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The U.S. Public Won't Put Up With This Forever
Recent polls show support for Israel is waning. It only took 11,000 deaths to get there.
It is easy to have a dismal view of public opinion in the United States. It is a fickle, easily-swayed, morally incoherent, and logically backwards force; it has been manipulated by decades of propaganda and abused to justify acts of tremendous greed and evil. This is because most people are not paying attention to all of the various complexities and dilemmas and philosophical arguments of the world — mostly they are trying to pay their bills and maybe watch a little TV with people they like to be around after work. And yet, eventually, public opinion often very gradually comes around to Figure Stuff Out. It is obvious that people of any gender who love one another should be allowed to marry — and the public supports that. It is obvious that the war in Iraq was a disastrous mistake — and the public now agrees with that. This is not a clean process nor an universal rule; often it takes decades or even longer for the common morality that I think most people feel and understand to assert itself.
Right now, it appears we are seeing such a shift happen in real time. Shortly after the attacks on October 7, 41 percent of Americans polled by Reuters said that the US should back Israel. In a similar poll released today, that number was down to 32 percent. This relatively small shift in support — from a minority to a smaller minority — was accompanied by several other encouraging numbers. A whopping 68 percent of Americans said they support a ceasefire. Only 31 percent support sending weapons to Israel, and 43 percent oppose it.
Polls are notoriously unreliable, but given the conservative nature of these numbers — they don’t show any absurd swings or outlier-looking data — it seems that the American public is, in general, starting to come around to another moral truth: that for decades, U.S. policy toward Israel has been an insane and morally unjust endorsement of an explicitly apartheid regime and a tacit approval of its steady stream of war crimes. Our tax dollars have been dropped in the form of missiles on hospitals and schools and apartment blocks. They have bought weapons that may make their way into the hands of genocidal paramilitary forces attempting to forcibly eject people from their homes. Our own political system has been held hostage by a devastatingly powerful special-interest lobby that seeks to perpetuate this system indefinitely, and both major parties in power have benefitted from that status quo.
These specific statements are not what’s in the Reuters poll, of course. I’m pretty confident that if you made them to the average American they would either say “what?” or “uhh, sure” and change the conversation. Some may say “yes totally,” or “no way,” but as it stands they are not what I would call “common knowledge.” But I think we can get there. I think the very obvious truth of what is happening in Gaza right now is pretty much impossible to avoid, despite the best efforts of those who want it to continue, and those who desperately want to justify the atrocities. I think that many of those who watched it with glee will come to feel deep shame, and those that do not will only retreat further into a moral darkness that we cannot extract them from. So be it. The rest of us will know what is right and what is wrong.
That knowledge, however, has come at a price. That price is more than 11,000 Palestinian lives. It should not have taken that much death to begin this shift; that it did is a failing both of our leaders and the people like me whose job it is to tell people the truth about what is happening in the world. Nothing we do now can bring back the dead — but every poll number that shows we will not support their killers is a slim hope that fewer innocents will join them in their graves. The atrocities happening in the Holy Land should not have begun decades ago. They should not have escalated on October 7. They should not have continued in new and horrific ways in the month since then. But the fact that they have does not mean that they always will: there is and can be an end to the killing. It’s our job to find it as soon as possible.