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Israel Has Lost the War Against Hamas in Gaza. Are US Liberals Next?

07/28/2014 03:39 pm ET | Updated Sep 27, 2014
  • Raymond Barrett Irish journalist and author, "Dubai Dreams: Inside the Kingdom of Bling"

Israel has lost its war against Hamas in Gaza. In truth, defeat was assured the moment the first missile or artillery shell tore through an apartment block and killed however many women, children and innocents stood between the Israeli Defense Forces and the target it had identified for destruction that day. Inflicting wholesale death and destruction on Gaza's civilian population while attempting to combat Hamas -- an organization that feeds on popular antipathy toward Israel -- is like playing strip poker with an exhibitionist, even when they lose, they win.

But the seeds of another far more impactful defeat are also being sown. Israel has begun to lose, ever so slowly, the blind support of the liberal class in the United States, a group that has steadfastly, though somewhat incongruously, been hesitant to voice even a scintilla of skepticism about the direction of Israel's moral compass in recent years. (Support for Israel among conservatives is absolute, unwavering and occasionally messianic.)

As someone born and raised in Ireland but now living on the other side of the pond, it is eerily fascinating to see how many liberal Americans walk on eggshells or suddenly develop moral blind spots when discussing the subject of Israel, mass civilian casualties and collective punishment. Many of my friends in both Ireland and the US would identify themselves as "liberal." They are pro-choice, support marriage equality and advocate gun control. They oppose the war on drugs, hawkish military interventionism and the corporate takeover of the democratic process. Yet when it comes to discussing this issue of Palestine, an incongruous veil of divergence, unease and silence often descends.

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The idea that's it's not acceptable for a nation state and UN member to fire artillery shells or drop bombs repeatedly and widely across a densely-populated urban environment, a move that will assuredly kill children, women and non-combatants, no matter the provocation, is generally an accepted pillar of thought among liberal Europeans. No IRA attack or atrocity, such as the Brighton or Hyde Park bombings, resulted in the Royal Air Force launching aerial bombardments of West Belfast or South Armagh to kill the bomb makers or neutralize "command and control" centers. In fact, it would be seen as ludicrous to even suggest such a strategy.

But in the US, liberals have needed some convincing. It was only once the civilian death toll went above 500 in this campaign, by no means the first or deadliest such attack, that the Obama administration seemed to develop a conscience, as if the first 100, 200, 300, 400 were understandable but that now things were getting out of hand.

The factors that explain these trans-Atlantic differences are numerous, complicated and not without their own controversies, but the general absence of compassion for Palestinian suffering in the mainstream US media must be a major factor. Take National Public Radio, for example, a mainstay of liberal news. The station's coverage of the conflict last Monday morning was more concerned with Secretary of State John Kerry's travel plans than the rights and wrongs of killing civilians. In short, a compassion-free zone.

But in the digital age, the ABC/NBC/CBS/New York Times/Washington Post hegemony has been broken. American liberals now receive their news from multiple sources: Al Jazeera, the Guardian, the BBC, Democracy Now, Haaretz, Comedy Central, Buzzfeed, Twitter, Facebook posts, YouTube videos and blogs -- sources of information that provide a more disparate, veracious and humanized portrait of events. Gaza has been transformed from a "fortress of terror" deserving nothing but contempt into a more mundane place where families share meals and children play football on a beach.

Given this change, how will Israel and its appetite for destruction be viewed by the next generation of US liberals? Will the plucky underdog of 1948 and 1967 come to be seen as a cruel bully who habitually inflicts collective punishment on civilian populations when combating militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas? If so, Israel may find a less sympathetic jury when it finds itself dragged in to the court of public opinion in the future.

And remember, no one likes a bully.

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