Is Global Opinion Shifting Against Israel?


The initial sympathy for Israel in the immediate wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks is diminishing as Tel Aviv’s response is widely viewed as disproportionate.

Nearly 17,200 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, with an estimated 70% being women and children.

After Oct. 7, ruling elites, government officials, establishment media and mainstream intellectuals were solidly pro-Israel, but there seems to be a shift as many scholars are now suggesting that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is using the attacks as a pretext to commit genocide against Palestinian people.

A group of UN experts last month also called on the international community to “prevent genocide against the Palestinian people,” warning that violations committed by Israel “point to a genocide in the making.”

Government officials in the West are still very pro-Israel, but “now they have to respond to outraged public opinion,” Nader Hashemi, associate professor of Middle East and Islamic Politics at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told Anadolu.

That is forcing them “to make statements that attempt to acknowledge the Palestinian dimension of this crisis, the suffering in Gaza, the need for a Palestinian state,” he said.​​​​​​​

Western nations have historically looked at the issue through the prism of historic antisemitism in the West, culminating in the horrors of the Holocaust and the need to support the creation of a Jewish state, said Hashemi, who is also the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

When you have a “big catastrophe, like what we saw on Oct. 7” people initially “retrenched to those positions,” he explained.

Western governments and intellectuals viewed what has happened as largely a story that focuses on Israel, while “the Palestinian side of the equation is, at best, just an appendage, a somewhat afterthought to this horror story,” he said.

In other words, the grievances of the Palestinians and the need for the Palestinians to have equal rights to Israelis are “not given the same type of consideration by Western ruling elites, as they should,” Hashemi added.

According to him, historical differences separate the West from the Global South and other states that are more sympathetic toward Palestinians, as those countries tend to view the conflict through the prism of the history of colonialism and imperialism.

Limited to rhetoric

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned last month that Tel Aviv has only weeks to eliminate Hamas, as public opinion is rapidly swinging against its attacks on Gaza.

Barak, the former prime minister and military chief who led the country between 1999 and 2001, said the rhetoric of US officials had shifted and sympathy toward Israel was diminishing, particularly because of the staggering civilian death toll in Gaza and fears of a regional spillover.

“You can see the window is closing. It’s clear we are heading towards friction with the Americans about the offensive. America cannot dictate to Israel what to do. But we cannot ignore them,” he told the news outlet Politico.

According to Anwar Mhajne, assistant professor of political science at Stonehill College, Israel “knew from the beginning that they have a limited time to respond” before the world starts raising questions.

While the rhetoric has changed, it is yet unclear if the policy has shifted, with many suggesting that the shift in the Biden administration is simply due to domestic considerations for next year’s elections.

Muslim voters are already threatening not to vote for President Joe Biden and Democrats are slowly changing their tune, said Mhajne.

Young voters who usually lean toward Democrats are also not satisfied with his administration’s handling of the crisis, she said.

According to Mhajne, the US providing military aid, vetoing resolutions and allowing Tel Aviv to respond in whatever way it deems appropriate is the reason why people are turning against the government.

“With the human cost so high, it’s becoming really hard to justify that Hamas is still intact, and people are questioning the strategy and also the goals of this,” she said.

Hashemi emphasized that “it’s mostly rhetoric … not policy.”

Washington has a lot of leverage that it could use to force Israel to comply with international humanitarian law and push for a serious peace process, he argued.

However, “up until now, the US has been very reluctant to even contemplate that idea,” he said.

In Hashemi’s opinion, the US should send a clear message to Israel that its support will be put in doubt unless it stops human rights violations against the Palestinians and enters a serious peace process.

But, unfortunately, he does not see the US “doing what … is needed.”

Hashemi said Washington’s unwillingness to withdraw its support is largely to do with its influence in the Middle East, but also domestic reasons related to the influence of Israeli lobby groups.

Divided Europe

While Israel has so far dismissed US pressure about minimizing civilian casualties, former Premier Barak said the country would not be able to ignore Washington and the EU for much longer.

Israel is “losing public opinion” and will “start to lose governments in Europe,” while “friction with the Americans will emerge to the surface,” he told Politico.

However, according to Hashemi, Europe remains divided on the issue.

Major countries such as the UK, France and Germany are very pro-Israel, particularly in segments of the ruling elite, establishment voices and establishment media, but we see the most pro-Palestinian sentiment in Spain and Ireland, he said.

In terms of public opinion and from what we have seen from large protests in Europe, “people are more critical of their governments” and their position on Israel, said Hashemi.

The EU, which tries to act with one voice on the issue, is “still very much in Israel’s camp,” with some dissenting voices such as Spain and Ireland, and maybe Portugal to a certain extent, he added.

US losing influence

In the Global South, in the Islamic world, in parts of Africa and large parts of Asia, there is outrage at the US and Europe for demonstrating a “total abandonment of the principles that the West articulated were foundational to the world order” after Russia began its “special military operation” in Ukraine, according to Hashemi.

These Western nations said “we had to abide by international law, that we had to oppose the occupation, we had to oppose annexation, we had to support the criminal prosecution of those people who are guilty of war crimes,” he said.

These principles announced in the context of Ukraine “have completely been abandoned” when it comes to Palestine, Hashemi asserted, adding that the Global South has taken notice and “it’s very difficult to take the West seriously anymore on these questions.”

Hashemi believes there is no going back to the world that existed before the current Gaza crisis, where the US and the West could claim some sort of moral leadership.

The biggest beneficiaries are China and Russia, who will capitalize on the “hypocrisy” and “double standards” of the West to send a message to the Global South to ally and support them in their attempt to rewrite the rules of the international order, he said.

Source : aa