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LAHIRI: Israeli partnership must prioritize peace


Column: Ethical Questions

From annexation to apartheid, the state of Israel routinely violates international law without tangible repercussions. 

Widely considered to be the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel has enjoyed generally unwavering support from the U.S., especially from the current administration. 

In President Donald J. Trump’s presidency thus far, the Trump administration has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reimposed sanctions against Iran and closed the Palestine Liberation Organization’s D.C. office.  

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has implemented policies, which call for the forceful displacement and arbitrary detention of Palestinians as well as the suppression of their rights to free speech, peaceful protest and equality under the law. 

A 2019 World Report by Human Rights Watch found that Israel restricts the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank and restricts their access to water and electricity.

The international community as a collective body is decidedly critical of Israel’s policies. From 1955 to 2013, the United Nations (UN) has passed at least 77 resolutions condemning Israel across the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the UN Security Council (UNSC). 

In 2016, the UNSC passed Resolution 2334, which asserted that Israeli settlements in Palestinian occupied territories had no legal validity and posed “a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security,” with the U.S. abstaining from voting. Despite widespread consensus about the nature of Israel’s policies, the U.S., the leader of the free world, has stood by its ally adamantly.

The relationship between the U.S. and Israel is one defined by common values: democracy, self-determination, freedom, all of which have been at the forefront of the American identity since America’s inception. Support for Israel in the face of territorial and human rights abuses seems to be incompatible with the American identity, but in retrospect, this is not the case.

In history, the U.S. itself has been the perpetrator of an array of war crimes, territorial abuses and human rights abuses. From the Trail of Tears, to the No Gun Ri massacre, to the Internment of Japanese Americans, to the My Lai Massacre, to the Abu Ghraib prison and more. 

These regressions are seldom mentioned in American classrooms. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) investigated the extent to which students in America are taught about slavery, and concluded that most students could not even identify slavery as a central cause of the Civil War. 

States in the U.S. mandate the teaching of genocide at varying degrees and often do not make meaningful efforts to require students to learn about war crimes committed on behalf of their country. Instead, the American education system tends to reinforce the prevailing attitude that the U.S. is the archetypal liberal democracy.

It really never has been and still fails to be. The current leadership is considering pardons for members of the military convicted of war crimes, Guantanamo Bay detention camp is still in operation and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers infringe upon the fundamental rights of Americans daily. 

Within the U.S., support for Israel is evident among the influence of the pro-Israel lobby and the opinion of the American population, though it is unclear to what extent these factors actually influence U.S. foreign policy decisions.

Pro-Israel political action committees contributed $14.8 million to the 2018 midterm elections, with most of the money going to Democrats, and from 2019-2020, at least 20 groups within the lobby have contributed money to federal candidates, parties and outside groups. 

It is worth noting that groups like JStreetPAC, which explicitly condemns illegal Israeli expansion, and S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, which encourages the exploration of both the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives, were the top two highest contributors from 2019-2020.

As of March 2019, 69% of American adults view Israel very or mostly favorably, according to research conducted by Gallup. Liberal Democrats were found to be the only party or ideology that is not partial to Israel in regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Still, Gallup concluded that “all groups, including liberal Democrats, have maintained a largely favorable view of Israel since 2001.”

Withstanding the U.S. tendency to shield Israel in the UNSC, numerous resolutions have been passed which condemn Israel’s behavior, though Israel has directly violated more than 32 of them and continues to ignore the UN’s efforts to protect Palestinian civilians. 

In order to defend its principal values while still reflecting the interests of its population, the U.S. should adopt a pro-Israel stance which seeks to prioritize peace before all else, and makes room for decisive repercussions against any actions by Israel which violate the peace.  

Anuska Lahiri is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science. Her column, “Ethical Questions,” runs on alternate Mondays.

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