Photo illustration by John Lyman

World News


Can Israel Even be Considered an Ally?

It has become the majority view across nearly every possible demographic of American life that Israel has gone way too far in its war with Hamas and that President Biden needs to do more to rein in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while at the same time minimizing Palestinian casualties.

While younger voters and voters of color have been pressuring the Biden administration to do more since Israel first started indiscriminately bombing Gaza, recent polls show a growing consensus among even those who once supported Israel, that Biden unequivocally must do better.

Biden issued a stark warning to Netanyahu, signaling that an impending Israeli assault on Rafah in southern Gaza would constitute a grave breach of conduct — a “red line” typically invoked in warnings to adversaries such as Syria and North Korea. This uncharacteristically blunt caution reflects a significant shift in the diplomatic tone traditionally extended to a close ally.

By and large, the American people have supported Biden’s position. By way of reply, Netanyahu immediately told Biden that he would not listen, that a ground incursion into Rafah was both imminent and inevitable, and that Hamas shoulders the blame for everything that has transpired since October 7, including mass casualties in Gaza.

Israeli soldiers in Gaza
(Israel Defense Forces)

The economic ramifications of the United States’ sustained financial commitment to Israel are substantial and have come under scrutiny. As the foremost beneficiary of U.S. foreign aid since 1948, Israel’s defense apparatus has been bolstered predominantly through American financial support, particularly since the 1970s. This aid has been primarily allocated for military assets, including routine consignments of small arms, munitions, and components integral to Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The infusion of U.S. resources has been pivotal, especially in times of intensified conflict when Israeli defense forces have depleted their arsenal.

However, this financial support contrasts with the stipulations of the Leahy Amendment, which proscribes U.S. military aid to foreign entities implicated in human rights violations. The consistent application of the Leahy Amendment, particularly concerning nations with significant Arab populations, has been a point of contention. The perceived selective enforcement of these legal standards concerning Israel is now drawing international attention and mounting pressure on U.S. foreign policy practices.

Netanyahu and his far-right coalition believe that by increasing and expanding Israel’s settler-colonial project in the occupied West Bank, an eventual stabilization would result because a viable Palestinian state would no longer be an option and whatever Palestinians remained would have to abandon their aims and accept life as second-class citizens in their ancestral lands.

By stark contrast, settlements built and/or endorsed by Israel are wholly illegal under international law, and the U.S. has condemned them as such. Recently, the U.S. government even put some teeth into this posture by imposing visa bans on Israelis who engage in settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.

Israel’s political landscape has been historically complex, shaped by its origins with groups that were active during the British Mandate and individuals aligned with Zionist aspirations. Despite its firm right-wing underpinnings, the 1990s witnessed an ephemeral but noteworthy shift toward moderation, fueled by collective fatigue from persistent conflict. This period, often referred to as the ‘morning in Israel’ moment, saw a burgeoning hope for achieving sustainable peace. However, the political dynamics were dramatically altered by the ascent of a coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu, effectively ending the prospects that had briefly emerged. This political volte-face has since been a defining moment in the nation’s history, leaving a lasting impact on the regional discourse.

Israeli soldiers in Gaza
(Israel Defense Forces)

The trajectory of Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career in Israel has been marked by an increasingly hardline stance, a departure from earlier moderation. Netanyahu’s ascent to power has been fueled by a philosophy that eschews the two-state solution and endorses an unyielding approach to national security, predicated on the belief that Israel’s enduring interests are best served through relentless strength and control.

In contrast, the official stance of successive U.S. administrations has steadfastly upheld the vision of a two-state resolution, advocating for the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state as not only viable but essential. This principle has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy in the region, representing a clear dichotomy between the U.S. perspective and the current Israeli leadership’s approach.

In the intricate web of international relations, the designation of Israel as an ally of the United States invites varied interpretations, contingent upon one’s perspective of American national interests. For those who believe that the will of a vocal minority dictates foreign policy direction, the longstanding and multifaceted partnership between the two nations may still merit the term ‘ally.’ This is despite the significant financial burdens, diplomatic challenges, and political dilemmas that have characterized the relationship. However, this view is increasingly at odds with the broader American consensus, suggesting a complex and evolving dynamic in the diplomatic ties that bind the two countries.

For the minority group, only their definition of the national interest matters when it comes to making policy for all Americans.

If, however, one takes the position that the truest, top-down view of the national interest is defined chiefly by a sober and aggregate assessment of what’s best for most Americans and the country’s reputation and position in the global community, then it becomes extremely difficult to justify taking the position that the Israel of today is a genuine ally of the United States.

For the majority group, only the rational aggregate assessment matters when it comes to making policy for all Americans.

The relationship between the U.S. and Israel has never been more strained than it is right now, and if there is to be any hope of salvaging it for most Americans, and not merely for the fractional few who will always stand with Israel no matter how abominable its leadership and behavior, then the United States is going to have to be the one to make some tough decisions.

Because the U.S. clearly has a partner in this thing no longer.