Alongside the importance of the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections, it is important to understand the deep-seated basis of Israel-U.S. ties that goes beyond the identity of a specific president or the composition of the Congress. This is a partnership based on a shared ethos—one that reflects the positions of elected officials and considerable overlap of interests that influence the government.
Beyond the basic commitments to a democratic regime and individual rights, the ethos shared by the mainstream American and Israeli public is one that respects both the individual and the collective that are fighting to survive under difficult circumstances. They do not recoil from the use of force when necessary as a last option and to impose their will.
This ethos is considered invalid in Europe and primitive on U.S. campuses, in the media, in “progressive” circles and among the liberal majority of U.S. Jews. Yet without this ethos, one would be hard-pressed to explain the deep affinity for Israel among two-thirds of the American public, largely Republicans but also Democrats who have not been sucked into radical ideologies. They see Israel as a democratic, constructive and desirable force, determined to do “whatever necessary,” including through the use of force, to defend itself. They respect that.
In much of the world, however, and even in some quarters in the United States and Israel, perceptions of this ethos are rooted in deep ignorance or deliberate distortion. This view seeks to present U.S.-Israel ties as the fruit of American affinity for Israel, U.S. Jewish support or the work of the pro-Israel lobby, all of which go against the “genuine” American interest, which ostensibly lies with “the Arabs.”
Yet almost all of the Arabs that matter to the United States act on the advice of and trust Israel. In addition, even those presidents who were less sympathetic to Israel, and even those like Richard Nixon who were actual anti-Semites, implemented policies that assisted Israel. Some presidents, such as Barack Obama, saw themselves as supporters of Israel and sought to “save” the country from itself.
And while the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is a dedicated and savvy sales agent for the State of Israel, if the “goods” Israel was selling were flawed, not even the most talented agent could continue to sell the country as well as it has for the past three generations. It is also worth noting that Jews make up less than two percent of the American electorate, and the majority of them do not see Israel as a top issue and cast their vote automatically for Democrats.
Israeli “goods” are sought after because of the aforementioned shared ethos but also and largely due to American interests. From the U.S. standpoint, Israel—situated in one of the most important regions in the world—encompasses important virtues that no other ally does: Israel is strong, stable, responsible, determined and always pro-American. Israel is the only U.S. ally that does not ask American soldiers to fight its wars. It is militarily, economically and technologically strong. It is a democracy that has proven its stability even in times of crisis. Its responsibility is reflected in its restraint in the face of the ongoing threats it has faced for generations, the likes of which no democratic country has ever experienced, and in the extreme caution it has exerted in relation to the strategic capabilities attributed to it.
Among democratic countries, it is difficult to find a comparable determination to act in times of crisis. At no point in time has Israel ever not stood with the American camp. While Israel is still the junior partner of the U.S. superpower, it is not a negligible one. The United States has been forced to downsize its physical presence in the Middle East in order to focus its attention on Asia and the South China Sea in particular. But it can only allow itself to pivot this way if it knows it is leaving a coalition of pro-American countries interested in maintaining relative stability in the region behind. Strong, stable, loyal Israel is a vital tier in this coalition.
Presidents come and go. Some act in consultation with Israel, while others are less receptive to its needs. Beyond these important differences, we must remember there exists a strong ethical and strategic framework for deep partnership, one that has survived unfriendly governments in the past.
Dan Schueftan is the director of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa’s National Security Studies Center.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.