Patricia Gras and Nicolas Galan
The US openly supports Israel in its conflict with Hezbollah. What explains this intimate, intriguing relationship? The US has been pro-Israel since the founding of Israel in 1947. The headquarters of international Zionism moved to the US from Britain after World War II, when the first prime minister of Israel David Gurion recognised that America would be the next superpower.
After 9/11, Israel saw the benefits of linking its local struggle with Palestinians to the US global war on terror. On July 31, 2006, President George W Bush commented that the crisis between Israel and Hezbollah is part of a larger struggle between forces of freedom and terror in the Middle East.
The US views Israel as the only state in the Middle East with democratic values and a strong military power to protect its interests. American Jews have a pervasive influence on the US political system and in the national media. Recently, amidst the fighting between Israel and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, four House representatives of Lebanese descent suggested to the House that the US should urge restraint against civilian targets in negotiations with Israel. Their proposal was rejected and Representative Ray Lahood (Republican from Illinois), interviewed by Jonathan Weisman for Washington Post, stated that Israel obviously dominated the House.
Both Republicans and Democrats alike supported Israel. Representative Eliot L Engel (Democrat from New York) commented that such proposal would be interpreted as a slap on Israel. Some academics describe Israel lobbyist organisations as being effective in changing public opinion and discrediting those who criticise US support for Israel. They even point to the Israel lobby’s influence on the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Pro-Israeli opinion attributes America’s policy tilt and disengagement from the peace process to Arafat, and not the Israeli lobby.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, 83 per cent of Americans say Israel is justified in taking military action against Hezbollah, while 76 per cent disapprove of Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel. When asked if the US should get involved, the numbers change drastically — 65 per cent say they do not want to take either side in the conflict. In another poll released by CBS/New York Times, only 40 per cent of the 1,127 American respondents said they were well informed regarding the Israel-Hezbollah conflict.
Between September 2000 and April 2002 the Glasgow University Media Group conducted a study on Middle East conflict coverage. A group of American college students studying journalism and media were asked ‘Who occupies the occupied territories, and what nationality are the settlers?’ The correct answer is that both the occupiers and settlers are Israelis, but only 29 per cent of the respondents got it right. The researchers also found that there was significant emphasis on the coverage of Israeli casualties as compared to those on the Palestinian side, even though the latter are thrice the former. They conclude that television has denied its audience an explanation of the historical background of the conflict, which is crucial to understanding Palestinian actions. In the US, television news is still the main source of information on world affairs for most people.
Another aspect that could account for Americans’ support for Israel is the inevitable Christian culture underlying the US and its inherent tie with Judaism. Donald Wagner, professor of religious studies at the North Park University in Chicago, states that Christian Zionism sees the modern state of Israel as the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy and thus deserving of political, financial and religious support.
Wagner argues that one could more accurately categorise it as part of the fundamentalist wing of Protestant Christianity, which he reports has some 100-125 million members in the US.
Both countries operate under democracies and now have a common enemy: Terrorism. What about the American public? Their opinion has always been in Israel’s favour. Is this a consequence of Americans sharing the same ideology as Israelis, or is it a repercussion of lack of information combined with one-sided propaganda? The answer for some of us in America is everything but clear.
The writers are with Houston PBS TV .