by Michael Hawley | Unconditional support for Israel does not serve America’s interests.
On November 27th, Professor Stephen Walt spoke at Tufts about the book he wrote with John Mearsheimer, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. In it, he argues that the powerful pro-Israel lobby unduly influences US foreign policy against the best interests of the country.
Several times during the speech Walt adamantly denied accusations of anti-Semitism, claiming that such smears are characteristic of the lobby’s tactics against anyone who dares question the “special relationship” between the US and Israel. Walt supports Israel’s right to exist and even proposes that if that existence were ever threatened, the US should take preventative action. However, he rejects the notion that Israel should be treated as particularly special, arguing that Israel has not been an exemplary ally of the US, and that the continued existence of Israel is not seriously in question. Therefore, the amount of support America furnishes Israel seems disproportionate.
Walt claims that the lobby, which he loosely defines as a group of associations, media outlets, politicians and lobbyists that advocate on Israel’s behalf, has greatly influenced American foreign policy over the past half-century. He even suggests that the lobby was integral in pushing America towards war in Iraq.
Some of Walt’s claims
are extreme, and the lobby’s responsibility for the Iraq war seems
exaggerated. Nevertheless, Walt’s fundamental premise, that
disproportionate aid for Israel harms American national interest, seems
The United States government currently provides the nation of Israel with $3 billion dollars each year. By far the largest recipient of US foreign aid, Israel receives about five hundred dollars for each of its citizens, despite a per-capita income roughly equal to South Korea or Spain. Furthermore, the US provides this money with far fewer strings than it does to other countries. While other recipients of military aid are required to spend the money in the US, Israel is permitted to spend a substantial fraction elsewhere and is the only recipient of foreign aid not required to account for its expenses.
This might be okay if Israel consistently deferred to America on foreign policy matters. But in fact, Israel has used some of this money to build settlements on the West Bank, in direct opposition to the request of the United States. And though the US has provided Israel with state-of-the-art military technology and intelligence we don’t even give to our NATO allies, Israel continues to conduct major espionage operations in the US. It also has sold sensitive military hardware to Russia and China, major strategic rivals of the United States.
Walt’s implication that Israel bears a sizable responsibility for the ongoing conflict with Palestine and its other neighbors does seem unfair. Israel is a very small nation surrounded by enemies and is constantly under attack. Occasional overreactions are unfortunate, but almost inevitable under these circumstances. Furthermore, Israel is the only stable democracy in the region. Nevertheless, it now has the most powerful and well-equipped armed forces in the region and is the only country in the region to possess nuclear weapons. Though rockets and suicide bombers continue to cause death and destruction, Israel’s continued existence is hardly in doubt.
The United States, on the other hand, is fighting two difficult wars in the region. With an over-stretched military and a major deficit at home, the US should not be granting $3 billion dollars a year to a country that does not give us a significant benefit in return. Through little fault of its own, Israel has been more of a liability than an asset in the two Iraq wars. Though it expressed willingness to participate, Israeli interference in the conflicts would have splintered the fragile coalitions that fought Saddam Hussein and jeopardized Arab cooperation. Moreover, Israeli troops in Baghdad would have so enraged the populace, that their presence would have done more harm than good. In short, Israel has not been an enormous strategic asset in the region.
The United States ought to reexamine its policy toward Israel. The amount of financial aid to Israel should be reduced, not as punishment for the smaller country, but because Israel no longer needs it, and because America can no longer afford it. Though some aid should certainly continue, Israel must agree to certain conditions about its use. In short, US policy towards Israel should better reflect the United States’ interests in the region.
Mr. Hawley is a freshman who has not yet declared a major.