what “C” said surprised me: “I wish I had been there.”
didn’t. I don’t think comparing the IDF to the Wehrmacht
or denying any legitimacy to Israel advances peace in the Middle
East or America’s larger interests. For that matter, I doubt Mumia
cares very much about America’s interests.
why is there no place where moderate or conservative Americans can
register their outrage at what Ariel Sharon is doing in their name?
two big guns of right-wing opinion journalism, The Weekly Standard
and National Review, while carrying on as de facto mouthpieces
for the Sharon government, have been letting slip their worries
about the state of American public opinion on the conflict. They
put the best spin possible on things, but given that America’s Likudniks
control about 99 percent of the right-of-center media, conservative
views are not as solidly behind Sharon as they should be.
recent surveys show
that about half of America’s voters sympathize with Israel; about
one seventh with the Palestinians. Republicans tend to more pro-Israel
than Democrats, whites more so than non-whites.
sympathies start off tilted in Israel’s favor: Israel is an established
state with universities, symphony orchestras, and a vibrant cultural,
diplomatic and propaganda presence in the United States; the Palestinians
are a stateless people best known here for rioting and suicide bombs.
So among Republicans, 67 percent favor the Israelis, eight percent
the Palestinians; among conservatives, 59 percent favor the Israelis,
10 percent the Palestinians.
as they look more closely, the Likudniks cannot be reassured. Among
self-proclaimed “American conservatives” – their core constituency
– 41 percent either favored the Palestinians or see “no difference”
between them and the Israelis; among Americans as a whole, 50 percent
divided their sympathy evenly. In other words, nearly half the Americans
polled did not favor the one-sided policies pursued by virtually
every American president in the past 25 years: billions in subsidies
and weapons to Israel, the odd clinic to the Palestinians.
division translates into support for various peace initiatives –
though poll analysts are probably correct in describing this support
as soft. Nonetheless, it is revealing that 77 percent of polled
respondents supported “a Palestinian state,” and 41 percent felt
Israeli military actions on the West Bank were unjustified. A rather
substantial 39 percent labeled Sharon’s recent military actions
as “terrorism” rather than “legitimate acts of war.”
National Review and The Weekly Standard strive to
put a pro-Sharon spin on these figures: The Standard’s David
Skinner observes that they give President Bush opportunity to shape
opinion in a pro-Israeli direction; in National Review, Byron
York opines that the muddled polls give Bush a mandate to leave
the issue alone – and just let the well-armed Israelis trample the
Palestinians without American attempts to referee or intervene.
given the single-minded intensity with which pro-Sharon views are
pushed in the right-wing media, and the extent to which employees
in conservative organizations feel intimidated about expressing
alternatives, the relatively shallow support for Sharon and his
smash-the-Palestinians stance is rather surprising. It’s not as
if conservatives typically divide on key foreign policy issues:
how many favored Leonid Brezhnev over Lech Walesa, for instance,
or the Sandinistas over the contras?
one-sidedness of the conservative media is perhaps best told by
a counter-example. Recently, William F. Buckley published a syndicated column
calling Sharon’s attack on the West Bank a terrible mistake; it
quoted at length a New York Times description of the Israeli
army’s destruction of Palestinian health and educational records
– a transparent effort to render the Palestinians a formless, ungovernable
mass, and strangle their infant state.
Review’s editors somehow saw fit to publish the column in the
magazine Buckley founded and owns – but only because it was Buckley’s.
In a journal which publishes dozens of pieces each month, in print
or online, it is remarkable that not one other piece reflected Buckley’s
viewpoint. Thet silence is deafening.
the more so, since the case on American national interest grounds
for a more balanced Mid-East policy is overwhelming. More candid
Israeli partisans readily admit it: Hillel Halkin, writing recently
in Commentary, acknowledged that “Support for Israel is difficult
to justify on cold grounds of national interest. Such support entails
not only large sums of money, but also, more than ever since September
11, large perceived risks.”
always will be people who argue that American national interest
doesn’t count, that looking out for it is immoral; this argument
is a staple of the Left. And now this idea is popping up on the
American Right, albeit with some twists. For instance, the suggestion
that we should back Sharon’s expansionist claims because “God said
so” – as Oklahoma Senator James Imhofe told the Senate earlier this
month, making an Old Testament argument for a Greater Israel.
policies that stray too far from national interest are dangerous
and unstable, and few people long thank the men who fostered them.
(The history books are littered with their failed empires, colonies
and crusades…) If the conservative establishment foists on the U.S.
a foreign policy which is essentially irrelevant or harmful to America,
its power to form opinion will decay. The polls suggest that is
already starting to happen.
only printable version of this article
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