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the pulpitU.S.-Israel Relations

Two narratives of the US-Israel relationship

True, the U.S. was not always supportive of Israel, but the relationship should not be denigrated.

The American and Israeli flags are screened on the walls of Jerusalem's Old City as a welcome to U.S. President Joe Biden on July 13, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
The American and Israeli flags are screened on the walls of Jerusalem's Old City as a welcome to U.S. President Joe Biden on July 13, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Uri Pilichowski

As Israel celebrated its 75th birthday last week, scores of American elected representatives, from the president to members of Congress to mayors across the country celebrated 75 years of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries released a video from Israel in which he said, “75 years ago the State of Israel was born, and over the last 75 years there has been a special relationship between Israel and the United States of America.”

A question worth asking is if the U.S.-Israel relationship has been as special for 75 years as it is today.

Lately, anti-Zionists have used the strong U.S.-Israel relationship as a talking point. They claim that the Jewish people are illegally occupying Palestinian land and that Zionism is a colonial enterprise. Zionism has been successful at stealing Palestinian land because of U.S. support. Without it, the anti-Zionists hold, the Jewish people would never have been given a land at all.

Many Zionists respond to this in the wrong way. Instead of focusing on Israel’s strength and resilience, they denigrate the U.S.-Israel relationship. They claim the relationship isn’t as old or as special as its advocates claim. These Zionists have begun retelling the history of the U.S.-Israel relationship and call into question the traditional narrative.

They claim that, in the early 1940s, America knew about the Holocaust and did nothing to stop it. Then, America did everything it could to prevent the Jewish people from declaring their own independent state. They point out that President Harry S. Truman only granted Israel de facto, rather than de jure recognition. They also note that the U.S. joined the arms embargo against Israel and did not sell weapons to the Jewish state for almost 20 years.

America’s lack of support for Israel was consistent with its foreign policy, critics say. The Pentagon, CIA and State Department were hives of antisemitic bureaucrats. America’s foreign policy was focused on opposing the Soviet Union and ensuring a steady stream of oil from Arab countries. The last thing the U.S. wanted in Israel’s early years was a strong relationship with the Jewish state. Truman’s recognition of Israel was an anomaly that was quickly corrected.

These arguments go so far as to claim the Soviet Union was more supportive of Israel than America. Critics say that the Soviets were the first to grant Israel de jure recognition and allowed their satellite Czechoslovakia to send massive arm shipments to Israel, giving it the weapons it needed to survive.

These arguments are false.

It is true that Truman only granted Israel de facto recognition and that the U.S. not only refused to sell Israel arms but participated in the global arms embargo for years. It is also true that Israel defended itself without America’s help for decades.

Moreover, anti-Zionists have indeed distorted the U.S.-Israel relationship by portraying it as a colonial conspiracy to rob Palestinians of their land rather than as a partnership between two freedom-loving countries.

But none of this takes away from the strength of the longstanding U.S.-Israel relationship.

This relationship, in fact, predates Zionism itself. For well over a century, many Americans, including presidents like Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson believed in the Jewish people’s right to the Land of Israel. Many Americans actively tried to reestablish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel and supported the Zionist movement when it began.

The U.S.-Israel relationship has grown stronger year after year. It has evolved from a one-way relationship into a partnership that benefits both nations. The core of the relationship is the shared values of freedom, human rights and justice, which both Americans and Israelis stand for every single day.

Common strategic objectives strengthen this relationship. Today, the Israeli and American militaries, intelligence services and national security institutions work hand in hand to stop the world’s worst actors. It is true that neither country is dependent on the other, but that does not take away from the importance of the relationship.

The truth about this relationship is obvious to any rational thinker. It is important not to allow irrational and agenda-driven narratives to sway Zionists from their core belief that the Jewish people have a right to their historic homeland and the state they have built shares America’s most basic values.

Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. The author of three books, he teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.

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