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How US support for Israel is damaging its global standing

How US support for Israel's war on Gaza is damaging its global standing
7 min read
20 November, 2023
Analysis: The unwavering US and Western support for Israel's devastating war on Gaza is doing long-term damage to the legitimacy of the 'rules-based order'.

The world has been glued to news about Israel-Palestine since 7 October.

The killing by Israel of over 13,000 Palestinians, including 5,500 children, in Gaza and the wounding of 33,000 others following Hamas’ incursion into southern Israel, which resulted in 1,200 Israeli deaths, has elicited powerful emotions across many parts of the world.

The Biden administration’s level of support for Israel amid its ongoing war on Gaza has caused anti-American sentiments to surge in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The anger directed against Washington is reminiscent of the regional environment in the years following the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yet, outrage over the carnage in Gaza is not only coming from MENA countries. It is present all over the Global South.

An intense war of narratives is being waged. Official US government talking points about Israel’s right to defend itself are extremely out of touch with public opinion globally.

Across Africa, Latin America, and Asia, many are mobilising in opposition to the US and other Western powers backing Israel. The fact that five Latin American countries (Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Honduras) have suspended diplomatic relations with Israel or withdrawn their ambassadors highlights this point.

Many in the West view the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as a Middle Eastern conflict. But outside of the West, the question of Palestine invokes feelings that many in the US and Western Europe have difficulty understanding.

Ultimately, to many, the Palestinian cause speaks to a fight against Western neo-colonialism. Many outside the West view Israel as a European settler-colonial enterprise that was imposed on Arabs in Palestine.

In Latin America and Africa, there is much sensitivity when it comes to racist settler-colonial states that wage violence against indigenous populations.

“The case for Palestine has been made in Africa, in Asia, and in the Middle East as a way of pushing back against American imperialism and the idea of Western imperialism,” said Dr Andreas Krieg, an associate professor at the Defence Studies Department of King's College London, in an interview with The New Arab.

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“From that point of view, the narrative that has been used by the Global South and the Global East vis-à-vis the West has always been fairly powerful, and the conflict in Palestine has been representative of that struggle and continues to be representative of that struggle,” he added.

“Given its history of colonialism, the West has long been seen as a centre of exploitation and dominance by many intellectuals, university students, and the educated classes in the Global South,” Dr Mehran Kamrava, a professor of Government at Georgetown University in Qatar, told TNA.

“The fact that European countries have refused to even call for a ceasefire, not to mention not condemning Israel’s ongoing atrocities and crimes against humanity, only further exposes the West’s hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to peoples of the Global South in general and Palestinians in particular.”

Israel has killed over 13,000 Palestinians in Gaza since 7 October. [Getty]

War of narratives

In an increasingly multipolar world, Western powers cease to dominate the global information environment.

“The West is isolating itself increasingly in this global war over narratives and this global competition over narratives. So, when we talk about great power competition and the competition of civilisations, we’re talking about essentially a competition of narratives,” said Dr Krieg.

After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Washington struggled to unite the world behind the West’s anti-Moscow agenda.

Last year, most countries in the Arab world, Africa, and other parts of the non-Western world did not buy the US and Europe’s arguments about the need to impose crippling sanctions on Russia in defence of the so-called “rules-based order”.

Many saw real hypocrisy in Washington’s efforts to rally the world against Russia for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and committing war crimes in that country, particularly considering the 2003 invasion of Iraq and other aspects of US foreign policy such as uncritical support for Israeli actions that constitute flagrant violations of international law.

Now, the level of difficulty that the US would have in trying to bring countries against Russia or any other power that’s an adversary of Washington would be significantly higher in light of the Biden administration’s ironclad support for Israel’s war on Gaza.

“The US's wholehearted support for Israel in its…bombing of Gaza has not only infuriated many Arab and Muslim allies, but it has highlighted for the Global South how hypocritical Washington can be in upholding basic notions of human rights and international norms,” Dr Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, told TNA.

“Many insist that America upholds a double standard on killing babies, with brown babies being considered less precious than white babies,” he added.

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For all the Biden administration’s focus on great power competition and efforts to challenge China and Russia’s rising power on the international stage, the White House’s policies vis-à-vis the war on Gaza are a huge boost to Beijing and Moscow.

Chinese and Russian officials have benefited from their ability to point out Washington’s isolation from virtually all Global South countries when it comes to Israel-Palestine while also presenting Beijing and Moscow as increasingly in touch with the views held by elites in governments and average citizens throughout Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia in relation to the war on Gaza.

“The US’s unconditional support for Israel in its Gaza war has brought net strategic gains for Russia and China,” Dr Kamrava told TNA.

“For Russia, not only has the Gaza war diverted global attention from the war in Ukraine, but it has only highlighted [the] hypocrisy and double standards with which the US approaches global issues, and more importantly, human tragedies,” he added.

The entire northern half of the Gaza Strip has been reduced to rubble by Israeli bombardments. [Getty]

“China has similarly benefited from Israel’s onslaught of Palestinians by distancing itself from Israel, appearing more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and seeming like a more viable global alternative and partner in terms of diplomatic ties and economic relations.”

Other experts have similar assessments. “Russia and China are direct beneficiaries of America's support for Israel,” explained Dr Landis. “So long as the United States refuses to get behind the two-state solution or to propose a way forward for Palestinians to achieve sovereignty and self-determination, autocratic states will insist that the United States demands equality and human rights only of its enemies and not of its friends.”

Globally, there’s widespread recognition of the differences between international law, as set forth by the UN Charter, and the West’s “liberal rules-based order”, which is basically a selective application of international law based on the geopolitical interests of the US and European powers.

The war on Gaza has further highlighted the difference between the two, making it harder for Washington or other Western capitals to invoke the “liberal rules-based order” with any real moral authority and credibility. 

Cables coming to the State Department from US diplomats serving in foreign capitals are warning that not only public opinion but also the opinions of elites in non-Western countries are shifting against the US as Israel’s war on Gaza rages on.

“We don’t understand yet what the complete damage is, but it will be considerable because now every single time we call out Russia in Ukraine, they will tell us, ‘Yes, but Gaza,’” Dr Krieg told TNA.

“Every time we call out China for their mistreatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, they will say, ‘Yes, but what about Gaza?’ That is something that will undermine the legitimacy and the credibility of the US in particular for generations to come.”

Giorgio Cafiero is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics.

Follow him on Twitter: @GiorgioCafiero