Like Trump supporters, the US’s blind loyalty to Israel is sustained by an alternate reality and selective rendition of facts.
The United States went through a serious test of its democracy under Donald Trump. It is no secret that the Republican Party has a cult-like devotion to Trump. Those in the party that display rationality with regards to facts or the law, or worse, do not sign on to Trump’s repeated lies, face political sanctions. Many Americans are numbed and baffled by this irrational obsequiousness.
For decades, Palestinians have felt that the US political support for Israel has the same irrational, partisan and self-serving zeal as the Trump loyalists, the difference being that it is present regardless of political party.
Despite facts or international law, the US position relies on one supposed truth: Israel is a democracy, an innocent victim that merits unqualified support.
International law presents a recurring and unsteady tension between law and power. Does international law seek to uphold the rule of law as a universal ideal or does it impose power to further parochial politics? The predominant theory strives for universal applicability and the entrenching of the rule of law as an imperative applicable to all nations. Power must bend to law.
The US approach to Israel, in comparison, follows “might makes it right”.
The US as an imposing power bends law and facts to further its imperial interests. In its crude and vile form, this power-politics represents the imposition of the will of the powerful to realise political objectives even when the means or objectives are devoid of moral or legal justifications. Like Trump supporters, it is buttressed by an alternate reality or selective rendition of the facts.
Popular US media report on Israel through this power-politics paradigm. In the latest assault on Gaza, with few exceptions, the popular media scantly interrogated the disproportionate use of force by Israel against humanitarian norms of international law. Also missing was the fact that any military battle between Israel and the Palestinians, including Hamas, is akin to a fight between an elephant and a puppy.
The facts and law are an inconvenient truth to be ignored when it undermines power-politics.
Not surprisingly, US media reporting readily responds to Hamas’ inexcusable—yet mostly futile—actions, glossing over the elephant’s massive destruction and the casualties inflicted on the Palestinians. It is a war crime for any party to target civilians. Yet media reporting and political discourse in the US overwhelmingly align in support of the Israeli narrative.
In a rule of law-driven paradigm, the media would be focussed on a search for truth. Instead of addressing hard and real facts, the US media hides behind standard and unyielding boilerplate facades of “both sides” involved in a “complex” “conflict.”
Loyalty devoid of morality
A few years ago, unbeknown to him, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was recorded telling settlers about the Palestinians, “the main thing first of all, is to strike them not once but several times so painfully that the price they pay will be unbearable...”
The settler retorted that the world will say Israel is an aggressor to which Netanyahu responded, “I know how they are, America is something you can easily manoeuvre and move in the right direction and even if they say something so what, eighty percent of Americans support us, it’s absurd.”
He went on to boast how he manipulated successive US officials with respect to circumventing various peace treaties.
It is worth repeating: Netanyahu stated that US support is “absurd”.
Alas, the above statement is no exception. Take your pick from the constellation of political parties that form the government in Israel and their repugnant and racist rhetoric, which would be individually and collectively repudiated by the US if uttered in any other country.
Naftali Bennett, who was just sworn in as Prime Minister once stated, “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there’s no problem with that.”
Benny Gantz, the leader of the Labour party lauding that “six thousand two hundred and thirty-one targets were destroyed … parts of Gaza were sent back to the Stone Age.”
Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party: “those who are against us deserve to have their heads chopped off with an axe.”
Ayelet Shaked of the Yamina Alliance: “what’s so horrifying about understanding that the entire Palestinian people is the enemy?”
Prominent Israeli politicians have stated they will maintain control over the land designated for a Palestinian state in perpetuity – testimony to the fact that peace and the two-state solution is and was always a delusion.
The US approach simply ignores overwhelming evidence of Israeli intent to inflict pain on the Palestinians and to negate Palestinian aspirations.
Credible reports of Israeli war crimes and serious human rights violations are ridiculed and many US politicians trip over themselves in demonstrating their fealty to Israel and often proclaim there is no daylight between the two countries.
It’s a loyalty devoid of morality – the antithesis of international law as a system of universal rules and order.
Successive US administrations are hostile to any independent fact-finding of Israeli actions through the UN or the International Criminal Court.
The power-politics paradigm indulges in the assiduous repetition of the Israeli mantra – the UN is biased and that such investigations will imperil the peace process – another mind-boggling position antithetical to the rule of law.
The implications of the US position are perverse – impartial hearings will result in Israel waging further war.
So much of the world does not subscribe to the lie of unqualified Israeli victimhood and innocence. This time around, some foreign news outlets and pervasive social media have chronicled and displayed extensive images of the brutal devastation and widespread civilian casualties in Gaza.
Citizen journalism and smartphones proved to be powerful countervailing tools to the alternative reality propagated by Israel and its allies. A handful of progressive US politicians, public figures, media personalities and Jewish voices, particularly of a newer generation, have broken with the hitherto dogma.
For the first time, there is a chorus, including parts of American civil society, that whilst recognising the horrors of the Holocaust, question the mythology of Israeli innocence. This chorus is vocal in demanding adherence to international law and a soul searching about US support for what Israel has come to represent. Increasingly, Israel is characterised as an apartheid state, a declaration that was inconceivable a few years ago.
We also hear public outrage at Israeli killing of civilians, destruction of civilian buildings, land dispossession in East Jerusalem, lack of equal legal protections for non-Jews, the third-class status of Palestinians, the deliberate and ongoing infliction of indignities on the Palestinian population and the disproportionate use of force rising to the level of war crimes. The tide is changing.
Anti-Semitism and the horror of the Holocaust are an inescapable reality. The emerging progressives are emphatic that those experiences are not a carte blanche to immunise power, violate international law or down legitimate criticism against the Zionist project.
The criticism of Israel follows in the wake of the Israeli human rights organisation, B’tselem, and Human Rights Watch meticulously chronicling Israeli human rights abuses against international law norms and labelling Israel’s treatment of non-Jews as akin to apartheid.
The Human Rights Watch report has called for a new approach to Israel based on the recognition of human rights and invites interrogation of the most fundamental question about the genesis of Israel and Israel characterising itself as a “Jewish” and “democratic” state.
Having grown up in apartheid South Africa, the Israeli claim sounds like white South Africans claiming the virtues of South Africa as a “white” and “democratic” state.
If one abandons the power-politics prism, a state that is premised on privileging one group based on race, ethnicity or religion does not comport with the paradigm of a nation-state, nor does it comport with mainstream democratic international practice.
Progressives and people of colour have aptly linked the Palestinian struggle to the Black Lives Matter Movement and part of the larger struggle for decolonisation. We might be at an inflection point in the US, where the majority within the Democratic Party question the power-politics paradigm.
The facts speak for themselves. This is not about destroying any state. It is about making a state inclusive.
If it were any other country claiming racial exclusivity or engaged in gross human rights violations, the US would invoke entrenched international law principles to criticise and reject such a claim as was the case for apartheid South Africa.
As with the South African anti-apartheid struggle, or the Vietnam war, time will tell whether the majority of US politicians and media can transcend the power-politics paradigm to a rule of law-based approach towards Israel.