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Opinion | US support of Israel is calling Washington’s global leadership into question

Opinion | US support of Israel is calling Washington’s global leadership into question
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Despite numerous foreign policy missteps, the US continues to portray itself as the champion of freedom and rights. But the Gaza crisis may ultimately shatter America’s facade as the guardian of the rules-based world order.

As pro-Palestinian protests erupted across US university campuses, senators and wealthy donors alike began pushing for a clampdown, testing an American core value: freedom of speech.

Sure, freedom has its limits, but determining when a peaceful demonstration turns into a “violent mob” can be subjective, flawed and often tinged with hypocrisy.

Senator J.D. Vance is among several Republican senators who have been called out for hypocrisy for condemning the protesters at Columbia University after defending the January 6 Capitol rioters.

Then there’s Senator Tom Cotton, who denounced the crackdown on Hong Kong protesters in 2020 – declaring that “Xi Jinping and his communist thugs must face severe consequences for crushing Hong Kong’s freedoms” – only to call on US President Joe Biden last month to deploy the National Guard to quell the Columbia student demonstrations. Clearly, for some US senators, not all protests are equal; some are deemed more legitimate.

Last month, during an address at the University of Malaya, US academic Bruce Gilley accused Malaysia of advocating for “a second Holocaust”. The remark ignited a firestorm, resulting in the cancellation of his subsequent talks, and Gilley left the country the next day.

Malaysia’s response to Gilley’s controversial remark is fuelled by perceptions of double standards. In a recent media interview, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim asked: “Why the hypocrisy of condemning the October 7 attacks by Hamas but remaining mute on 60 years of atrocities against the Palestinian people?”


Malaysia’s leader condemns Israel over Gaza strikes as thousands attend pro-Palestinian rally

Malaysia’s leader condemns Israel over Gaza strikes as thousands attend pro-Palestinian rally

The October 7 tragedy has diminished the West’s empathy for the people of Gaza. But for the Muslim world, the root of the problem lies in the unresolved injustice of Western colonialism in general, and the Nakba – the mass expulsion of Palestinians from what is now Israel 76 years ago – in particular.

South Africa has taken Israel to the International Court of Justice, accusing it of genocide. Akin to the fight against apartheid, the struggle for a free Palestine is rallying the Global South in its quest for a more just world order.

China is emerging as a key factor in this reconfiguration. Last month, Beijing hosted a meeting between representatives of rivalling Fatah and Hamas to promote Palestinian reconciliation. Last year, China brokered a detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia, a momentous development for the region. These initiatives underscore Beijing’s assessment that the road map to stability in the Middle East involves a united Muslim front.

Indeed, tribal enmity and religious sectarianism have impeded the development and progress of the Middle East. External powers have often exploited these fissures.

In April, an Israeli air strike on Iran’s consulate in Syria killed two Iranian generals. The attack risked escalating the covert war between Israel and Iran into open conflict, potentially dividing the Muslim world. As was the case, when Iran retaliated against Israel, some Arab states reportedly provided intelligence, and Jordan helped intercept the Iranian missiles.

In what was seen as a divide-and-rule strategy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had for years bolstered Hamas to weaken Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and obstruct the formation of a unified Palestinian state. The current right-wing Israeli government does not view the two-state solution as a viable resolution. Despite warnings, Netanyahu is determined to wage a bloody battle over Rafah, aggravating a humanitarian catastrophe.

Meanwhile, the campus protests in the US against the Gaza war are being compared to the anti-Vietnam war movement in the 1960s, which is believed to have killed Democrat president Lyndon B. Johnson’s chances of re-election. With President Joe Biden seeking re-election this year, Democrats are concerned that his chances could be similarly jeopardised. Just as the Vietnam war ultimately benefited Richard Nixon, the Republican elected as president in 1968, the Gaza crisis could pave the way for Donald Trump’s return.

But there is a key difference. In 1968, Democrats and Republicans were divided on the Vietnam war. Today, US congressional support for Israel is bipartisan, and neither a Biden nor a Trump presidency is likely to fundamentally change the trajectory of the Gaza conflict. This underscores the enormous sway the pro-Israel lobby group, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has over the US political landscape.

Sadly, the US campus protests are unlikely to bring about a swift conflict resolution.




This month, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to support a Palestinian bid for full UN membership. Only nine states, including the United States and Israel, opposed the resolution.

This week, Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, sought arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes. On Monday, speaking at a Jewish American Heritage Month event at the White House, Biden rejected the charges against Israel, stating that what was happening in Gaza was not genocide.

Despite a string of foreign policy mishaps, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US continues to see itself as the guardian of the global order. But the Gaza crisis may prove different. The US’ unwavering support of Israel’s ruthless war against the Palestinians is galvanising the world. As the UN vote shows, the US is facing growing isolation on this issue and more on the international stage.

The Global South has long harboured doubts about the US’ role as the defender against oppression and tyranny. The rest of the world must also no longer be deceived by the US’ pretence and should strive for a new international order that is genuinely inclusive and representative.

Peter T.C. Chang is a research associate at the Institute of China Studies, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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