Is the American Public on Israel’s side?
The argument that Hamas bears responsibility for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as put forward by Israel, has not convinced the American public. Unlike previous operations and wars, Israel’s attempts to justify targeting civilians in Gaza and its insensitive remarks about civilian casualties have undermined its public relations campaign. Faced with the perception that Israel is willing to risk American citizens held by Hamas, the Biden administration has intensified efforts to delay a ground operation in Gaza. While criticisms of Israel from the progressive wing within the Democratic Party may not be enough to change the Biden administration’s full support for Israel, they do indicate an increase in public sensitivity to the humanitarian situation, particularly regarding the need for Gazan civilians to reach safety.
According to an Ipsos poll conducted on October 20, 41% of Americans believe that Israel should receive support in the Gaza conflict, while a combination of those who prefer it to be a neutral mediator (27%) and those who don’t want the U.S. to get involved at all (21%) surpasses this figure. While the percentage of those who think that Palestine should be supported is quite low (2%), around 41% believe that the U.S. has an obligation to protect Palestinian civilians. This number is similar for Israeli civilians (53%). Notably, 81% of those surveyed believe that Israel should avoid killing civilians while targeting Hamas. With a high percentage (87%) of respondents believing that civilians in Gaza should be allowed to seek refuge in a safe country, it is evident that there is a strong sensitivity to the humanitarian crisis, and the notion that Israel is justified in claiming that Hamas uses civilians as shields doesn’t seem to have gained sufficient traction.
Former President Obama’s remarks on the situation in Israel and Gaza can be seen as an indicator that the public’s response to civilian punishment in Israel has grown stronger. Obama states that while Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas attacks, we need to be clear that military operations must adhere to international law, especially regarding civilian deaths. He emphasizes the importance of protecting civilians during wartime as vital not only for building international alliances but also for Israel’s long-term security. Obama argues that ignoring civilian casualties and neglecting the deaths of thousands of Palestinians, including children, as well as the displacement of hundreds of thousands and Israel’s cutoff of food, water, and electricity will not only worsen the humanitarian situation but also further alienate future Palestinian generations. This, he warns, will diminish Israel’s global support and undermine regional peace and stability.
While Obama’s warnings about the humanitarian crisis could be seen as relatively mild criticisms, given the current political climate that continues to heavily support Israel, they do indicate that Netanyahu’s government is under scrutiny. Phrases such as ‘Israel has the right to defend itself, but…’ are increasingly common and reflect American public discomfort with civilian punishment in Gaza. The departure from the long-standing U.S. aid principle of ‘security for peace’ that has been the foundation of American assistance to Israel since the Oslo Accords is notable. Instead, American aid has been used to support Israel’s expansion, deepening, and permanence of its occupation of Palestine. Now, there’s a high likelihood that this aid is being used to create the dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza that persist to this day.
The ongoing debate shows that the American public generally continues to support Israel in its conflict with Hamas but is increasingly uncomfortable with civilian punishment. In the early days, the conflict was likened to Israel’s 9/11, and extreme reactions were somewhat legitimized. However, as time passes, the dimensions of the humanitarian crisis have attracted the attention of the American public. While President Biden continues to provide unqualified support to Israel, and the mainstream media remains insistent on focusing on Israeli experiences, it’s not possible to say that the American public unequivocally stands by Israel.