America and Israel: The ties that bind

Endemic anti-American political views are often exacerbated by solid US support for Israel.

Israel US flag 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel US flag 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Already recorded in the annals of history is the “oops!” omission from the 2012 Democratic Convention platform, when there was no mention of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and neither was there any reference to God at all.  Following an intervention by US President Barack Obama, to say nothing of’ the whoops of joy at the lapse from Republican candidate Mitt Romney et al, the Democrats hurriedly corrected both omissions.
The presidential candidates' ongoing rhetoric in support of Israel seems to demonstrate that the ties between Israel and the US seem inexplicably strong. On March 4, for example, at the AIPAC conference , President Obama declared:  “America's commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is enduring.”          8 days later, Mitt Romney announced: “In a Romney administration, the world will know that the bond between Israel and America is unbreakable."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been equally unequivocal 2 years earlier, when at the start of the Obama presidency, she said:  "We have a close, unshakeable bond between the United States and Israel.”
However, while this “enduring friendship" and "close unshakeable, unbreakable bond" may seem normal and natural in the US, it remains a great mystery to many people in the UK, Europe and beyond. Endemic anti-American political views are often exacerbated by solid US support for Israel, which Europeans find perplexing, if not inexplicable.
The "reds under the beds" theorists – of whom there are many – ascribe the friendship as being the result of some malign Zionist conspiracy with sinister goals, almost on par with the notorious "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
Others more prosaically nominate AIPAC, the "enormously powerful Jewish lobby at the heart of the Washington machine," as being a primary factor for US support of Israel. AIPAC is indeed powerful, and has proved very successful during both Democratic and Republican administrations in achieving its main objective:  to ensure that American support for Israel remains strong.
But why would US policy-makers allow their policies to be shaped by such lobbying?
The current international dynamic suggests a whole host of reasons, including Israel's strategic position in the heart of the Middle East.  Israel's western values and democratic traditions provide a strong and reliable base from which to counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions and other extreme Islamist activity in the region – notably from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Current perceptions in the US even see these threats extending to homeland security.
Considerations such as these have developed over the years, but they are essentially peripheral to a more fundamental rationale for the “enduring friendship.”  I am referring not to the so-called "Israel lobby," but to the Jewish connection to the body politic of the US.
The fact is that the history of the United States is quite unlike that of any other western country, and the Jews were part and parcel of the nation's foundation. For example, in the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia is an exhibit containing a letter of felicitations sent to the leader of the Hebrew Congregation of Philadelphia by George Washington. A little further down sits a letter from Abraham Lincoln to the head of his Jewish community, thanking him for his loyal address.  The US is a nation of immigrants, and the Jews were there from the start.
In fact, the connection runs even deeper, for most of the early immigrants left their native shores in order to escape religious persecution.  The national identity of the United States is embedded in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and belief in God is at the heart of the Declaration of Independence. The Bible is a cornerstone of the American national structure.  Early fundamentalists, no less than those of today, would base their support of the Zionist dream on the Old Testament, in its account of the release of the Jews from slavery and their journey, under God's guidance, to the "promised land, flowing with milk and honey."
The Jewish population of most nation states is minute.  France has the largest in Europe, with Jews representing only 0.8 percent of the total population.  In the UK there are than 300,000 Jews out of a total population of some 61 million – less than 0.5 percent.  But while Jews in European countries are counted in their thousands, in the US they number millions. So Jewish opinion counts in America, and as a result, the primary political parties court it. Jews notoriously disagree among themselves on almost everything, and they spread their political favours accordingly.  Nevertheless, a majority would certainly be in support of Israel's continued secure existence, no matter how opposed they might be to the policies of any individual Israeli government.
So the world had best acknowledge that for better or for worse, and regardless of who occupies the White House, the US has the self-imposed obligation of maintaining its close and unshakeable bond with Israel.The writer is the author of One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine (2011) and writes the blog “A Mid-East Journal” (