The so-called ‘all-times’ alliance between the US and Israel—the supposedly ‘only’ democratic state in the Middle East— has largely been determined by politico-strategic expediencies rather than by some ‘natural’ convergence of interests. In other words, they are not ‘natural allies’, rather they happen to be fulfilling certain functions for each other, with the US providing Israel with economic and political support and the latter acting as the American pawn in the Middle East. The US has been, since the creation of Israel, subsidizing this alliance not only by extensive financial support but also by providing technologically sophisticated weapons, by countering the enemies of Israel in and around the Middle East, and by providing ‘unconditional’ support in the International forums such as the UN. No wonder the very act of questioning America’s uncritical support for Israel was and still is considered to be a ‘heresy’ and that the American taxpayers themselves subsidize this ‘natural alliance’ with billions of dollars annually.
But why does the US public extend such extensive support to Israel? The reason lies in the fact that the US-Israel alliance has been ‘sold’ to the US public under different labels in different circumstances. One of most often referred to stories of the alliance in the US media mantra of the “shared values” and the “democratic” character of Israel in a region which is largely characterized by dictatorships and monarchies. But another question arises here: why other ‘natural’ alliances, with democratic European countries, for instance, do not translate into huge American subsidies and military and diplomatic support? Its underlying reason, perhaps, can be understood by keeping in mind the critical role the Zionist lobby plays in the US, and the kid of influence it exerts on public representatives, the media and other public institutions. With its influence over these institutions, it has created such an atmosphere wherein the Jewish community successfully creates and constantly projects ‘victim mentality’, presenting themselves still facing existentialist threats from certain Middle Eastern States.
Every now and then Israel provokes the Middle Eastern states into speaking offensively. It desires to find hatred in the Palestinian people. By provoking violence Israel has not merely managed to divert the limelight from its apartheid nature, it has also managed to convince that it has the right to occupy, to dispossess and to discriminate. Would anybody have allowed such a right-claim to hold sway in apartheid South Africa? How come that the anti-apartheid and egalitarian calls for the non-recognition of Israel’s right to exist are being marginalized as extreme? Why the past violence against them in Europe is being allowed to serve as a rationalizing device of an apartheid state?
The range of reactions to the Israeli carnage shows just how successful violence-based strategy has been in sustaining the legitimacy of Israel by entrenching the political focus merely on its actions rather than on its nature. These reactions tend to keep the discourse that calls for only criticizing Israel rather than for replacing it with an egalitarian polity over the whole of historical Palestine.
Another factor which directly influences the public perception is the very provocative attitude, howsoever justifiable, of the Middle Eastern states, such as that of Iran, does indirectly reinforce the ‘threat perceptions’ of the US public—hence, continued support for Israel as shown in a recent poll conducted by Gallup in February 2012, according to which 61% compared to 19% of the US public is in favour of supporting Israel and Palestine respectively. Perceptions thus created, no matter based upon facts or distortions, about Israel and other Middle Eastern countries tend to lend credibility, albeit of varying degree even to the more receptive public of the ‘propagating governments’, to the official stand of the US towards Israel and the Middle Eastern states like Iran.
But this threat perception appears to be very misleading, artificially constructed and hollow when tested against certain historical facts. For example, When Israel smashed the armies of three Arab countries (Egypt, Syria, and Jordan) and conquered their land in a few days in early June 1967; it also smashed the myth of its vulnerability. The Israel lobby and its many powerful friends in the media and scholarship quickly replaced the now discredited myth with a new one: Israel as a strategic asset in the Middle East; first as an ally in the Cold war, and latter also as a bulwark against Iran after the revolution of 1979.
As such Israel, it was argued, provided strategic access to the Middle East, which was largely penetrated by the Soviet Union because of its military and political support of the Arab countries allied against Israel. This argument, too, lost some credibility with Soviet-American détente in the 1970s, and with Egyptian President Sadat’s decision to revamp its relations with the US at the expense of its relations with the Soviet Union. The purpose was to place Egypt squarely in the US camp. And, by implication, it also meant that Israel then no longer remained vulnerable to another offensive assault by Egypt and its allies after 1973.
However, the logic of Cold war was still relevant. But, with the end of the Cold war, the then prevailing popular logic of the US-Israel alliance also faced its demise. The Middle East thus, after the Cold War, was left wide open to the US geo-strategic objectives; the balance of power had become preponderantly in favour of the US; and, Israel’s role as a strategic asset, already questionable at best, had lost credibility for lack of raison d’être. This left the argument of ‘natural alliance’ because of democratic affinities still being the most frequently invoked to justify the huge economic and military assistance as well as the quasi-unconditional political support Israel receives from the US. Moreover, the US establishment had become accustomed to uncritical support of Israel. In fact, American bias for Israel is systemic and deeply entrenched. It is also readily observable and willingly admitted to.
When Jimmy Carter published a book titled “Palestine: Peace or Apartheid” in which he argued that the Israeli occupation violates Palestinian human rights, as it discriminates against the Palestinians, oppresses and dispossesses them, the U.S. public opinion trembled. A former US President and a Nobel peace laureate had brought a set of standard observations about the undemocratic nature of the Israeli occupation to the very heart of the American establishment. And in the process, he challenged one of the sacrosanct justifications for Washington’s bankrolling of Israel. He, rather unexpectedly, helped open a crack in the wall of the establishment’s silence surrounding Israeli oppressions and discrimination in the occupied territories. He raised the question of how could Washington justify sending American taxpayers’ money to support the most ‘un-American’ apartheid policies. And how can Israel maintain its democratic credentials, while consolidating its apartheid policy in Palestine.
And the recent US-Iran deal on nuclear issue has given a new set-back to the prevailing perception, of the US public about the possible attacks Israel could expect from Iran. That the edifice of the ‘natural alliance’ has started to fall. Last Year, the New York Times published a debate on the question of whether the US is a bit too close to Israel at the expense of its own interests. A first step to public acknowledgement, but rather an insignificant one. In the Times’ debate one can read, with incredulity, old and tired assertions such as this one: “The US struggles to make allies in the Arab world because America has values. Israel shares America’s commitment to liberal democracy, but the Arab world does not.” As if this rhetoric can still justify the occupation, discrimination, dispossession, and the denial of human rights brought by Israel to the Palestinian world. That’s preposterous, simply preposterous…
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs. Exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.