After the savage revenge killing of Mohammed Abu-Khdeir on July 2, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki unexpectedly called for restraint from both sides. With the usual line being ‘Israel has a right to self-defense’ in previous conflicts involving Israel and Palestine, the new US preventative stance took many aback, Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Infuriated pro-Israeli American pundits like Ben Shapiro and Pamela Geller had much to say, respectively saying “Obama was borderline Jew-hating” and that he “wants the Jihadists to win”. The reason for their anger – and conversely for hope amongst Palestinians, arises from the considerable change in tone from the Americans. Guarantors of Israel’s existence and virtually the only kingmakers in the region, are the Americans changing horses midstream? Several factors indicate that they may be.
After President Barack Obama nominated Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense in December 2013, a range of critics from former statesman Elliot Abrams to the Wall Street Journal berated Hagel for being an anti-Semite, with the WSJ even running an article called ‘Chuck Hagel’s Jewish Problem’. His evisceration by the US’s powerful pro-Israel campaigners gained momentum after Hagel was quoted as saying "The political reality is that … the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people.” Hagel later apologized for saying ‘Jewish lobby’ instead of ‘Pro-Israel lobby’.
More recently, US Secretary of State John Kerry weathered the storm after stating in a closed-doors meeting last April that unless there is a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Israel is in danger of becoming “an Apartheid State”. The Pro-Israel lobby was piqued, to say the least. Texas Senator Ted Cruz even called for John Kerry’s resignation. Due to the sheer strength of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), like Hagel, Kerry was repentant.
Speaking of AIPAC, despite their successful endeavors in getting two US cabinet members to apologize over comments they deemed unsavory, some may argue that they too are finding it harder to function in such a new – democratic – political clime. In February, The White House stalled a bill by AIPAC that pushed for newer, harder sanctions on Iran, with Reuters judging it AIPAC’s “biggest legislative setback in years.”
The most recent and perhaps strongest showing of a US change in course in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was the powerful Presbyterian Church’s decision to divest from three companies - Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar, and Motorola Solutions - that directly profit from Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. This made the Presbyterian Church the largest religious group to vote for divestment.
Still, the plebiscite that favored divestment was only narrowly won by a margin of eight votes. Shortly after the decision was made, Heath Rada, a newly appointed moderator for the Presbyterian Church, said, “in no way is this a reflection for our lack of love for our Jewish sisters and brothers.” The church also distanced its resolution from any link to the BDS movement.
Like in all the other cases, when all is said and done, the true face of the US emerges, and all voices transmute. From initially demanding restraint, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said “no country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.”
With the death toll in Gaza already in the hundreds, the “vicious attacks” have not killed any Israelis. Some may have been convinced with a possible shift in a US narrative on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but after John Kerry’s futile attempts at bringing peace, calls for restraint are merely a hail-Mary to not make the secretary of state’s efforts look so meaningless.
I asked Dr. Noam Chomsky, MIT professor and ardent activist for Palestinian rights, what his thoughts were, and if a change in US foreign policy to Israel was perhaps, just a pipe dream.
“As I read US foreign policy pronouncements, they rarely vary from the formula [of] ‘both sides should exercise restraint, and Israel is justified in defending itself from unprovoked terrorist attacks’. The usual criminal stance,” Chomsky said, very much to the point.