Friday, January 2, 2009

US Poll Shows Democratic Leaders at Odds with Their Own Voters on Gaza - Glenn Greenwald

This Rasmussen Reports poll -- the first to survey American public opinion specifically regarding the Israeli attack on Gaza -- strongly bolsters the severe disconnect I documented the other day between (a) American public opinion on U.S. policy towards Israel and (b) the consensus views expressed by America's political leadership. Not only does Rasmussen find that Americans generally "are closely divided over whether the Jewish state should be taking military action against militants in the Gaza Strip" (44-41%, with 15% undecided), but Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli offensive -- by a 24-point margin (31-55%). By stark constrast, Republicans, as one would expect (in light of their history of supporting virtually any proposed attack on Arabs and Muslims), overwhelmingly support the Israeli bombing campaign (62-27%).

It's not at all surprising, then, that Republican leaders...are unquestioning supporters of the Israeli attack. After all, they're expressing the core ideology of the overwhelming majority of their voters and audience.

Much more notable is the fact that Democratic Party leaders -- including Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi -- are just as lockstep in their blind, uncritical support for the Israeli attack, in their absolute refusal to utter a word of criticism of, or even reservations about, Israeli actions. While some Democratic politicians who are marginalized by the party's leadership are willing to express the views which Democratic voters overwhelmingly embrace, the suffocating, fully bipartisan orthodoxy which typically predominates in America when it comes to Israel -- thou shalt not speak ill of Israel, thou shalt support all actions it takes -- is in full force with this latest conflict. Is there any other significant issue in American political life, besides Israel, where (a) citizens split almost evenly in their views, yet (b) the leaders of both parties adopt identical lockstep positions which leave half of the citizenry with no real voice? More notably still, is there any other issue, besides Israel, where (a) a party's voters overwhelmingly embrace one position (Israel should not have attacked Gaza) but (b) that party's leadership unanimously embraces the exact opposite position (Israel was absolutely right to attack Gaza and the U.S. must support Israel unequivocally)?....

Ultimately, what is most notable about the "debate" in the U.S. over Israel-Gaza is that virtually all of it occurs from the perspective of Israeli interests but almost none of it is conducted from the perspective of American interests. There is endless debate over whether Israel's security is enhanced or undermined by the attack on Gaza and whether the 40-year-old Israeli occupation, expanding West Bank settlements and recent devastating blockade or Hamas militancy and attacks on Israeli civilians bear more of the blame. American opinion-making elites march forward to opine on the historical rights and wrongs of the endless Israeli-Palestinian territorial conflict with such fervor and fixation that it's often easy to forget that the U.S. is not actually a direct party to this dispute.

Though the ins-and-outs of Israeli grievances and strategic considerations are endlessly examined, there is virtually no debate over whether the U.S. should continue to play such an active, one-sided role in this dispute. It's the American taxpayer, with their incredibly consequential yet never-debated multi-billion-dollar aid packages to Israel, who are vital in funding this costly Israeli assault on Gaza. Just as was true for Israel's bombing of Lebanon, it's American bombs that -- with the whole world watching -- are blowing up children and mosques, along with Hamas militants, in Gaza. And it's the American veto power that, time and again, blocks any U.N. action to stop these wars.

For those reasons, the pervasive opposition and anger around the world from the Israeli assault on Gaza is not only directed to Israel but -- quite rationally and understandably -- to America as well. Virtually the entire world, other than large segments of the American public, see Israeli actions as American actions. The attack on Gaza thus harms not only Israel's reputation and credibility, but America's reputation and credibility as well.

And for what? Even for those Americans who, for whatever their reasons, want endlessly to fixate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, who care deeply and passionately about whether the Israelis or the Palestinians control this or that West Bank hill or village and want to spend the rest of their days arguing about who did what to whom in 1948 and 1967, what possible interests do Americans generally have in any of that, sufficient to involve ourselves so directly and vigorously on one side, and thereby subject ourselves to the significant costs -- financial, reputational, diplomatic and security -- from doing so?

It's one thing to argue that Israel is being both wise and just by bombing the densely populated Gaza Strip. It's another thing entirely to argue that the U.S. should use all of its resources to support Israel as it does so. Those are two entirely separate questions. Arguments insisting that the Gaza attack is good and right for Israel don't mean that they are good and right for the U.S. Yet unstinting, unquestioning American support for whatever Israel does is just tacitly assumed in most of these discussions. The core assumption is that if it can be established that this is the right thing for Israel to do, then it must be the right thing for the U.S. to support it. The notion that the two countries may have separate interests -- that this may be good for Israel to do but not for the U.S. to support -- is the one issue that, above all else, may never be examined....

Glenn Greenwald is a former constitutional law and civil rights litigator who blogs at

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