A nation divided over a nation divided

A Liberal Dose


An interesting thing happened to me the other day. I was on YouTube, looking for the most recent clip from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. The first thing that popped up was a bit showing Anderson Cooper reporting on the conflict between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza. Cooper was telling us that an attack had been launched from Gaza that killed Israelis, and the Israeli government was bombing Gaza in retaliation, killing countless civilians, and saying it was Hamas’s fault for hiding weapons among those civilians. Why was this on a comedy show? Because Oliver showed several more clips of Anderson Cooper -from 2012, 2009, 2006, back to 2002 - saying almost word-for-word the exact same thing. The joke was that there were two constants in the world: Anderson Cooper always looks exactly the same (Oliver made a Dorian Grey reference), and Israelis and Palestinians are always killing each other. I noticed at that point that the clip I was watching wasn’t from a 2024 episode after all, it was from a 2014 episode.

And that’s about the only halfway funny thing that can be said about this whole tragic situation (and even that is far more sad than funny).

Despite the fact the two sides have been fighting each other for what seems like forever, things have ramped up unbelievably since Oct. 7, 2023. On that day, Hamas fighters surged into Israeli territory and killed over 1,100 people and abducted about 250 more, whom they took back to Gaza as hostages. There were reports of incredible atrocities, rape not least among them. Israel responded with overwhelming force, which surprised no one… but many have been surprised, and outraged, by how overwhelming it has been. So far, 34,000 people have been killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza - the vast majority of them civilians (and many of them children). The people of Gaza now have very little, in some cases no, access to food, medical care, fuel, electricity, or, in many cases, drinkable water. The result is widespread starvation. The UN Human Rights Council has cited “clear evidence” of war crimes. A large number of journalists and international aid workers have been killed by Israeli forces, sometimes despite clear markings of their identities.

Everything I said in the above paragraph was fact. However, exactly what those facts mean, or for some people how those facts are framed, depends on perspective. And everyone in the world -including the U.S. -does not have the same perspective. Most come down very firmly, often forcefully, on one side or the other. It seems most on the political right unequivocally side with the Israeli government, but the left is divided - with many on the center-left steadfast in support of the Israeli government, but many farther-left folks supporting the Palestinians, or even Hamas. While not universal, it seems to me there is also an age divide, with most people I know under 35 much more critical of Israel and much more empathetic toward the Palestinians of Gaza. I’ve heard pundits from both parties claiming that is true because young people are uninformed or easily misled, but I don’t think that is the case. I think at least some of it depends on how much one’s thinking was shaped by the Cold War era.

I also think that most Americans in general - young or old, left or right -don’t fully understand the complexities of this situation or the history associated with it. And I think that a lot of people (liberal and conservative) have fallen into the trap of describing any opposition whatsoever to Benjamin Netanyahu or the Israeli government as antisemitism. I admit that is a factor for some, but not for the vast majority of protesters. There are huge numbers of Jewish people IN ISRAEL who oppose Netanyahu and the current actions of his government (I know some). There are large numbers of Jewish people in the U.S. who are part of the pro-Palestinian protests around the country. My own future son-in-law, a devout Jew, was baking bread last week to take to the shabbat observances by the large number of Jewish protesters at one of the campus encampments.

It’s not as simple as many would have you believe. Or maybe it is… just not in the same way.

I said last week it was going to take a while for me to address this subject. This week’s whole column has been composed of me just setting the stage. Next week we’ll start delving into the history.

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech and serves on the executive committee of the Tennessee Democratic Party. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.      


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