The US and Israel: A Codependent, Dysfunctional Relationship
Adam L. Silverman PhD
Mr. Habakkuk finished his contribution to the SST debate over the US/Israeli relationship by asking “In my view, the 'liberal Zionist' position -- very common among British Jews -- depended upon belief that the two-state solution was possible. As I suspect Lerman's remarks indicate, people of intelligence and good faith are still clinging to what like you I believe to be illusion. But what I also believe is that in the U.K. at least, when they finally face the choice very many will chose liberalism over Zionism. Whether the situation is fundamentally different in the U.S. I cannot judge?" What is interesting in his question is that there both is and is not a fundamental difference in the US. What is even more interesting is that Mr. Habakkuk’s question frames the issue on the day that it is reported that the head of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that exists to track, document, and oppose discrimination against both Jews and non-Jews, has picked a fight that he cannot win. Rabbi Foxman, the ADL Director, has indirectly challenged GEN Petraeus over the assertion that Israeli actions are putting US soldiers at greater risk in the CENTCOM AOR, as well as the direct remarks made by VP Biden last week in Israel.
A great deal of the discussion here at SST has revolved around questions pertaining to Zionism, Christian Zionism, Zionist or Israeli or AIPAC capture of US political and media elites, but what we have not done is actually shed any light what Americans and American Jews really think about support for Israel, possible solutions to the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, and what the US role should be. As I wrote in the comments to the post about Reverend Hagee three very good resources for information are Glenn Greenwald’s writings on these topics, Professor Wald’s scholarly work, and J Street – a relatively new American Jewish PAC that is dedicated to bringing much needed balance to the debate over the US roles regarding Israel, the Palestinians, and the Middle East. It is, however, necessary to now move this discussion forward by directly taking up Mr. Habakkuk’s final question. American attitudes towards Israel, among both Jews and non-Jews, are not as clear cut as Rabbi Foxman, the AIPAC crowd, and the most members of the US political and media elites would have you believe. Among American Jews, as Mr. Greenwald so ably chronicled at the time, the 2007 American Jewish Committee’s Annual Survey of American Jewish attitudeshttp://www.ajc.org/atf/cf/%7B42D75369-D582-4380-8395-D25925B85EAF%7D/SurveyJewish07.PDF showed that a small margin favored the establishment of a Palestinian State 46% to 43% with 12% unsure. Moreover, 57% opposed the US using force to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions. What is even more interesting are the follow on results from 2008 and 2009. There is no two state solution question in the 2008 survey, but respondents still opposed US military deterrence of Iran by a 47% to 42% margin and the numbers on whether Israel would be able to make peace with her neighbors, while pessimistic, is largely unchanged from 2007. The 2009 survey is even more revealing about American Jewish attitudes towards how the US interacts with Israel. 54% of respondents approve of the Obama Administration’s relationship with Israel (and interestingly 59% approve of Netanyahu’s relationship with the US…), but the number of American Jews that now support the establishment of a Palestinian State has increased to 49% and 41% approve of the US call to new Israeli settlement construction, with 52% indicating that Israel should be willing to dismantle some of its settlements (8% said all) and the percentage that are optimistic about Israel peacefully resolving the disputes with its Arab neighbors have increased by 5%. The overall two most important issues in the 2007 and 2008 surveys for American Jews were actually domestic issues: the need to fix the economy and health care.
Americans in general are also less supportive of Israel than an observer of our politicians and media would think. And here too Mr. Greenwald had his reporting fingers on the attitudinal pulse that we are trying to count: 71% of Americans favor taking neither side in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute! Moreover, specific polling dealing with the issue of the 2006 Israeli operations in Lebanon clearly indicated that a majority (65%) of Americans believed that the US should not take a side and that a significant amount of Americans (48%) blamed both Israel and Hezbullah equally. Even in Israel the attitudes are much more diverse than we generally think we are. As Gideon Levy, in his many columns for Haaretz has made clear, the US is actually enabling Israel’s bad behavior. Moreover, he takes the US, and specifically the Obama Administration to task for failing to be tough enough on Israel, which in turn allows Israel to continue doing things that are not good for it or the Palestinians, as well as push the envelope on what is permissible. But what about Israelis themselves – what are their actual attitudes? According to 2008 polling done by Market Watch 74% of Israelis themselves favor a two state solution.
If Americans, American Jews, and Israelis (presumably the Jewish ones) are not in lock step with the “US must support Israel at all costs” concept that has been loudly, proudly, and profusely scattered throughout the US media for the past week, what exactly is going on? There are three actual dynamics at play here in two different countries. In the US a great deal of what passes for the debate is being (loudly) carried on by supporters of Israel; both Jewish and non-Jewish. The truth, as Professor Cole wrote this morning, is that the majority of the voices in this debate, as well as the larger one about the US’s role in the Middle East and Central Asia, have very little expertise in any of the areas that they are commenting on. What they lack in knowledge or accuracy, they make up for in volume! As a result those subject matter specialists that might be called on to comment, advise, or both get shouted down, threatened, or simply decide its not worth it. Consequently the debate is often one before it can be begun, which brings us back to Rabbi Foxman’s, and other’s, charges of criticisms of Israel being anti-Semitic. This is the big rhetorical gun, along with its relations of being soft on terrorism, an appeaser, and not supporting the troops, that is wielded by those who know they cannot win on the facts, but can win the war of the sound bite. Unfortunately it means that the whole understanding of anti-Semitism goes right out the window and it also means that the capture of our media and politicians by the most extreme supporters of the worst of Israel’s behavior will continue. It is also very bad for Israel. As many have noted on SST, and as Professor Cole has noted at his own blog, time and demographics are now against the Israelis. Unless Israel dismantles the vast majority of its settlements, stops turning Palestinian land into Jewish heritage sites (even the one’s that have significance for Jews – negotiating access and preservation can be part of the resolution), there is NOT going to be enough Palestinian land left to make into a viable state. As such Israel will be left with two very bad options: 1) to stop being either a Jewish State or a State for the Jews because Palestinians will outnumber Israelis and will have to be accommodated or 2) maintain Israel as Jewish State/State for Jews by forever occupying the West Bank and Gaza and denying full rights to the Palestinians. As an undergraduate I heard Dr. Aaron David Miller, then a high-ranking State Department official dealing with the Middle East, make what I thought was one of the most insightful, and unfortunately unworkable, assessments of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. To paraphrase what he said: “a resolution will be eventually worked out as Israel cannot afford to be an indefinite occupier of the Palestinians and because the Palestinians cannot afford to be occupied indefinitely.” Unfortunately, he has more recently indicated that in all his years of working this problem set for the US he never once heard US officials have a serious discussion with an Israeli prime minister about the damage that Israel’s settlement activities have on the peace process. What we now also know is that it is having negative second, third, and fourth order effects for our personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama Administration’s new found resolve is admirable, but they need to get a lot tougher. If our dysfunctional, codependent relationship with Israel is not changed Israel’s survival is placed at greater risk and Americans and American interests are as well. As long as Israel thinks it has carte blanche to do whatever it wants, because its primary sponsor – the US – will enable it to do so, the more likely it is to do something stupid.
 Adam L. Silverman, PhD was the Field Social Scientist and Team Leader for Human Terrain Team Iraq 6 (HTT IZ6) assigned to the 2BCT/1AD from OCT 2007 to OCT 2008. Upon his redeployment to the US he served as the US Army Human Terrain System Strategic Advisor through June 2009. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the 2BCT/1AD, the US Army Human Terrain System, or the US Army.
 Full Disclosure (again): Professor Wald supervised the political science side of my doctoral training, he and I have co-authored two scholarly works, and I consider him a valuable mentor, colleague, and friend.