Sunday, July 27, 2014

Evolving Opinion on Palestine


A lot of folks have taken note of Jon Stewart's evenhanded coverage of Israel's current incursion into Gaza. The details can be read in 's overview on the Daily Beast, "How Jon Stewart Made It Okay to Care About Palestinian Suffering." And over at Salon, David Weigel wrote a similar piece entitled "When You’ve Lost Jon Stewart, You’ve Lost Middle America." 

I believe there is cause for optimism on this bleak issue. Jon Stewart definitely deserves huge props for his courage, but I point to something else that nobody I know of has mentioned yet.

The glimmer of hope is this: Recent experience.

For eight years, anyone who opposed George W. Bush and the Iraq War was accused of hating America or not supporting the troops. President Barack Obama is now midway through his second term, but the memory is still very fresh. Hyperbole like that does not fade quickly. G.W. Bush said, "You are either with us or you are with the enemy." Eventually, that either/or rhetoric wore out and lost traction with the American public.

I think that same dynamic is starting to happen on Americans' thinking about Palestine. For decades, Jews who criticized Israel where called "self-hating" and Gentiles who did were called anti-Semitic - a situation that Jon Stewart illustrated in this brilliant segment.

Stateside, these absurd accusations allowed conservative institutions like the National Review to harbor Holocaust deniers as long as the publication itself remained hawkishly pro-Israel. Likewise, right wing Evangelicals unconditionally support all of Israel's actions - not out of any great love or respect for the Jewish people but because they believe the existence of Israel is a precondition for Jesus' return, at which time they expect all Jews to convert to Christianity.

A great many Israelis see their current government basically the same way anti-war Americans saw G.W. Bush and the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. There are even conscientious objectors in the Israeli Defense Forces who refuse to take part. These Israelis obviously do not desire their own deaths any more than the U.S. peace movement supported Al Qaeda. They do, however, see their government's actions as excessive, immoral, and counterproductive. My guess is that American voters are finally starting to notice these similarities.

Not conservative voters, of course. A 2012 poll found that 63% of Republicans still think that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when we invaded Iraq in 2003, so I am not holding my breath for those with a hard-on for the Apocalypse. But the rest of the electorate is recognizing the right's appetite for bellicose fabrications, false dichotomies, motivated reasoning, and perpetual rage-think.

Granted, we Americans collectively went a little crazy after 9-11. Anger leads to the dark side, and like Yoda said to Luke, progressives had to say, "The cave! Remember your failure at the cave!" We still do.

Of course, I am not saying we should frame the argument as a spiritual failing. Instead, we should make the more straightforward argument that anger makes you stupid. Or, as Ben Franklin put it in Poor Richard's Almanac, "Take this remark from Richard poor and lame, Whate'er's begun in anger ends in shame."

Angry and stupid seem to be finally falling out of fashion. At least now it is a bit easier to call it out.

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