U.S. Peace Movement Hobbled by Pro-Israel Bias

Sharon Smith Aug 11, 2006

proisraelSen. Hillary Clinton appears at a pro-Israel rally held outside the Israeli mission to the United Nations. PHOTO: FREDASKEW.COM

Israel’s slaughter of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians should be a moment of truth for the U.S. left. The Bush administration’s rush shipment of precision bombs to aid Israel’s onslaught should be a wake-up call for those who purport to follow antiwar principles, yet until now, have failed to take a clear stand against Israel’s role in the “War on Terror.”

The U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq were meant as mere stepping stones in a strategic plan aimed at establishing U.S. – and Israeli – dominance over the entire Middle East. With the U.S. occupation of Iraq rapidly spinning out of control into civil war, Israel is providing an alternate route toward achieving those shared goals.

As the Washington Post argued on July 16, “‘For the United States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration believes is pooling resources to change the strategic playing field in the Middle East,’ U.S. officials say.”

Realizing this goal requires crushing Arab organizations fighting for self-determination in Gaza and Lebanon. Acknowledging this simple fact, however, also requires finally admitting the crucial role played by Israel as the United States’ historic regional partner in enforcing its Middle East policy.

The Arab leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, despite their subservience to U.S. imperialism, remain despotic leaders who could easily meet the same fate as Iran’s Shah in 1979. Israel remains the United States’ only “reliable” imperial partner.

Yet United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the largest national antiwar coalition, argued in a July 18 “action alert,” “We condemn Hezbollah’s attacks on Israeli civilians, and we condemn the Israeli assault in Gaza and Lebanon.” The statement repeated the mainstream media’s depiction of Israel’s assault as a response to Hezbollah’s seizure of Israeli soldiers and firing rockets into Israel, which UFPJ called “irresponsible acts.”

Echoing liberal commentators, UFPJ criticized Israel for its “disproportionate” response – as if Hezbollah started the conflict and Israel is guilty only of over-reacting. This latest episode merely provided Israel with the excuse for a major assault on Lebanon. Israel’s claim that it is attacking Lebanon to get its soldiers back belies the fact that Hezbollah has repeatedly offered to exchange the two Israeli soldiers for Lebanese and Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel, but Israel has refused.

In reality, Israel has had a plan in place for well over a year to take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself to launch a military attack on Lebanon, according to the July 21 San Francisco Chronicle. Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, told the Chronicle, “In a sense, the preparation began in May 2000, immediately after the Israeli withdrawal.

By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we’re seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it’s been simulated and rehearsed across the board.”

Democrats have been vocal cheerleaders for Israel, taking turns with Republicans at pro-Israel rallies across the country. At one rally, Sen. Hillary Clinton condemned the “unwarranted, unprovoked attacks from Hamas, Hezbollah and their state sponsors” and called them “the new totalitarians of the 21st century.”

These accusations are absurd. Palestinians democratically elected the resistance movement Hamas to lead their government earlier this year. Israel invaded and occupied southern

Lebanon in 1982, the last of its troops pulling out only in 2000. Hezbollah gained its legitimacy as a resistance movement by finally driving Israel out of Lebanon, after 18 years of occupation.

The violence of an occupying force cannot be equated with the resistance of an occupied population, as if both sides are equally responsible for the bloodshed.

There is no symmetry in this conflict, and to pretend so is to obscure and distort what is really taking place in Lebanon and Gaza today. This attack on Lebanon is an extension of the U.S. war on Iraq. It is therefore astonishing that the dominant organizations of the U.S. antiwar movement are acting as though this is a sideshow, “even-handedly” condemning both sides.


Israel’s own barbarism has forced its role as attack dog for U.S. imperialism to the front and center of the antiwar movement. Within the last few weeks, thousands have protested Israel’s war on Lebanon and Palestine in Dearborn, MI, Boston, Chicago, and New York City. In each case, the demonstrators were predominantly Arabs and Muslims.

Moreover, the connection between the U.S. war on Iraq and Israel’s war on Lebanon and Palestine were repeatedly made clear – at the Chicago protest for example, with chants such as “Free, free Palestine; free, free Lebanon; free, free Iraq;” and “Occupation is a crime, from Iraq to Palestine!”

For these directly affected immigrant communities, no hand-wringing debate is needed to support genuine resistance against U.S. or Israeli war and occupation, as there is in the mainstream peace movement.

The weakness of the U.S. antiwar movement toward Israeli war crimes is a longstanding and shameful phenomenon. As journalist Laura Flanders observed in 2002, “On June 12, 1982, American activists massed in New York City to call for peace and nuclear disarmament. But the Central Park rally made no mention of the week’s own bombing – Israel’s then defense minister, Ariel Sharon, had just sent Israeli forces into Lebanon two days earlier.”

“But while we rallied, U.S. jets flown by Israeli pilots dropped bombs on Palestinian refugees and men, women and children in Lebanon… A message sent then might have saved a generation of Palestinians and Israelis from 20 years of occupation, fury and fear.”

The stakes are even higher now, as the United States has made the Middle East the testing ground for its global domination. There are principles and thousands of civilian lives at stake again, today.

Sharon Smith is the author of Women and Socialism and Subterranean Fire: a History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States. This article was excerpted from

5 Responses

  1. Michael McGee says:

    Its what 1985 by Orson Welles was talking about all along. The government rewrites history to serve its purposes, and the news media twists the truth. Hezbollah was formed for the sole purpose of getting Israel out of Lebanon and they are viewed as terrorists. Israel has been abducting people around their borders for years, but as soon as theirs are taken, the US gives them the green light to start a war.

    Long live the Ministry of Truth, Justice and Love.

    Long live the lies of our government.

  2. new jerusalem says:

    This is so true. Thanks for this article. Sharon Smith should also be identified as a writer for the Socialist Worker.

    My question to Smith and others: It’s not just that “mainstream” peace movement is soft on Israel — who SPECIFICALLY continues to impose this ill orthodoxy on the left?

    I mean names, organizations — who votes how within UFPJ’s leading bodies?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Good article.

  4. vf says:

    1984 by George Orwell

  5. anonyjew says:

    Fascinating. There are so many points in Smith’s distorted screed to take issue with, but let’s start with one fantastic claim, that there is an “Arab organization(s) fighting for self-determination in…Lebanon.” (One would have to assume that this “organization”—talk about Orwellian double-speak— refers to Hezbollah, the “organization” that precipitated the conflict by sneaking into a sovereign state—that would be Israel, or the “Zionist entity” as you anti-semites prefer to call it—and killing six and kidnapping 2 of its soldiers.) Seeeing how Lebanon is an ostensibly democratic state with an elected parliament and leadership, what would be the purpose of an “organization” fighting for self-determination in a state that already has self-determination? Unless of course you are referring to Syria’s de facto occupation of Lebanon for much of the last several decades. But Hezbollah is in fact an agent of Syria the occupier, and trains as well as fires its weapons on Israel, which until the recent fighting hadn’t had a soldier on Lebanese soil in almost six years. So I’m confused—self-determination for whom against whom?
    One other thing: you seem to think that Israel’s years-long preparation to attack Hezbollah when they deem it necessary constitutes some sort of additional crime against humanity. Why don’t you feel the same way about Hezbollah’s apparent years-long build-up of weapons and preparation for war against Israel?
    Why is it only when Jews defend themselves that you folks get all bothered.
    Why don’t Smith and her buddies, that means many if not all of you reading the Indy, just admit they/you want Hezbollah to finish Hitler’s work?
    By the way, I’m just waiting for that article on Iran’s crackdown on political and religious dissenters. (They’re not technically Arabs, so it shouldn’t violate your scewed priciples, such as they are.) Might be best if I didn’t hold my breath waiting, though.

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