OpinionColumn

How good are US-Israel relations?

We are nations of immigrants that believe in free markets. The idea that America will turn on Israel over judicial reform is nonsense.

American and Israeli flags. Credit: ChiccoDodiFC/Shutterstock.
American and Israeli flags. Credit: ChiccoDodiFC/Shutterstock.
Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.

For months, the media narrative has been that U.S.-Israel relations are deteriorating because of tensions between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and American dissatisfaction with the Israeli coalition’s policies. The strains are certainly apparent, but they do not tell the entire story of the relationship.

As I wrote in response to the negative spin The New York Times gave to the votes against Israel of nine of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, support in Congress is best represented by the 412 members who voted for a resolution affirming their commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship. The anti-Israel caucus is vocal and given disproportionate attention by the press but still consists of 10 members (the 10th member, Betty McCollum, voted present on the resolution).

The anti-Israel caucus has also tried to sabotage the administration’s move towards accepting Israel into the Visa Waiver Program. Despite the opposition of his security advisers, Netanyahu has acceded to the demands that Israel treat Palestinians with U.S. citizenship the same as other Americans seeking entry to Israel. A bipartisan letter signed by 65 senators called on the administration to prioritize admitting Israel.

Detractors have also unsuccessfully sought to cut aid to Israel. Instead, Congress appropriated nearly $4 billion for military equipment, missile defense, joint development projects, and other cooperative defense and nondefense programs. That brings the historical total of U.S. aid to Israel to nearly $160 billion.

Additional funds will likely be allocated after the senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee joined the Senate co-chairs of the Abraham Accords Caucus to introduce legislation that would provide more than $120 million for various new programs to expand and strengthen the Abraham Accords. The House already voted 413-13 (11 noes from the anti-Israel caucus) to create a special envoy for the Abraham Accords.

In addition to the aid package supported by the president, the Biden administration recently approved Israel’s sale of the David’s Sling missile-defense system to Finland. Since it was co-developed with the United States, American permission was required before Israel could go through with the deal.

In another indication of congressional support, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) led a delegation of 24 House Democrats to Israel earlier this month. It was his second visit this year. The group, sponsored by the AIPAC-linked American Israel Education Foundation, also included the third-ranking member of the Democratic House leadership Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), several progressives, and two members—Shri Thanedar (D-Mich.) and Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas)—who had been opposed by AIPAC’s United Democracy Project PAC.

“The Democratic Party in the House of Representatives will continue to stand with Israel in lifting up the special relationship between our two countries and in support of Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people,” Jeffries told journalists in Israel. “Every opportunity that we’ve had to make that clear, including most recently, with a resolution on the floor of the House of Representatives, there has been overwhelming bipartisan support for the State of Israel.”

So much for Democrats turning on Israel.

In another indication of broader support for Israel, Pew found that Israel was seen as the third most important ally after the United Kingdom and Canada. As for those who believe that judicial reforms will mean that the United States will abandon Israel, consider that most Americans (94%) believe defense ties are the most important aspect of the relationship; 79% said shared values and 68% economic ties.

And let’s clarify one more thing concerning the debate on judicial reform. Regardless of the outcome, Israel will remain a democracy where the people choose their representatives. Furthermore, the values we share are not limited to an independent judiciary. Both countries believe in fundamental freedoms—of the press, assembly, speech and religion—all of which are on display in the current debate. We are also both nations of immigrants that believe in free markets. The idea that America will turn on Israel over judicial reform is nonsense.

Also, despite suggestions that the Biden administration is hostile towards Israel, the people of Israel have a different opinion.

The Washington Post, like The New York Times, rarely finds anything positive to say about Israel, so it was not surprising that it left this fact out of its report on the Pew poll on attitudes towards the United States. There is some reference to 17 of the 23 nations surveyed, with Poland mentioned as the most pro-American. One of the six nations not mentioned was Israel, which had the second-highest (87%) favorable opinion of the United States.

One other interesting finding in the Pew poll is that Israeli confidence in the supposedly anti-Israel Biden’s handling of world affairs (68%) is roughly the same as it was for the “most pro-Israel president”: Donald Trump (71% in 2019, 56% in 2017). Israeli confidence in Biden was only exceeded by Poland (83%), Sweden and Kenya (76%), and Nigeria (71%). By comparison, confidence in Biden in Canada was 58%, in the United Kingdom 54%, in France 47% and in Italy 42%.

I suspect the results would not change dramatically, but the poll was taken before Biden publicly criticized the Israeli government for its handling of the judicial reforms and the president agreed to pay $6 billion in ransom to Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, to free five American hostages.

I don’t want to minimize the administration’s mistakes in the Middle East, many of which I’ve written about in past columns. Still, anyone who looks at the totality of the values and interests we share, and the depth of ties that extend beyond Washington to the state and local levels, will recognize that the bond between Israelis and Americans is, as Biden has said, “rock solid” and “simply unbreakable.”  

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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