By Dan Siegel / Original to ScheerPost
We can tell the world is changing when tens of thousands of Texans rally in the capital of America’s most important red state to demand a ceasefire in Gaza and freedom for Palestine. No longer can the Israeli government enforce its deadly calculus of 10 (or 50? or 100?) Palestinian lives for each Israeli killed in its futile effort to suppress Palestine’s struggle for self-determination. No longer can an American President assume that the public will support propping up an Israeli government whose constant, murderous violations of international law bring us daily exposure to the violence and deprivation imposed on the Palestinian population.
The issues are no longer whether Israel should survive and whether Hamas’ murders must be condemned. Those are the easy questions. Countless millions of us have moved on.
The question for today is what the world will do to enable the Palestinian people to live in peace and security in a nation where their children enjoy the opportunities most Americans and Europeans take for granted. No one suggests that this challenge can be easily resolved, but the first step is for the U.S. to stop supporting the most right-wing government in Israel’s history from imposing unlimited violence and deprivation on Gaza while accelerating violent settler expansion in the West Bank.
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Israel’s strategies to ensure its survival and the means it chooses to defend itself should no longer enjoy unquestioned American support. Netanyahu’s government has exhausted its legitimate right to defend itself against the Hamas attack. It has already killed 11,000 Palestinians and provided no evidence that any of them were responsible for Hamas’ violence.
Israel’s air campaign against Gaza relies on the “emergency” American appropriation of $14 billion in military aid. American weapons have been designated for Israeli settlers stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank. U.S. officials know that Israel’s actions will not lead to peace. So do Israeli leaders, including many in the military. Netanyahu and his government survive because they have American support, including Jews who continue to maintain that criticism of the Israeli government is the equivalent of antisemitism. Many of us disagree. Recent polling demonstrates that the American public is evenly divided on support for the Israeli bombing of Gaza.
Organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and J Street represent ever growing numbers of American Jews. We are no longer cowed from describing Israel’s actions against the people of Gaza as genocide or its policies in the West Bank as apartheid. We are no longer intimidated by an American Jewish establishment that wields specious and exaggerated accusations of antisemitism and harassment to silence critics of the Netanyahu government.
America’s Jewish establishment does its best to suppress the contentious history of Zionism within the Jewish community worldwide. My grandfather grew up in the late 1800s in a small town in Belarus and became a student and political activist in Minsk. The intellectual life of his community focused on the debate about whether socialism or Zionism best served Jews’ long term interests.
Much public debate focuses on “who started it?,” and the simplistic answer given by Israel’s defenders points to the Hamas attack of October 7 as justification for Israel’s excesses. But the war between Israel and Palestine did not begin on Oct. 7, or even in 1979 or 1967 or 1948, and it was not created in the Holocaust. It makes more sense to say that the roots of the current conflict go back to the Crusades, a campaign that began around 1095 when Europe’s Christian kings raised and sent armies to the Middle East to overthrow its Muslim leaders and take their land. As they marched across Europe, the Crusaders attacked Jewish communities, murdering their populations and stealing their wealth. Almost 1,000 years later the descendants of those Arab and Jewish people contend for the land conquered by the Crusaders.
History will not tell us which side has right on its side. The search for peace must be forward-looking and requires a commitment to the welfare of both the Palestinian and Israeli people. American officials are far from powerless to stop the Netanyahu government. The problem is that they refuse to do so. The current crisis has created a demand for leadership with a vision of a world at peace.
This is Joe Biden’s Lyndon Johnson moment, the time for him to follow LBJ’s 1968 decision to withdraw from the campaign for reelection. The issue is not that Biden is too old. His policies are too old. The American Empire is no more. We need leaders ready to engage the emerging multipolar world, who do not imagine that the U.S. is going to war over Taiwan, who welcome sharing power with the nations of Europe and the BRICS countries. The end of America’s uncritical support of the Israeli government can be the first step in creating leadership for a world at peace.
Dan Siegel is a civil rights attorney in Oakland.