THE BLOG
08/12/2014 02:10 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2014

Idealism + Self-Interest = US Support for Israel


Stephen Walt's screed claiming "AIPAC is the Only Explanation for America's Morally Bankrupt Israel Policy," is one-sided, simplistic and extremist. In fact, Americans' ability to tell right from wrong and democrat from dictator best explains America's pro-Israel policy, which advances America's interests while expressing liberal values. Americans are not dupes. No lobby is so powerful it could conjure up such grassroots enthusiasm nationwide, nor does AIPAC need to -- most Americans realize that the Israel-US democratic alliance benefits both nations.

The demonization of AIPAC rests on three flawed assumptions whose absolutism should be anathema to any self-respecting academic. First, that evil Israel is completely at fault in Gaza. Second, that supporting Israel hurts America morally and diplomatically. And third, that the only reason why foolish Americans support this allegedly immoral state is because some all-powerful conspiracy led by mysterious lobbyists has manipulated them.

Walt's one-sided explanation for the Gaza War ignores Hamas's role in financing the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers -- trying to sanitize the crime he characterizes the killed kids as "hikers in the occupied West Bank," Walt ignores Israel's trauma, generated by withdrawing from every inch of Gaza there nine years ago, and Hamas's decision to build a terror-state underground rather than a functional state above. He pooh-poohs the rockets terrorizing Israel -- although he would dislike having such rockets raining on him in Cambridge. And he overlooks Hamas's terror tunnels with its nefarious plan to swarm Israeli civilians in their communities, well within the green Line, on the Jewish New Year. Ignoring those causes makes Israel's actions look barbaric, capricious; the fuller picture proves Israel was acting legitimately, in self-defense.

Even with the current international hate-on against Israel, Israel and America remain what one Foreign Affairs article called "friends with benefits." The US military has perfected military tactics and technology in cooperation with the IDF, mastering tank maneuvers and dog fights during the Cold War, and, more recently, counter-insurgency and urban warfare strategies. Contrary to current impressions, Israel has helped the US advance techniques for minimizing civilian casualties while trying to achieve necessary military objectives. During the Cold War, and in today's chaotic Middle East, America appreciates having a stable, democratic country while profiting materially and spiritually from Israeli partnerships in high-tech, pharmacology, medicine, business, and culture.

Amid all these practical payoffs, ultimately, the Israel-US friendship is rooted in these sister democracies' shared values. Gallup's annual survey assessing American attitudes toward the Middle East, showed yet again this year, an overwhelming number of Americans support Israel -- 72 percent. Favorability ratings for Egypt and Saudi Arabia dropped to 45 and 35 percent respectively, while the Palestinian Authority, Iraq, Iran and Syria all earned their low favorability ratings of under 20 percent. Clearly, most Americans easily distinguish between genuine friends, fair-weather friends, and hostile, totalitarian adversaries, identifying the one Middle East country most supportive and closest in values to the US: Israel.

Good policy often makes good politics. Congressional and administration support for Israel reflects this deep, enduring, organic friendship between the American and Israeli peoples.

The Gaza War has uncovered a great divide in attitudes toward Israel. The decades-long Palestinian campaign, systematically delegitimizing Israel, is yielding its poisonous fruit. Totalitarians who only see Israel through the Palestinian lens as "an occupier" consider it automatically guilty. Israel can withdraw from Gaza, Hamas can target Israeli civilians, Hamas's charter can dream of exterminating Israel and killing Jews -- none of it matters to these fanatics. Alternatively, the Democrats who see Israel as an imperfect democracy -- as all democracies are because they are human creations -- can find room to criticize but also defend.

In Gaza, Israel's enemy is straight out of central casting. Hamas is a sexist, homophobic, totalitarian Islamist organization that holds its own people hostage, oppresses and kills dissidents, deliberately uses women and children as human shields and just as deliberately targets Israeli civilians. Nevertheless, and despite Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas has gained traction by continuing to call Israel an "occupier." Many in the world hear that charge as West Bank-related; many Israelis realize it rejects any Jewish presence in the area.

The situation is exacerbated by the heartbreaking reality of Israel being forced to bomb civilian areas, because that's where Hamas terrorists hide their rockets -- and invade homes -- because that's where Hamas terrorists dig the tunnel entrances. The totalitarians who swallow the Palestinian line and see Israel as an evil occupier, see the brutal pictures as proof of Israeli brutality. No explanations, no history lessons, mitigate their rage. Their fury against Israel's perceived crimes is so great that even some Progressives who would normally reject Hamas's sexism, homophobia, and general illiberalism, see Israel as criminal. Their need to reject Israel completely is so great that when someone notes that Israel respects gay rights, these totalitarian leftists cry "pinkwashing"; when someone independently decides to support Israel they accuse the evil Zionists of "brainwashing"; and when a country supports Israel they can only blame "AIPAC," the big bad lobby.

Beyond the continuing mess of Israel's decades-long presence in the West Bank, two other factors fuel this totalitarian repudiation of Israel. The toxic combination of post-1960s, Far Left Identity Politics and anti-Western, anti-White, anti-Power guilt mongering, fits the Palestinian narrative into a broader story. Some (note my careful language, not all) progressives have joined this unholy alliance with anti-progressive, illiberal Islamists because Identity politics divides the world into victims and victimizers, and Israel, having been cast as a white, Western, powerful Goliath, appears to be the ultimate victimizer. Inconvenient facts, that there are dark-skinned Israelis and light-skinned Palestinians, that Israel is both Western and Middle Eastern, and that Israel has powerful assets but also powerful foes, are ignored to serve the larger story, which has become a broadly accepted international prejudice.

And speaking of bigotry, the X factor here, the phenomenon singling out Israel disproportionately when there were more unintended civilian deaths when American forces bombed Iraq and are more civilians slaughtered daily in Syria and by ISIS, is anti-Semitism. The world's distaste for the collective Jew, meaning Israel, has been resurrected. Today, many protestors and bigots crying "Death to the Jews" don't even try masking their Jew hatred behind façades of anti-Zionism or human rights rhetoric.

Against these totalitarian forces, Democrats must not waver. Viewing Israel as an imperfect democracy carves out room for someone to criticize Israel's West Bank policies -- or not, to hate Israel's settlements -- or not, and yet fight Hamas's Gaza totalitarians. Democrats can see distinctions and tolerate divisions; totalitarians cannot.

It's easy to despair and fear the totalitarians are winning. But middle class, democratic Israelis just mobilized in self-defense. In four weeks of fighting, the normally fractious, distracted country united as Israel's citizen army destroyed Hamas's five-year tunnel-building project. Americans admire such fortitude -- and learn from it -- with the growing challenges from ISIS Islamists amid the broader continuing Islamist terrorist threat, even while hoping for a fair solution to the broader Israeli-Palestinian problem in the small space both love.

Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?