While I am far from an expert on the subject I would like to think I have an above-average understanding of the conflict in the Middle East, at least from the creation of the state of Israel onward. Being an American takes a lot of the value out of the term "above average", of course. Nonetheless I feel like, if pressed, I could give a half-decent explanation of the background of the current (and seemingly endless) conflict.

Today Israel is to the United States what North Korea is to China. We prop them up and rush ahead of them to put out the fires after they get a little too unhinged. The similarities don't end there. Both nations have heavily militarized populations and practice a vicious brand of foreign policy that sees violence as the first, most preferred option. There are obvious political and economic differences – namely that Israel is not a poor, backward cesspool insulated from the outside world – but they both play the agitator/wildcard role in American and Chinese foreign policy. They act erratically with the understanding that we have their backs.

What I don't understand at all is this: What exactly does the United States get out of its relationship with Israel? I mean, in an absolute, perfect, ideal scenario, what is our endgame? Certainly we are not so dumb as to think that the conflict will end or have a winner in the traditional sense. Other than some nebulous idea like peace or stability, what would our leaders describe as America's goal in offering clear and unwavering support to Israel while simultaneously advocating for an end to violence in the region?

Israeli foreign policy is emboldened by their understanding that no matter how many times they do the opposite of what will enhance peace in the region, we will still rush to their side and re-affirm our unwavering commitment to supporting them. I think this is the textbook definition of a moral hazard. So the second question is: Why must our support be so unconditional? What are we getting out of this relationship to make it worth the cost, both financial and in terms of foreign policy headaches?

Like many people I have quit trying to figure out how to solve the problem in the Middle East. I'll settle for figuring out what exactly my country is hoping to get from being the great patron to one of the belligerents.

79 thoughts on “BEST CASE SCENARIO”

  • oh god, no! Not Israel. you really want to go there. Playing with fire here. Never question the "reality" that is Israel.

    i just can't wait to see the "responses." this can of worms is beyond description. Empires don't necessarily make sense after they are created. they create their own reality, George Bush comes to mind, and have nothing to do with anything but power. Cheney/The Dark Lord said "we create our own Reality."

    well, the comment about George Bush (having a mind) should be proof that mindlessness/insanity is a wonderful example of the need for abortion. lol. Red Staters exemplify what mindlessness is all about. and Israel is the "pet". a recompense for the Shoah.

    or as i read online somewhere about Israel. "Never Again," at not to us." To the Palestinians, sure.

    Living in America, i have learned that making sense is not an American value. the destruction of education/ie. Home Schooling/charters/ is one step in dumbing down us all, so we have to "accept" what the Daddy Party tells us.

    if you want to think in America, well, emigrate. you wont find thinking allowed or approved of. Communism, you know, that "thinking" thing.

    Israel is our "gift" to the Middle East. but that's been so obvious for the last 50 years or so. I'm so tired of reading about how Americans/America "love" supports Israel. Blind adoration/support is not a healthy thing.

    i just wonder why do all those "Muslims" hate America so? still don't have an answer, (sarcasm). Maybe we could ask Israel why "they" hate us so.

  • Obama dared to suggest that Israel moderate its policies and look at the backlash that got him.

    I think a lot of the US support is because of (a) the Jewish voting "lobby" and (b) Bible thumpers waiting for the end times.

  • What the hell, Ed? I thought you lived in Georgia for some period of time? We support Israel unconditionally because it makes the bible-humpers happy when we do, and they get extra pissy when we don't. It's just that simple. The end-game, by the way, is Jesus comes back and murders basically everyone. Hastening that day is what we theoretically get out of it. Questioning it means questioning god, for whom the Jews are his chosen people and thus Israel is his chosen country.

    Yes, that's batshit crazy. It's also true.

  • Here's a shot at an answer:

    Our "special" relationship with Israel began when American began liberating the Nazi concentration camps. By 1948, the extent of the Holocaust was well understood and it was perceived that – no matter the cost – the state of Israel should exist. There were qualms in some quarters about the ethics and politics of displacing roughly 400,000 Palestinians – incisive critiques by people like Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, even Einstein – but those critiques have been effaced by the sands of time and, in 1948, the urgency and enthusiasm of creating a Jewish state overwhelmed any kind of moral misgivings. The US – with a substantial and activist Jewish community – was fully prepared to back Israel, and did.

    As soon as Israel was created, the surrounding Arab nations attacked Israel, vowing to "push the Zionists into the sea." 1948, 1973, and of course, 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank (from Egypt), Gaza (from Jordan) and the Golan Heights (from Syria).

    The backdrop of the Holocaust, and the perennial existential threat, has served to immunize Israel from international critique. This immunization from critique continues to this day, as non-Jewish critics of Israeli policy are branded anti-semites, and Jewish critics are accused of lacking sufficient "love of homeland." In American foreign policy, the power of the pro-Israel lobby – AIPAC, etc. – has been breathtaking. Every president, every year, must kiss the ring. And that's basically why our support is unconditional. Because American politicians have never felt like they have the political or moral cover to criticize Israel.

    Eventually, of course, someone must point out that the Emperor is not wearing clothes. The atrocities of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Sabra and Shatilla. An illegal occupation running decades. The transformation of West Bank and Gaza into isolated zones of poverty and rage. The construction of a wall around the West Bank that the International Court of Justice held to violate international law, including the Geneva Convention.

    None of this is to suggest that the Palestinians are blameless, or even less blame-worthy. All I'm saying is that we're still not really even close in America to being able to have a grown-up conversation about Israel and I doubt we will be able to anytime soon.

  • Sorry, typo in the above post: prior to 1967 the West Bank was controlled by Jordan (not Egypt), and Gaza was controlled by Egypt.

  • Rosalux summed it up better than I could, so I'll just note the absolute weirdness of Israel as an immovable piece of U.S. foreign policy, because it brings together people from all across the cultural spectrum: Holocaust-guilt-driven liberals, Millennially-dogmatic Christians, Defense hawks, Do-gooder-democracy-abroad advocates, and so on. Plus Islam isn't exactly regarded highly in our neck of the woods, which means that anyone who stands as a bulwark against the Mohammedan hordes is always going to play well to the crowd.

    What's our end-game? Eh, my guess is: Let enough time pass so that people find something else to gnaw over. I really do think that's it–that our higher-ups assume that, if we just hold the line long enough, it will seem as enough of an immutable fact of life for everyone to just calm down and accept that Israel isn't going anywhere and then everyone will just go along with their lives–that the Westerners who created Israel, being Westerners, assumed that everybody else would get over it in a century or two. Yep. Good plan, that. It's not like that area of the world is renowned for having a long memory, or anything.

  • Full disclosure: I am Jewish (by birth, not by belief), was born in Israel and live here, and consider myself an Israeli patriot.
    Full disclosure, part II: I didn't vote for the current government, and I oppose a lot of what it's doing, including the way it handles the current situation in Gaza (current: past couple of weeks and past six years).
    Full disclosure, part III: While my educational background is Sciences, I'm a long-time avid reader of Politics, Economics, Political Economy and Media, local global and US-specific (I have close family in the US).
    Given all that, I feel like I'm in a position to give some intelligent feedback here.

    First off, I was insulted by your comparison to North Korea. I agree that Israel behaves on the international arena like a rogue state from time to time, but Israel is still as close to being a Democracy as the US (in some senses it may even be closer). In that sense, there are avenues to affect the behavior of Israel (as a state) that are not through discussions between leaders- NGO's, public opinion, media, all of those nice things that democracy enables and North Korea does not.

    That said, Israel was the US's outpost in the middle east for much of the Cold War, especially after '67, and much of US politics "got used to it" even after it was no longer relevant. The same, by the way, can be said of Russia's actions in the region for the past decade or so. The events of the past 10~20 years are shaping up in many minds a new world divide, between "Christianity" (read: western Europe and the US, plus satellites) and "Islam" (read: most of the 3rd world, whether Muslim or not, including China and sometimes Russia). Under this framework, Israel gets the same "outpost" standing it used to have- a continuity that makes it very easy for people to accept the new world-view.

    Ben-Gurion (Israel's 1st PM, and a very dominant figure in Israeli politics well before it's inception and a couple of decades after) once said Israel does not have foreign policy, only internal policy. To this day, much of what Israeli leaders say in international forums is actually meant for internal consumption. The first and foremost consideration for any foreign-policy move by Israeli government (_any_ government) is how will it look on the home front. People here, especially politicians, really are that much ethno-centric. It's built-in in the Jewish faith (and I can elaborate if people are interested).

    Which brings us to the subject of Religion. Today, religion is one of the strongest driving forces in US politics, and in many senses at the global level as well (see above). In the US, this is mainly driven by the "Social Issues" hard-right turn of the Republican party of the last 15~30 years, but the rest of the actors had to align themselves accordingly. With Christianity and Judaism sharing a lot of sacred texts, some values, a long (and complicated) history, and numerous psychological complexes, it becomes obvious that "support of Israel" is a Litmus test in US politics based on religious values, not rational ones.

    This, by the way, is one of the major problems in internal Israeli politics today- anyone trying to challenge the Jewish belief that "the whole country is ours by divine decree" is immediately condemned as a traitor, a self-hating nutcase, an Arab loving spy, or any combination of these and many other names. This makes rational discourse _within_ Israel on the merits of any action relating to the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the 3~5 million Palestinians that live there very, very, VERY difficult. There are blogs you can read that try to paint a different picture than the mainstream media and the "official" version of events, and there are a few political parties that still stand behind humanistic, universal, "western" values. But in order to really play on the national stage in Israel, you need to be very careful what you can or cannot challenge.

    Sorry for the long post, and Kudos Rosalux for a very good reply before me.

  • What Rosalux said.
    The why? What JD said, plus the fact that it allowed for a form of vassal state in the region at the time.
    What do the rest of the neighbours get out of supporting Hamas or Hezbollah? Same reasons we support Israel. Lebanon wishes it could get Hezbollah out of its South. God knows it would help them to rebuild towards a better future.

    Effectively, Israel is a fact on the landscape. It's the same as the argument of should all persons of European extraction return to Europe from the Americas/Australia-NZ/Africa…? Yeah right.

    Think of it like a a golf shot. You've got to play the ball as it lays, even when you've whacked it behind a tree. The quicker *everyone* get used to this fact the quicker everyone can get on with it. The fact that Israel and Egypt have had 35yrs of grudging peace shows that its possible. The fact that Egypt has stepped up to try to broker peace shows that there's still hope.

    More of a mystery is why Cuba? What do we get out of that one?

  • purpleplatypus says:

    "Our "special" relationship with Israel began when American [sic] began liberating the Nazi concentration camps."

    While the rest of your summary was pretty good, starting it with this sentence definitely left a bad taste in my mouth. A fairly standard example of American myopia and/or revisionism about World War II, this expresses an attitude that's part of the problem, not the solution.

  • They're the crank in the Middle East balance-of-power ratchet that keeps OPEC bound to the US (especially considering the planned obsolescence engineered into export versions of weapons systems), and keeps oil money recirculating back into America where it becomes defense jobs.

    They're a crucible for developing new doctrine (Obama-era drone warfare is basically "targeted assassination" on a broad scale, whereas earlier Bush-era electronics intercept/logistics analysis/Special Forces efforts were attempts to extrapolate from '80s-'90s Southern American anticommunist/"drug war" doctrine, which were themselves attempts by the brass to prove that they had eventually figured out the right way to win Vietnam).

  • LK, if you have the time, I'd love more elaboration on the enthnocentricity inherent in Judaism. I have some understanding but it's limited.

  • My suspicion is that a non-trivial amount of support is because of the role Israel is thought to play in some evangelical apocalyptic "prophecy" – can't get your rapture on without there being an Israel and a rebuilt temple, can you? It's nonsense, of course, which is fortunate for Israelis since that particular bit of somewhat newish folklore doesn't have a particularly happy ending for anyone not keen on converting.

    Which is sort of bleakly hilarious in a way – you have all these supposedly Christian fundamentalists hell-bent of doing everything they can think of get the apocalypse on track, and elements of the Israeli government that caters to that sort of thing – back in 2005, one of my relatives invited me along on two week trip to the Holy Land, and I definitely got a creepily pandered/marketed to vibe off the experience.

    That there's a very vocal, if not mildly insane, chunk of US voters who think Israel needs to be given a blank check for its own reasons doesn't cover all the bases, but I suspect it ticks off at least a few of them and ensures that there is a significant base of support for this unconditional support, and there does seem to be those in Israel which are perfectly willing to accept and cultivate these useful idiots. Just one of many factors, I'm sure – there's not likely to be just one angle to the thing.

  • In an airport café a few months ago, I struck up a conversation with a young, very tired looking woman. She is Canadian, and a Jew, and she said she didn't trust Obama to have Isreal's back, and that Romney is therefore a better choice.

    Since I'm a citizen of Sweden, another small democracy and I'm not all that well informed, I said… "no….. you have your _own_ president".

    She looked at me in disgust, decided I was probably a harmless idiot and changed the subject to food.

  • "more elaboration on the enthnocentricity inherent in Judaism"
    well when one fancies oneself as a member of 'the chosen people'…
    For current, ugly, manifestation of said ethnocentricity just look through the public pronouncements of some ultra-orthodox rabbis, and some Israeli government officials, many of whom consider non-jews, especially blacks, to be sub-human.
    for example:

    [The name of the blog linked above is not really relevant here but refers to a rabbi who was (still is) revered as the savior within a particular movement, basically it's heresy and the author of the blog is calling it out as such.]

  • Also, even if the whole world understands Israel as an American client, the asymmetry and formal distance between the two states creates a sort of deniability and power laundering (further enhanced by Israel's "rogue" reputation, and the traditional American good cop "cleanup" role).

    An Israeli attack on Iran, even with American blessing and support, could to an extent be attributed to "Israel being Israel", with the understanding that Israel doesn't have the resource or population base to actually mount a ground invasion or establish a long-term presence. In contrast, direct American action could easily be read as a grab for OPEC oil fields (awkward for the Saudis, who might otherwise secretly be pleased) and treated by the Russians as an incursion into their sphere of influence on the Caspian Sea and in the 'stans (or else provoke internal challenges from hardline elements).

  • @Jane: your story is a very good example of my "no foreign policy, only internal politics" point- thanks for sharing.

    @Nunya: What I'm talking about is not detailed in the scriptures, but it's part of the Jewish Orthodoxy for many centuries now. The starting point is a fundamental, qualitative difference that exists between Jews and all other human beings, according to the Jewish faith. This goes as far as saying that the difference between a Jewish person's soul and a non-Jewish person's soul is greater than the difference between a non-Jewish soul and an animal soul, according to some prominent thinkers. The most "damning evidence" is a quote from the Talmud (a 5th century text that is the actual "code book" of Jewish life, saying "You are called Man and they are not called Man". This brings out a feeling of superiority which is not relative but rather absolute, and very hard to argue with.

    In this day and age, most of the Jewish population outside of Israel belongs to one of the non-Orthodox flavors (mainly Reforms), and accept equality between all human beings as a given. They will tell you those values and sentiments were god for their time, but are no longer relevant today. Within Israel, however, even many of those not actively observing, accept many of the tenets of the Orthodoxy as-is, even (or maybe especially) when they clash with modern/liberal/western/humanist values. This trend has gotten worse in the past 10~20 years, and does not seem to be slowing down. It all plays out to produce a country that feels like it has the right to ignore what everyone else is saying or thinking, except maybe Orthodox Jews in other countries.

    Hope this helps to clarify things a bit.

  • I always figured that Israel is a Jewish nuclear power with no strategic depth and the cultural memory of the Holocaust, surrounded by Muslims that outnumber them by two orders of magnitude, and that all the other reasons mentioned mostly masked the notion that you want them to feel as safe as at all possible (and as untouchable as at all possible to their neighbors) because a festering political boil on your ass is still vastly preferrable to a possible spiral of escalation that might end up with nukes going a-flying. Same with the Norks, only there it's just the elite whose asses are on the line.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    So many smart, informed comments.

    I'm kind of hesitant to offer my $0.02 worth, and lower the collective IQ.
    But, here goes:
    One of the main problems is the growing influence of AIPAC over the past 60 years – to the the point where that pro-Israel lobbying group has a virtual straglehold on many of our politicians. And, then we have AIPAC's military arm – America's Neocons, and their growing influence from the early 70's, until recently.

    The Neocons switched, after the Cold War ended, from being strongly anti-Soviet, to being strongly pro-Israel. They were at the height of their influence from the early-mid 80's, sliding a bit when Clinton was President, and the reached their apogee under George W. Bush, after 9/11, and prior to the invasion and epically bungled occupation of Iraq.

    Now, mix in some good ol' fasionied Dominionist Evangelical Christian beliefs about the importance of Israel to the Apocolypse, and you have Israel as our putative 51st State.

    We dodged a major bullet when President Obama beat Mitt Romney. Mitt had W's NeoCLOWNS as his foreign advisors. And people like Bolton and Senor, et al, would not have hesitated to do whatever it would take to protect Israel.
    Also too, Joe Lieberman leaving the Senate (YAY!!!) is a step in the right direction.

    I hope I didn't lower the IQ of this converstation too much.

    Btw – Happy Thanksgiving to our host, my fellow commenters, and everyone's family and friends.
    Happy Turkey Day everyone!
    Or, from my POV: Stuffing, Gravy, and Pie Day – YUM!!!

  • Some working principles of American / Israeli / Palestinian Politics

    1) No American politician may publicly speak of Israel without reaffirming Israel's "right to exist" and "right to defend itself"

    2) Israeli parliamentary politics reward politicians who pander to the growing ultra-orthodox and settlement populations.

    3) The psychology of being 'existentially threatened' as a Jew is founded history and culture, and is difficult to surrender.

    4) The overwhelming security and military apparatus of Israel, and the cocoon created by security walls and Israeli-only highways, allows Israelis to ignore the day-to-day indignity of Palestinian life, and see only the hatred which it breeds.

    5) America has the veto which barely protects Israel at the UN. European criticism can be dismissed by Israelis against the background of a significant anti-Jewish attitudes and behaviors during the 19th and 20th century, including pogroms and the German death camps. International criticism is thus dismissed using the 'existential threat' psychology which can be so central for a Jew.

    6) Palestinian political movements are systematically crushed by Israeli military and legal machinery. Travel is monitored and limited for even their elected officials.

    7) The United States media discussion of Israel is the most muffled of the western democracies. (Noam Chomsky will never be given a voice on ABC e.g. except perhaps 2 minutes once a decade).

    8) Gaza is effectively an open air prison governed by an organization that, ironically, Israel and the United States helped bring into power as a counter balance to Arafat.

    All of the above are in play while the land, water, and cultural markers of Palestinian life are being taken, justified in part by religious, i.e. unarguable, belief. To quote Saab Erekat, "how can you negotiate the pizza when one party is eating it".

    Who, then does not want to negotiate, and is not a partner for peace ? There will always be another 'condition' that Palestinians must meet before negotiation can occur.

    Something awful this way comes. Every American, whose tax dollars are helping keep the Israeli foot on the Palestinian neck, should feel responsible and speak out, knowing they are responsible for unspeakable injustice.

  • Basically the evangelicals love the Jews – just so long as they're in the Middle East, hastening the rapture.

  • As far as the China/Korea relationship, China's modern policy has been pretty much to maintain the status quo. If things get horribly worse in NK, there will be horrible war that spills across the border, regional economic instability, and millions of brainwashed impoverished Korean refugees streaming into China. If NK becomes more civilized and the borders relaxe, millions of brainwashed impoverished Korean refugees will stream into China. China absolutely doesn't want a bunch of Koreans causing trouble in China. So they send trainloads of rice and bullets to North Korea and try to keep everything "calm." So in this way, the China/Korean problem is vaguely like the U.S.A./Israel problem, in that the policy of each respective "great power" is to kick the can down the road.

  • South Korea doesn't want North Korea to collapse for similar reasons.

    Trying to absorb the economic black hole that is the DPRK into a reunified Korea would make German reunification look like a picnic.

  • Last I checked, what we got out of it was that the RW loons got to stroke their "killing poor brown people" boner with a side of "OMG JEEBUS IS COMING BACK GUIZE".

    As for why Democrats do it, I'm pretty sure it just comes down to inertia and the threat of Mitch McConnell giving anybody who disagrees a wedgie.

  • @botwot: I generally agree with your analysis, but two finer distinctions are important IMO.

    First, there is a part in the Israeli Jewish population that supports a long-term solution that includes two separate, sovereign states living side-by-side. This part was probably never a majority of the Jewish population, but given that Arabs are almost 20% of Israel (and still have nearly full civil rights), it was possible in the past to elect parties that tried to promote this agenda. Today the right-wing majority in the Jewish population is so large, that given the low participation of Arabs (and other minorities) in general elections, there is very little chance of that happening in the near future.

    Second, there is a part in the Palestinian population that believes there is no room for non-Muslim sovereignty in the region at all. The more moderate promoters of this ideology will allow Jews to remain in the country, retaining (somewhat diminished) civil rights under a Muslim rule. The more extreme would give the Jews the options of escape or slaughter. In the past, this opinion was in the minority (and a miniscule minority within the Arab citizens of Israel). Today this line of thought is very close to a majority, if not a large majority already (in the last elections to the Palestinian parliament, Hamas, which represents this ideology, won a 43% plurality of votes and a 58% majority of seats).

    The question that I think needs to be asked, is what can we (Israelis, Palestinians and the international community) do to make the moderates a majority again, and to limit the ability of the extremists to blow it up, both literally and figuratively.

  • Money and votes for American politicians. That's all, and that's all that's needed for us to get out of our relationship. The Cold War's been over for more than 20 years. There is no geopolitical benefit to current U.S. policy towards Israel. It's all about power here, not there.

  • Richard Roundtree says:

    This is just my opinion, so there's that. I've always thought the US support for Israel was twofold: having a powerful pro US ally in a "hostile" (read: Islamic) section of the world to act as some sort of regional counterweight and political forces within the US (basically pro Israel persons, political groups, foreign policy hawks, etc. Anything but unwavering support for Israel seems to draw out the long knives).

    Our ultimate end game is to have secular, pro US governments throughout the Middle East. Since that ain't happening anytime soon, we support the neighborhood tough guy who helps keeps things in line for us.

  • whenever i read about the Israelis killing Palestinians, which is always, i read the IDF uses Apache helicopters, F-16s or the current American model jets, or some other American made/sounding military death aparatus. the military complex wins, big time!

    the Israelis are killing Palestinians using American made weapons and machines. the IDF is just a proxy for the American military. so that always helps to know that we, I, as an American, are being used as a tool for murdering people. the symbolism isn't missed by the rest of the world, either, whether or not they are cognizantly aware of it. Apache? I bet the Native Indians are really pleased too.

    it is just so nice to be part of the Empire's military killing machine all across the world.and such a warm fuzzy glow coming from the Israelis knowing America will allow Israel to do whatever it wants, and no one, not Russia, China or anyone will stop the Israelis in their fight for lebenraum.

    the irony of Hitler's Shoah and the response of the "Israelis", Never Again,to me, but it's okay for the Palestinians, well, that is beyond irony. and to think killing Palestinians is okay because they are "less than human" sounds just like the South African whites
    "excuse" for Apartheid. or the US South's Jim Crow.

    but Isreal takes our Jim Crow further and brazenly kills people of Muslim descent/Palestinians are their favorite "animal/Muslim" of choice.

    And we in America are captive to the Right Wing who support, encourage and abet this Nakba/Arab style/. as if the Right Wing was stealing Social Security and Medicare through Wall St./Koch/Big Business. all the Joys of the Right Wing and we have to pay for it.

    Boy, don't we have fun. i know this is better than any video game with a joy stick. that my taxes are being used to pay for this, whereby i hope the Right Wingers secede: you want this lunacy, you pay for it. cause after all "Both sides do it". Hat tip to BB

  • Thanks Ed, for admitting to not understanding something I have never been able to fathom.

    Many of the comments are enlightening, and refer to aspects of recent history that have often occurred to me. But none of them actually EXPLAIN it, the scope of it, do they?

  • At the risk of being called anti-semitic, I will tell you that the only way to understand our relationship with Israel is to understand that many jews in the US government are basically Israeli. When you compare the ratio of jewish policy makers in our government to the percentage of jews in the general American population, you realize that jewish influence on American policy is dominated disproportionately by American jews. This has nothing to do with some sort of conspiracy and everything to do with the fact that jews prioritize education and civil service when raising kids. As a result, there are many jews in policy positions in the US government and like any special interest group they look out for each other which means that there are extremely heavy over representations of jews in high policy positions. (not to mention the fact that there are heavy proportions of American jews in Israeli government positions) This is a fact and you can lambaste me all day every day on this point but it’s the truth and when it comes to Israel their extremely biased in favor of that country.

    Consider this, if there were a bunch of muslims in policy positions in the US government, how many people would be screaming about it? Yet, we hear nothing on this point when jews run American foreign policy in the ME. And then we wonder why we are so hated and accused of extreme bias. Watch any recent interviews with the Israeli ambassador to the US and tell me I’m wrong.

  • @Graham: some actions are based on rational motivations. These can be "explained" in terms of chosen action and desired effect. Some actions are based on principles, values, and other "irrational" motivations. These can only be "explained" in terms of those motivations- even when the effect is undesired. The GOP lost at least two Senate seats in the elections due to the primary process and free speech. Does it mean you should denounce primaries and/or free speech just because the end result was negative?

  • @Da Moose: I won't call you antiseimitc, but I think you are a little over-generalizing, and also a little wrong. There are definitely a disproportionate representation of Jews in the US government (both elected and appointed), which can be explained (as you said) by cultural norms (same as the under-representation of Blacks and Hispanics). But most of them are Democrats, and many of them support Israel's peace-seeking activities and not its war-mongering ones. In fact, many of them are labeled as traitors by the Israeli right-wing, some to the point of being persona non grata in Israeli formal events. It is true that the AIPAC lobby is right-leaning both in the US and in Israel (which is why left-leaning American Jews formed the competing J-Street lobby). But almost all of them see themselves as American patriots first, and Jews second. When they think Israel is jeopardizing American interests they say so, loud and clear (and get a lot of flak in Israel for it).

    And Michael Oren is (pardon my french) a disgrace to Israel and to American Jews.

  • @DaMoose: I've got to take you to task for that!

    There's a "their" when you meant, "they're" or "they are"!! And no attempt what's so ever to correct it. Sheesh! ;)

  • Just wanted to say that I feared for the worse when I started reading today's post, and was pleasantly surprised at the (mostly) grown-up, informed discussion that followed. Maybe it's possible to have this discussion on a larger scale after all.

  • Not flushed out upthread is just how much the US gets from Israel's military research, development, & military experience. Israel gets to practice with its street-to-street fighting (Lebanon 2008), Assassination network (Iran today), Drones for intelligence & attacking, missile defense, etc. etc. etc and shares everything back with the US. Israel is fantastic at developing advanced technologies to kill people better and seemingly has no problem using them against rockets that I could probably make with a weekend in a garage.

    So the US provides money, weapons, and unilateral support and gets new military toys that are field tested. I have no idea how much the iron dome development & deployment has cost the US (I'm sure it's in the billions) but now if the US ever wants to put up a anti-missile shield at the Rio Grande they have a field tested version ready to roll. The UAV technology developed in Israel is an even better example of this – the US would be far behind where they are today if not for the Israeli UAV technology development which sped up the US' capabilities, but also for the Israeli UAV experiences which make it easier for hawks in the US to get funding.

  • I think Chicagojon captures an important part of this. I would also add that we have a very ill-developed intelligence network in Arab countries, especially now that our puppet kings are being overthrown. After a decade of occupation of Iraq, we still only have a handful of Arabic speakers to do basic intelligence work (not to mention things like infiltrating terrorist organizations). This just isn't the case with the Mosad — they have an incredible intelligence network, which they work to Israel's advantage. I sometimes wonder if they need us as much as we need them.

  • Chris "Limey" Lewis says:

    My thoughts aren't particularly well-developed, but it's pretty difficult to have a middle-ground on this issue. If I say I believe Israel is going incredibly over-the-top in it's policy towards Palestine, and the IDF is carrying out near-genocidal acts, this is interpreted as me CLEARLY wanting filthy brown hoardes to drive the Jews into the sea.

    By the same token, if I also acknowledge that Israel's overzealous defence of it's land has been influenced by decades of incursions and threats – realised or implied – by the Arab nations surrounding Israel, as well as the PLO's fond habit of sending in suicide bombers and ALSO carrying out military strikes against civillian targets, I am CLEARLY a bloodthirsty Islamophobic wingnut.

    I think there are two things one can say about this:

    1. Israel are completely out of line, and should be reined in – however, if they are, there is no indication that Palestinian terrorist attacks will stop. Same as if the Palestinians reined themselves in (as we have already witnessed), there is no guarantee the Israelis will back down either.

    2. This cycle is going to repeat in a series of tit-for-tat air strikes, assassinations, bombings, and rocket attacks, for a very long time.

  • The 1919 Sykes-Picot agreement that divided up the defeated Ottoman Empire can certainly 'splain some things about the region. I haven't yet read enough to write much substantive, other than remembering the mention from my WWI history class.

  • Perhaps I'm naive, but I always assumed what we got out of it was the Jewish vote. Seriously. I assumed the reason Romney and Obama were both up there "sucking Isreal's cock" as you put it during the debate, was that you could never get the Jewish vote without sucking Isreal's cock. I've just realized that this might be a ridiculous conclusion because I have no idea how large a percentage the Jewish vote is, and whether or not it's critical to have it to win a presidential election in this country.

    I'm sure having someone in that area who can help us ensure the oil keeps flowing is probably a big reason as well.

  • With all the ideas people have been coming up with it might be worthwhile to switch to figuring out the how rather than the why at this point. None of the countries I see on that "Top ancestry by county" are particulary philosemitic, if there is even such a thing as a philosemitic 19th century European country, so what explains this confluence of factors?

  • And Michael Oren is (pardon my french) a disgrace to Israel and to American Jews.

    Oh, thank you, LK. I absolutely cringe every time I hear that man on the American news channels.

    ChicagoJon nails a really big aspect of why America always "has Israel's back." Follow the money, baby. May I also throw in that there is no small matter of US guilt in its role in the Holocaust. Yes, its role. The US government turned back Jewish refugees by the boatfull and was in no small amount of denial about the scope of the Holocaust. Therefore, when an Israeli state was being formed, the US eagerly supported every aspect as a means of atonement.

    Also, may I also offer my kudos for the very reasoned and non-emotional discourse on this thread. Bravo, Gin and Tacosers!

  • Middle Seaman says:

    Despite the statement in the post, Israel has a consistent and easily predictable policy towards it surrounding countries and the world in general. It made peace with Egypt and Jordan even when it had to return a lot of land. The peace with the Palestinians is further along than it was in the past. It's difficult for both sides and therefore takes longer. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are Iranian clients and their militant behavior is therefore obvious.

    Hamas has been bombing southern Israel non stop for more than a year. The current outbreak was Israel's reaction to shooting at a military patrol within Israel. Were the Canadians to rocket Seattle once a week, the Marines were already in Vancouver. Beware of jumping to conclusions with 5% of the information.

    Israel is a well off country with a solid Democracy. It has a free press, the US lacks. Hamas occupied Gaza by overthrowing the Fatah. The Palestinians need to have their own state and control their own destiny. Less than 10 years ago the two sides broke up negotiations when Israel wanted to keep 6% of pre-1967 land while the Palestinians were willing to allow only 2%. For you and me, 4% seems like an obvious solution, but history, ego and politics prevented that from happening. It will happen soon.

  • As far as the US is concerned, Israel is like a giant, nuclear warhead armed aircraft carrier stationed smack in the middle east at all times. Given the US's aim of maintaining hegemony over the region, the basic reason for its support of Israel is pretty obvious.

  • @xynzee, I know. What an outrage. Writing too quick and a having a desire to quickly post prevented me from seeing the classic "their" vs "they're" error.

    @LK, yes, I absolutely love J Street. My only real gripe about the American Jew vs. Israeli dilemma is that gentiles can't seem to get away with criticizing Israel without being labeled anti-Semitic by either group.

  • @LK: If you don't mind, I might cut and paste some your explanations about Israel, Mid East conflict and American support for Israel.

    As a lib American Jew who has been to and is considering retiring to Israel (a plan years away), I sometimes have a hard time explaining to critics how I could support Israel in the face of what they consider horrific.

    I share your desire to see moderate solutions leading to a two state solution as the present situation is both untenable and unsustainable.

    Anyway, thanks for the good dialogue and stay safe.

  • The background? Lost in the mists of time. This family feud was already going strong when the Bible was put together, and may well go back to when the first modern humans pushed out of Africa and started mixing it up with the earlier emigrants living in the Middle East. Add in the brother:brother:brother hatred of the Abrahamaic religions and I don't see any way to stop it. Too many people on both sides have gotten so lost in the weeds of revenge and hate that they will not allow the killing to stop. When each side has plenty of "Westboro Baptist" people who welcome the death of children, let alone women, we're way outside any sort of what might be called "civilized" society. There are good people on both sides, but they so far have not been able to stand up against the self-righteous, scum-sucking pigs in their own groups (at least not without getting killed for their troubles). It was hard enough in Ireland to break the pattern; here it seems impossible. May they all die the deaths they deserve. We have no business helping them kill each other.

  • mel in oregon says:

    the analogy of the united states to israel, & china to north korea is inaccurate. north korea doesn't control china's foreign policy. israel controls a large portion of american foreign policy. israel controls the white house, & both federal legislative branches on any dispute between israel & the palestinians. when aipac speaks, the president obeys, so does the senate, so does the house of representatives. israel a democracy? who told you that? sorry but you are very badly misinformed, the palestinians have no rights. saying israel is a democracy is like saying the united states was a democracy when blacks were 3/5 of a person & native americans were being exterminated just as jews & other peoples were under hitler during the holocaust. if nuclear weapons had to used in ww2, if i had been in control, i would have nuked hitler first. also israel has a hard time justifying their stance toward iran, when they have hundreds of nuclear weapons. they are also hard to justify when palestinians living on land for more than 1000 years are displaced by new settlements. you won't get this from the corporate press bullshit, but palestinian deaths are usually one hundred times israeli deaths. noam chomski, jewish by the way, explains better than anyone i know, why our relationship with the corrupt israeli government is so evil & stupid.

  • 한국의 친구 says:

    Comparing Israel to North Korea is insulting. Israel isn't guided by the superior Juche Idea and it is a slave to western imperialism. Long live democratic Korea and songun!

  • @ChicagoJon: Spot on. I really missed this in my original reply. As for references: and look specifically at the two AAI UAV articles.

    @Middle Seaman: I'm not so sure about the free press. We only have two independent TV stations (and one public station, which the government is trying very hard to force under "party line" journalism), and of the four large distribution daily papers, two are owned by right-wing tycoons (and it shows), and the other two are in financial difficulties.
    The break-up of talks in 2000 wasn't about 4% of the area, it was about where those 4% are (and also about what happens to another 10% that Israel was adamant they needed "for security reasons" on the border with Jordan). To take it to a US analog, if the US had a territorial strife with Canada, and the Canadians claimed that there's a large Canadian settlement in Kansas so they need to get both Dakotas and Nebraska as part of the deal- how would that work out?

    @Da Moose: It's okay, Jews can't get away with criticizing Israel either…

    @mel: I like Noam Chomsky, but he's sometimes a little too extreme in his views, and a little too liberal in his use of the facts. It's true that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not Israeli citizens and don't enjoy the same rights. But I hope they will be able to enjoy those rights when a Palestinian state (too long in the coming) is established. And the Arabs that are citizens (a mere 1.5 million of them, about 20% of Israel's population) do enjoy very nearly the same civil rights as I enjoy. I went to school with them, I work with them (in a local branch of a multinational company), and a vast majority of them would keep their Israeli citizenship even if they had the option to move to an independent Palestinian state (so tell the surveys). As for control of US foreign policy: I think I explained most of it in my comments above. You may have been able to say that when Clinton and Rabin shared cigars, or when GW was invading Iraq to the cheers of Sharon's government. But not today.

    @everyone: I'm really enjoying both the tone and the level of the discussion here.

  • It's difficult to argue with vague statements such as "I like Noam Chomsky, but he's sometimes a little too extreme in his views, and a little too liberal in his use of the facts," without knowing what "extreme" is or what "facts" Chomsky is liberal about. Nonetheless, I don't think Chomsky is "extreme" at all under any reasonable definition of that term. He has constantly maintained that the solution to the problem is pretty simple: two contiguous states at the pre-1967 borders. Unfortunately successive Israeli governments–with complete U.S. support– have created "facts on the ground," by expanding settlements, for instance (and these illegal–under international law– settlements are also partially subsidized by us the taxpayers, btw). Every Israeli government–and labor has had a worse record on this btw than some of the center right parties– has tried it's utmost to ensure that such a settlement is never reached (the history is too long to be recounted here, but Chomsky has good accounts; also look up Gideon Levy or Baruch Kimmerling on the settlements). By now it's pretty difficult to see how this could happen, especially given the enormous asymmetry of power (Israel, owing to it's position, has absolutely no incentive to concede anything). I truly believe that in another era (say about 100 years ago) Israel would have had few qualms about wiping out the entire Palestinian population; that they can't do it now is a testament to some of the moral progress made in the world.

  • I don't think it is all that complicated. Jews are a natural democratic constituency and the republicans think they can peel them off by being more pro-Israel than the Dems. This doesn't work any better than republican policies to strip Latinos from the democratic coalition by talking soft on immigration, but unlike immigration, israel comes more naturally to republicans because they're naturally bellicose and can use Israel as an excuse to drop favors to allies in defense industries. Thus we end up with both parties trying to out pro-Israel each other.

    There is nothing rational about our policies towards Israel. Most military action is negative sum. It is just politics.

  • I've trained myself not to comment on this one at all.

    It goes way off the left-right map, way past victors and victims.

    I may be part of the problem.

  • @Tveb: This is not a Chomsky discussion, but I want to relate to some of your relevant points. I, personally, agree with Chomsky that the endgame of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two separate states (as I said above). Where I don't see eye-to-eye with him is in some of the details of that picture (like the strictness of the "pre-1967 borders" and the possible solutions for those Palestinians that left property behind during Israel's war of independence in '48). I don't dispute that Israeli governments of all flavors promoted the settlements at a huge cost to everyone else. But I would like to believe that under a mutually beneficial agreement, these people can be evacuated from those places and re-settled inside Israel. Israel has shown it can do this in Sinai in the 80's, and in Gaza in the 00's (and in the West Bank as well), and under the right conditions it can be done again. And the US has always opposed those settlements, more openly or more quietly as the ups and down of the relationship between the two went, but never gave "complete support" as you claim.

    As I said above, there are (to this day) Israelis who would like to wipe out the entire Palestinian population, as there are (too many) Palestinians who would like to do the same to the Israelis. In other parts of the world this method is still being attempted from time to time. But I do think Israel does have an incentive to compromise, because the on-going occupation is not without its costs (cultural, moral, economic, what have you). What most Israeli governments aren't able to perceive, is the relation between Israeli actions and the incentive the other side may or may not have to compromise.

  • Israel and US Foreign policy.

    First off there are entire books dedicated to this from STRATFOR and others of people who actually worked in this area for years. So it is quite in depth. However from a tactical perspective and having worked with IDF Golani brigade and Egoz unit members. A lot of it stands from past experiences tactically and also to quote George Friedman "The Revenge of Geography." Political aspects aside and spending a lot of time in Turkey, Israel, Jordan amongst dozen other spots in the world. The nature of where Israel sits leaves little room for error. After the 6 day war Israel had expanded it's territory to create a buffer system this expansion was the result of a few wars and determined by strategic value. Israel knew it would be attacked again. Over time they gave land back little by little and sometimes had to retake land again. So far there have been 14 wars there. so we are not really in a place to really broker peace and prosperity. I doubt it ever will personally. Sectarian violence is very different from other conflicts say over natural resources. Look at Yugoslavia and Iraq as soon as their tyrant regimes were crumbled. Violence ensued years of repressed hatred came out. There is a bitterness there that is surreal. I believe the same is true for Israel and Palistine.

    Why the US involvement. Well I could go on about the importance of the Jewish American Vote and reasons stated by the Media. However I will quote George Friedman again. "Revenge of Geography." While people think that each region has seperate motivations for the US. Our policy which may be a bit outdated but has been around since Teddy Roosevelt. Dominate shippling lanes and trade routes and eliminate competitors influence. Bring that to Israel. US involvement really jumped during the war of attrition about a few years before Vietnam was starting. Russia had entered this war in a limited role. So now we had a Proxy war to test our military hardware against theres. This is a bit counter intuitive to Kruschevs leadership in the USSR. Since he was not really a soviet hardliner however like the US the USSR had multiple interests. To this day we still have a vast amount of Cold War policies still in place. Same is true with our support for South Korea and even more so Germany. However cold war policy and trade routes policies are still a driving for e today. In fact even law enforcement models in the US are outdated (at a federal level). Some have called it Inertia. Maybe it's true we are just creatures of habit and do things until a change is forced. While I have not always agreed with Israel's tactics. I will say that Pillar of Defense is spot on. Not sure how much attention is given to the due care in protecting Palestinian civilians and trying to only target Hamas and other combatants and interrupt Iran's weapons flow. I also want to say the US wasn't really dominate or effective this time around. More props to Egypt than anyone in brokering a cease fire. Although rockets are still being fired someone just texted me (lol technology and man they are up late over there). Anyways that's my 2 cents.

  • LK: Two quick things:

    1. Settlement building began in earnest only in the 80s, prior to that Israel used other tactics to stall negotiations (again the history is too long to recount here); and the only American president that actually intermittently deterred–though only briefly–their growth, was George H.W. Bush. Other mainly paid lip-service to the Oslo Accord conditions on question of the settlements. So I guess you're technically right that various administrations did not openly approve of settlement building, though they did basically nothing (apart from the noted, brief example) tangible to stop them (for example by explicitly prohibiting transfer and use of American funds, "private," as well as some "public" for settlement building.

    2. About the "stringent" pre-1967 lines, some stringency is indeed warranted here, given the proclivities of several Israeli administrations for creating "facts on the ground." Look what happened to East Jerusalem. This is also required to ensure that possible land swaps are fair, and the Palestinians do not end up with shitty territory in return for prime settlement land.

  • Your analogy to North Korea is way off the mark. 20% or more of Israel's current population are immigrants for the former USSR or their children. They arrived in Israel after that government turned over the classified material stolen by Jonathan Pollard. Just the thing to expect our 'best ally' in the ME to do.

    As to the Hasbara they should be reminded that the people in Palestine did not cause the Holocaust, had been living in the region for centuries, nor were they involved in the original decision to partition the region they were already living in. And lets not for get the Irgun's assassination of Count Bernadotte. But hey, when your winning a war of conquest what do facts matter?

  • My neighbor got really pissed off when I tried to build a "settlement" in his back yard.

    I pointed out that my holy book clearly states that it belonged to my ancestors 3000 years ago but he just wandered off muttering something about getting a shotgun.

  • The ship attacked by the Israelis was the USS Liberty, the Stark was attacked by the Iraqis when we were friendly with that country.

  • "What I don't understand at all is this: What exactly does the United States get out of its relationship with Israel?"

    Uhh… I call shenanigans. There's no way Ed actually wrote that sentence, unless he had a lot of wine on the way through Thanksgiving. As a sympathy, let me fix it for him:

    "What exactly do the political coalitions at any given moment in charge of the foreign policy apparatus of the United States—when in the context of Democrats, their historical Jewish base and an alleviation from the Republican charge they're soft on terror and foreign policy, and in the context of Republicans, the evangelical armageddon corps and the lamentable segment who just want to see brown people shot on cable news—get out of its relationship with Israel?

    "Oh, wait. That."

    See how much better that works?

  • Fortunately North Korea demonstrates considerably more restraint when it comes to acts of aggression aimed towards it's neighbors than does Israel.

  • If you want to understand what we get out of it, stop looking at our support of Israel from a foreign policy point of view and look at it instead in terms of domestic electoral politics. There are important constituencies in both major parties that are (or at least are considered to be by the party bosses) strong supporters of Israel — Jews for the Democrats and Crazy Christians for the Republicans. In case you don't know, the latter support Israel not out of fond feelings for the Jewish people but as one of the steps foretold by the Bible on the way to Armageddon and the return of Jesus.

    The foreign policy angle is simply to prevent Israel from totally flipping out and doing something truly stupid. That's why our Israel/Palestinian policy is stuck in maintenance mode.

    As it happens, younger Jews it seems couldn't care less about Israel so that dynamic may change in the near future.

  • mel in oregon says:

    chomsky extreme, nope, he's one of the most fair minded & well informed persons on the planet. i doubt if most palestinians would call israel a democracy. look, many countries have been called democracies when in reality they were no such thing. ancient greece was no democracy, as slaves had no rights. same thing with the roman empire, any country with slaves is no democracy. israel is no democracy, neither is the united states. when black people are put into prison for misdemeanors that whites can buy their way out of, & these same black people are then forever denied voting rights, we don't live in a democracy, in spite of the corporate bullshit peddled on tv, on the internet, in our schools, in our churches & in the military. what the jews suffered under hitler, & their general suffering in europe for two millenia was horrible. but, this doesn't give the israeli government the right to treat palestinians like sub humans. in fact some of you will be surprised to know that a majority of israeli jews believe their government is unfair to the palestinians. they are far better informed than most people in these united states. here you can't even have citizens with enough sense to know evolution is a fact, along with global warming. that's why our elections are a farce, & even though obama was the lesser of two evils, he like clinton will hurt the poor with his "grand bargain." lastly, there are many other public figures with a great deal of knowledge about the palestinians. a few come readily to mind. paul craig roberts, ralph nader, the late greats, alexander cockburn, george mcgovern & howard zinn. there is plenty of information out there if you want to take the trouble to learn about it.

  • Andrew Laurence says:

    American Jews are prodigious voters (I'm partly Jewish by background and know a lot of Jews and have never met one who would admit to not voting, but my experience may not be typical) but make up maybe 1-2% of the population, so it is not necessary to get the "Jewish vote" to win a presidential election. It is, however, necessary to get the evangelical Christian vote, and for that it is also necessary to "suck Israel's cock."

  • my question is what is Israel's endgame? they consistently antagonize and instigate conflict, so it can be assumed they plan on doing this indefinitely. do they think they will actually drive them into the sea? I assume most of them do not.

    My theory is that they (and I'm speaking specifically of the Israeli govt. and military) already realize the only real option will be a (truly) democratic, non-religious state of Greater Israel & Palestine (or something similar). And they want to get in as many decades as they can to build more settlements and to steal more land. and, of course, to kill as many Palestinians as possible.

  • "I've just realized that this might be a ridiculous conclusion because I have no idea how large a percentage the Jewish vote is, and whether or not it's critical to have it to win a presidential election in this country."

    Here's a link:

    The states with the highest percentage of Jews are New York, with 8.4%, New Jersey with 5.7%. There are 17 states with between 1% and 4%. All the rest range between 0 and 1%. So, in most of the US, they are ignorable as a constituancy.

    Further, American Jews are not a monolithic voting bloc. In the recent election, 69% voted for Obama, despite his alleged hostility to Israel. In previous elections the "Jewish vote", while it tends to lean Democratic, has been divided more evenly between the parties.

  • Sorry, I misread the source of my last sentence.

    Actually, the Jewish vote was somewhat less strongly Democratic in the last election than it has been in previous ones.

    i.e., Jews generally lean strongly, but not exclusively, Democrat.

  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    The end-game, by the way, is Jesus comes back and murders basically everyone. Hastening that day is what we theoretically get out of it.

    So – a lot like the Cthulhu cultists, only more real and with a less aquatic death-god?

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