Editors' Note: This article is excerpted from Norman Finkelstein’s important new book about the Gaza conflict, “This Time We Went Too Far” published this month by OR Books. To purchase a copy of the complete book please visit OR Books. This book is not available from bookstores or other online retailers.
Public outrage at the Gaza invasion did not come out of the blue but rather marked the nadir of a curve plotting a steady decline in support for Israel. As polling data of Americans and Europeans, both Gentiles and Jews, suggest, the public has become increasingly critical of Israeli policy over the past decade. The horrific images of death and destruction broadcast around the world during and after the invasion accelerated this development. “The increased and brutal frequency of war in this volatile region has shifted international opinion,” the British Financial Times editorialized one year later, “reminding Israel it is not above the law. Israel can no longer dictate the terms of debate.”
One poll registering the fallout from the Gaza attack in the United States found that American voters calling themselves supporters of Israel plummeted from 69 per cent before the attack to 49 per cent in June 2009, while voters believing that the U.S. should support Israel dropped from 69 per cent to 44 per cent. Consumed by hate, emboldened by self-righteousness, and confident that it could control or intimidate public opinion, Israel carried on in Gaza as if it could get away with mass murder in broad daylight. But while official Western support for Israel held firm, the carnage set off an unprecedented wave of popular outrage throughout the world. Whether it was because the assault came on the heels of the devastation Israel wrought in Lebanon, or because of Israel’s relentless persecution of the people of Gaza, or because of the sheer cowardice of the assault, the Gaza invasion appeared to mark a turning point in public opinion reminiscent of the international reaction to the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in apartheid South Africa.
In the Jewish diaspora official communal organizations with longstanding ties to Israel predictably lent blind support. But, at the same time, newly minted progressive Jewish organizations distanced themselves to a lesser or greater degree. Whereas in the past mainstream Jews actively supported Israeli wars, most registered ambivalence during the invasion, apart from a contracting older minority that came out swinging in Israel’s defense, and an expanding younger minority that scathingly denounced it. Between the increasing estrangement of younger Jews from Israeli bellicosity and the increasing qualms of Jews generally about supporting it, the Gaza massacre signaled the break-up of hitherto blanket Jewish support for Israeli wars. In addition, whereas the antiwar demonstrations in most Western countries were ethnically heterogeneous (including significant numbers of Jews), the “pro”-Israeli demonstrations were composed almost exclusively of Jews.
The fact that active opposition to Israeli policy, say, on college campuses, has spread beyond the Arab-Muslim core towards the mainstream, whereas active support for Israel has shrunk to a fraction of the ethnic Jewish core, is a telling indicator of where things are headed. The era of the “beautiful” Israel has passed, it seems irrevocably, and the disfigured Israel that in recent years has replaced it in the public consciousness is a growing embarrassment. It is not so much that Israel’s behavior is worse than it was before, but rather that the record of that behavior has, finally, caught up with it.