Elissa Fertig

Addressing Americentrism in the Israel-Hamas War

Map of America

With the horrors of the Israel-Hamas war unfolding since October 7th, the international community appears more involved than in any other conflict in recent memory.

Americans have made their opinion especially clear, particularly on the progressive left, with mounting calls for ceasefire. This current political moment has thrown the far left’s stance on Israel into sharp relief, as evidenced by the clamoring to “Stop the U.S.-funded genocide!” from many constituents. Social media feeds are saturated with words like “apartheid” and “colonialism” in an attempt to transcribe Western experiences onto the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Since the breakout of this war, the progressive American left has viewed the conflict through a particular lens: Israel as a white supremacist nation that has wrongly accused people of color of terrorism, people who are now paying the price with the lives of their children. Despite common knowledge proof in the mainstream media that complicates this narrative—video of these self-same wrongly accused beheading innocent civilians, New York Times articles about Hamas hoarding water, food, and fuel at the expense of its citizens—many young leftists have chosen instead to support and buttress current Palestinian leadership in Gaza. Through the far-left lens, Hamas terrorists are freedom fighters, as there can only be one oppressor and one oppressed.

This refusal to contend with nuance is a distinctly American trait, one that comes out of the denial of two truths: that America has done both great good and great evil. While those on the far right want to “Make America Great Again”, to return America to its former blameless glory, those on the far left tend to believe that America can do no right. Subscribing to one extreme or the other creates a sort of political “horseshoe”, where the far-right and the far-left begin to mimic each other.

While the dangers of the far-right argument have been thoroughly parsed, the same is not necessarily true of the far-left. The political dogma that all the decisions that America has made are inherently evil and exploitative might appear somewhat innocuous at first, if simple and uncritical, but quickly leads to something insidious. Many Americans on the far left believe, then, that because the U.S. has so much sway, all of the ills of the world are, as such, products of American meddling and American exploitation.

As a global hegemon, this argument holds a little bit of water, but not much. And the dogma becomes particularly dangerous when conflicts arise in which America is not involved in the central ideological axis, nor relevant to the conflict’s inception.

The current Israel-Hamas war is a perfect example of the fallacy of this Americentric argumentation. The trouble with, “Stop the U.S.-funded genocide!” is the way it frames the conflict around the United States. The argument asserts that the United States is giving money and arms to Israel and, thus, the conflict must be about American interests and American exploitation. It also must mean, then, that Israel is another inception of America, another head to the chimera.

This argument may be true were Israel the only country involved in the current conflict, but President Biden just this week greenlighted access to $10 billion USD to Iran in electricity revenue. It is common international knowledge that Iran provides significant funding to Hamas in Palestine, as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and other terrorist organizations.

While providing access to capital can in itself be interpreted as a political statement, it is not immediately clear in this situation which U.S. interests are being furthered by backing both sides of a decades-long conflict. Regardless of the inflow of U.S. dollars into the conflict, backing or no backing, the ideologies that fuel the conflict remain.

The Arab world would continue to battle religious extremism, terror, and hostility toward the West. This includes the missions of terrorist organizations that seek to eradicate Jews and Israel and assert extremist Islamic ideologies wherever they have influence. While terrorist organizations do not necessarily represent the individual politics of Arab citizens in the Middle East, they do have quite a lot of political power in countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Ultimately, these ideologies play a hugely significant role in the current Israel-Hamas war, much more significant than any amount of U.S. foreign aid. The opposing ideology at play, of course, is the nationalist identification of Jews with the Levant, an identification that is inextricable from Judaism itself as a religion.

Failing to recognize the non-Western religious and ethnonationalist ideologies that drive the current war, is to place America at the center of a conflict that is ideologically unrelated to it.

This Americentrism is damaging to seeing the reality of the Israel-Hamas war. The opinions and political solutions of secular Westerners are, in this case, largely moot. While international cooperation is necessary to achieve peace in any conflict, without embodying the cultural experience of the Middle East, it is impossible for one to begin to understand the motivations behind this war in the first place. Additionally, placing the political importance of foreign aid above that of the motivating ideology behind the violence is a dangerous game in capitalistic narcissism, another symptom of Americentrism. Terrorist ideology and Zionist nationalism fuel the fire here, dogmas that Americans are not culturally privy to. And no amount of U.S. foreign aid will change that.

About the Author
Elissa Fertig is a writer and arts administrator living and working in Chicago, IL. Her work is published or forthcoming in JAKE magazine, Overheard Magazine, God's Cruel Joke, Polyester Zine, and others.
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