The U.S.-Israel Relationship: Unconditional Alliance Mutually Beneficial, Unconditional Support…Perhaps Not

by Danielle Bella Ellison:

The unwavering alliance between the United States and Israel is controversial yet beneficial for both nations. It can be expected that countries with democratic governments that hold human rights in high regard, support scientific innovation, and value open-market trade will be allies. The alliance supplies the U.S. with a crucial political and military ally in the Middle East, arguably the most tumultuous region today. Meanwhile, Israel is provided with diplomatic, economic, and military support as it fights to survive and thrive amidst neighbors seeking its destruction. A close and steadfast partnership has developed that is arguably both necessary and beneficial—for both parties.

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Nevertheless, a U.S. policy of unconditional support for the Israeli government’s policies can be detrimental to both Americans and Israelis. Israeli citizens certainly do not support every action of their government; they make their voices heard through their votes on the ballot as well as through public protests and other means. In fact, Israelis are known for harshly criticizing their government when necessary by pressuring their leaders to make foreign policy concessions, or even protesting unequal economic policies as they did this past summer. As members of a modern democratic nation, Israelis do not feel the need to blindly support and defend every policy their government institutes. So why should Americans?

In the progressing Republican primary race, candidates including Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are vying to make the most unconditional strident policy statements in support of Israel. The candidates claim they will put less pressure on Israel to make tough border concessions to the future Palestinian state. They also repeat the need to reinforce the sharp divide between the U.S.-Israel side and extremist Muslim groups in the region. In particular, Gingrich’s description last week of the Palestinians as an “invented” people enraged the Arab world and emphasized why such statements are far more harmful than helpful to Israel.

Unconditional American support of Israeli policies, sometimes even to the point of blindness, only elevates the tensions of the region. As evidenced by the international reaction both to Republican candidates’ statements and to some current policies of the Obama administration, U.S. defense of Israel’s policies causes America to lose credibility and influence with other countries, who are tempted to dismiss the U.S. position as a knee-jerk reaction in support of Israel. Furthermore, America faces international criticism not just from Arab nations but also from European ones for its practice of even blocking criticism of Israel. Last week, not only the Palestinian Liberation Organization but also a number of European nations and several other regional blocs released statements criticizing the U.S. for blocking a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

Nevertheless, American support of Israel is remains important in spite of—and perhaps because of—the harsh international criticism that Israel is often subjected to. The UN in particular is notorious for levying a disproportionate amount of criticism on Israeli policies. Much of this results from the unavoidable number game in the UN’s General Assembly, as the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Non-Aligned Movement voting blocs automatically support anti-Israel resolutions. In this environment, Israel requires an ally like the U.S. who can and will support its policies when they are just. The U.S. must be careful to rise above bullying by the “international community” and instead make decisions based on facts and not feelings.

But there is another reason why support of all Israeli policies is problematic to both the U.S. and to Israel. By making support more conditional, America could use this leverage to persuade Israel to make difficult concessions, particularly those that may be necessary to promote peace in the region. Just like it does with other allies, by pledging to maintain an unconditional alliance with Israel the U.S. strengthens the position of both nations. But by also asserting conditional support of specific policies, the U.S. could maintain greater legitimacy and gain a tool with which to encourage Israeli policies that will hopefully lead to regional peace. Still, it is key to remember that while unconditional support is unwise, unconditional U.S. alliance with Israel remains worthwhile.

Danielle Bella Ellison ’15 is in Davenport College. She is a Globalist Notebook Beat Blogger, focusing on Israel and its regional politics. Contact her at