The US-Israel Alliance
Historian Barbara Tuchman once wrote that Israel is "the only nation in the world that is governing itself in the same territory, under the same name, and with the same religion and same language as it did 3,000 years ago." With that kind of history and attachment should anyone question Israel's right to exist?! The fact of the matter is that Israel's "mere" existence is debated in many circles in the US and Europe especially, on college campuses.
Notwithstanding the above, if one were to ask an average American about his/her support for Israel mostly likely the answer will be a positive one. Approximately 65% of the American public backs the US government support for Israel. They cite compassion, common values and ideological beliefs supporting this backing.
However, if one tunes into media outlets like CNN or NPR, one gets the impression that 65% of Americans are anti-Israel. Pro-Arab pundits assert that the long-standing alliance between Israel and America is a danger. Others decry the annual aid package as exorbitant. Allegations of human rights abuses, colonialism, controversial governance, and poor economic practices have also been raised.
Historically, it was the miraculous outcome of the Six Day War, forty years ago, that transformed the region forever as well as impacted the US-Israeli relationship like no other event. For the first time the US and the Arab world fully understood that Israel is a true military force that needs to be reckoned with. As Walter Russell Mead writes in a recent article in Foreign Affairs "the most striking change since 1967 has been the dramatic intensification of suppport for Israel among evangelical Christians and, more generally, among what I have called "Jacksonian" voters in the U.S. heartland. Jacksonians are populist-nationalist voters who favor a strong U.S. military and are generally skeptical of international organizations and global humanitarian aid. Not all evangelicals are Jacksonians, and not all Jacksonians are evangelicals, but there is a certain overlap between the two constituencies. Many southern whites are Jacksonians; so are many of the swing voters in the North known as Reagan Democrats."
Though the US might not always agree with Israel's actions, the alliance between the two countries is deep and broad as well as varied, from social, economic to defense ties. These serve as the building blocks for the continuing friendship. Even more so today, when Israel faces a daily barrage of rockets on her southern border in addition, to daily domestic changes as a result of an inept government she is still determined to win a war on four fronts (Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran) these existential threats challenge the very fabric of Israeli society.
What has endeared the current Bush administration amongst so many in the pro-Israel community have been Bush's policies towards the Middle East, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to fighting Islamism. This is what convinced then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that he has a true friend in the White House. Furthermore, 9/11 was another catalyst that strengthened the ties between the two counties as it was crystal clear seven years ago that America and Israel's war on terror are one and the same as Victor Davis Hanson writes, "in a world that is almost uniformly opposed to the democratic Jewish state, Israel has no better friend than Bush." As such, when George W. Bush leaves office after eight years it is clear that he has been a "pro-Israel" president something he highlighted when he addressed the Knesset during Israel's sixtieth anniversary celebrations "you can always count on the United States of America to be at your side."
Now the question within the pro-Israel communities is the direction of the next US President. Since Harry Truman there has not been a President that did not support the modern state of Israel per se it has been a question of how much pressure has been exerted on Israel especially since 1967 to establish piece with their Arab neighbors and compromise on three issues: Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees and the 1967 borders. But even before Truman there has been US support for a Jewish State in the Middle East as John Adams clearly articulated, "I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation."
Going forward, both McCain and Obama have guaranteed to maintain Israel's qualitative edge by supporting Bush's proposal for increasing military aid to the Jewish State by $30 billion over the next decade. Additionally, they have both have called on the Arab states to recognize Israel as a pre-requisite to any Israeli territorial concessions. And, finally both have pledged to take an active role in the search for peace.
Israel of 2008 has come along way since 1948 however, the country is still driven by ideological disputes and different interpretations of Jewishness and Judaism. Nowhere are these divisions more visibly portrayed than in the lives and ideologies of their leaders from Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime-minister, Yitzhak Rabin, whose assassination is still a traumatic memory for most Israelis, and the transformation of Ariel Sharon. Sharon represented the last of the old guard in Israeli leadership. His absence from the political arena highlights how desperately Israelis are searching for new leadership, which is no where to be found under the Olmert administration.
Despite the above, the leaders of both nations have underscored their unwavering commitment to the US-Israeli bond.
Finally, U.S. opinion on Israel and the Middle East as a whole is not monolithic, nor is it frozen in time. Since 1967, it has undergone significant shifts, with some groups becoming more favorable toward Israel and others less so but it is clear that supporting Israel has become an American value.