While browsing through a number of Right-leaning blogs over the past couple of hours (I don’t start work until Monday) I have noticed that more than a few of them have those cheesy “I stand with Israel” tabs on their sidebars. I don’t think I would have paid much attention to them had I not read this article by Fania Oz-Salzberger in the Daily Beast titled “What America Means to Israel.”
The article basically tries to explain why a non-existent relationship resonates so deeply with both Americans and Israelis. The reality of the situation is far different. Large swathes of the Israeli Left harbor views that are more in line with the European Left concerning the United States, and large swathes of the American public are either indifferent to Israel or (falsely) consider the state to be a nuisance with more leverage than it ought to have. This got me thinking and as such I thought it’d be a good idea to debunk the myth of Israeli-American friendship. This is a myth that is largely perpetrated in right-wing corners of both Israeli and American society, although I would guess it is implicit in the center-left coalitions of each state as well.
In terms of international relations, Israel is no more a friend to the United States than is North Korea or Italy, and vice-versa. Is Israel important to the United States at the moment? Of course, but this strategic value is a far cry from friendship. In a world of states, “friendship” means absolutely nothing.
For example, Germany, Japan, the UK and South Korea are our valuable allies. Saudi Arabia is our most important ally in the Middle East. Germany and Japan have the third and fourth largest economies in the world. The UK is seventh. South Korea’s economy is fifteenth. Saudi Arabia sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves. Canada and Mexico are the US’s most important trading partners, as well as being longtime neighbors. These states are examples of allies and trading partners. Are they friends? No. There is no such thing.
What I can answer in the affirmative is if these states are important allies, and they are.
Strategically Israel has been, and continues to be, an important regional ally in the US’s post-9/11 Near East strategy, but with the war in Iraq over and Washington’s shift in focus to the Far East beginning to be implemented, Israel is becoming less and less relevant to the United States.
Since Israel means next to nothing to the United States why does it get so much attention?
I think anti-Semitism plays a small role, but that this does not sufficiently explain why Israel seems to get more attention than it warrants, especially when one considers the strength of the Israel-friendly Christian lobby here in the US.
I have come to the conclusion that the strategy of Israeli lobbies is responsible for the myth of Israeli lobbying power. That is to say: The Israeli lobby knows that Israel is not important to the United States so it invests massive amounts of time and effort into ensuring that Israel remains relevant to any conversation the US has on foreign affairs. This, of course, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if the Israelis don’t heavily invest in procuring good relations with the people of the United States it will forgotten. On the other hand, all that investment produces the illusion that Washington is under the spell of some sort of *sigh* Jewish cabal.
Pay careful attention to what I am saying. In terms of policy-making, the Israeli lobbies don’t have any special leverage over politicians in Washington. The various Israeli lobbies all know this, so in addition to fighting it out in Washington for influence they have taken measures designed to foster cultural relations with the American people, which in turn enhances the view that Israelis are somehow more important than they really are to US relations abroad.
If I were the Israelis and had no knowledge or understanding of libertarianism, I’d do the same thing. Yet it does Israelis no good to pretend that their state has some sort of special friendship with the United States. It makes them look like lackeys of American imperialism to their Persian and Arab neighbors and “sneaky Jews” to their anti-Semitic (and mostly Leftist) Western detractors.
Reaching out to the American people is a good thing, but if the Israelis don’t want to be bitten in the ass they would do well to make a clear distinction between state and society. Given the socialist underpinnings of Israel’s founding, this may be harder to do than one realizes. As the US shifts its gaze away from the Middle East to focus on containing China, the Israelis would do well to heed that distinction.