Why Support for Israel Shrinks

By Steve Breyman

A poll conducted for The Israel Project found that American voters’ support for Israel plunged 20 percent in the past nine months. Now, less than half the electorate (49%) call themselves supporters of Israel. This potentially important shift—should it endure–comes at a good time for President Obama, and at a bad time for Prime Minister Netanyahu.

It’s good for Obama because he’s taken the first halting steps to get Israel to end its four decades long policy of illegally placing ever more colonists in the militarily occupied territory of its stateless neighbor, the Palestinians. It’s bad for Netanyahu because his government wants to continue to settle Russian, American and other Jewish immigrants to Israel outside its 1967 borders.

Explaining the decline in support for the Israeli government is straightforward. It’s a direct consequence of growing public awareness of official Israeli policy and behavior. Neither the policy nor the behavior are new, and vary little regardless of which parties or coalition is in power.

What’s new is that objectionable Israeli behavior is much harder to hide (if not to continue to deny) in this age of computer networking, YouTube, and international solidarity campaigns. Anyone with a search engine can find examples of Israeli soldiers demanding Palestinians at checkpoints play violins for them or slap themselves in the face, shooting a handcuffed and blindfolded young man, breaking into homes killing a woman, hijacking relief vessels in international waters, unleashing attack dogs on innocent civilians, and countless other well-documented cases.

Despite Israel’s concerted effort to cloak its recent pummeling of the open-air prison known as the Gaza Strip from public view, the world was aghast at the devastation wreaked upon the mostly women and children who live there. And civilized public opinion grows ever less patient with the unwillingness of Israel to permit Gaza to rebuild (again).

During his latest visit to Gaza, Jimmy Carter was shocked by what he witnessed: “My primary feeling today is one of grief and despair and an element of anger when I see the destruction perpetrated against innocent people. I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction. . . . I feel partially responsible for this as must all Americans and Israelis. [This school was] … deliberately destroyed by bombs from F-16s made in my country.”

In another example difficult to prettify, a recent study by Defence for Children International found that beatings, torture and illegal detention of Palestinian children by Israeli security forces is routine. Sure, top officials again denied the documented allegations. But when it is Israeli soldiers connected to the Breaking the Silence Project documenting the abuse, and showing the videos on Israeli television, the denials ring hollow.  

Should they be so bold as to refuse military service as conscientious objectors (an internationally recognized legal status unavailable to Israeli youth), even Israeli children are harassed by the police. Members of New Profile, a feminist organization working over the past decade to slow and reverse the militarization of Israeli society, have had their houses ransacked and have been detained for interrogation.

Given the increased public awareness of Israeli lawlessness, it is unsurprising that there is an unprecedented flowering of nonviolent resistance to the occupation. An international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has a full plate of campaigns, from urging Caterpillar to stop selling the bulldozers Israeli uses to demolish Palestinian homes, to a Strings Attached campaign to condition US aid to Israel. The Save Gaza organization organizes direct seaborne relief shipments from Cyprus. Nobel Prize-winning South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu decries the Israeli occupation as “worse than apartheid.” 

Students and professors are calling for an academic boycott of Israel. Artists are calling for an artistic boycott. Hampshire College divested its endowment of stock in firms doing business with the Israeli state. Mainstream academics call attention to the perverse deformations in US foreign policy brought about by the Israel lobby. Activists target Motorola for its export of communications gear to the occupation forces. Recall that actions of this sort were part of what finally brought down the racist regime in South Africa. A number of Jewish peace groups have sprung up in the US—including J Street, a new DC-based lobby—to challenge the hegemony of AIPAC.

History is on the side of those working for a just resolution to the question of Israel/Palestine. This is so despite the incredible clout Israel still wields in the US Congress, media, and other powerful institutions. The clout is likely to last even as US voters’ support for Israel shrinks. But President Obama was right to quote the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Cairo speech: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

-Steve Breyman teaches at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: breyms@rpi.edu.

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