With the proceedings of history being what they are — unendurably slow — change in a country’s national mood often passes largely unnoticed.
Here’s a case in point. About three years ago, I shared with my readers on this page a recollection of my encounter with Father Daniel Berrigan (d. 2016), the American Jesuit priest, renowned 1960s anti-war activist, poet and nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. The encounter took place in October 1973 when I shared a panel discussion with the celebrated priest at the annual conference of the Arab American University Graduates Association (AAUG) in Washington. There he criticised Israel as an occupying power, albeit in measured, almost pained terms — for you had do that in those days. Still all hell broke loose afterwards as prominent figures in the Jewish community called this nationally respected man an anti-Semite. Father Berrigan was alarmed by the slanderous accusation.
Truth be told, what he said at the time would elicit yawns today, given the comparatively harsh criticism of Israel found in the mainstream media every morning. Yes, the times have changed, though hurling the canard of anti-Semitism at Israel’s critics has not. But the national mood in the United States regarding the issue has decidedly taken a turn. The American street, so to speak, is finally discovering truths — years after its counterpart in Europe — that it had hitherto ignored. And though the accusation is still being hurled, it is hurled with diminishing effect.
You see, this notorious charge has been so incessantly resorted to, often at the drop of a hat, for the most improbable of reasons, in so cavalier a fashion, and with such impressive ease, that it now no longer breathes life for its intended purpose: Silencing those who criticise Israel. The only segment in American society today that accepts the traditional Zionist narrative, without question, and gives massive echo to its messianic bellowing, is made up of under-educated Evangelicals, whose vision of the End Times a majority of Jews find repellent. In fact, instead of the end of times, we’re here looking at how the times have changed.
Consider the case of young freshman legislators recently elected to serve in the US House of Representatives, already stirring the pot on Capitol Hill and, along with other progressive legislators, accelerating that shift in the national mood, certainly among Democrats, who, both as lawmakers and base, are beginning to show impatience with Israel’s duplicity and pique with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to a poll released recently by the University of Maryland, conducted by professors Shibly Telhami and Stella Rouse, 46 per cent of Democrats back sanctions against Israel, while a majority, 54 per cent, wants the US to be even-handed, That figure climbs to 72 per cent among Democrats.
And last Monday, Jackson Diehl, no detractor of Israel, in his regular Washington Post column, wrote, as he looked at figures that tell a compelling tale: “Netanyahu’s personal ratings among Democrats have plummeted during the presidency of Donald Trump, along with support for Israel. In 2015, 31 per cent of Democrats said they had a favourable view of Netanyahu, according to Gallup. By August 2018, that had dropped to 17 per cent. According to Economist’YouGov polling, the percentage of Democrats who said they considered Israel to be an ally dropped from 31 per cent to 26 per cent in just six months between December 2017 and May 2018.” And, yes, just 16 per cent of these folks supported the US Embassy moving to occupied Jerusalem.
True, the proceedings of history are unendurably slow, but over the sum of time, there can be no doubt that the dialectic of history is just. The suffering of the Palestinian people may seem wanton and absurd — a mere passing instant in that dialectic — but it was meted out to help people comprehend and then master the workings of destiny — and grow from there.
Father Berrigan, unlike others before him, must have known that. He must have known, as a man of the cloth, that at the end of the day, it is not unreason but equity that governs man’s estate, where, for every oppressor, a day of reckoning always comes, as does for the oppressed a day of grace.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.