Time To Turn US Democrats’ ‘Affinity’ For Palestine Into Policy – OpEd


Though the US remains a strong supporter of Israel, there are some indications that the supposed “unbreakable bond” with Tel Aviv is faltering, though more in terms of language than deeds.

Following last week’s provocative “Flag March,” which is carried out annually by Israeli Jewish extremists in the occupied Palestinian city of East Jerusalem, the US joined other countries around the world in condemning the racism displayed at the event. The language used by the State Department was firm, but also guarded. Spokesman Matthew Miller did not condemn the racist, provocative march, which involved leading Israeli officials, but rather the language used by the participants, most of whom were strong supporters of the far-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The United States unequivocally opposes racist language of any form,” Miller tweeted. “We condemn the hateful chants such as ‘Death to Arabs’ during today’s marches in Jerusalem.”

Carefully articulated so as not to appear as a condemnation of Israel itself, the US position is still more “balanced” than previous positions, in which Palestinians were often the ones associated with the American use of words such as “condemnation,” “incitement” and the like.

On the other hand, during this month’s bloody Israeli five-day war on Gaza, Washington resorted to the same old script — that of Israel having the “right to defend itself,” thus entirely misrepresenting the events that led to the war in the first place. This US position on Israel’s war on Gaza suggests that Netanyahu is the “defender” of Israel against supposed Palestinian violence and “terrorism.” But this purported champion of Israeli rights is yet to be invited to the White House five months after he returned to power at the helm of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

Some want to believe that the decision by the Biden administration to distance itself from Netanyahu is entirely altruistic. But that cannot be the case, as the US continues to back Israel militarily, financially, politically and in every other way.

The answer lies in Netanyahu’s major miscalculations of the past, when he crossed a dangerous line by turning against the Democratic Party and allying his country entirely with Republicans. His tactics paid dividends during the term of Republican President Donald Trump, but backfired when Trump left the White House.

Joe Biden is unquestionably pro-Israel. As per his own repeated remarks, his support for Israel is not only political but ideological as well. “I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist,” he has repeated, and proudly so, on several occasions. But the US president is also anti-Netanyahu — a dislike that even preceded the Trump-Netanyahu love affair. It mostly dates back to Barack Obama’s two terms in office, when Biden was vice president. Netanyahu’s political shenanigans and relentless attacks on the Obama administration taught Biden that Netanyahu simply cannot be trusted.

But Biden, with historically low ratings among ordinary Americans, cannot possibly single-handedly challenge Netanyahu and Israel’s stronghold on Washington through its influential lobby. Something else is at work; namely the fact that the Democratic Party as a whole has shifted allegiances from Israel to Palestine.

This assertion would have been unthinkable in the past, but the change is real, confirmed time and again by credible polling companies. The latest was in March. “After a decade in which Democrats have shown increasing affinity toward the Palestinians, their sympathies … now lie more with the Palestinians than the Israelis, 49 percent versus 38 percent,” the Gallup poll concluded.

The fact that such growing “affinity” with Palestine has been taking place for at least a decade suggests that the changing position of Democrats is a generational one, not the outcome of a single event. Indeed, numerous organizations and countless individuals are working on a daily basis to create a link between affinity and policy.

Buoyed by the growing sympathies for Palestine, Rep. Betty McCollum, a long-time advocate of Palestinians’ rights in the US Congress, this month reintroduced the Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act. Co-sponsored by 16 other members of Congress, the legislation demands that Israel be prohibited from using “US taxpayer dollars in the Occupied West Bank for the military detention, abuse or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.”

Two years ago, The Intercept reported that McCollum and her supporters were pushing to bar Israel from using US aid to subsidize “a wider array of Israeli occupation tactics.” Alex Kane wrote at the time that this was “an indication of just how far the debate over the US aid to Israel has come in the past six years,” in reference to 2015, when McCollum introduced the first legislation on the matter.

Since then, things have moved forward even more quickly. The effort to hold Israel accountable has now reached the New York State Assembly. The New York Post last week reported that legislation had been introduced by several Democratic lawmakers that was aimed at blocking registered US charities from funneling money to fund illegal Israeli Jewish settlements.

The legislation — known as the Not on Our Dime! Ending New York Funding of Israeli Settler Violence Act — dares to challenge Israel on multiple fronts: The traditional power of the pro-Israel lobby, questioning US funding of Israel, and confronting the channeling of funds to illegal settlements in the name of charity work.

Several factors compel us to believe that the shift in US policy on Palestine and Israel, though slow, nuanced and, at times, symbolic, will likely continue.

One is the fact that Israel is turning toward far-right nationalism, which is increasingly difficult for liberal American politicians and media outlets to defend.

Another is the steadfastness of Palestinians and their ability to overcome mainstream media restrictions and censorship, which have prevented them from having any fair representation.

And, finally, the dedication of numerous civil society organizations and the widening network of support for Palestinians throughout the US, which has allowed courageous lawmakers to push for a substantive change in policy.

Time will tell what direction Washington will take in the future. However, considering the current evidence, support for Israel is dwindling at rates that are unprecedented. For those advocating a just peace in Palestine, this is a good thing.

Ramzy Baroud

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com

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