The value that the U.S.-Israel relationship has to both partners of the alliance is incalculable not only because of its strategic importance, but also because it projects values that matter deeply to the American people.
In their address at MIT on Oct. 3, academics Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer argued that support of Israel is not an American interest, and to advance their claim, they suggested that lobby groups run largely by American Jews control and dictate American foreign policy — therefore explaining the United States’ strong relationship with Israel.
As the U.S.-Israel relationship reaches 60 years of unflagging dedication, it is indeed important to consider what precisely is the basis for this strong alliance.
Ultimately, American influence is not aimed at hegemony, but rather is motivated by the sincere conviction that democracy, free-market economy, free press, and Western-styled civil rights optimize the symbiosis between government and people and leads to stability. Israel is the only regime in its region that possesses these qualities, and therefore American support of Israel demonstrates our commitment to these values and furthermore serves as means of projecting our values into a distant sector of the world.
The thesis Walt and Mearsheimer concoct is that “Israel’s security is ultimately not of immediate concern to the United States.” Their attitude (called “neo-realism”) is that America’s national interests supersede any moral imperative or ethical conscience. By extension, according to this school, there is no compelling national interest for America to foil genocide in Darfur because that might interfere with our relationship with petroleum-exporting countries. This bothers me, and I believe it should bother you. Values matter; they define who we are. American foreign policy attempts to make good on those values, and although oftentimes we may fall short of this noble goal, our national interests will always be tied to them, which is why the Israel Lobby continues to be germane.
Israel is perhaps the single most reliable, capable, and willing friend of the United States in its region and in the world. That statement is not a romanticization but is empirically verifiable by the fact that Israel’s support for the United States’ positions in international forums (like the United Nations) has surpassed any other governments’ — even those of other Western countries such as France, Britain, and Canada — for the last 60 years. Democrats and Republicans across the board have been unified in one voice supporting American friendship with Israel. Whereas support for America among European countries sways with changes in political climate and zeitgeist, Israeli support for America is simply a fact of life.
Likewise, in poll after poll, Americans say that they want to support Israel. According to a Gallup poll from February 2007, more than half of Americans rated Israel as a “vital friend,” while 55 percent of the respondents rated the Jewish State as “favorable” and “important,” the only country to be named in both categories. Polls of the House and Senate reveal that 93 percent of representatives and 85 percent of senators express the same sentiments. Legislation that supports Israel (such the Iran Freedom and Support Act of 2005) pass Congress with the highest margins and receive bipartisan support, because Israel’s national security concerns and America’s national security concerns are inextricably linked.
The shared security interest was true during the Cold War and continues to be true in the present global war on terror. Every American president since Harry S. Truman has personally supported Israel, including Jimmy Carter, who despite his recent change in heart, stated during his own administration: “The survival of Israel is not a political issue, it is a moral imperative. That is my deeply held belief and it is the belief that is shared by the vast majority of the American people … a strong secure Israel is not just in Israel’s interest. It’s in the interest of the United States and in the interest of the entire free world.”
In the summer of 1942, 400 rabbis went to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress to take steps to rescue the Jews of Europe, but most people said America had no compelling national interest to do so. American fighter jets flew past Auschwitz in 1944 and bombed a rubber factory nearby instead of saving potentially millions of lives. In 1984, the United States funded Operation Moses, a covert project that airlifted 8,000 black Jews from Sudan to Israel who were at risk of being murdered by para-military groups. The operation took American taxpayer dollars and was done at the risk of alienating oil-exporting regimes.
Why was American policy so different in 1984 than in 1942? Perhaps because there was an Israel Lobby that called on America to act upon its values by intervening in the international arena, just as it now does vis-à-vis Darfur. While some may protest that the operation did not advance American interests, I am proud that American policy sometimes upholds ideals instead of surrendering to the pressures of geopolitical forces like oil and nationalism. Israel has similarly committed itself to the same ideals by having the highest percent of its GDP committed to international humanitarian aid and by welcoming the highest number of Darfurian refugees from Sudan of any country in the world.
As we approach the 60th anniversary of the American-Israeli relationship, I am confident that the alliance will continue to be mutual, voluntary, and strong.
Stephen D. Fried is a member of the Class of 2009.