The US Is Now Supporting Israel in Both Word and Deed
It seems that every day another story appears claiming that support for Israel is eroding in the United States. These reports are often based primarily on the author’s dissatisfaction with some aspect of Israeli policy.
The objective indicators, however, reveal that American support for Israel is robust and improving. We can see the evidence in surveys, legislation, official statements, and activities on the local, state, and federal level.
Public sympathy for Israel is at a record high (64%) and so is its favorability rating (74%) in the latest Gallup poll. Given this broad-based support, it is not surprising that Congress has responded by providing Israel with record amounts of aid.
Although it was lost in most of the reporting on the $1.3 trillion budget passed by Congress last month, the bill contained $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel, $705.8 million for US-Israel missile defense cooperation, and $47.5 million for US-Israel anti-tunnel cooperation. That’s a record package of nearly $3.9 billion.
The military aid was the first installment of the new $38 billion memorandum of understanding approved by the Obama administration. While the amount of that agreement was hailed for being a record high, Obama added several conditions aimed at weakening AIPAC’s influence and preventing Israel from seeking additional aid from Congress. It appears that Congress does not see itself as bound by those terms, however, and with urging from AIPAC, increased the appropriation for Israel’s missile defense program by $105 million and anti-tunneling technologies by $5 million compared to last year’s budget.
The spending bill also included the landmark Taylor Force Act, which requires the United States to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority if it does not end the “pay-to-slay” policy of paying salaries to terrorists in Israeli prisons, as well as stipends to the families of dead terrorists.
What also merits attention is the bipartisan support in Congress for Israel. We do not see the bitter partisan divide on Israel-related matters that is paralyzing policymakers on so many other issues. Despite the partisan gap in polls and suggestions that Democrats are abandoning Israel, Democrats in Congress worked with their Republican colleagues to ensure passage of the pro-Israel legislation.
Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move our embassy there from Tel Aviv was a game-changer. It ended the nonsensical policy of pretending that Israel did not have a capital. It also sent a powerful message to the Palestinians that Jerusalem will remain united under Israeli sovereignty and any future Palestinian state will have its capital elsewhere. This decision, moreover, was consistent with legislation passed by Congress in 1995.
Furthermore, the tone of discourse toward Israel has completely changed. The prior administration made no secret of its disdain for Israel’s prime minister, routinely criticized Israel publicly, minimized threats to Israel, refused to pressure the Palestinians and rarely censured them. By contrast, President Trump has developed a close relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, withheld public criticism, acknowledged Iran’s threat to Israel, and shown no hesitation in condemning the Palestinians for their acts of violence and intransigence.
Nowhere is the change more obvious than the State Department, where spokespeople in the last administration seemed to relish every opportunity to bash Israel, culminating in Secretary of State John Kerry’s final speech. During that speech, Kerry ignored all the trouble spots in the world to focus solely on attacking Israel. Obama’s UN ambassador often joined the jackals seeking to isolate and demonize Israel, and abstained on a Security Council resolution that served that purpose.
Now, the State Department openly supports Israel. While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was largely silent on issues related to Israel, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has been Churchillian in her forthright speeches denouncing America’s enemies and supporting our friends. Finally, we have someone defending US interests and Israel with the vehemence and resolve of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeanne Kirkpatrick (and, during his brief term, John Bolton). Just last week, Haley opposed a UN resolution seeking the usual one-sided investigation of Israel over events in Gaza, and has also condemned the anti-Human Rights Council for its ongoing Orwellian attacks on the Jewish state.
Support for Israel at the state and local levels is reflected by many academic, cultural, and governmental exchanges. Governors, mayors, university presidents, and other officials travel to Israel to sign agreements for greater cooperation, trade, and tourism. Law enforcement, first responders, and others concerned with security regularly share expertise with their Israeli counterparts. In addition, states have not waited for federal legislation (which is still pending) to act against the antisemitic boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign. A few days ago, Governor Rick Scott signed anti-boycott legislation, making Florida the 24th state to outlaw certain BDS activities.
Ironically, while many Jews are talking about divisions between American Jewry and Israel, the relationship between the two countries is stronger than ever. Some of the improvement can be attributed to policies of the Trump administration and the current Congress — but ties have been growing steadily stronger over the last 70 years despite occasional hiccups that usually have more to do with the chemistry of political leaders or particular policies than the actual day-to-day relations between the two peoples and government institutions.
The special alliance between Israel and the United States remains firmly rooted in shared values and interests.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is Executive Director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise and author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.