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What Will Happen to the U.S.-Israel Relationship?

The lopsided U.S.-Israel relationship is going to continue because virtually no one in Congress or the White House is willing to change it.
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Damon Linker foresees trouble ahead for the U.S.-Israel relationship:

Whatever the results of Tuesday’s elections, American’s special relationship with Israel is headed for the rocks.

It appears that Netanyahu has prevailed and he will be forming the next government. If Linker is right, that result should do serious damage to the future of U.S.-Israeli relations, but I’m not so sure that it will. The relationship should be “headed for the rocks,” but no matter how deeply entrenched the occupation becomes and no matter how many crimes the Israeli government commits against the Palestinians that they rule over U.S. support for that government just keeps increasing.

That is obviously true when more hawkish presidents are in office (Trump’s support has been so excessive that it is almost comical), but it has also been true when relatively less hawkish presidents have been in power. When Republicans are in charge, the U.S. showers Israel with weapons and aid that it doesn’t need and defends it against every criticism. When Democrats take over they shower Israel with weapons and aid and shield Israel from every criticism if only because they worry that they might be labeled “anti-Israel” if they don’t (and then still get labeled that way by dishonest hawkish critics). There is no other state that receives this degree of unstinting, automatic support from our government, and there is no other state whose interests are so frequently confused and conflated with the interests of the United States. That is ultimately a bad arrangement for both countries, but it is the U.S. that has to bear most of the costs.

As Linker acknowledges, Israel is not America’s ally, but then no genuine treaty ally can expect the kind of bipartisan, lockstep support that Israel enjoys even from its mild Democratic critics. This overwhelming and near-unanimous elite consensus hasn’t always existed, but over the last forty years it has increasingly come to define U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine and it has affected the debate on every other major U.S. policy in the region. That has come about not primarily because of some deep well of public sympathy, but because there is a very motivated group of activists and lobbying organizations that have worked to ensure that our political leaders affirm this relationship year after year and do nothing to undermine it. When a politician such as Rep. Omar has the temerity to point out the merely obvious about how this works, the leadership of both parties comes down on her like a ton of bricks and she is subjected to months of unfair and scurrilous attacks. The message this sends to ambitious politicians with hopes of higher office is not hard to miss.

There are some signs that the elite consensus may be starting to break down. There is more room for questioning and challenging both U.S. support and Israeli policies than there was 15 or 20 years ago, but there still isn’t much. In practice, however, practical support for the relationship has intensified in reaction to increasing public criticism. Even some of Netanyahu’s most vocal Democratic critics feel the need to make absurd, over-the-top claims about the relationship with Israel to protect themselves from attack. Just the other day, former Congressman and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke declared, “The US-Israel relationship is one of the most important relationships that we have on the planet.” That is a ridiculous and unfounded assertion, but it speaks volumes about the bizarre politics surrounding the relationship that an aspiring presidential candidate feels the need to say something so nonsensical. When a presidential candidate can acknowledge that Israel is nothing more than a client state that contributes little or nothing to U.S. security and such a statement is considered an unremarkable matter of fact, then we might start to see real changes in U.S. policy. Until then, the lopsided U.S.-Israel relationship is going to continue because virtually no one in Congress or the White House is willing to change it.