The Clintons, Israel and Tiananmen

The pretence that the US is just an honest broker in the Middle East was shown up for what it is by the appearance of the president's wife at a pro-Israel demonstration in New York Thursday.

The US as a global power, and a commercial power with huge oil interests in the Arab world, would like to be an honest broker in the region and many of its finest diplomats have tried to be so. Presidents have tried too, particularly Mr Clinton and Mr Carter. But not since 1956 when President Eisenhower forced the abandonment of the joint Israel/Anglo-French invasion of Egypt has US national interest been fully exerted against the Israeli lobby in the US.

Israel's ultimate dependence on the US has been evident ever since the 1948 UN vote to dismember Palestine and give a separate state to the minority community. Through more than half a century it has been sustained through huge flow of money and arms to Israel, constant support in the UN Security Council where the US has vetoed innumerable resolutions against Israel and unwillingness to pressure it into concessions, such as a piece of Jerusalem for the Palestinians.

It can reasonably be argued that the US has every moral justification and self interest in supporting Israel to the hilt. However it cannot realistically support Israel almost unconditionally, and be an effective and honest broker, even in the post cold war world where the US has no global rival. For a journalist, Israeli influence is especially evident in a media, which has long viewed Israeli policy of massive and indiscriminate retaliation whenever Israeli Jews are killed, whether in Israel itself or in the territories it occupies by force, as normal.

What a contrast there has been between coverage of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and recent events in Israeli-occupied territories. No one know how many civilians demonstrators and PLA soldiers were killed in neighbourhood of Tiananmen. But it is likely that the PLA came off rather worse than the 95/4 ratio of Palestinian to Israeli Jewish dead in the past ten days. It is curious how stone throwing Palestinian students are described as "waging war" against soldiers firing bullets, sometimes rubber coated, some not. At best, both sides are blamed. When will these same media blame the students as much as the PLA and the Zhongnanhai leadership for the deaths in 1989? Or the Indian independence protestors for inciting British soldiers to shoot 300 dead in Amritsar in 1919? The hypocrisy is stunning.

Westerners live in the shadow of being dubbed anti-semitic if they view Israel's actions as they are viewed in most of the developing world, as those of an expansionist state, created and sustained by the west. Given the west's treatment of Jews, the need to be especially aware of anti-Semitism is right and proper. But it also helps Israel to get away with its harsh treatment of people who had no responsibility for the holocaust, and in one respect became secondary victims.

It anyway ill-becomes Israelis to throw around accusations of racism when their own constitution is so profoundly racist. That may be understandable in the context of its history. but it is an inescapable fact. Israel has many virtues as a modern state. It is democratic, open, educated and prosperous. In these respects it should be an example to its neighbours. Nor can its determination to survive be doubted.

However, Israel may need to be worried that one factor is not moving in its favour: political demographics in the US. There was a time till recently when the Israeli lobby went almost unchallenged and Muslims in general and Arabs in particular were routinely defamed in the press and by Hollywood. However there are now probably at least as many Muslims as Jews in the US, and a fast growing population of Arab origin. They are poorly organised, geographically spread, and carry little political clout. But their voice is growing and is likely to continue doing so as a second generation has more confidence than its migrant parents. They have started to come out on the streets and before long their votes will count too. The Jewish vote will still be vital in New York but ten years from now the view of Israel may have changed significantly regardless of what actually happens in the Middle East.

To a lesser extent the same is true in Europe where attitudes to Israel have always been ambiguous. Large post-1945 Arab and Muslim communities in France, Germany and Britain can neither take any blame for the holocaust nor fail to sympathise with their bretheren in Palestine in the same ways as Jews naturally support Israel even when they disagree with specific policies. Israel can probably rely on Arab states being too divided among themselves, or more concerned with the Turks or Iranians than with Israelis, to offer a direct threat. But the demographic erosion of western support is something it can not afford over time.




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