The Israel Impasse in America
Zionists and anti-Zionists dig in
What is more evergreen than Israel? Dominating headlines for the last month and a half, the war in the Middle East offers inexhaustible fodder for America’s divergent political factions. Conservatives and institutional Democrats hope they will, at last, marginalize the pro-Palestinian left, which has won the hearts of the under-35 set. The socialists and anti-Zionists hope they will free Palestine. In New York, I wrote today about some of the new energy coursing through the activist left, and what the immediate future might look like for a cohort that is no longer on the defensive.
Since Hamas attacked Israel in early October, killing 1,200 civilians and abducting 250 hostages, around 15,000 Gazans have died from Israel’s retaliatory bombing campaign. The carnage is staggering. There is little indication that the current pause in the fighting will hold; Benjamin Netanyahu wants to march onward, seeking the destruction of Hamas. The civilian death toll, for him, is inconsequential. Whether Hamas can actually be defeated—or Gaza can be effectively occupied—is a matter the Netanyahu government seems to have only dimly considered.
The tragedy of the situation is perpetual grist for politics here. Unlike, say, Darfur or Armenia, Israel’s entanglement with the Palestinians more easily maps onto American pathologies, arousing passion like no other international crisis. For a time, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine filled that void, thanks, in part, to the liberal-left’s hatred of Vladimir Putin in the Trump era, but that war, which has reached an unsettling stalemate, has faded from the popular consciousness. It’s all Israel and Gaza now. The war in Ukraine will wind down before this because, at some point, there will be a negotiated end; it’s now a question of when, what territory will be ceded, and how many more Ukrainians and Russians have to die.
Israel “works” as an American political fight because there truly is no answer anymore. Each side can maroon itself in its own imagined utopia. Each can rewrite reality however it chooses, and fight on indefinitely, confident, at least, that righteous fury is a renewable resource.