Will the GOP's Victory Energize Mideast Doves?
This piece originally appeared on Tom Dispatch. To listen to the author explain the history and possible future of the struggle for peace in the Middle East, click here.
Palestine as America's next Vietnam? Like all historical analogies, it's far from perfect. We aren't about to send the US Army to the West Bank or Gaza to kill and die in a war that can't be won. Where else in the world, though, is American weaponry and political power so obviously used to suppress a Viet Cong-like movement of national liberation (a bill the Taliban hardly fit)?
And what other conflict is as politically divisive as the Israeli-Palestinian one? More than the Afghan War, the struggle at the heart of the Middle East evokes the kind of powerful passions here that once marked the debate over Vietnam, pitting hawks against doves. Not that the progressive media are yet portraying it that way. They're more likely to give us an increasingly outdated picture of an all-powerful Jewish "Israel lobby," which supposedly has a lock on US policy and dominates the rest of us.
In fact, when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, the political landscape is far more complex, fluid, and unpredictable. Yes, the election day just past saw a wave of hawkish Republicans with a penchant for loving Israel to death swept into Congress, but the hawks' amplified voice is also likely to energize a growing alliance of doves.
Religious Hawks vs. Religious Doves
This election was not a Jewish triumph. Most of the GOP congressional hawks (if they aren't from Florida) come from constituencies with only a sprinkling of Jews. They seem eager to make Israel a symbolic test case, as if supporting the hard-line Israeli government against Obama administration "betrayal" proves their strength in protecting America.
In the wake of November 2, a prominent Israeli columnist wrote that Republicans believe in "patriotism, Judeo-Christian Values, national security…and associating Arabs and Muslims with terrorism…a worldview that is usually consistent with pro-Israel sentiments." Those are certainly "pro-Israel sentiments" as defined by the old Israel lobby that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt analyzed so sharply. That lobby still wields plenty of power with its loud media megaphone, and it will welcome the recent success of its flag-waving, fear-mongering GOP allies.
Here's a new reality, however: The hawkish Israel lobby is no longer the true face of the Jewish community. According to midterm exit polls, most American Jews stuck with their traditional loyalty to the Democratic Party and, far more important, they are visibly developing a new idea of what it means to be pro-Israel. Today, three-quarters of American Jews want the United States to lead Israelis and Palestinians toward a two-state solution; nearly two-thirds say they'd accept Obama administration pressure on Israel to reach that goal.
Republicans entering Congress will learn what I recently heard a Jewish congressman explain. Few non-Jewish legislators pay close attention to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. When it comes up, they usually turn to their Jewish colleagues for advice. Once, the Jews they consulted were likely to simply parrot the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) line. Now they're likely to say, "Well, AIPAC says this, but J Street says that. You decide."
J Street is the most prominent player in the dovish, newly developing coalition that already represents the views of most Jews. When Barack Obama invited top Jewish leaders to the White House in the summer of 2009, the heads of two smaller organizations, Americans for Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum, were at the table too. These are the most visible voices for American Jews who don't want to see their own government enabling Israeli governmental policies that they oppose.
The Christian community is split into competing lobbies as well, with hawks led by Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and doves by Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). CUFI makes more noise and gets more press attention. But CMEP is an impressive coalition of twenty-two national church groups, including some of the largest denominations and the nation's largest umbrella organization of Protestants, the National Council of Churches.
Then there are doves, both Jewish and Christian, who promote direct action rather than political lobbying as the route to change. The movement to use boycotts, divestments and sanctions to pressure Israel to change its policies on the Palestinians didn't really take off until the Presbyterian Church endorsed the concept. More Christian groups have now joined this campaign, as has Jewish Voice for Peace, among other Jewish groups. Such direct protest also gets plenty of support from left-leaning doves not moved by any religious faith.
So far this alliance has not mounted the massive demonstrations that were a hallmark of Vietnam-era doves. The new strength of the hawks in Congress, however, might someday provoke the doves to take to the streets.