2021’s flare up represents the third major Gaza conflict in the past two decades, the beginning of a trend of periodic and routinized violence between Hamas and the Netanyahu regime that shows no signs of abating. Like the 2014 conflict, the reported death counts were high, and because the numbers were self reported by the Palestinian health authority because Israel has now control or presence in Gaza, they include both civilians and militants. The numbers of dead are also severely disproportional to the amount of Israelis killed in rocket attacks, and this disturbs both Americans, and liberals everywhere.
There is significant and obvious blame to go around on for both the right-wing Netanyahu government who conveniently scuttled the possibility of an Arab-centrist coalition in the midst of a government formation period during this conflict and drummed up support for the right, and Hamas, a totalitarian regime that diverts most of its aid money to fund its foreign leaders in Qatar and to build smuggling tunnels and acquire Iranian rockets to indiscriminately shoot at cities.
Rather than debate the tactics of this obviously mishandled conflict, what is unique about this conflict in the long series of Gazan wars is the recent shift in American Jewish opinion. The default reaction for nearly seven decades has been, for American Jews, and since the Soviet-US split in the Middle East, the American government too, to take the side of Israel and frame its actions as defensive within the context of it being the target of constant aggression by its neighbors. Perhaps because of the cyclical nature this conflict, its apparent intractability, the lack of movement, or simply increasing coverage of their narrative, American Jews, beginning to believe as if this conflict was between Jews and Palestinians, and not between Hamas and Netanyahu, have been increasingly willing to openly criticize Israel and the government’s response towards Gaza for the rocket attacks.
As the Netanyahu government has allowed increased settlement and then made and broken promises about territorial annexation in the West Bank, putting the two-state solution in jeopardy, there have also been increasingly vocal anti-Zionist Jews expressing their views in the media calling for a one state solution in the region.
While criticism of the Netanyahu regime, of the acts of the Israeli state and defense forces, and anti-Zionism are three completely separate viewpoints, there are streams of explanatory worldviews and constructed thinking that drive the growth in all three of them.
The first aspect to note is the hardening of the Israeli population. Similar to America, the right represents about 50% of the electorate, and similar to America, the religious right represents a large proportion of that, about 17% as of the 2021 Knesset elections. With a major flare up or military conflict occurring once or twice every decade since the foundation of the state, these numbers are not particularly surprising and they reflect the securitization of the state, the shared compulsory military service experience of all Israelis, and a general crystallization of views away from peace and their neighbors in light of the general insecurity. With their preferences firmly in place and grounded in a view towards stability and state preservation over all else, it can be expected that American Jews are unlikely to have any influence whatsoever on the Israeli domestic security policy.
The second aspect that has shifted this is the degree of the power imbalance, as noted by some in the media. Israel, despite its precarious security situation of being surrounded on four borders by enemy states, and its official borders which reach only 9.3 miles at their narrowest point between the West Bank and the Sea, has become an unquestioned regional superpower. The economic and military imbalance is incontrovertible. As such, its underdog status from the 1940s to the 1970s, surrounded my massive Arab armies aimed at ethnically cleansing the Jews from the land, has changed to the Palestinians assuming the role of the underdog and the persecuted. Thus, regardless of the actions of either of their two governments, there has been a massive shift in global sympathies. Because Israel has maintained right-wing governments under Netanyahu for nearly two decades, his sensitivity to these shifts, and his electoral incentives to appear as if he is “responsibly handling” these conflicts to stop the violence have made government responses and the governmental defense to the media appear callous, but also made him, and Israelis in general, insensitive to broader international criticism.
The third is generational.
As the last generation of Holocaust survivors passes away, Jewry everywhere have begun to lose their connection to why the colonial UK government and then the UN decided to carve a small piece of their empire to give the Jewish people a state in the first place, the right of Jews to their own homeland and safe harbor, and national self-determination. Increasing awareness and concern over human rights, along with the contemporary compulsion to take the side of anyone with a strong rhetorical flourish like a liberation narrative, regardless of context, and to generally oppose the use of force by any power, have meant that Palestinian rights, sometimes carelessly conflated with “liberation tactics,” have become a popular cause for American youth, including Jews within that group.
Ironically, responding to the same calls for Palestinian self-determination and a Palestinian state, which were also granted in the very same UN plan creating Israel, before their lands were stolen by Jordan and Egypt in a call for “Arab unity,” some American Jews have begun to turn against Zionism and call for a one state solution. In this solution, ironically, neither side has their own state, nor any national self-determination, a backwards step in their fundamental rights as peoples. This is unfortunately deeply ignorant of the history of both Jews and Palestinians, contrary to the desires of nearly every person living in Middle East, but in reality, it is a fraudulent aim, the dissolution of either Israel or Palestine is politically inconceivable.
What’s more, American Jews, cloistered within secure borders and having little exposure to violence, history, or realpolitik of the region unfortunately don’t understand that if the Israeli government begins to feel that the opinion of American Jews is hardening against it, not only will they not heed their warnings nor criticisms, if funding dries up and the relationship withers, they may potentially begin to sever their connections to American Jews, and simply act on their own in an even less sensitive fashion.
When the UK colonial government and the UN partition plan granted Jews and Palestinians their own states in 1948, the US and the world stood by and watched as the Arab armies encircled Israel and tried to drive them into the sea. As the Arab states annexed the land that was supposed to become Palestine, and the world did and said nothing.
Against all odds, Israel defended its small strip of land, and formed a stable state, but they did so knowing that they while they would accept help when offered, they could never rely on any other state for their own protection, and thus to this day consistently and incontrovertibly ignore external criticism in exercising their security policy.
While Americans, Jews, and the world should be free to critique, analyze, and to try to suggest solutions to this intractable conflict, they should recognize that Israel, just like any other state, will never sacrifice its own perceived security status for any other state, nor group.
If the world wants to make a political difference, it should encourage Netanyahu, firstly, to step down. Second it should encourage both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to hold free elections, now postponed for nearly twenty years as the two leaders have aimed to consolidate power and assassinate their rivals. Third, it should host talks, and must demand that other Arabic states and Iran support and respect whatever peace the two parties come to.
Unfortunately, no foreign states have any substantive power to make any of these a reality. The Netanyahu regime, Hamas in Gaza, and Fatah in the West Bank, each respectively have literally no incentive whatsoever to encourage any movement on this process, which would likely see them lose their own positions. Thus until they die, it is unlikely there will be any progress.
Suggesting frivolous and neocolonial propositions on the Israelis or the Palestinians, however, is destructive, not only to the peace process, but to relations between Israelis and Palestinians. For that reason, despite the protracted statement, support for anything other than a two state solution is sending the two nations down a road drenched in blood.
Staff writer: Ari B