The Israeli-American Friendship: A Myth Debunked

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.

6 thoughts on “The Israeli-American Friendship: A Myth Debunked

  1. Nice analysis – breaking down the truth of such a relationship is the first step towards having a rational discussion about it.

  2. Nicely done. I think you may have gone astray a bit. “In a world of states, “friendship” means absolutely nothing.”. I disagree. I would argue that prevalent feelings of friendship between the populations of the two countries has substantial effects on the relationship of the two nation-states.

  3. From everything I’ve seen, there’s far more stupid collectivist stereotyping of Israel and Israelis by Americans than vice versa.

    This stereotyping usually falls into one of three major categories. One faction is leftists (mostly) who are angry about the Israeli government’s human rights abuses and aggression towards the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Some of these people are antisemitic, but their antisemitism is usually subtle and incidental. The second faction is the philosemitic religious right, Christian End Timers who desperately want to coopt Israel and its people for their apocalyptic goals, but who couch these goals in ostentatious praise for Israel and “the Jewish People.” (That’s a linguistic habit peculiar to evangelicals. Many Jews find it either patronizing or ridiculous.) The third faction is the antisemitic right (with a few paranoid leftists in tow), which is chronically inflamed about insidious New World Order/Freemason/Illuminati conspiracies involving what was formerly known as the International Jew and is now, in one of the most bizarre internet memes I’ve ever seen, customarily called Joo, j-w, or YKW.

    On the whole, Israelis know a lot more about American politics than Americans know about Israeli politics. The United States has never been governed by a Philadelphian, but Israel has. Actually, Bibi Netanyahu was brought up (off and on) just over the city line; Cheltenham High represent! A great many Israelis either are originally from the United States or have friends or relatives who are. Israelis are generally well aware that their own domestic nutbar factions are closely allied with nutbar religious right elements in the US, and many of them are disgusted with it. As I understand it, it’s fairly common knowledge in Israel that US politics have substantially been hijacked by an atavistic religious fringe that has ulterior motives vis-a-vis Israel, and this geopolitical/religious alliance is widely regarded by Israelis as one of the most alarming aspects of political dysfunction in their country.

    Israeli leftists and centrists are certainly disgusted with Israel’s ultraorthodox Jews. The ultraorthodox are very widely regarded as a civic disgrace, if not also an existential threat to the country. They’re deeply resented for getting religious exemptions from military conscription (which is otherwise universal in Israel), externalizing the costs of education and social services for their huge families and for the protection of their settlements, and constantly stirring up trouble with their Palestinian neighbors. For their part, many ultraorthodox regard religiously moderate and secular Israelis as apostates. Each side would like the other to go back to Brooklyn.

    This political divide, apparently a growing one, is regularly in the news in Israel, but only rarely makes the news in the US. The tin foil hat YKW cabal crowd would either disbelieve such stories or dismiss them as irrelevant distractions from our shadow overlords. I strongly suspect that if religious right media outlets in the US are aware of them, they censor these stories because they distract from the proper End Times narrative and the Biblically mandated role of the Jewish People in this holy plan.

    • From everything I’ve seen, there’s far more stupid collectivist stereotyping of Israel and Israelis by Americans than vice versa […] On the whole, Israelis know a lot more about American politics than Americans know about Israeli politics.

      Ah yes, one of the many drawbacks of being a citizen of a benevolent global hegemon.

      Thanks for the added clarity.

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