As Israel bombs Gaza for a second week, US President Joe Biden and his administration stick to a long established script in Washington, expressing unequivocal support for Israel and its “legitimate right to defend itself” against Hamas rocket attacks.
This account fails to recognize the profound advantages the State of Israel enjoys over the Palestinians in terms of military prowess, wealth and resources. He is also turning a deaf ear to the growing cries of progressive Congressional Democrats to take a tougher line with Israel over its military assault on Gaza.
This latest escalation of violence has killed at least 213 Palestinians, including 61 children, while ten Israelis have died, including two children.
So why is the United States so steadfast in its support for Israel?
When did the United States start supporting Israel?
From the beginning. Former US President Harry Truman was the first world leader to recognize Israel when it was established in 1948.
Why was Truman so quick to do this?
Partly because of personal connections. Truman’s former trading partner Edward Jacobson played a pivotal role in laying the groundwork for the United States to recognize Israel as a state. But there were also strategic considerations that motivated the decision.
What were the strategic issues at the time?
It was right after World War II when the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was taking shape.
The Middle East, with its oil reserves and strategic waterways (think the Suez Canal) was a key battleground for the hegemonic influence of the superpowers. The United States was taking over from severely weakened European powers as the main broker of Western energy in the Middle East.
But even then, support for Israel was not unequivocal.
So when did this become unequivocal?
This is partly rooted in the aftermath of the Six Day War of 1967, in which Israel defeated the misdirected armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan and absorbed the remainder of what was historically considered to be the Palestine (as well as parts of Syria and Egypt).
Since then, the United States has acted unequivocally to support Israel’s military superiority in the region and to prevent acts of hostility against it by Arab nations.
Have there been other developments that have played a role?
There was also the 1973 Arab-Israeli war which ended with Israel’s defeat against Egyptian and Syrian forces.
Partly to drive a wedge between Egypt and Syria and thwart Soviet influence, the United States used the aftermath of the 1973 war to lay the groundwork for a peace deal between Israel and Egypt that was finally cemented in 1979.
Did this influence American aid to Israel?
You bet. Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign aid after World War II.
In 2016, then-President Barack Obama signed a defense accord with Israel providing $ 38 billion in US military support over 10 years, including funding for the “Iron Dome” missile defense system.
Keep in mind that Israel doesn’t really need help. It is a high-income country with a thriving high-tech sector.
Are these just practical geostrategic stuff?
Like everything else in foreign policy, public opinion, money – and the influence money buys in politics – have also played a role in US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians.
What role has public opinion played?
American public opinion has long been in favor of Israel and against the Palestinians. Partly because Israel had a superior PR machine. But the violent actions that made headlines by pro-Palestinian groups such as the Munich massacre in 1972, in which eleven Israeli Olympic athletes were killed, also generated immense sympathy for Israel.
Did this sympathy falter a little?
More Americans are warming up for the Palestinian cause, according to an annual Gallup survey.
The February poll found that 25% of Americans sympathize more with Palestinians – a two percentage point increase from the previous year and six percentage points more than in 2018.
The Palestinian Authority’s favorable ratings also hit a new high of 30 percent – a seven percentage point improvement from 2020.
But Israel still has much more influence in the courts of American public opinion.
That same Gallup poll found that 58% of Americans sympathize more with Israel, while 75% of Americans rate Israel favorably.
What about pro-Israel political influence?
There are a number of organizations in the United States that advocate American support for Israel. The largest and most politically powerful is the American Committee on Israel’s Public Affairs (AIPAC).
Members of the organization exert influence through organizing, advocacy, and grassroots fundraising among American Jews in the United States as well as evangelical Christian churches.
How powerful is AIPAC?
AIPAC holds an annual conference in Washington, DC, with approximately 20,000 attendees who have personal appearances by the best American politicians. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump made appearances. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also a regular attendee.
Is there a rival to AIPAC?
A small pro-Israel group called J Street organized by Democrats has sought to build a constituency in American politics that supports Israel and Palestinian rights.
What about influence in terms of dollars?
Pro-Israel interest groups donate millions to US federal political candidates. During the 2020 campaign, pro-Israel groups donated $ 30.95 million, of which 63% to Democrats, 36% to Republicans. That’s about twice as much as they donated in the 2016 campaign, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Who are the American political heavyweights in the corner of Israel?
Former President Trump, motivated by support for Israel from evangelical Christians and a like-minded leader in Netanyahu, has been a staunch supporter of Israel during his four years in office.
Big majorities in the US Congress in the Democratic and Republican parties are clearly pro-Israel.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer – all Democrats – have a long history of supporting Israel and can be counted to express support. firm to Israel’s right to self-defense in times of conflict.
When asked last week whether more needs to be done to stop Israel’s assault on Gaza, Pelosi replied, “The point is, we have a very close relationship with Israel, and Israel’s security. is a matter of national security for us, as our friend, a democratic country in the region.
“Hamas threatens the safety of people in Israel. Israel has the right to defend itself, ”Pelosi said.
Who is in the Palestinian corner?
The Palestinian perspective has long been represented by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), founded in 1980 and the American Campaign for Palestinian Rights, an activist network founded in 2001, among others. But pro-Palestinian groups are not as active in US federal election spending.
Are there heavyweights in Washington supporting the Palestinians?
Within the American Democratic Party, a growing faction of progressives who support the Palestinians has gained prominence on the national scene.
Among them, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both former contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Sanders and Warren called for conditioning US military aid to Israel on Palestinian human rights.
In the House of Representatives, new progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib – the first American Palestinian elected to Congress – have emerged as the main voices of Palestinians.
This is happening with the support of the United States.
I don’t care how a spokesperson tries to turn this around. The United States has vetoed the UN call for a ceasefire.
If Biden’s administrator can’t stand up to an ally, who can he stand up to?
How can they credibly claim to defend human rights? https://t.co/bXY99O3Wqp
– Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 15, 2021
These young newcomers are not as dependent on the traditional fundraising structures of American politics and are more motivated by concern about Israel’s treatment of Arabs in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel.
Former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, paved the way for today’s progressives with a 2006 bestseller titled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.