By Franklin Lamb, Beirut
Ever so slowly over the past two decades, with growing momentum since Israel's April 2002 destruction of the Jenin refugee camp, American attitudes towards Israel appear to be changing, according to some public opinion analysts. The American Public Opinion and U.S. Foreign Policy polling unit that works on behalf of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, has argued that the American opinion shift accelerates with each perceived Israeli outrage such as the saturation bombing of much of south Lebanon and south Beirut during the July 2006 war; the massive civilian death-toll, more than one-thirds of which was women and children, in Gaza during the winter of 2008/9; the May 2010 murders and carnage committed on the Mavi Marmara flotilla vessel, including the assassination of 19 year old American Furkan Dogan; and the cumulative effect of sixty years of Geneva Convention and international law violations by Israel against occupied Palestine and Lebanon.
Some opinion analyses – the 2009 Zogby International poll of American attitudes towards Israelis and Palestinians, for example – express surprise with what they are learning from the American public and detect significant changes in American public attitudes favouring US disengagement from Israel.
Such changes in attitudes are not yet evident in Congress or in the Office of the Vice-President. But then, as one of Joe Biden's Democratic Congressional colleagues from Cleveland Ohio, just recently re-elected and now planning to force a Congressional vote on withdrawal from Afghanistan, noted this week: "Joe's a nice fella but a God awful slow learner! Cracks and fissures are shooting around and inside Joe's great American pro-Israel public opinion vase etched in gold with the words, 'US Support for Israel Must Continue Forever!'"
The NYT's Thomas Friedman seemed to concur during meetings in Israel recently: "US support for Israel could shatter like Humpty Dumpty – and it could get ugly…You are losing the American people who, believe me, are fed up with the Mideast in general. But they're also fed up with Israel. When they see their president working hard to try to tee up an opportunity… And you say 'No, first pay me – let Jonathon Pollard out of jail, have Abu Mazen sing Hatikva in perfect Yiddish, and then we'll think about testing,' It rubs a lot of Americans the wrong way."
Changes of US citizens' attitudes towards Israel are evident in Lebanon also. Hundreds of Americans and other foreigners have visited Shatila and other Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut in the past few years according to the Sabra Shatila Foundation that conducts tours of the camp. Many visiting Americans have been surveyed by various firms and the results mirror recent surveys from the States. Several explanations are being offered by pollsters for the developing American public opinion shift away from support for Israel.
One is the growing perception that Israel, despite its consistent claims of self-defence and accidents, when it attacks and kills civilian populations is in fact the aggressor and lacks respect for non-Jewish lives. There is growing American revulsion at the increasing incidents of verbal assaults on Arabs and Muslims, racist hate speech graffiti by the Israeli public, internet defamation by elements of the US Israel lobby, and seeming encouragement by Israeli officials and some Rabbis ensconced among the more than 100 illegal colonies in occupied Palestine.
There are two oft-mentioned examples: The followers of the late Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu regularly broadcast his calls that, "All of the Palestinians must be killed; men, women, infants, and even their beasts". And Rabbi Yizhak Shapiro published "The King's Torah" in which he detailed the "jurisprudence" sanctioning the killing of Palestinian infants and children. The White House has reportedly been surprised by the number of Americans objecting to, or even knowing about, these kinds of outrageous and immoral extremists who have been US-funded for more than half a century.
Americans are becoming weary of Israel constantly moving the goal posts in the "peace negotiations" and Israeli officials undercutting the American President and flaunting their power in Congress, using the US-Israel lobby and media juggernaut to ridicule him. When Obama condemns Israeli settlement building and calls for suspension, within days, Israel often announces more settlement construction, usually claiming that the timing of the announcement is mere coincidence.
A growing belief among the American public is that Israel takes the US for granted and is only interested in its own economic and military benefits at American expense. When President Obama criticized Israel for announcing another stage in the approval process of 1,300 housing units in the Jerusalem settlements of Pisgat Ze'ev and Har Homa, he warned: "This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations. I'm concerned that we're not seeing each side making the extra effort involved to get a breakthrough." Israel's reaction was immediate, condemnatory and harsh. Knesset Members as well as American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) staff attacked the President, saying that he is ignoring the reality of Israel's needs in Jerusalem. MK Avi Dichter told the Jerusalem Post that the American people are smart enough to "understand that there is no chance that Jerusalem will return to the 1967 borders. But they are either not smart enough or still don't understand that the most sensitive part of the negotiations is Jerusalem. For their President to deal with Jerusalem at the beginning of negotiations is a recipe for failure."
Bar Ilan University Professor Ehud Gilboa added that he does not think Obama will "lay off" Israel in the near future: "I believe he has an obsession with Israel. He will want to get the talks between Israel and the Palestinians going only because he wants to be remembered in history as the one who is signed on the peace agreement. We expect him to be a one-term President and I don't think he warrants being taken seriously."
More Americans appear to be tiring of Israeli officials telling them that they don't understand how to view Israeli land confiscations, ethnic cleansing and use of American cash and weapons. One poll of Americans living in Beirut conducted during October 2010 asked about Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu calling the United Nations' Goldstone Report "a modern day blood libel". Only 4% of the Americans concurred; eighty-five percent believed that Israel manipulates this term and also the Nazi crimes against Jews during WW II to justify its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and its treatment of Palestinians.
Opinion analysts at Rasmussen Polls Delaware believe changes in US public attitudes are also due to the collapsing American economy. The US public is getting angry, loud and distressed. Perhaps always a little paranoid, it is more despondent and pessimistic. Americans have generally believed in the country's capacity for regeneration, that a new awakening is possible at any time. Now, 63% of Americans don't believe that they will be able to maintain their current standard of living. American companies like Apple, Coca-Cola, Google and Microsoft are investing their money, not in the US but in Asia, where labour is cheap and markets are growing. The US government's debt now exceeds ninety percent of the gross domestic product and more than half of all Americans don't believe that the America Dream is still realistic; rather they feel that their country is dysfunctional and its Congress corrupt.
It is not sure how the Tea Party will ultimately view Israel being given a total of approximately $5 billion annually and then investing approximately 60% of it in interest-bearing accounts while every penny of the US taxpayer money it gets must be borrowed by Washington with US taxpayers paying the interest on cash gifts to Israel. But isolationism and xenophobia are on the rise with growing numbers of Americans unhappy with what they see as Israeli "shenanigans at US taxpayer expense", according to a Congressional staffer who, during a recent 'brown bag' lunch in the Cannon Congressional House Office building cafeteria, was warned about speaking out against US aid to Israel to fellow staffers. He explained: "We've got two criminal wars, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, which have cost this country, in real terms more than two trillion dollars. The government debt continues to grow, from 57% of GNP in 2000 to 83% when Obama got elected and the national debt of $13.8 trillion and growing by the hour. That amounts to ninety-four percent of GNP, and in two years it will exceed 100 percent. We can't afford Israel financially and never could afford them morally, politically or what they have done with American weapons!"
Republican Majority leader Eric Canton, one of the three key leaders of the Israel lobby in Congress, is reportedly terrified that the Tea Party will insist, as rumoured, on enacting legislation that terminates foreign aid of all kinds if the US unemployment level rises above 4%. Consideration would be given to restarting foreign aid when the unemployment level drops below that figure and remains there for 12 months. Canton must figure out how to protect Israel's cash with the Tea Party coming after him. It may be recalled that Canton is floating an AIPAC scheme to take US funds for Israel out of Foreign Aid and call it "Homeland Security" expenditure instead, "in order to save it from foreign aid cutting zealots".
Increasingly, analysts are seeing that the American public wants to distance itself from Israel although it is unlikely that Congress will, in the short term, follow the public's lead. This conclusion is supported by the latest congressional amendments that authorized the increase of US weaponry, ammunition and war supplies stored in Israel to a record $1.2 billion, as reported in Defence News this week. The value of US weapons to be prepositioned in Israel will reach $1 billion in 2011, with another $200 million to be added in 2012. Once the weaponry arrives, the amount of US-owned materiel available for Israel's emergency use will have jumped threefold since 2007. Over the past two years, logisticians and war planners from America's European Command and the Israel Defence Forces elevated war stocks to the then congressionally authorized threshold of $800m worth of equipment, ready for Israel's next war against Lebanon or Syria or Iran – or all three countries.
One pro-Israel group dismayed by the shift in American public opinion is the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which sounded the alarm this week at the Canadian government-sponsored Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism (ICCA) held in the Parliament in Ottawa "to inspire parliamentary action against anti-Semitism around the world". Fifty countries from six continents sent delegations to help combat what ADL National Director Abe Foxman claims is a dangerous softening of US public opinion towards Israel. The conference adopted an Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism – building on the 2009 London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism of 2009, which has built on more than 50 similar initiatives over the 98 years since the ADL was launched in 1913.
The ADL's current focus, according to Christopher Wolf, the chair of the organisation's Internet Task Force on "cyber hate", is "to take the lead and show the American public why they must stick with Israel during these days of Islamist terror against Americans and their only reliable ally, Israel".
One of Abe Foxman's problems is that many Americans are distancing themselves from ADL's nonstop "fear and smear" campaigns. Another is that history, along with the American public, is accelerating in its rejection of the Zionist colonial enterprise in Palestine.
Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and in reachable at
First Published in Al Manar
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.