I have been in Gaza nearly a month now and I’ve been asked this question in one form or another by many, many Palestinians . . . usually from the youth (20-30 year olds) but occasionally older people will broach the topic too.
Why does the U.S. support Israel? Why do Americans support Israel’s assault against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank? Why do American taxpayers send so much money to Israel (to the tune of $3 billion each year)?
As an American, I suspect they really think I might know the answer because these are not rhetorical questions. The Palestinians I have met sound sincerely puzzled by America’s support of Israel.
I was thankful they were not hostile or angry with me. Everyone has been able to separate me (an American) from the policies and actions of my government. Whew! But I’m a bit flummoxed about how to answer the question.
Here’s why I think the U.S. supports Israel — right or wrong.
1) Every politician wants to get elected or reelected. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is very powerful in American politics. Politicians are very nervous about crossing AIPAC’s legislative agenda. If they do, they may find themselves without a job in Washington, DC come the next election. Some people think AIPAC was responsible for Senator Charles Percy’s defeat in 1984.
AIPAC is the leading player in what is sometimes referred to as “The Israel Lobby” — a coalition that includes major Jewish groups, neoconservative intellectuals and Christian Zionists. With its impressive contacts among Hill staffers, influential grassroots supporters and deep connections to wealthy donors, AIPAC is the lobby’s key emissary to Congress. But in many ways, AIPAC has become greater than just another lobby; its work has made unconditional support for Israel an accepted cost of doing business inside the halls of Congress. AIPAC’s interest, Israel’s interest and America’s interest are today perceived by most elected leaders to be one and the same. Christian conservatives increasingly aligned with AIPAC demand unwavering support for Israel from their Republican leaders.
2) Israel has a superior public relations operation. The Israeli information (propaganda) machine is an integral part of its “defense” and “security” strategy, and there are many, many examples of how the two work hand-in-hand to shape world opinion. The aftermath of the Mavi Marmara killings is a clear example of how Israel quickly released its version of events, even a YouTube video hoping to recast the passengers as the aggressors, not the victims.
Every country has its own version of Hasbara, but Israel has been more successful than most at turning “black” into “white” and “victim” into “aggressor.” It’s a science – really – that is reminiscent of George Orwell’s book “1984”.
3) They look like us! Their history is ours! I hate to admit this but I think another reason the U.S. supports Israel is because Israel’s citizens look more like Anglo-Americans. And Israel’s history of occupation and treatment of Palestinians is strikingly similar to the founding of the United States and our treatment of the Indigenous people. The U.S. remains a racist nation to this day, and that deeply-ingrained racism accounts for our skewed world-view.
4) Most Americans are ignorant. Honestly, the average American doesn’t understand the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian “conflict,” or the atrocities that occur every day in our name. We pay our taxes, have blind faith in our government, and just want to make sure there is a roof over our heads and our children get an education. Americans don’t look beyond their own backyards.
I’m sure there are other reasons for America’s blind allegiance to Israel even when it can be argued that it is against our best interest (and Israel’s best interest for that matter).
If more Americans visited Gaza and the West Bank to learn about the “facts on the ground” and the injustices perpetrated by the Occupation, they would not support it and they would not want their government supporting it. That time will come.