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Middle East

Gaza, Israel and the company we keep

You want to keep downing the Israel lobby’s Kool-Aid? Well, take a look at your new drinking buddies.
Last modified: 28 Jul 2014 21:25
How can Israel's supporters continue to defend a clear case of collective punishment against civilians? [Reuters]

So I got into it with an old friend from high school days over Gaza and Israel.

I’ll call her Judy. She’s Jewish and I’m not.

Typically we see eye to eye on most issues, geo-political and social. We still swap music, doing online today what we did as students with cassettes and vinyl.

But since I started covering the Middle East 20 years ago, our friendship has been occasionally strained. And this latest chapter in Gaza, with its mounting casualties on the Palestinian side, including all those children, is the latest example of that.

I’ve tried to figure out how my Jewish friends, and any supporter of Israel who has a brain, can back this. Is it out of loyalty or a sense of duty? Are they blind to the pictures; in denial over the numbers?

How can they continue to defend what I, and so many others, see as a clear case of collective punishment against a civilian population? And, therefore, a war crime.

Many supporters of Israel dismiss my views as a simple by-product of my job at Al Jazeera. They can conveniently write me off as a tool of Qatar (even though every trip I have ever made to cover Israel and Palestine, where my views took shape, came when I worked for ABC News, a network not known for being editorially tough on the Jewish state).

Here’s one of the things that bothers the liberal pro-Israel crowd. It’s not what I think. It’s what others think.

It’s about the people, the voices that liberals have come to respect and admire, who can no longer support, or stay silent on, what Israel is doing.

And – and this is the real point - it’s about the company that supporters of Israel, from the political left, now keep.

They can write me off for drinking the Al Jazeera Kool-Aid. They can dismiss Jimmy Carter, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the Middle East, as a geriatric who’s lost his marbles. They can even find some way to live with the fact that Jon Stewart, who’s a lefty icon and Jewish, has started to stray from the herd.

But what they can’t deal with, what really troubles them, is who is left on their side.

You want to keep downing the Israel lobby’s Kool-Aid at the AIPAC bar? Well, take a look around you, at just about the last drinking buddies you've got left, on this issue.

Troubling for liberals

Who’s that sidling up next to you? Why, it’s Rush Limbaugh! And who’s that next to him? Looks just like Bill O’Reilly, deep in conversation with Bill Kristol and Dick Cheney. All of them, nodding sagely.

There’s Paul Wolfowitz in the corner, with John Bolton, surrounded by a bunch of people wearing buttons from the Tea Party.

Having difficulty dealing with what’s being written in the papers and on your go-to websites and blogs? That’s OK. There’s always the Wall Street Journal editorial page. You haven’t gone there in a while, maybe never. But at least they see this story the same way you do.

And who needs The Daily Show as a nightcap, anyway? Stewart’s just a clown who’s lost his way. Besides, it turns out The O’Reilly Factor is on at the exact same time on Fox News. And they need a younger demographic in The No-Spin Zone. You fit the bill.

That is among the most troubling aspects of this whole thing for liberal North Americans who still support Israel. The very same people whose views, policies and sound bites liberals have come to absolutely abhor are among the last remaining fighters on their side.

Judy and I are Canadian. And we both oppose, and sometimes despise, the Harper government's ugly brand of wedge politics. Harper, of course, has written the Israelis a blank morality check for Gaza and wherever else they might want to bomb.

I sometimes ask Canadian Jews and backers of Israel to name me one other policy of the Harper government they actually support. They cannot. But, they say, Harper is somehow right on the Middle East.

We are all judged by the company we keep. That, in itself, is never reason enough to change our beliefs. When they are right.

But sometimes, when we’ve been blinded by our loyalty or sense of duty, and we’ve checked into the Denial Hotel, it’s good to take a look around the hotel bar.

That is where liberal Jews and stubborn supporters of Israel now find themselves.

They’ve dispensed with me, and the likes of me. They’ve written us off. That’s the easy part.

What is not so easy, is what – and who - they have replaced us with.

These, Judy, are your new friends. But I do get the feeling that, once you’re done discussing Israel and Gaza, you won’t have much left to talk about.