Changes in American Public Opinion Towards Israel

It is no longer a secret to anyone that Israel has strong support by the press, Congress and the American people in general. This is explained strongly by the support of the pro-Israeli lobby and its influence in the United States. Public debate taking place in America on matters related to the Middle East is often unbalanced towards the benefit of Israel. This can be seen by the small amount of criticism, as we do not find anything else like it in the world, including Israel itself, especially in the daily newspaper the “Haaretz” which is free of harsh criticism of the Israeli government. Equally well known is that the general American support for Israel is often a major factor in influencing the policies of the U.S. president, which calls for giving special consideration to the American public support for Israel, regardless of other factors that affect policy in the Middle East. It is true that President Obama is very popular, but he is not an exception to this rule in any event.

However, we note signs of a slight change in the public debate on the Middle East. These changes are still very preliminary and it is difficult to say at the present time that it indicates a fundamental shift in public debate. Yet, it should be noted: What are these changes specifically?

First, prominent American journalists have begun openly criticizing Israel’s policies. In 2007, two notable academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, could not publish their lengthy and detailed article “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” in any newspaper in the U.S. as it was considered detrimental to its national interests. They were forced to publish it in the “London Review of Books.” The two professors have since been able to develop the article for book publication. The book was printed and distributed within the United States of America in 2008, where it gained success and interest for a wide range of readers.

Second, we recently came across another example by Henry Siegman, a well known leading American Jew who was also a former director of the American Jewish Conference. His article was entitled “Israeli Lies,” which contained a strongly-worded criticism of the Israeli government. Like the article by Mearsheimer and Walt, this one has not been published in the U.S but in the “London Review of Books” as well, and has received wide circulation among readers across the web, even as it has caused a great deal of controversy among Americans who are interested in Middle Eastern issues.

In addition to Siegman’s piece, a number of other prominent leaders of the Jewish community in America have voiced a sharp criticism of the hard-line Israeli policies. Recently, a group of senior leaders of the community took a practical step towards the establishment of “G Street”, a lobbying firm calling for the availability of a greater balance in the policies of Washington and the Middle East. It should be noted that this group has great influence in public debate on the region.

Third, the features of the looming change in the American press itself, which has long been known in their coverage by its connection to the official position at the expense of Arab public opinion and the views of its leaders. For example, in a report prepared by journalist Bob Simon that was broadcast on the show “60 Minutes” on CBS, it had been prepared with great sympathy towards the Palestinians and a sharp criticism of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Simon, who is spiritually connected to the Middle East, especially Israel, where he has lived for ten years and was there during the recent Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip. This event had a remarkable display on “60 Minutes,” the famous TV program prepared by the best American reporters and is known as one of the best investigative programs broadcast on a large network. Simon expressed his critical views of Israel through his meeting with Charlie Rose, one of the most prominent American television interviewers.

Fourth, the “Washington Post” has published a surprising editorial entitled “Israel’s Step Backward” on February 15th. We should know that the “Washington Post” is the newspaper which the officials and policy makers in Washington read every day and is known to support Israel strongly. The artcle was a surprise because of its unexpected criticism of one of the Israeli leaders. In dealing with a possible victory, Benjamin Netanyahu was blamed for disrupted the peace process in the nineties due to his positions. The editorial proceeds to warn Obama’s administration in taking the positions and policies of the Israeli government into consideration and from continuing to support it as if it were right, as the Bush administration did.

The editorial concluded that it is no longer able to Washington and Israel to accept an Israeli government that disrupts the Peace Process. The impact of this may seem very strange to the Arabic ears. However, the issuance of the article in one of the leading American newspapers is surprising to Americans as to Arabs, especially as the image on Israel was very negative.

But it is too early to say that the American public debate on the Middle East has become more balanced now, but still true that it is politically impossible to any U.S. political ambition who aims for re-election to draw a sharp tone when criticizing Israel. Here are the “Friends of Israel” responding to this new critical trend of Israel in the American press with an article title “Israel Lobby as Scapegoat.”

While the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace process is seemingly more distant than ever, especially with the possibility of Netanyahu as prime minister. However, the signs of this change in American public opinion on Israel may open a new window of hope that Obama’s administration would maneuver and develop policies that are more balanced in its approach of Israel.

Obama’s task will not be easy in the Middle East of course, but it might be of great benefit to the changes of the American public, especially that this view has a strong influence on the policies of Washington and their positions on the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.

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