Ron Lora: Prudent thinking needed on Israel

From its earliest days, American foreign policy has undergone modifications as presidential administrations change. In overall goals, however, there are constants: protection of American land and people; protection of human rights and democracy; pursuit of policies that enhance domestic development and prosperity; maintaining a global balance of power; and for nearly a century supporting international peace through global cooperation. At times such goals are pursued from a nationalist vantage point, in that the pursuit of human rights and democracy abroad are sometimes overlooked or even rejected.

With regard to our Israeli policies, prudent thinking is now needed more than usual. All are aware of the horrible atrocities committed by Hamas in its Oct. 7 terror bombing that killed 1,200 Israelis and included shooting children in cribs while parents were forced to watch. By huge majorities, Americans believe Israel has the right of self defense and should exercise that right.

Nevertheless, now that Israel has been responding militarily for six months, the results have been just as horrifying. More than 32,000 have been killed in Gaza. In a guest essay in The New York Times, World Kitchen founder Jose Andres writes movingly of his seven team members in a convoy on April 1 that was blown apart by an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip after delivering 100 tons of food. The attack occurred as though food is a weapon of war and thus must be destroyed.

The deaths of the seven charitable workers, including citizens from America, Australia, Britain and Canada, captivated the world’s attention. Whether their three well-marked cars were directly targeted (as Andres insists) or destroyed carelessly, it raised anew questions about the United States’ support of Israel with weapons of war in such wanton killings of Gazans, the vast majority of whom are not terrorists. Where was the pinpoint precision bombing the Israeli military bragged about?

CNN White House reporter Stephen Collinson has highlighted contradictions in U.S. policy on Gaza. On the one hand, Washington expresses frustration, even outrage, over Israel’s mass killings of Gazans and demands that Israel shield civilians. Nonetheless, it continues full military support, including the recent transfer of 2000 additional bombs to Israel and will likely approve the sale of F-15 warplanes worth $18 billion.

It is well known that President Joe Biden has been heavily pro-Israel and loathe to place restrictions on U.S. arms sales to our foremost Middle Eastern ally. His concern over Gaza has been mounting, however. After Oct. 7, he began to share with aides more frequently that a two-state solution was a necessary part of any genuine peace plan — that is, an independent Palestinian state west of the Jordan River alongside the State of Israel that would enhance people’s security. In addition, such a political reorganization would mean that all lives matter, not only Jewish but also Palestinian Muslim and Palestinian Christian in a region that has long experienced the violence of Israel’s occupation.

President Biden’s phone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 4 portends a further policy shift. In what amounted to an ultimatum, the president said that the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza is “unacceptable.” According to a readout from the White House, he then insisted that Israel must announce and implement “measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering and the safety of aid workers.” Future military support will be “conditioned” on an assessment of immediate action taken.

No American president has found the Israeli prime minister an easy ally, and not a fully competent one either, save in techniques of maintaining his power. It came as a shock even to Israelis that for years before the bombings of last October, Netanyahu treated Hamas as an ally by encouraging Qatar to finance the terrorist organization. Perhaps now it will not be the prime minister calling most of the shots, as we become more insistent on highlighting our own values with particular reference to the protection of all human rights and in support of peace in the Middle East.

Ron Lora, a native of Bluffton, is professor emeritus of history at the University of Toledo. Contact him at [email protected]. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of the newspaper.