The news that Israeli officials are alarmed that the Israel lobby in the U.S. is going overboard in its response to the Hamas victory should come as no surprise. Ever since I first arrived here, I’ve been struck by the extent to which the public organizations of the U.S. Jewish community are way, way to the right of the political median in Israel. The Israelis aren’t stupid; they know they’re going to have to reach a mutual accommodation with Hamas, although they’d like to weaken and humiliate the Palestinian movement, as is the Israeli style, in order to force it to accept Israel’s terms. That’s why, for example, Israel is holding monies due to the Palestinian Authority that constitute the lifeblood of the Gaza and West Bank economy – this is not charity they’re holding back, it’s the rightful property of the Palestinian Authority (in the form of taxes and duties collected on goods imported to the Palestinian territories, which have to pass through Israeli ports of entry). But the America Israel Political Action Committee is backing legislation to cut so much funding to the Palestinians that even the Israelis are worried: For example, under the proposed cuts, funding would end for a West Bank project that functions as an early-warning detection station for signs of Avian Flu. And if Avian Flu arrives in the West Bank, it’s unlikely to respect Israel’s “Security Barrier,” or even the 1967 borders.
The report reminded me of a piece I sent on my email blog back in 2002, in relation to the response of Jews in the U.S. to the Israeli operation in Jenin:
“American Jews are ready to go in with the tanks, and that’s one of the factors that has allowed the Israelis to go in with the tanks,” writes Amy Wilentz in New York magazine. Interesting survey of New York Jewish opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict finds that it is often more militantly rightwing than Jewish opinion in Israel – many here have somehow convinced themselves that Israel is in danger of being destroyed and that a second holocaust threatens. But even for many Israelis, that’s simply nutty…
But the ever-elegant Palestinian literary critic Edward Said has some answers to Wilentz’s questions about why so many Jews in America often take a position on the Palestinians even more fanatical than any in Israel: “It is the result of an extraordinary self-isolation in fantasy and myth that comes from education and unreflective nationalism of a kind unique in the world.” He notes that Israeli and some Western commentators are fond of attacking Palestinian and Arab education for promoting dangerous racist myths that nourish the most extreme forms of fundamentalism. “Little has been said, however, of the results of what American Jews have been taught about the conflict in Palestine: that it was given to Jews by God, that it was empty, that it was liberated from Britain, that the natives ran away because their leaders told them to, that in effect the Palestinians don’t exist except recently as terrorists, that all Arabs are anti-Semitic and want to kill Jews.” He sees the problem as being that Zionist education in the U.S. has essentially denied the existence and experience of the Palestinians, which leaves many American Jews simply unable to grasp the nature of the conflict. He notes the irony that in his discussions with Israelis over the events of 1948, for example, the basic facts were not in dispute, whereas he found even many liberal Americans in denial.
My own sense has always been that if you showed many of the more intense Israel partisans in the U.S. the average Haaretz op-ed on Israeli-Palestinian relations but disguised the source, many of them would brand it “anti-Semitic.”