There is no doubt that the United States is currently Israel's strongest and best ally. The list of recent affirmations of the alliance, the "special relationship," and the "unshakable" and "unbreakable" bond is awesome: Secretary of State Clinton
; President Obama
; Vice President Biden
; 300 congresspersons
Jews in general, and Zionists in particular, seem to have an unshakable faith that this bond is unshakable and unbreakable. Daniel Pipes declares
: More broadly, the U.S.-Israel bond has strengths that go far beyond politicians and issues of the moment. Nothing on earth resembles this bilateral, "the most special" of special relationships and "the family relationship of international politics."Neville Teller reviews the reasons often cited for this "unshakable bond
: Common culture and values, the "Jewish vote" and the mythical power of AIPAC.
The story of the "historical connection" and common values" is more myth than fact. There was no such relationship before 1967, as Mitchell Bard and Daniel Pipes pointed out in a 1997 article
:For many years, U.S.-Israel military ties were non-existent. From Israel's creation in 1948 until the mid-1960s, State Department and Pentagon officials argued against even providing American arms to Israel
On the eve of the Six Day War
the influential State Department official Harold Saunders made it unequivocally clear
that there was not, and had never been until then, any special relationship:For twenty years Israel has sought a special relationship-even a private security guarantee-with us. We have steadfastly refused in order to preserve our other interests in the Middle East.
Nobody, so far as is known, contested Saunders' statement. He was stating the obvious, but his words were buried in a classified document and are ignored. Unpleasant truths are unpopular. The special relation existed only in the election campaign speeches of U.S. politicians to Jewish voters. The same politicians tell the same story about special relations to every other national minority. Obama even invented such a story for Muslims.
As I have noted previously
, however, though most of the same factors were in place since the creation of the State of Israel, Israel was not favored by the United States during the Eisenhower administration, to say the least, and didn't really enjoy a close partnership with the United States until after 1967.
Israel became "valuable" to the United States after the Six Day War because it had proven its ability to act independently. That made Israel useful to have as an ally. It also evoked the fear that without US "guidance" (control), Israel might act in opposition to US interests and "destabilize" the Middle East (meaning that Israel might threaten regimes that are friendly to the United States or anger the Arab states).
This exchange, in a joint meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee, between Senator Symington and Secretary of State Dean Rusk
, is enlightening: Senator Symington: ...in effect they have struck by themselves and have been markedly successful. Does it not mean we have relatively little leverage on what they want to do now that they have physically occupied these countries by utilizing their military equipment intelligently?
Secretary Rusk. We have some limited leverage on them...
But Israel would soon need advanced aircraft and equipment to fight the Soviet aircraft, pilots and air-defense systems during the war of attrition with Egypt. The United States saw an opportunity to gain leverage on Israel by selling them Phantom jets, previously refused, and to use that leverage to get Israeli territorial concessions as a way to gain influence for the United States with the Arab states. The Yom Kippur war and the peace diplomacy that followed accelerated and magnified this process. From the American point of view, that is what the "peace process" has always been about.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is widely touted by terror groupies as a Zionist agent. But in 1975, Kissinger told Iraqi representatives in a secret meeting in Paris
:We can't negotiate about the existence of Israel, but we can reduce its size to historical proportions. I don't agree that Israel is a permanent threat. How can a nation of three million be a permanent threat? They have a technical advantage now. But it is inconceivable that peoples with wealth and skill and the tradition of the Arabs won't develop the capacity that is needed. So I think in ten to fifteen years, Israel will be like Lebanon-- struggling for existence, with no influence in the Arab world.
Kissinger's frank remarks represent the consensus of a large group of US policy makers, and not necessarily those who are outspoken foes of Israel. It is not altogether clear what is to become of the "special relationship" according to this view, once Israel has been cajoled or forced to surrender all of the territories conquered in the Six Day War.
The recent declarations and affirmations regarding the "unshakable bond" are, in reality, quite the opposite. They are sugar added to hide the taste of bitter medicine -- the sort of thing you say to an employee you are about to fire. Each such declaration has been part of an announcement of policies that are bad news for Israel. They are not signs of a strong relationship, but rather signs of a relationship that has seen better days, but requires lip service. "The lady doth protest too much."
Disillusionment should certainly have come when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was deliberately humiliated by President Obama. Netanyahu, who counted on the mythical "special relationship," walked in to an ambush at the White House, and Obama made certain that it was reported in the media. Barack Obama does not act on impulse. The insult was planned with malice aforethought. It was cold and calculated.
However, there doesn't seem to have been any disillusionment or any lessons learned. Dore Gold wrote
a carefree piece about "fluctuations" in the US-Israel relationship. Indeed there have been fluctuations, and we have "been here before." But just because you dodged the last bullet doesn't mean you can be careless about this next one, or that you can make believe that nobody is shooting. Daniel Pipes engaged in platitudes about the "special relationship
." These are either symptoms of fatal complacency or whistling in the dark. Denying that a problem exists is not a way to solve it.
The nature of the policy dispute was of far less significance than the fact of the ambush. It was relatively unambiguous signal to the Arab and Muslim world that the United States government has no compunctions about selling Israel down the river, and the Holocaust - denying Iranian Press TV was glad to gloat
It is folly to count on American Jews or an "Israel Lobby" to maintain American support for Israel, or to be complacent about U.S. support for Israel. Jews
constitute a tiny minority in the population of the United States - about 2%, even according to a most generous estimate
. A small but very active faction of American Jews is virulently anti-Israel and is much better at making its views known than are supporters of Israel. The Jewish minority is supported by pro-Israel Evangelical Christians. Evangelical Christians may constitute about a third of American voters
, but not all Evangelical Christians are pro-Israel. "Evangelical" can include Mennonites for example, not known for their sympathy for Israel or Jews. The stereotyped "Christian Zionist" pro-Israel right wing evangelicals have not had the political clout to enact other parts of their political program, such as school prayer and bans on abortions and gay marriages. They cannot be the sole source of the fairly solid pro-Israel sentiment
in the United States. This consensus of pro-Israel opinion is not to be taken for granted It is under constant attack from an alphabet soup of anti-Israel groups and organizations: ISM, PSM, PAJL, BDS, JVP... from increasingly hostile and biased media, and from a more and more hostile academic environment, which is spawning the opinion-shapers and leaders of the very near future. There is also no guarantee that US government policy will always follow public opinion on an issue that is peripheral for most people.
The United States also has a sizable, well organized and vociferously anti-Israel Muslim population
, which is claimed by some to be larger than the Jewish population, though it is probably no more than 1% of U.S. population.
The much-vaunted AIPAC is not going to save Israel from inimical American policies. AIPAC can get Congress to vote for an impressive resolution about U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but the resolution is not worth the paper on which it was printed. The US government doesn't recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel, and certainly not as the capital of Israel. AIPAC cannot lift the U.S. embargo on advanced military equipment to Israel either. Lobbies work through Congress. Congress does not control foreign policy except in the most indirect ways. Congressional races are always decided by domestic issues.
The myth of the Jewish lobby and the special relationship is good for American leaders, who can use it to elicit misplaced trust that any policy pursued by the American government "has the best interests of Israel at heart," since after all, "we are family." It is also useful for Israeli and American Jewish leaders, as a means to intimidate the enemy and to garner support for AIPAC. AIPAC's ability to get donations, as well as its ability to influence policy, depend on the perception that it is powerful. Not surprisingly, when there is a difference of opinion, nobody is willing to admit that there is a problem.
As David Verbeeten pointed out
: ...[Abramo F.K.] Organski argued that should analysts accept that American Jewish support was responsible for augmented aid to Israel after 1970, then "one is duty-bound to explain why before 1970 equally high support had the opposite effect." So how then does the myth of the Israel lobby arise? Organski suggests the image of an all-powerful Israel lobby survives scrutiny because it is a useful illusion. For pro-Israel lobbyists, the belief that they have tremendous clout is a political resource: perception sometimes transforms reality. Other U.S. political operatives can deflect criticism of policies unpopular among some constituents or in the Arab world by raising the bogey of Jewish pressure and domestic politics. The Israeli elite, meanwhile, may find faith in an effective American Jewish lobby reassuring in a hostile region. And Arab leaders may find U.S. conduct easier to swallow if they can blame Jewish lobbying. And for both opponents of U.S. policy at home and abroad, the Jewish scapegoat is useful propaganda to delegitimize disliked policies.
The mythical "special relationship" and the "unbreakable bond" helped create the very real Israeli dependence on American aid and diplomatic support. These have allowed the United States to work itself into a position where it behaves in almost every respect as if it has replaced Great Britain as the holder of the Palestine Mandate, and is the arbiter of the national destiny of the Jewish people. De facto, there is a United States Mandate for Palestine
in a very real way. Israel must consult with the United States about the smallest details of Israeli foreign policy and defense measures, about where to build what sort of housing for whom, and perhaps, about whether to build with cinder blocks or dry wall. Failure to do so results in acute diplomatic rifts. The founders of the state would never have allowed this to happen. They had experienced the British Mandate, which also began with vows of undying friendship to the Zionist movement and appeals to common tradition, and ended with the British ramming boatloads of Jewish immigrants on the high seas, and sending them back to DP camps in Germany.
It is long past time for Israel and our supporters to stop living in the never-never land of the unbreakable bond and the special relationship that exist only in campaign rhetoric. We must make it crystal clear to our supporters in the United States that there is a problem. There is no sense trying to hide the breach in order not to encourage the enemy, or perpetuate the myth of the all-powerful Jewish lobby in order to instill fear in our enemies. The fact of the breach is patently obvious to all. Former New York Mayor Ed Koch's outspoken article
was right on the mark in that respect. Ron Lauder
was likewise right to break the timid silence of American Jewish leaders. Americans, Jews included, can vote as they wish, but they should have no illusions about the dangers to Israel posed by Obama administration policies in the Middle East.
The American Jewish Committee survey for 2010
, taken before the public humiliation of Netanyahu, found that American Jews paradoxically support both the policies of Obama and those of Netanyahu, an impossibility, evidently because many of the respondents had no idea what the policies are, and were intentionally lulled into believing there is no real division of opinion. On most questions, especially on the divisive issue of Jerusalem, American Jewish opinion was much closer to that of the Israeli government than to Obama administration policy. Even assuming that American Jewish opinion is an important force in shaping U.S. policy, and that there is an "Israel Lobby," how can we expect our friends to help us if we tell them that there is no problem and no reason for concern?
On the other hand, there is no reason to generate antagonism needlessly. We must stand by our principles, without rancor and without engaging in personal attacks, whatever the provocation. There is nothing to be gained by turning American leaders into personal enemies, and everything to be lost.
Israel must also make it clear that the problem has nothing to do with US partisan politics as such, since Republican administrations have at times pursued equally inimical policies toward Israel. Israel will have to deal with whatever government Americans elect. It is pointless, as well as historically inaccurate, to alienate at least half the American voters by making Israel a cause of the Republican party. Republican presidents such as Eisenhower, Ford and Bush Sr. were quite as willing as Mr. Obama to trade Israeli land and security for U.S. popularity in the Middle East.
The Israeli government must also recognize the weak position that it is in, which gives us virtually no leverage with the United States other than the whims of popular support. We cannot afford the luxury of antagonizing the United States over trivia such as building twenty apartments in Jerusalem or ill-timed announcements about housing units. If we do, we will be beaten down remorselessly, as Mr. Obama demonstrated. The announcement by Interior Eli Yishai that embarrassed Vice President Biden was reckless and inexcusable clowning. There is no "hasbara" opportunity here, because there is nothing to explain. In a normal government, Yishai would have been forced to resign, and that would have terminated the crisis. Even the most avid Shas party supporters must understand that the support of the United States is more important than Yishai's seat at the cabinet table.
In the longer term, Israel must develop the economic, political and military independence needed to ensure that the United States sees us as a valuable but independent ally, not a part of their private estate or a trusteeship. not a "fifty-first state" that can be taken for granted or a sick and incompetent poor relation. Even if there were a "special relationship," no country can be expected to foot the bills for another country without exacting a price, or to fight any battles for an ally without expecting anything in return.
Israel must also understand that the will of the United States to project its power is weakening. The U.S. is not going to solve the problem of Hamas, or Hezbollah or Iran for us. In the best case, they might help or at least not interfere too much. More likely, their obsession with "stability" will try to foster a policy of doing nothing until it is too late, both for Israel and for the United States. In the worst case, the United States will be ejected from the Middle East by the machinations of Iran, abetted by Russia, China and the EU. Self-determination of the Jewish people is not just a slogan. Independence has a price, and we need to be ready to pay that price. Ami Isseroff
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Replies: 6 Comments
Duality may characterize the stance taken toward Israel by Obama's Administration. While chilling on its well covered media surface, the Administration nonetheless continues to produce IDF - U.S. military cooperation in weapons systems development and in exercises. Working to alter public perception to court Islam, "show the hand of peace", and generally appease Israel's enemies may not have been matched by the Administration's structurally undermining Israel's U.S. supported defense paradigm. Overall, the pursuit of such a duplicious strategy would fit the medieval cast of the Islamic Small Wars and Israel's frontline position in them, especially in relation to influencing the social and psychological aspects of its battlespace.
J. S. Oppenheim, Wednesday, May 26th
The Spartan King Leonidas was asked what his country's response would be in the face of the vast Persian host: "We will fight in the shade!"
dresses, Saturday, May 22nd
There is no alternative but to stand and fight for one's freedom. And the cost may be fearsome.
Abercrombie, Thursday, May 13th
The Spartan King Leonidas was asked what his country's response would be in the face of the vast Persian host: "We will fight in the shade!"
links london, Monday, May 10th
I seem to recall a historical event in ancient Greece I read about long ago as a university student. The story goes that when the Greeks were threatened by an invasion from Persia, in desperation they sought counsel from their oracle at Delphi.
Under the influence of bay leaves or some such drug the oracle's advice was "Trust to your wooden walls." the listeners pondered this for a bit and decided that wooden walls meant warships. Thus they committed themselves to such a defense and lo, it was successful.
It's a truism that nation states "have no friends, they have interests." I would suggest that Israel's interests can only be served by a resolute commitment to its own "wooden walls," or more generally speaking, its military means. As always, Israel stands alone on her own behalf. And while I am not among those who contend that Barack Obama is a Muslim, I still have little doubt as to where his sympathies lie.
Howard Wolf, Monday, April 19th
The Jewish people cannot rely on any one else to protect them. Israel, like ancient Sparta, is now faced with the shadow of the growing Persian power. There is no alternative but to stand and fight for one's freedom. And the cost may be fearsome. The Spartan King Leonidas was asked what his country's response would be in the face of the vast Persian host: "We will fight in the shade!"
Now Israel faces that same threat in our own day and the answer is clear. Do whatever is necessary to protect the Jewish State.
NormanF, Friday, April 16th
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