Even before its establishment, the State of Israel had a special relationship with the US – and for good reason. On an ideological level, Israel is a country that reflects America’s founding spirit. Similar to the founding fathers of America, who were primarily Protestants escaping religious persecution, Zionists of all stripes were motivated by the need, particularly after the Holocaust, to empower the Jewish people with national self-determination as a means of escaping endemic anti-Semitism.
Though Israel strove to establish a Jewish state, it nevertheless committed itself to liberal and democratic ideals shared by Americans. As stated in our Declaration of Independence, Israel vowed from its very inception to base its rule on “freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.”
While Israel, unlike the US, has repeatedly faced threats to its very existence, including from the Arab inhabitants of the land designated to be the national home of the Jewish people, it has struggled to uphold as best as possible the rights and equality of all.
Militarily, Israel has stood by the US through several conflicts and promotes its global vision. Israel has enhanced American intelligence and defense capabilities, has provided ports and training for US forces and has helped in saving American lives on and off the battlefield.
Israel’s dynamic and innovative business sector stimulates the US economy through trade, groundbreaking technologies and job creation.
Unsurprisingly, Americans’ views of Israel are positive and consistently so. According to a Gallup poll released in February, for the past four years at least, about seven in 10 Americans have viewed Israel favorably, making it by far the most positively reviewed Middle Eastern country.
Israel and America’s shared values, military cooperation and economic relations will be discussed and celebrated at The Jerusalem Post Annual Conference taking place in New York on Sunday. However, Israel’s unique relationship with the US often comes under fire. Last month at the National Press Club in Washington, American organizations such the Council for the National Interest and the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy organized a conference called the National Summit to Reassess the US-Israel “Special Relationship.”
All eight hours of the conference were broadcast on C-SPAN. Speaker after speaker claimed that a “Jewish lobby” was manipulating US foreign policy in the Middle East against US interests. One of them was Stephen Walt, the Harvard professor and co-author of the infamous The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy who called on participants to work to end US’s unique relationship with Israel.
Even more mainstream elements in American society seem to feel the US’s support for Israel has less to do with shared values and interests and more to do with what Thomas Friedman referred to in November as “the growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.”
John B. Judis’s book recently released book, Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, makes the dubious claim that president Harry Truman was essentially bullied by a Jewish lobby into supporting Israel at its founding. But while his subject matter is from a historically remote period in US-Israel relations, his aims are broader, and relevant to today.
“The underlying problem,” writes Judis, “remains the same: whether an American president and the American people can forthrightly address the conflict of Jew and Arab in the Middle East, or whether they must bow to the demands of a powerful pro-Israel lobby.” For people such as Judis, Walt and participants of the National Summit to Reassess the US-Israel “Special Relationship,” there is no context, there is no attempt to understand the substantive reasons behind the countries’ strong ties.
That’s why the Post’s conference in New York is so important. There the focus with be on the profound ties that bind Israel to the US thanks to shared values and ethics, common policy interests and strong military and intelligence cooperation. There will be times when Israel’s interests do not dovetail with America’s. But the common goals and values cherished by both countries will remain unchanged.