As Andrew Sullivan notes, Steven Walt’s counterfactual about Israel-Palestine — in which he imagined if the roles of Israelis and Palestinians had been reversed — has generated a lot of much needed discussion, both about the history of the conflict and about the U.S.’s relationship to it.
The record seems clear: terrorist groups that are useful to us or harmful to states we officially oppose are given a pass, while those that target us or our allies are condemned in the strongest terms.
One example that supports Larison’s argument is the U.S.’s support for the Nicaraguan Contras. For more contemporary evidence, there is the U.S.’s sheltering of the Mujahedin e-Khalq, and anti-Iran guerrilla organization formerly allied with Saddam Hussein. The MEK has been under U.S. protection in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, even though it is classified as as terrorist group by the State Department. (Putting the lie to their claims of “moral clarity,” some neoconservatives have advocated supporting the formerly Saddam-allied MEK in operations against Iran, something which has certainly not gone unnoticed by the Iranian regime.)
Ross Douthat writes that he can’t imagine “Americans mustering much sympathy for a Jewish group with views, tactics and goals similar to Hamas.”
And indeed I think that American Jewish groups – the same groups that Stephen Walt holds largely responsible for America’s anti-Palestinian bias in our non-counterfactual world – would, for the most part, be at great pains to distance themselves from their theocratic, terroristic co-religionists in the Gaza Strip.
But of course we’ll never know.
Actually, we do know. American Jewish groups such as the Hebron Fund openly support and raise American funds for extremist settlers in the West Bank. These settler groups have views and goals that very much mirror those of Hamas, and they regularly carry out acts of political violence against Palestinian civilians whose land they’d like to have. Though these settler groups aren’t classified by the U.S. as terrorist groups, some have suggested that they should be — other Jewish extremist groups have been in the past — as their actions clearly meet the definition of terrorism.
It’s true that most Jewish Americans (and Israelis) condemn settler violence, just as most Irish Americans condemned IRA violence and most Palestinian Americans condemn Hamas violence, but so far this hasn’t stopped the relative few who support settler extremism from holding big money fundraisers in swanky hotels, or persuaded the U.S. government to apply the same standard to organized Israeli paramilitary violence against Palestinians that it does to Palestinian violence against Israelis.