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L. Neil Smith's
Number 572, May 30, 2010

"True liberty is the right of every man to
decide for himself what is proper and just"

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Truer to Ourselves: Rethinking US-Israeli Policy
by Kellan Schmelz

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Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

During the Obama Administration's recent spat with Israel over the latter's building of a new settlement on traditionally Palestinian land, the generally close relationship between the two nations seemed to shift gears. Since Harry Truman's recognition of Israel in 1948, Israel has enjoyed a level of support from the United States that surpasses that of any other nation, both politically and economically [1]; while many Presidents have disagreed with Israel, few have ever been willing to do so in a way that might appear to threaten this relationship [2]. As Benjamin Netanyahu frequently complained during the crisis, no administration has ever directly pressured Israel to halt the building of settlements on Palestinian land [3], as the Obama Administration repeatedly did throughout the recent political firestorm, or outright demand the establishment of a Palestinian state, as Obama reportedly did. Particularly after eight years of an unabashedly pro-Israeli Bush administration, it is refreshing to have a President who seemingly gets it: a voice in the White House willing to buck past alliances and demand that Israel show accountability and respect human rights.

The Administration faltered, however, when it came to the rhetoric they employed with regards to Israel. For all the Administration's appearances of bucking the unnaturally close American-Israeli relationship, it refused to drop the old talking point that the United States' values justify a close relationship with Israel. Just days after berating Prime Minister Netanyahu about settlements over the phone for 45 minutes [4], Secretary Hillary Clinton stood before AIPAC and praised America and Israel's "values of freedom, equality, democracy, the right to live free from fear, and our common aspirations for a future of peace, security and prosperity" [5] It's a classic line, one that implies that supporting Israel is an American thing to do, so to speak.

What if it isn't true, though? What if supporting Israel so egregiously is actually inherently UN-American?

It is a question worth asking. One issue lies with doublethink on the part of the Obama Administration. Why would the administration claim that American values mandate an uneven hand in Israel's favor while moving towards policies that are quite the opposite? The larger issue at hand, rests on the fact that the US was founded on the specific values; values that articulate what the United States stands for, and what actions it will and will not take. These values are enumerated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. One might argue that the amendment process undermines the concept of "American values", but even the very existence itself is rooted in the principle of protecting Man's rights from tyranny. In all affairs, the United States must seek to uphold these values—even in affairs that primarily affect foreign citizens. To not do so would be a blow to the constitution, and effectively commit high treason.

Hillary's examples of "values" are trite buzzwords. When one looks to the Founders and their own various beliefs about their fledgling nation's role in the world, namely regarding democracy, tyranny, and foreign alliances, the evidence suggests that the United States has been committing high treason for some time.

The Founders, while wary of the idea of Democracy [6], did believe in a government that would accurately reflect the general will of the people. Thomas Jefferson in particular wrote of his longing for a government in which "the will of the people [would] be an effective ingredient" [7], and wrote in the Declaration of Independence of a government derived from "consent of the governed". Such values can be found in the Constitution's establishment of one elected legislative body and an elected President. The US has failed to live up to this value in regards to Israel. Despite near unanimous support in Congress for an egregiously close Israeli friendship, the American people are less unilateral on the issue: most opinion polls show Americans divided between Israeli and Palestinian sympathies, with a great number of undecideds [8]. The common explanation of this points to two groups, lobbies such as AIPAC and the Christian Right, and their respective influence on Congress. One AIPAC representative once boasted his organization "could have the signatures of seventy senators on [a] napkin" in twenty-four hours [9], while Jerry Falwell, who once said "to stand against Israel is to stand against God", was noted for his Moral Majority's influence in persuading Congressmen [10]. Through heavy lobbying, those two factions seem to have goaded Congress into its vast level of support for Israel, and in doing so have led Congress down a path that does not reflect the will of the people.

The Founders would take further issues with the nature of the US-Israeli alliance. The US Constitution, with its two-thirds majority needed to pass treaties and Congressional approval needed to declare war, was clearly influenced by the desire of the Founders for a government that avoid foreign affairs. The United States has turned its back on this, having fallen instead into what Thomas Jefferson called "entangling alliances" [11] and George Washington warned against in his farewell address. One only has to look at Washington's warnings to know what makes it an entangling alliance. Washington warned that alliances would bring the United States into wars it had no real interest in beyond defending it's ally [12]. Such a prediction is proven every time Israel launches an offense into Gaza with the political support of the United States Congress, or exacts what has been called "collective punishment" on Gaza with military equipment purchased from the United States [13]. Washington goes on to stress that permanent alliances lead to poor relations with other nations, who would feel slighted by their exclusion from the alliance [14]. Gen. David Petraeus outlined this in his recent testimony to US Congress, during which he implied that this country's reputation of being Israel's ally "limits the depth and strength of partnerships with governments and people [in the Middle East]" [15]. Washington's warnings have become prophecy today.

The Founders were also unilaterally opposed to tyranny from any government, much less their own. As Bernard Bailyn of Harvard University points out, the American Revolution itself was fought out of a genuine fear that the British intended to establish a tyrannical state in the Colonies to erode the Colonists' rights [16], while the drafting of the Constitution was marked by attempts to write out any policies that might gear the nation towards tyranny—the demand of some delegates for a King was quickly shot down [17]. Naturally, it would follow that the US would extend this opposition to tyranny to its foreign dealings. In regard to Israel in recent years, it has not. It has largely refused to comment on Israel's institution of an apartheid-like state instituted against the Palestinians in the West Bank, complete with the erosion of legal rights, separate roads to drive on, and reduced access to land [18]. During Israel's disproportionate siege of the Gaza Strip that murdered thousands of Palestinian citizens—often using questionable methods, Congress issued a resolution defending Israel's "right to defend itself' [19]. When the Goldstone Report, alleging human rights violations on both the Palestinian and Israeli side, was issued by the UN Human Rights council, Congress issued another resolution denouncing it [20]. And until recently, the US has tacitly approved of Israel's policies of demolishing Palestinian homes to build Jewish neighborhoods and building in traditional Palestinian zones [21]. Israel, for all intents and purposes, has become a tyrant to its Palestinian counterparts; despite this, the US continues to give Israel exorbitant amounts of military and economic aid, arguably perpetuating such tyranny. The US has lapsed into supporting the kind of tyranny abroad our forefathers fought against at home.

The values argument simply no longer holds. It is enough of a doublethink for the administration to orchestrate a paradigm shift with Israel while claiming that American values mandate an uneven-handed US-Israel relationship. Even the latter claim, though, just seems ludicrous in light of the evidence. Obama is not perfect on Israel; in particular, he seems unlikely to abandon the old line about "unbreakable" bonds anytime soon. But he ought to. Changes in any policy must be backed up by changes in rhetoric. In this case, the policy change is there; the United States appears to be treating Israel with an even hand, and rightly so. Now is the time for the change in rhettoric: if the US hopes to reclaim its values in regards to Israel, the "unbreakable" line must be dropped.


1 Shirl McArthur, "A Conservative Estimate of Total Direct U.S. Aid to Israel: Almost $114 Billion," Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (November 2008): 10-11, [LINK] (accessed February 12, 2010).

2 John Mearshimer and Stephen Walt, "The Israel Lobby," London Review of Books 28, no. 6 (March 23, 2006), [LINK] (accessed February 1, 2010).

3 Avi Issacharoff, "Netanyahu faces a U.S. adamant about East Jerusalem," Haaretz Online, second paragraph, [LINK] (accessed April 13, 2010).

4 Adrian Blomfield and Andrew Osborn, "Benjamin Netanyahu rebuffs Hillary Clinton demands - Telegraph,", March 19, 2010, [LINK] (accessed May 19, 2010).

5 Hillary Rodham Clinton, "Remarks at the 2010 AIPAC Policy Conference" (speech), [LINK] (accessed March 24, 2010).

6 Michael Parenti, "The Myth of the Founding Fathers" (lecture, TUC Radio), [LINK] (accessed March 23, 2008).

7 Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Austin, June 9, 1816, in Memoirs, Correspondence and Private Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 4 (Charlottesville, Virginia: F. Carr and, 1829), pg. 277, [LINK] (accessed February 2, 2010).

8 "Americans Sharply Divided Over Israel," Zogby International - Polling, Market Research, First Globals, Summary, [LINK] (accessed April 19, 2010).

9 Jeffrey Goldberg, "Letter from Washington: Real Insiders," The New Yorker, July 4, 2005, [LINK] (accessed April 19, 2010).

10 Frank Lipsius, "Evangelicals and Jews," Survey of Jewish Affairs (Farleigh Dickinson University Press) (1989): pg. 158, [LINK] (accessed March 22, 2010).

11 Thomas Jefferson, "First Inaugural Address In the Washington, D.C." (speech, Presidential Inauguration, 1801, Washington, D.C.), [LINK] (accessed March 22, 2010).

12 Washington, George. "Washington's Farewell Address 1796." Address. [LINK] (accessed April 2, 2010).

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Israel News - Haaretz Israeli News source., "U.S. general: Israel-Palestinian conflict foments anti-U.S. sentiment - Haaretz Daily Newspaper |Israel News," March 17, 2010, [LINK] (accessed April 19, 2010).

16 Bernard Bailyn, The ideological origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967), pg. 98-101.

17 "Hamilton and the U.S. Constitution," The American Experience (PBS), [LINK] (accessed March 19, 2010).

18 Leila Farsakh, "Israel: An Apartheid State?" La Monde Diplomatique—English Edition, [LINK] (accessed March 22, 2010).

19 S. Res. 10, 111th Cong. (enacted).

20 H.R. Res. 867, 111th Cong. (enacted).

21 Issacharoff, "Netanyahu faces..."

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