Israel and US flags.
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The current crisis in US-Israel relations calls for soul searching on the Israeli side: What is Israel’s long-term vision concerning its greatest ally given momentous changes in the Middle East and the United States? The key lies with the fact that Israel has much in common with American constituencies that so far have been largely left out of Israel’s foreign policy framework. Some of those groups, such as Latinos, are growing so dominant in American politics that continuing to overlook them is done at the risk of undermining Israeli interests. The price paid in the foreseeable future may be substantial. Israel cannot afford to neglect those groups any longer.
From common narratives concerning the challenges of immigration and assimilation, through mutual experiences as a minority group, to shared values of social justice and solidarity, changing American society offers the Jewish democracy a range of opportunities to build new bridges that will sustain the alliance between the two countries for generations to come.
With one in every four American babies a Latino and with three in every 10 Americans expected to be a Latino by mid-century, a new framework is exigent as much as it is indispensable.
American society is changing, and with it Americans’ views on a range of topics. America is different today than it was as recently as at the turn of the 21st century, not only in its demographics but also in how it views a range of issues from gay rights to the welfare state. Israel is no exception.
Whereas the overall support for Israel has been firm, among the younger generation and among minorities things are different. Thus, there is considerable room for improvement. For instance, a majority of Americans sympathized with Israel during the hostilities in Gaza over the summer of 2014. Yet, only 41 percent of Latinos did. Of the different ethnic groups surveyed by the Pew Foundation in July of 2014, Latinos were the least supportive, even less than African Americans, who often identify with the Palestinian cause.
Taking back the poorly phrased statements about minority voting during the recent election campaign in Israel is a must. Still, it is not going to cut it. Instead, as a first step Israel should scale down the politicization of the relationship between the two countries. It not only undercuts the tradition of bipartisan support for Israel, but in deeply polarized Washington it may seriously damage Israeli interests.
Further, siding with the Republicans complicates matters for many American Jews and puts them in an impossible position. Finally, it flies in the face of the founding ethos of the Civil Rights era. Thus, it alienates minority groups that under the Obama coalition strongly identify with the Democratic Party and are expected to vote for the Democrats in droves in coming election cycles.
Part of the soul-search should involve the expansion of the repertoire of Israeli and Jewish values that guide the alliance. It is true that the strong commitment to democratic values, for instance, has always been cited as one key element. Likewise, liberty and the fight against slavery, celebrated by Jews during Passover, are another common theme. Yet, there is a range of additional Israeli and Jewish narratives that are connected in fundamental ways with Latino themes. Israel was founded as the national home for Jews who had had the experience of being a minority anywhere from Morocco to Poland. Even today, Israel perceives itself as the defender of Jewish minorities in every corner of the world.
Israel should reach out to Latinos at the grassroots and elite levels with messages concerning such shared values and causes. It should capitalize on and further develop bridges that have already been built by various Jewish organizations, communities and congregations with Latino groups and individuals all over the country. Beyond the experience of being a minority, it is immigration, social justice and solidarity that are just a few of the issues that are commonly shared and in fundamental ways.
Even in trying times for the alliance between the US and Israel, the governments on both sides underscore the unbreakable ties that connect the leader of the free world and its ally, the only democracy in the Middle East. As unshakable as these relations may be, they are seriously tested by the changing political landscapes in the US and Israel at a time where political orders at regional and global levels are shifting.
Israel should not only seriously consider the implications of how it handles the current crisis in US-Israel relations but also reevaluate its long-term strategy for maintaining the alliance. Forging a partnership with the Latino minority is a crucially important first step.The author is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University.