Despite the executive order issued by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the beginning of this month, which demanded the withdrawal of investments from companies that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, this step does not reflect the general policy of the United States. There is a transformation in American political rhetoric, a part of which hearkens to the difference in political consciousness between generations and to the influence of new, alternative social media and communications in the political process.
There is a misleading, intellectual construct focused on Palestinian “terrorism” and Israeli “security.” This misleading terminology, which most politicians keep repeating without thinking, is often used to describe the situation in the Middle East. However, it seems that some politicians — like presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Sen. Patrick Leahy — have begun lately to deviate from this course, which points to a clear change in political rhetoric. This current change has already contributed to the organization of boycott campaigns and the emergence of a candidate like Sanders, who gave a speech in Idaho taking up issues such as Israel’s control of 80 percent of the water reserves in the West Bank. Sanders intends to clarify his positions vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for his campaign base, the majority of which is young, very progressive and represents a large slice of the Democratic Party’s base. Sanders is Jewish and lived in Israel, so he is fortified against the attacks and smear campaigns that other politicians are exposed to on this issue.
The boycott comes as a path forward for Palestinians who cannot find someone to lead them on the political front. The Palestinian Nationalist Movement is paralyzed and cracked from within, while the Arab world is being put to the test by sectarianism and is controlled by corrupt, undemocratic regimes. As for civil society, it began holding the reins of power — instead of the body politic — and its message began appealing to very diverse segments of the population that never trusted the mainstream media. Many activists began to realize that the mainstream media was lying, and started to consider it with suspicion and doubt. Overall, this does not mean that everyone became a conscious Palestinian activist, but it does mean that they are not following mainstream media, unlike the older generation.
Attempts to Undermine the Movement
The response to the Palestine Solidarity Movement in the United States is not commensurate but rather exceeds expectations considerably. It is excessive and paid for by billionaires and dozens of organizations with huge budgets. What was the anti-boycott conference held last month at the headquarters of the United Nations General Assembly — at the invitation of the U.N. ambassador — but evidence of the success the boycott is achieving?
The intensity of the response and its scope are an indication of the degree of rhetorical change. Conservative politicians and the leaders of the American Jewish community (the most far-to-the-right from the society they claim to represent) have been afflicted by a state of hysteria because of the challenge facing the narrative they have successfully disseminated for a long time. However, the inherent American values represented in freedom of expression and academic freedoms opened the door for discussions about Zionism and anti-Semitism. They are issues that Zionist forces do not want to bring up, knowing that the Zionist attack on the boycott spurred a controversy that exposed the false narrative.
Rhetorical, Political and Policy-Based
Although some segments of American society have become more attuned to the voice of reason, the fixation of the American elite on national, strategic interests in the Middle East has not changed. Translating the ongoing change on the rhetorical level into policy change first requires translating it into a political language. What this or that administration does is influenced by its view of American strategic and material interests.
Most of what happens at universities, in churches, and within civil society in solidarity with the boycott movement has no relation to politics. Members of Congress and governors are not elected because of their stance on this issue. Many steps still separate us from a major change at the political level. There is little indication of what may or may not happen, for example, in such cases as that of Leahy, Sanders and other intelligent personalities who are in touch with the changes in the makeup of Democratic Party members and the demographics of the country overall. However, we will not see a change in policies in the absence of political change and a shift in perspective regarding American interests and how to understand them.
When translating politics into policies, the American dimension is not the only goal. It is important that the Palestinian Nationalist Movement is revitalized somewhere so that it can express its Palestinian, nationalist goals in a convincing manner. That hasn’t been the case for a long time. Palestinian and American civil societies only represent their own interests, and what they have the capacity to achieve — regardless of the importance of the goal, particularly at this juncture — would be very different if there was an active Palestinian nationalist contingent capable of expressing a clear strategy for liberation. When that movement crystallizes, things will change. Of course, that involves making correct, strategic choices; the Palestinians have picked poor strategic options at times in the past.
Intersection of Right-Wingers
Many still don’t appreciate the existing chasm between American politics and Israeli politics. Many ruling Israeli politicians — among them, numerous members of the present government — are only an extension of the fanatics who took over the Republican Party. Sheldon Adelson is evidence of that, because he is one of the most generous donors to the Republican and the Israeli right. The ruling Israeli right and the American right have become fused. There are durable bonds between the bigoted and racist demagogues who presently hold sway over the Republican Party and those who dominate Israeli politics.
Although Obama is one of the most biased politicians for Israel when it comes to Palestinian rights, he gives Israelis and their American allies good reason to hate him when he exposes the ruse of the Iranian bogeyman and changes Middle East strategy at the end of his term. Nor is it clear whether or not the Obama administration will issue standards or adopt a resolution in the United Nations regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Note that the protocol today is modeled on Bill Clinton’s standards, although Israel never took them seriously.
American policymakers and business magnates began to realize that the three major allies of the United States in the region — Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — are stirring up major problems within American policy, although the United States still considers those countries valuable assets. Many in Washington know this is nothing new. However, their ability to do something about the situation is limited, because American commercial interests are very influential and cannot be separated from Gulf oil money. Keep in mind that these interests include oil production, the banking sector, the housing sector, aircraft production, defense et cetera. Thus, although decision-makers see problems arising from the policies of these countries, some of the most powerful interests in the American economy are tied to the status quo in the Gulf region.
President Obama and his administration pushed for change, but they lacked the resolve. No one knows whether the next administration will view matters in the same light. In the meantime, the toxic environment that the Saudi takfiri ideology* is spreading has helped establish alliances between Israel and Gulf states. Evidence of this alliance is the negotiation of an agreement placing the Raytheon anti-ballistic missile system in the United Arab Emirates. On the surface, an American company is busy building it, while Israel is the one actually managing it. This is a full-fledged military alliance in all but name. This is the atmosphere in which we are working today: The tyrants who are ruling the Gulf and have been dominating Arab politics for decades are moving forward publicly in an alliance with Israel.
*Editor’s note: Takfiri refers to the case when a Sunni Muslim accuses another Muslim of apostasy.