The United States and Israel
A special friendship
Following World War Two the world stood at a new beginning. The United States had finally taken its spot as Superpower acting globally and the Jewish people, after the horrors they had experienced under Nazi persecution were finally given the opportunity to return to what they considered their “promised land” to live in their own state.
In 1948 the state of Israel was officially founded and with it the entire Middle-East would change. While Imperialism and Colonialism had been dominating the centuries before a new world was about to begin, at the very least for the people in the Middle- East.
Since then U.S. foreign policy in the Middle-East has been dominated by the United States’ foreign policy towards Israel. The relations between these two nations has often been described as a special friendship, a friendship in which the two nations stick together regardless of right or wrong.
In this essay I will undertake the difficult task of examining the origins of this truly special friendship and the implications ofthis on U.S. foreign policy. One ofthe central questions to examine is without a doubt whether the United States’ support for the state of Israel is based upon a small but powerful Jewish lobby within the United States or whether it is much more so because offundamental ideals and values shared by both nations and its people.
I will point out the many fundamental ideologies and ideas about the world and the two nation’s role in this world in an attempt to get to the root of this truly unique friendship between the United States and Israel.
On May 14, 1948 President HarryTruman, on behalfofthe United States ofAmerica granted official recognition to the newly founded state of Israel. President Truman later said: „I had faith in Israel before it was established, I have in it now. I believe it has a glorious future before it - not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.”(Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2009) He, like the majority in the nation, saw the recognition of Israel as an act of humanitywhich correlated with traditional American values. Unlike what one could suggest President Truman’s support for the state of Israel was not due to a certain, wealthy lobby but due to the high popularity ofthe idea throughout the nation. (Russel, 2008) In fact the first official joint resolution stating the support ofthe U.S. Congress for a homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people was passed many years before the Truman administration on September21, 1922. (Rubenberg, 1986)
Studies have shown that over time the pro-Israel sentiment in the American society has increased, and especially so among non-Jews. In recent polls (2008) the proIsrael sentiment in America reached its highest level yet while Jews make up only 1.8% ofthe U.S. population (3% of Israel’s support in U.S.). (Russel, 2008)
A poll in 2006 concluded that 47% ofAmericans found their government’s policy towards Israel to be fair and unbiased. These numbers are especially interesting if looked at in the context. The polling was conducted at a time when Israel engaged Hezbollah in Lebanon, a time when support for Israel in rest ofthe world was more controversial than ever. (Russel, 2008)
It is left to be concluded that few foreign policy preferences are as marked, as deep, as enduring and as much in sync with public opinion than America’s foreign policy preference towards the State of Israel. (Russel, 2008) Further it can be said that the strong pro-Israel stance so apparent in U.S. society is in fact not, as sometimes claimed, due to a small but wealthy lobby ofJews but is rather a reflection of a widespread public opinion triumphing even over some concerns of some foreign policy professionals at times.
Origins of U.S. support for Jewish State
The origins of the United States’ support for a Jewish state can be traced back as far as the early 19th century. It was John Adams, the second President ofthe United States ofAmerica who famously said once: “I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation.” (The American Jewish Historical Society, 2009)
And President Adams was not alone with his opinion. Presbyterian pastor John McDonald for example predicted in 1814 that the United States would at one point assist the Jews in restoring their ancient state. His beliefwas shared by the vast majority ofAmericans as even religious groups such as the Mormons agreed. (Russel, 2008)
Throughout the 19th century there was a widespread belieffirmly grounded in American society that God was building a better world through human progress. (Jenkins, 2007) This eventually added to the creation of a beliefthat God would restore the degraded and oppressed Jewish people to their promised land just as he had done to the American people and their very own promised land. This idea reflected a widespread opinion that a Jewish state would serve as a shelter from persecution for the Jewish people. (Russel, 2008)
There was also the belief, predominantly among liberal Christians, that the creation of a Jewish state would ‘enlighten’ Jews and make them convert to liberal Christianity. President John Adams, himselfa liberal Unitarian Christian summed this belief up with the following words: “I believe [that]...once restored to an independent government and no longer persecuted they [the Jews] would soon wear away some ofthe asperities and peculiarities oftheir character and possibly in time become liberal Unitarian Christians for your Jehovah is our Jehovah and your God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob is our God.” (The American Jewish Historical Society, 2009)
It is clear to see that the idea of the restoration of the Jewish state has stood firmly in the centre of the ideals of liberal American Protestantism since the early years of the Republic.
But besides the religious approach to the issue there was also a non religious approach which centred around the idea that the Restoration ofthe Jewish State would further enlightenment and progress in the world which would be beneficial to the United States, as a nation of progressive credentials, as well. (Jenkins, 2007)
Support for the restoration of the Jewish State even went as far as to anti-Semites who supported the restoration of the Jewish state as a way of reducing Jewish immigration to the United States. (Russel, 2008)
In the year 1891 a petition was sent to President Benjamin Harrison calling on the United States to “use its good offices to convene a congress of European powers” so they would induce the Ottoman Empire to hand Palestine over to the Jewish people. The list of signatories of this petition shows how broad the support for the restoration ofthe Jewish state was as the signatories, who were overwhelmingly non-Jewish, included the ChiefJustice ofthe U.S. Supreme Court, the Speaker ofthe House and future President William McKinley. (Russel, 2008)
U.S. attitude towards Israel has biblical roots
It can undoubtedly be said that the United States in their self-identification root in biblical and Christian history. The nation’s self-identity and mission in the world concurrently is greatly shaped by readings of Hebrew history and thought. Many historical similarities can be found between American- and ancient Hebrew experiences. (Jenkins, 2007)
Since the day of first settlement in the new world Americans understood their homeland to be the new Canaan - the promised land. (Jenkins, 2007) The writer Herman Melville once wrote: “We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people - the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world.” (McAdams, 2006) And this quote perfectly sums up America’s self-identification and the still today very prominent Idea that, as the ancient Hebrews did, that United States then and today bears a revelation which is ultimately not onlyjust for them but also for the whole world. (Russel, 2008)
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- Institution / Hochschule
- Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn – Institut für Politische Wissenschaft und Soziologie
- United States America Israel American Foreign Policy Post-Cold War