Yoram Ettinger

By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”
January 21, 2020, https://bit.ly/3bZ6j3E

Bipartisan support track record
According to the March 2020 annual Gallup poll of country favorability, Israel benefits from a 74% favorability (90% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats), compared to a 23% favorability of the Palestinian Authority (9% of Republicans and 34% of Democrats).

With the dawn of the Biden Administration, Israel enjoys bipartisan support among most US voters and, therefore, among members of the US House of Representatives and Senate.  However, one should not ignore the gradual – and recently accelerated – erosion of this support.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Israel’s national security policy – and especially its confrontational opposition to the 2015 Iran accord (JCPOA) – is responsible for the erosion of the bipartisan support.

However, US-Israel relations have experienced a number of raucous confrontations between US presidents and Israeli prime ministers – some of them harsher than the Obama-Netanyahu “Iran showdown” – but that did not fracture bipartisan support of Israel.

For example, in 1948-49, during and following Israel’s War of Independence against a military invasion by five Arab countries, Prime Minister Ben Gurion confronted a most brutal pressure by the White House, State Department, Pentagon and CIA to refrain from the application of Israel’s law to “occupied” West Jerusalem and parts of the Galilee, the coastal plain and the Negev. The US Administration claimed that Israel’s “intransigence” would severely undermine US-Arab relations, threaten the supply of Arab oil, serve Soviet interests and further destabilize the Middle East (all of which were resoundingly repudiated by reality).

Yet, in defiance of the Truman Administration, Ben Gurion expanded the area of the Jewish State by 35%. He was aware of bipartisan support for the renewed Jewish Commonwealth in the Land of Israel, which reflected the worldview of US voters and their representatives on Capitol Hill. This worldview was consistent with the legacy of the Early Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers – the framers of the Federalist Papers, the Federalist system, the US Constitution and Bill of Rights – and the abolitionist movement, all inspired by the Biblical Exodus and Mosaic values.

For example, in 1891, over 400 prominent Americans, including House and Senate leaders, the Chief Justice and other Supreme Court Justices, governors, mayors and leading businessmen signed the Blackstone Memorial, which called for the restoration of the Jewish State in the Jewish Homeland.

Also, in 1922, the Henry Cabot Lodge (Senate) and Hamilton Fish (House) bicameral and bipartisan Joint Resolution was unanimously approved and signed by President Harding – despite the harsh opposition by the State Department and the New York Times – endorsing the reestablishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.

Furthermore, 1981 featured the major rift between President Reagan and Prime Minister Begin over the Israeli destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor, the application of Israeli law to the Golan Heights and Israel’s war on PLO terror headquarters in Lebanon. These confrontations triggered a suspension of the delivery of F-16 aircraft to Israel and the suspension of a major US-Israel strategic pact and arms deals.  Yet, bipartisan support persisted and the mutually-beneficial defense relations were renewed, reflecting US awareness of the historical and cultural common denominator between the US and the Jewish State, which has emerged – since 1967 – as the most effective, reliable and democratic force-multiplier for the US.

1989-1992 featured a ruthless campaign conducted by President Bush and Secretary of State Baker to discredit Prime Minister Shamir, who was more hawkish and steadfast than Prime Minister Netanyahu.  However, US national security and technological challenges in the increasingly stormy world and Middle East – against the backdrop of a vacillating Europe and vulnerable pro-US Arab regimes – highlighted Israel’s unique military and technological capabilities and its contribution to the national security and economy of the US.

This reality overshadowed the bitter Bush-Shamir friction, generating bipartisan congressional initiatives, which uniquely expanded US-Israel defense and commercial cooperation.

Bipartisan support threatened  
As indicated, bipartisan support of Israel has been a derivative of US history, values and civic experience, which are shared and cherished by most Americans (Democrats and Republicans alike), dating back to the 1620 ten-week Mayflower’s “modern-day parting of the sea,” followed by the legacy of the Founding Fathers. The latter catapulted the US to the leadership of the Free World, economically, educationally, scientifically, technologically, agriculturally, militarily and democratically – a global role model of liberty.

The stronger the affinity of the American people to the legacy of the Founding Fathers, the more enduring is their identification with – and support of – the Jewish State.

This bipartisan support of Israel was buttressed following the Holocaust of WW2.

Bipartisan support gained further momentum with the emergence of Israel as the largest US aircraft carrier,” which requires not a single American on board, deployed in the most critical junction between Europe, Asia and Africa, the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.

However, the time factor (245 years since the American Revolutionary War) has scaled down the overall attachment to the legacy of the Founding Fathers.

This trend has been intensified by the dramatic demographic and ideological changes of the last few decades, which have been accompanied by bitter and growing political and social polarization. The latter has also infected bipartisan support of Israel.

These developments have provided a tailwind to those who have attempted to belittle, and even discredit, the legacy of the Founding Fathers, as well as the special US-Israel ties.

The more tenuous the connection of Americans to US history, in general, and the legacy of the Founding Fathers, in particular, the more uncertain their historical and geo-strategic support of the Jewish State.

Moreover, the diminished stature of the legacy of the Founding Fathers has reduced the common-denominator between Democrats and Republicans; thus, eroding bipartisan collaboration, in general, and bipartisan support of Israel, in particular.

Stopping the erosion of – and reinforcing – bipartisan support requires addressing US concerns, in general, and the major cause of the erosion, in particular: the changing US society, culture and order of priorities.

Thus, Israel and Israel’s friends in the US should shift the focus from “What’s in it for Israel” to “What’s in it for the USA” – from Israeli to US concerns.

For instance:

*The annual $3.8bn is not foreign aid to – but investment in – Israel, yielding the US taxpayer a few hundred percent annual rate-of-return;
*1620-2021: The 400 year old American roots of the US-Israel bond;
*Iran’s Ayatollahs are a mutual threat to both the US and Israel;
*Israel in the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria advances US interests;
*The impact of the proposed Palestinian state on US interests;

Notwithstanding the progressive erosion of bipartisan support of Israel, support for Israel still epitomizes the majority of the US constituency and members of the House and the Senate, who are aware of the shared values, history, threats and challenges, which bind the US and its unabashed, unconditional, effective, reliable and democratic ally, Israel.

Just like the unique giant Sequoia redwood tree, the unique tree of bipartisan support of Israel is 400 years old, reveals deep roots, a strong trunk and a fire-resisting bark, which have made it possible to grow impressively, while fending off a multitude of assaults, including the recent erosion.