only because the issue doesn’t resonate with American voters, but because of the message behind these findings. Even those who do care about the Israel-Palestine conflict, increasingly see Israel in a negative, even hostile light. This is a tacit admission of the truth of this poll. Given that, how long can the Lobby hold back the pro-Palestine/anti-Israel floodwaters rising behind the dam? How long can they hold back the inevitable?
If the Lobby was smart, it would demand that Israel fall in line with international law. It would demand an end to Occupation. It would demand that Israel recognize a Palestinian state. But it cannot do so both because Israel doesn’t support such an approach, and its older wealthy white male funders don’t either. So even if these American Jewish groups wanted to do the right thing (they don’t), they couldn’t. Their hands are tied.
So the Lobby will fight on, fight till the end on behalf of a bankrupt approach, which Americans will increasingly reject. And both Israel and its global hasbara network will have only themselves to blame. By then, it will be too late. Israel will be left dangling in the wind, even more a pariah than it already is.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.