Commentators around the world grasp at straws in seeking to explain what’s going on. Islamophobia and racism, say some. Americans just don’t care about Arab deaths and they are so blinded by their fear of Islam that they can’t see the simple realities of the conflict on the ground. Others allege that a sinister Jewish lobby controls the media and the political system through vast power of Jewish money; the poor ignorant Americans are the helpless pawns of clever Jews. Still others suggest that it is fanatical fundamentalists with their carry on flight bags packed for the Rapture who are behind American blindness to Israel’s crimes.I love France and the French in general especially - but notsomuch when they wander into politics. Ditto Germans and most Continentals. It isn't that they are just ignorant (like the size of a hurricane relative to their nation if they were hit, or the fact that it is very usual for Americans to own over a dozen guns and thousands of rounds of ammo) about the USA - it isn't what they don't know that is the issue, it is what they think they know is true that is actually just wrong. Kind of like a person who voted for Obama a second time ... but I digress.
America is a big country with a lot of things going on, but the real force driving American support for Israeli actions in Gaza isn’t Islamophobia, Jewish conspiracies or foam-flecked religious nuts. It’s something much simpler: many though not all Americans look at war through a distinctive cultural lens. Readers of Special Providence know that I’ve written about four schools of American thinking about world affairs; from the perspective of the most widespread of them, the Jacksonians, what Israel is doing in Gaza makes perfect sense.
Not only are many Jacksonians completely untroubled by Israel’s response to the rocket attacks in Gaza, many genuinely don’t understand why the rest of the world is so steamed about Israel—and so angry with the United States.
As an unapologetic Europhile, I knew where to draw the line. When in Europe, under no circumstances discuss politics - and especially for a Zionist like myself - don't bring up or engage in discussions about Israel.
In my years in Europe, I knew early on to change the subject when Israel came up, as I tend to go nuclear early. This was a few years ago when I was still trying to go native, but I was the token American at a social gathering when my very erudite Belgian colleague decided that he wanted to talk about domestic American politics. As all he really knew was what he read in the International Herald Tribune ... you can figure out his world view. In any event, he was not happy that Americans didn't have at least one political party that would pressure Israel to give up more land for peace faster.
Especially surprising for me at that early stage (though no longer shocking after a few years) for a Continental European, he "went there." He roughly said that many European nations are better able address their concerns with the Israeli government because unlike the USA, they did not have big pro-Israeli organizations pressuring politicians and contributing money to politicians. Well, after sitting there listening to his babbl'n about Israel for 15-min or so, that was it for me - subtle Sal came off the top-rope and said after finishing off his 330ml beer, "Sure, we have a strong Israeli lobby in the USA. Unlike other nations, we didn't kill off our Jews."
I took a look around the table: across from me was a very wide eyed Canadian, a German who was avoiding eye contact, my Belgian friend sitting there with his pie-hole open, a Dutchman looking down at the table, and a small gaggle of assorted Scandinavian types looking bemused. One of which, a Swede I believe, was shaking trying to hold in a laugh. I got up to get another beer, not too happy with myself ... but in a way ... glad I "went there" too. By the time I came back, the topic of discussion changed and I tried to keep my mouth shut for the rest of the night.
We just see things differently - which is good.
Thus when television cameras show the bodies of children killed in an Israeli air raid, Jacksonian Americans are sorry about the loss of life, but it inspires them to hate and loathe Hamas more, rather than to be mad at Israel. They blame the irresponsible dolts who started the war for all the consequences of the war and they admire Israel’s strength and its resolve for dealing with the appalling blood lust of the unhinged loons who start a war they can’t win, and then cower behind the corpses of the children their foolishness has killed. The whole situation strengthens the widespread American belief that Palestinian hate rather than Israeli intransigence is the fundamental reason for the Middle East impasse, and the television pictures that drive much of the world away from Israel often have the effect of strengthening the bonds between Americans and the Jewish state.Not all Americans are Jacksonian ... but enough are to make the difference.
This automatic Jacksonian response to the Middle East situation overlooks some important complexities in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in the past America’s Jacksonian instincts have gotten us into trouble. But anyone trying to analyze the politics of the Middle East struggle as they unfold in American debates needs to be aware of the power of these ideas about war in American life.
In any case, when Israel brings the big guns and fast planes against Gaza’s popguns and low tech missiles, a great many Americans see nothing but common sense at work. These Americans aren’t mad about ‘disproportionate’ Israeli violence in Gaza because they don’t really accept the concept of proportionality in war. They think that if you have jus ad bellum, and rocket strikes from Gaza are definitely that, you get something close to a blank check when it comes to jus in bello.
If anything, rather than weakening American sympathy for Israel, Israel’s response in Gaza (and the global criticism that surrounds it) is likely to strengthen the bonds of respect and esteem that many Americans feel for Israelis. Far from seeing Israel’s use of overwhelming force against limited provocation as harsh or immoral, many Americans see it as courageous and wise. It strengthens the sense that in a wacky world where a lot of foreigners are hard to understand, the Israelis are honest, competent and reliable friends — good people to have on your side in a tight spot.