• Reports
  • April 7, 2006
  • 8 minutes read

Israel’s Critics In the United States

Conventional wisdom tells us that Israel enjoys unparalleled support in the United States, from powerful lobbying and advocacy groups to public intellectuals and lawmakers.  While the Israeli government does indeed enjoy a great deal of support from various groups, organizations, and personalities in American society and government, that support is neither unconditional nor universal.  Several groups and prominent individuals within the United States are outspoken critics of Israeli governmental policies and practices, from activist organizations to public intellectuals to lawmakers.
Students and Activists
Activist and student groups make up the largest and most prominent sources of critiques of Israeli policies to be found in the United States.  With members on college and university campuses across the country, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is a student activist group that organizes talks, presentations, and debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with an emphasis on raising awareness of the historical and current facts of the conflict.  SJP also attempts, in their own words, to increase awareness of the daily realities faced by the Palestinian people due to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.  The SJP also advocates for bringing an end to U.S. tax payer-funded aid to Israel.  Many chapters of the SJP also conduct divestment campaigns that aim to compel their universities to refrain from doing business with companies that invest or do substantial business in Israel.
The Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM) is another prominent organization on American campuses that advocates for divestment.  The PSM was started in 2002, and is an umbrella group of Palestine-related organizations working for the following:

1. an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land;
2. equality under the law for Palestinians living in Israel;
3. the right of return for Palestinian refugees; and,
4. opposition to all forms of oppression, including racism, sexism, and homophobia.
From February 17-19 the PSM will host its fifth annual Program for Divestment Conference, to be held at Georgetown University.  According to a press release from the PSM, the primary purpose of the conference is to provide skills training for divestment activists.
Public Intellectuals
Activist groups are only one source of critiques of Israeli policies and actions in the Middle East.  Public figures and intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky provide critiques of Israel’s actions in their books, articles, and public appearances.
Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He was voted the “leading living public intellectual” in Prospect Magazine’s 2005 Global Intellectuals Poll.  Chomsky’s fame stems from his significant contributions to linguistics and psychology, however, he has also been a prominent public critic of the U.S. government’s foreign policy since the Vietnam war.  Chomsky sets forth his criticisms most cogently in his book “Hegemony of Survival:  America’s Quest for Global Dominance.”
Chomsky was born in the United States to Jewish parents who emigrated from Eastern Europe.  He recalls growing up immersed in Hebrew culture.  As such, the topic of Israel was an important and popular one in his family when he was a child.  Chomsky considers himself a Zionist, and says that he supports the idea of a Jewish homeland, but not a Jewish state.  Chomsky frequently debates with American defenders of Israeli policy, such as Alan Dershowitz.
In general, Chomsky believes that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue rests in the creation of two separate states.  He asserts that Israel needs to withdraw from the Occupied Territories and abide by the international, U.S. backed consensus that envisions Israel’s border ending on or near the green line.  Chomsky stands firmly against a one-state solution, and says that those who support this concept merely provide weapons for the more extreme and violent elements in Israeli and American circles.  Chomsky is also a strong critic of Israel’s separation barrier, viewing it as one of many instances of Israeli violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people.
American Lawmakers
Perhaps the most interesting and surprising source of American criticism of Israeli policies comes from a number of American lawmakers.  The voting records for two resolutions passed in Congress in 2002, entitled “Expressing Solidarity with Israel” illustrate this point.
In May of 2002, when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took harsh action against Yassir Arafat in a bid to end terrorist attacks conducted by militants inside Israel proper, the United States Congress passed two resolutions, one in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate.  A congressional resolution is not a binding law, but merely expresses the collective opinion of the legislative branch of the U.S. government.  Resolutions are extremely important, however, because of their significant rhetorical weight and the message they send to the American people and the international community about where the Congress stands on any given issue.
Both congressional resolutions began with the statement that “the United States and Israel are now engaged in a common struggle against terrorism and are on the frontlines of a conflict thrust upon them against their will.”  Both resolutions included statements condemning Palestinian terrorism.  Both resolutions called for the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its commitment to dismantling terrorist infrastructures in the Occupied Territories.
The resolution passed in the Senate with a vote of 94 in favor and 2 opposed, with four Senators abstaining.  In the House of Representatives, the resolution passed with 352 votes in favor, 21 votes against, 29 votes of “present” (used when the member supports some elements of a resolution but disagrees with others) and 32 members not voting.
While one can understand the reasons why members of Congress voted for the resolution – because it calls for an end to terrorism, because it demands that the PA live up to its end of the bargain – it is difficult to understand why the vast majority of members of Congress did not call for a more even-handed resolution.  The 29 members of the House of Representatives voting “present” said that they did not endorse the resolution primarily because it was tilted so blatantly in favor of Israel’s position.  Prominent Michigan Democrat, Representative David E. Bonior, said that the resolution “blindly” supported Israeli actions against the Palestinians while simultaneously ignoring Palestinian suffering.
Another important member who voted against the resolution was Representative David R. Obey, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Appropriations, which is responsible for funding decisions related to every discretionary program in the federal budget.
It is important to understand that the United States looks upon Israel as an ally in the Middle East for several reasons, whether or not one agrees with these reasons.  In this light, a pro-Palestinian member of Congress is one who calls for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that requires both sides to remain committed to their obligations.  Senator Russ Feingold is among those members of Congress who maintains a balanced position on the issue.  As a democrat on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Feingold’s voice is an important one.  He believes that consistent high-level U.S. diplomatic efforts are necessary to resolve the conflict, and he does not single out one side as solely to blame for the continuation of the conflict.  “Along with their Israeli neighbors, the Palestinian people have suffered greatly, and too many families in both communities have been touched by tragedy. Both people deserve a just and lasting peace between two secure states.”  These words, spoken on the floor of the U.S. Senate, represent the best Palestinians should hope for from the United States.