Israel has lost control of the political narrative and Democratic support

Once again Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, dedicated to what they call the “end of the occupation” and the destruction of Israel have engaged in rocket attacks on Israel responding with strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza.

What began as a dispute over loudspeakers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the eviction of three Palestinian families squatting in homes owned by Jews in the Sheikh Jarrah area of Jerusalem quickly escalated into some 11 days of violence with casualties on both sides.

While the latest round of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has so far ended in a cease fire, and damage to the Hamas infrastructure in Gaza, Israel has once again lost control of the political narrative and is paying a heavy price in both the U.S. and Europe. The Palestinian narrative and body count has provoked an enormous level of public criticism from members of the Democratic Party toward the Israeli government, as well as many American Jews that they have counted on for decades.

What began as steadily increasing condemnations of Israel’s response to attacks from Hamas has rapidly evolved into full-throated denunciations of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians over the past seven decades, with Democratic lawmakers accusing Israel of violating international law from the House floor.

Leading progressive thinkers such as bartender cum Congresswoman AOC continue to denounce Israel and Jews as “occupiers of Palestine.” Unfortunately, such thought, based on no understanding of regional politics and history is becoming widespread with little push-back from reasonable Democrats that have long stood with Israel against terrorist attacks.

For leading Palestinian thinkers and pro-Palestinian activists, these developments did not happen overnight. According to one Arab activist “people of conscience looking at this issue should immediately recognize the power imbalance and injustice, and speak out about it. That hasn’t always been the case here — in fact, it’s been quite the opposite.”  

While speaking out in support of Palestinians in the U.S. has long been viewed as a taboo with considerable political costs, it has now become fashionable among progressives who have come to dominate the national political scene. Here some elected officials are now perceiving costs for not speaking up about it. 

This is very different from the past, and it’s because there has been a significant change in attitudes around this issue — not just with the base of the Democratic Party, but where many Americans are on this issue, who have been sold on the narrative that there is something fundamentally unjust with Israel’s ongoing denial of the Palestinian’s basic rights to no end.

In legislative terms, House Democrats blocked a bill that would sanction financiers of Hamas and Islamic Jihad — terrorist organizations in narrow defeat of 217-209 bringing sanctions against foreign individuals and governments aiding Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The bill would have reauthorized the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act, a bill that previously passed by the House in a prior session unanimously.

Democrats were unwilling to bring the measure to a vote because an increasing number of their representatives in the House are pro-Hamas, including members of the Squad, and the party’s leaders didn’t want the optics of siding against Israel and with terrorist groups in the middle of the ongoing fighting. 

One of the most notable elements of the statements in recent weeks is the variety of ways these lawmakers have related to Palestinians. They discussed their own experiences with police brutality, facing racial and religious discrimination, being child refugees resulting from war, and experiencing how U.S. aid contributes to state violence.

The pro-Palestinian stance of these progressive lawmakers reached an unprecedented level after AOC and her fellow “squad” members introduced a resolution attempting to block a $735 million arms sale to Israel — the first-ever attempt by sitting members of Congress to block such a sale.  Interestingly this package included support for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system as well as “smart” bombs used against terrorist tunnels that minimize collateral damage. Fortunately this was even too much for the Biden White House to swallow.  

Support for Hamas has also manifested itself in a myriad of social media posts in support of Palestinians to a widely supported, unprecedented letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that slammed Israel — as well as the most vocal, unrestrained criticism of the Biden administration from within the party since he became president.

Others now argue that Americans see what is happening to Palestinians now thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, and the constant news bombardment around police brutality. Conflating the two, they argue that this is fundamentally about human rights: not about some age-old religious conflict, but about state violence against what they claim to be the spectacle of murder of unarmed Black people, and see the Palestinians as being subject to similar state violence.

Lost here is any understanding of the Hamas charter calling for Israel’s destruction and slaughter of the Jews, let alone the thousands of rockets fired into Israel toward this end.

Central to the long-standing Democratic support for Israel has been the American Jewish community, largely liberal that has supported both Democratic candidates and Israeli interests since that nation’s founding.  For years now that support has continued to erode. The Netanyahu government continues to be perceived as “right wing” and most recently tied to the Trump administration — an anathema to progressives.

Progress during the Trump administration, such as movement of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and the Abraham Accords did little to change the curve. Apart from the relatively small Orthodox Jewish community, the narrative of “occupation” and injustice to Palestinians is gaining support, and Israel has failed to counter it.  

Most recently anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attacks on American Jews by pro-Palestinian mobs have become a daily shocking occurrence. It is long past time for American Jews to wake up to what is happening at home — as well as in Israel and Gaza and hopefully get their progressive colleagues in Congress, as well as J Street and elsewhere to recognize reality. The current conflict may be in a ceasefire mode, but it is far from over.

• Abraham Wagner has served in several national security positions, including the NSC Staff under Presidents Nixon and Ford and is the author of the forthcoming book “Israel and the Search for Peace: New Realities and a Way Forward.”

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