American foreign policy since the end of the cold war has been focused primarily on the Middle East and to an alarming extent on the defense and promotion of Israel. Why has Israel become so central to our foreign policy and what advantages does the United States gain from the relationship?
Israel is not an important trading partner for the United States, in 20th place, behind Venezuela and Thailand. Israel has no significant natural resources, nor is Israel an important defense ally. None of its neighbors pose any significant threat to the United States or American interests. There is not an important Israeli American population. If we equate American Jews as somehow "Israeli" because of the fact that Israel is a Jewish state, than we are still only talking about a population of 6,444,000 approx. (2007) 1.7% - 2.2% of the US population. This is less than the number of Polish Americans, approximately 10,000,000 people and well below the number of Irish Americans, over 30,000,000.
Yet Ireland never received anywhere near the attention that Israel has in the media, in political debates, in foreign aid or in foreign policy efforts, even when a full blown civil war was occurring in Ulster.
The attention Israel receives in the United States is completely disproportionate to its strategic, commercial, or political importance. For example, in reference to the 2008 presidential elections, Shmuel Rosner at Slate wrote,
"in the vice-presidential debate, Israel's name was mentioned 17 times. China was mentioned twice, Europe just once. Russia didn't come up at all. Nor Britain, France, or Germany. The only two countries to get more attention were Iraq and Afghanistan-the countries in which U.S. forces are fighting wars.... A week earlier, in the first McCain-Obama debate, Israel was mentioned seven times, fewer than Russia but still more than China or Japan or any country in Europe, Latin America, or Africa."
In regards to American foreign aid, the amounts are striking. According to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, "Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli. This largesse is especially striking since Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain."
It's fascinating to compare American foreign policy in Mexico, a country of over 100,000 million people (Israel's population is around 7.5 million) and a very important trading partner with the US. Issues like immigration and drug trafficking with Mexico have palpable daily effects on the lives of Americans, yet Mexico receives less the 2% of the foreign aid that Israel gets, less than 40 million dollars compared to Israel's almost 3 billion. And the over 28 million Americans who are of Mexican ancestry? They are apparently, for politicians, much less important than the less than 7 million Jewish Americans.
In the sphere of politics the tone and attitude of US politicians sounds as if their careers depend on how they speak of Israel. Joe Biden during the Vice Presidential debate, "Gwen, no one in the United States Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden. I would have never, ever joined this ticket were I not absolutely sure Barack Obama shared my passion."
And Sarah Palin, "But I'm so encouraged to know that we both love Israel, and I think that is a good thing to get to agree on, Sen. Biden. I respect your position on that."
And President Obama this summer said, according to the New York Times, "that he is committed to Israel's security but does not believe it is essential for him to avoid all disagreement with the Jewish state."
This type of language can only be considered pandering. Why are they pandering to Israel? During the 2008 presidential election, John McCain said he would not sit down with the Spanish government because of the way they pulled their troops out of Iraq. It caused a minor stir, but never became an issue of any importance. Do you think either Obama or McCain could have been elected if either had said that they would not sit down with Israeli leaders due to continued new settlements in the West Bank?
Israel is considered to be a nuclear power. Few if any deny that Israel has nuclear weapons, as well as other weapons of mass destruction. Why does Israel receive no pressure at all from the United States to become a non-nuclear power? Would this not be an excellent bargaining chip with Iran? Iran is a country of over 70,000 million people with a tremendous history and culture, yet they are not allowed to have nuclear weapons, but Israel is? It is easy to understand the Iranian objection to this double standard. It's very unfortunate that Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, continues to spew ridiculous, anti-Semitic diatribes that completely distract the attention of the world from the real issues of the Middle East and reduce his country's credibility. Again, Mearshimeimer and Walt write, "Washington also provides Israel with consistent diplomatic support. Since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. It blocks the efforts of Arab states to put Israel's nuclear arsenal on the IAEA's agenda."
Why is it impossible to have a sensible, open debate in the United States regarding our relationship to Israel? The clearest example of why it is not possible occurred in 2006 when John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard published a white paper about the power of AIPCAC, the principal Israeli lobby in the US. The ensuing debate was not centered on the issues of the white paper, quite the contrary; both academics were accused of everything from lack of professionalism to anti-Semitism. The White Paper made very clear arguments about the power of AIPAC and their silencing of Israel's critics. Mearsheimer and Walt pulled no punches, "For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread 'democracy' throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?"
The authors received a drubbing and were quickly silenced. Alan Derschowitz as well as Eliot Cohen of John Hopkins both accused Mearsheimer and Walt of anti-Semitism and bigotry.
When Jimmy Carter came out with his book about the Israeli-Palestinian question, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, the debate again became about him, not the plight of the Palestinians.
Increasingly, the war in Iraq is being attributed to the Neo-Conservative wing of the Republican Party that had a very influential role in the Bush administration. For most of the world this has been obvious, but in the US it has been a taboo topic. Michael Kinsley is quoted as saying "the connection between the invasion of Iraq and Israeli interests had become 'the proverbial elephant in the room. Everybody sees it, no one mentions it.'" The Neo-Cons had for years been itching to invade Iraq. The general theory was that by changing the regime in Iraq, regime change would occur in Iran and Syria, clearing the way for a new Middle East and a much friendlier atmosphere for Israel.
What occurred on 9/11 gave them the opening they had been looking for, and they cunningly convinced the US population that somehow Iraq had some connection to 9/11. This was a blatant falsification of the facts advanced with the help of AIPAC and important supporters of Israel in the media. The Israeli angle for the war in Iraq is the mainstream explanation in much of the world but rarely discussed in the US.
America must be able to openly debate what has become the main focus of our foreign policy, and our largest benefactor of foreign aid. At the moment we are not able to do so. When academics or politicians question Americas support for Israel, they are branded as anti-Semitic. No member of either party is willing to openly question our relationship with Israel out of fear. Our academics are branded as anti-Semitic when they question the power of AIPAC. Something undemocratic has taken over a part of our government, and the most important part of our foreign policy. America has lost and continues to lose credibility in the world as many see US foreign policy in the Middle East as under at least partial control of Israel.
Let us imagine that the United States had 'divorced' Israel 20 years ago, considering it a foreign policy liability. Would we have much better relations now with the Arab world? Would 9/11 have been avoided? Would we have avoided entering the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars? Would Israel have been forced to make an equitable deal with the Palestinians out of fear of being ostracized from the international community? Would the US have focused much more energy at the end of the cold war on improving relations with the nations of the former Soviet Union including Russia? Would the world be a better place?
The United States foreign policy has been hijacked, and our leaders and thinkers have been intimidated by a foreign government and its apologists. Somehow, discussion of the special American relationship with Israel has become taboo. This has been carried out by supporters of Israel who use the media and AIPAC to intimidate politicians, journalists and intellectuals. Our thinkers and leaders are afraid to openly discuss the US relationship with Israel out of fear of being branded anti-Semitic and being ostracized. This is a form of McCarthyism that must be immediately rooted out like the cancer that it is. American has lost part of its freedom of expression, our most sacred gift from our founding fathers, the cornerstone of our republic and our prosperity. It must be taken back.