Skip to Content

Criticism of Israel gives Washington cover to intervene more in Middle East

Leaders of the European powers were forthright in criticizing Israel’s raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. French President Nicholas Sarkozy condemned “the disproportionate use of force,” and British Prime Minister David Cameron called the raid “completely unacceptable”. In contrast, President Obama’s response was more circumspect. A White House statement called the incident “deeply regrettable,” and Obama later referred to Israeli action as a “tragedy”. 

Critics of Israel see in the Obama administration’s response that Washington is taking its same-old solidly pro-Zionist line. Writing for McClatchy, Miret el Naggar and Margaret Talev find that Muslims in the Middle East believe the US response to the raid shows its true colors:  “Israel's deadly raid in international waters on an aid flotilla en route to break the siege on Gaza - and Obama's tepid response, in comparison to the condemnation of other world leaders - cemented perceptions for many of unconditional U.S. support for Israel. Some Arab commentators and bloggers said Obama no longer deserves his Nobel Peace Prize.”

It is true that Obama did not come straight out and denounce Israel for the raid. But US foreign policy is no longer steadfast in support of Israel as it once was, and the response from the White House and other sections of the US establishment to the flotilla raid highlights the changed environment. 

During the post-Second World War period, Israel was a key agent for US interests in the Middle East, especially as a bulwark against Soviet support for Arab nationalism. But since the end of the Cold War, the US has gradually moved further away from Israel. The so-called “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was anathema to the US during the Cold War, but became a key plank of its diplomacy in the 1990s.

Post-Cold War, the US’s intention is to remain a key player in the region, but now taking an apparently more even-handed, and less pro-Israel, approach. The US still provides billions in aid to Israel, but it has distanced itself from the country, while trying to avoid an all-out confrontation.

Indeed, in the US response to the flotilla raid, we see further evidence of this process of distancing from Israel - from the government to think tanks to pundits and even Jewish Americans:

  • Obama’s reference to “tragedy” may not have been a total condemnation of Israel, but the fact that he did not take sides and support Israel is itself telling.  While Israel was being condemned internationally, Obama did not rise to its defense at all.
  • The flotilla incident prompted Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies to write an article entitled “Israel as a Strategic Liability.” Cordeman argues “It is time Israel realized it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it tests the limits of US patience and exploits the support of American Jews.”  As the New York Times reported, Cordesman’s argument “has gained increased traction in Washington – both inside the Obama administration (including the Pentagon, the White House and State Department) and outside, during forums, policy breakfasts, even a seder in Bethesda.”
  • The opinion pages have their share of articles with traditional defenses of Israel, but what is more notable, compared with the past, is how many are openly critical. In its editorial, the New York Times - which is known for its customary support for Israel - wrote that Obama needs to “state clearly that the Israeli attack was unacceptable,” back an international investigation, and urge Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza.
  • In a much-discussed recent article in the New York Review of Books, Peter Bienert writes about how younger Jews in America are largely indifferent to Israel: “Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal.” Israel can no longer depend on a section of US society to provide support.

With such an understanding of the trend for the US to distance itself from Israel, it becomes clear that liberal criticisms of Israel provide a cover for the US to pursue that policy. The US is aware that any move away from its former “policeman” is likely have destabilizing consequences, which is why it has treaded carefully. But the international condemnation of Israel allows the US to blame Israel for any deterioration in relations between them.

Many on the liberal-left have been calling for Israel to be punished over the raid. The US will probably not go far as supporting that. But America will take the opportunity to re-claim the moral high-ground, and hope to be seen as an honest broker in the region. Given the terrible legacy of US intervention in the Middle East, including the bloody and unsuccessful recent forays in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US ought to have no credibility as a potential force for progress. But thanks to liberals who are focusing their fire on Israel, the US has been given a golden invitation to re-insert itself again. No good can come of this - neither for the Palestinians nor the Israelis.

3 Responses to “Criticism of Israel gives Washington cover to intervene more in Middle East” Leave a reply ›

Leave a Reply


I'd like to hear from you. Feel free to email me with comments, suggestions, whatever. I can be reached at