The American centre’s embrace of the far right fuels Israel’s war machine

Peace will only come to Palestine if American centrists break with the far right and adopt a new approach on Israel.

A placard depicting U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is held during a pro-Palestinian protest
A placard depicting US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is held during a pro-Palestinian protest in Amman, Jordan on October 18, 2023 [Reuters/Alaa Al Sukhni]

On October 18, US President Joe Biden travelled to Israel to show support for its war on the Palestinians in the Gaza strip. He was greeted at the airport by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who gave him a warm welcome and an embrace.

In the statements to the press afterwards, the narrative both leaders adopted reflected an attempt to dehumanise the Palestinians and justify the ongoing genocidal violence against them.

“Just as the civilised world united to defeat the Nazis and united to defeat ISIS, the civilised world must unite to defeat Hamas,” Netanyahu said.

President Biden remarked in response that Hamas has “committed evils that and atrocities that make ISIS look somewhat more rational”, and that “Israel has a value set like the United States does and other democracies, and – and they’re looking to see what we’re going to do”.

Biden’s visit to Israel and his rhetoric was consistent with a US foreign policy that is always on the side of those with the power to oppress. That is because there is a bipartisan consensus between the centre right and the far right on relations with detestable regimes around the world.

Centrists in the US have a long history of supporting abhorrent policies of oppression against marginalised peoples at home and abroad, while usurping the rhetoric of human rights and democratic values.

Their support for Israel is hardly surprising given the US’s own history of settler colonialism and genocide.

Centre-right elites appear to be bothered little by Israel’s apartheid, occupation, and clear end goal of ethnically cleansing the Palestinian population in order to take full control of historic Palestine under its ideological version of white supremacy, Zionism.

Successive centre-right US governments have backed Israel’s bloody “right to defend itself” with billions of dollars of military aid every year going back to 1971.

There is no denying this history and reality. Not with more than 4,000 dead and over one million displaced in Gaza, the largest displacement of Palestinians since the 1948 Nakba. Not with a 75-year-long record of bloody Israeli attacks on the Palestinians in the name of Israeli security. Not with Israel fighting for an Arab-free homeland while claiming every Arab around them is a “terrorist”, a “militant”, or an “anti-Semite”.

Every US president since Harry S Truman has recognised Israel “as the de facto authority” in Palestine. That is despite the fact that in the 1930s and 1940s, Zionist militias embraced violence – what the Americans identified as “terrorist activity” – to drive the British out of Palestine and terrorise the local Palestinian population.

Truman issued the US government’s recognition of Israel on May 14, 1948, only 11 minutes after the British relinquished authority over Palestine.

As both a US citizen and a former member of the Hebrew-Israelite community – Black Orthodox Jews who believe African diasporic people are the descendants of the 10 lost tribes of ancient Israel – it took me years to grasp this history.

I practiced for three and a half years, during which time I sympathised with our white-skinned brethren and sistren who, I believed, had established a modern homeland in the Middle East.

I hated wearing a yarmulke and kufi and eating raw horseradish at seders on Passover night, but I learned a few things – like the Hebrew character for life, chai, the blessing l’chaim (“to life”) and the celebration that life ought to be.

By the time I went to college and began studying the injustices that were commonplace around the world, from the US to South Africa to the Middle East, I often thought hard about the contradictions between a firm belief in l’chaim and the denial of human rights to oppressed people, who struggled for freedom and justice.

The nonviolent civil rights movement in the US in the 1950s and 1960s and the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa with its mass protests and violent acts of sabotage between the 1950s and the 1980s both fought for an end to state-sanctioned apartheid and violent oppression.

The same has been true for those leading the Palestinian struggle for freedom, whether it is the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its acts of violence in the 1970s and 1980s or the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which was launched in the 2000s.

Those who have vilified their methods refuse to understand that oppressed people need l’chaim as much as anyone.

I have seen that in others’ reactions to my own support for a free Palestine, too. During Israel’s continuous bombing of Gaza in July and August 2014, someone I had known since ninth grade all but accused me of being anti-Semitic. This was a Jewish man who believed in tolerance, and had shown me as much when I was a practicing Hebrew-Israelite.

But not this time. “Some of your arguments seem to suggest you too want Israel to ‘completely disappear,’” he wrote in response to a blog post I had written about the hypocrisy of the US support for a two-state solution in which Israel holds all the suffocating power over Palestine’s apartheid zones.

In the past two weeks, I have seen similar reactions. My own congressperson, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland), sent out an email to me and his other constituents about “the brutal terrorist attacks in Israel”. Raskin’s office offered a compilation of “resources to assist US citizens in the region”, most of which were meant to help those wishing to leave Israel, not Gaza.

Sylvia Burwell, the president of American University, where I teach, initially issued a neutral statement calling for peace, which was followed by a university-wide email full of condemnation. It was all about “Hamas’ brutal assault on Israel and its people”, “atrocities committed by Hamas”, and “terrorist attacks”, adding, “many from our Jewish community and beyond have shared their hurt and sorrow”.

In these communications – as with the majority of media coverage and official statements in the US – the context of occupation and violent apartheid in Palestine is erased. Israel’s wholesale destruction of Gaza and the slaughter of Palestinians in orders of magnitude higher than anything Hamas has done is not even registered as “repugnant” at all.

Apparently, Palestinian and Arab American communities do not need support for their “grief and sorrow” from their political representatives and local institutions.

These responses reflect the dominance of the centre-right and far-right in American society, which is also confirmed in opinion polls.

A 2022 Gallup poll showed that although there had been an uptick in American sympathy for the Palestinians in the past decade (26 percent view Palestinians favourably), most Americans support Israel more (55 percent).

A 2022 Pew Research Center survey showed similar trends, but reported the most positive views of Israel being among white evangelicals and Republican-affiliated voters, representing those in the US on the far right.

In the past week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist University poll showed a majority of Americans supported Israel’s efforts in bombing and shelling Gaza, but with some doubts about the disproportionality of the Israeli response and America’s role in it.

There are some in the US who want a ceasefire and an end to the Israeli assault on Gaza, but they are a minority. They are mostly a mix of centre-right and centre-left Americans whose activism is limited to stopping the immediate bloodshed.

Even fewer are those who see Israel as an apartheid state with a deliberate policy of settler colonialism and genocide and who believe the US must help put an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. The 2022 Pew Research Center survey showed that only five percent of those surveyed supported the BDS movement, an organised effort that stresses this more radical approach.

This embrace by the American centre right of far-right causes and attitudes has done much harm to social justice movements in US history.

Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr said it best in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, where he wrote about the civil rights movement’s campaign to end segregation in Alabama in 1963: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice … who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.”

Dr King’s grievances apply to all of America’s moderates, or really, centre-right people, and not just on anti-Black racism. If being centrist or moderate politically is the furthest left most Americans lean, it means that most don’t value l’chaim.

It means they support both Biden’s centre-right administration and Netanyahu’s far-right government, which was well-known for its brutality even before the latest war on Gaza. In the past year before this latest conflict, it had ramped up Israeli army raids and supported settler violence against the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The two-state “peace process” American moderates have supported since the 1970s is really a “piece process”, one where Israel can occupy and seize control of pieces of Palestinian land at will.

Their backing for this farce will only result in the US becoming complicit in genocide against the Palestinians, as Israel continues to pursue its Zionist vision with impunity. This is a celebration of death and not l’chaim at all. All violence is abhorrent, but state-sponsored and superpower-supported violence is barbarity beyond the play.

The ceasefire many seek in Gaza today, though very much needed, is hardly enough to stop the bloodshed. If there is ever to be a real path to peace in Palestine and Israel, America’s centrists would have to break with the far right and support a radical approach to end Israel’s oppressive policies in Palestine.

Just like with South Africa in the 1980s, they would have to join the small American left in pushing the West, and especially the US, to divest from the state of Israel and Israeli businesses and to impose embargoes, including on all arms shipments.

Maybe then, Zionism would finally yield to l’chaim.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.