This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. Go here to listen to the author discuss what to make of American attitudes toward Israel and the Palestinians.
Here are the Three Sacred Commandments for Americans who shape the public conversation on Israel:
1. For politicians, especially at the federal level: As soon as you say the word “Israel,” you must also say the word “security” and promise that the United States will always, always, always be committed to Israel’s security. If you occasionally label an action by the Israeli government “unhelpful,” you must immediately reaffirm the eternal US commitment to Israel’s security.
2. For TV talking heads and op-ed pundits: If you criticize any policies or actions of the Israeli government, you must immediately add that Israel does, of course, have very real and serious security needs that have to be addressed.
3. For journalists covering the Israel-Palestine conflict for major American news outlets: You must live in Jewish Jerusalem or in Tel Aviv and take only occasional day trips into the Occupied Territories. So your reporting must inevitably be slanted toward the perspective of the Jews you live among. And you must indicate in every report that Jewish Israeli life is dominated by anxiety about security.
US opinion-shapers have obeyed the Three Commandments scrupulously for decades. As a result, they’ve created an indelible image of Israel as a deeply insecure nation. That image is a major, if often overlooked, factor that has shaped and continues to shape Washington’s policies in the Middle East and especially the longstanding American tilt toward Israel.
It’s often said that the number one factor in that tilt is the power of the right-wing “pro-Israel” (more accurately, “pro–Israeli government”) lobby. That lobby certainly is a skillful, well-oiled machine. It uses every trick in the PR book to promote the myth of Israel as a brave little nation constantly forced to fight for its life against enemies all around who are eager to destroy it, a Jewish David withstanding the Arab Goliath. The lobby justifies everything Israel does to the Palestinians—military occupation, economic strangulation, expanding settlements, confiscating land, demolishing homes, imprisoning children—as perhaps unfortunate but absolutely necessary for Israel’s self-defense.
No matter how slick any lobby is, however, it can’t succeed without a substantial level of public support. (How powerful would the National Rifle Association be without the millions of Americans who truly love their guns?) Along with its other sources of power and influence, the right-wing Israel lobby needs a large majority of the US public to believe in the myth of Israel’s insecurity as the God’s honest truth.
Ironically, that myth gets plenty of criticism and questioning in the Israeli press from writers like (to cite just some recent examples) Merav Michaeli and Doron Rosenblum in the liberal newspaper Haaretz and even Alon Ben-Meir in the more conservative Jerusalem Post. In the United States, though, the myth of insecurity is the taken-for-granted lens through which the public views everything about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Like the air we breathe, it’s a view so pervasive that we hardly notice it.