Abu Gleg was an elderly Bedouin, father of 30. Eight years ago he donated land for an American international school to build its facilities. Within the walls of that facility, an American curriculum and the noble goals of tolerance and peace were taught to the students. Over the weekend, the benevolent Bedouin and the institution he gave birth to were killed and demolished by Israeli bombers.
As an international American teacher this story hit home. The fact that a school would be demolished and its night watchman killed in a combat action is hard to believe. I am not naïve enough to believe that it couldn’t happen. But I didn’t expect it to happen as a result of the actions of a major ally of the United States.
The latest violence in the Middle East has gotten me to question once again, why Israel is a major ally of the United States? The one lesson I learned from my college foreign policy classes was that countries act to assure their survival, period. Nation-states are not people. They do not have altruism. They do not sacrifice the wellbeing of their people for high principles or ideals. As a matter of fact, this stance would ultimately put at least a portion of a country’s population at risk. Pacifist leaning countries go to war all the time to ensure their survival. The United States did not sign the Kyoto Agreement on the environment because it would have harmed at least a portion of our economy and therefore our citizenry to do so.
So what is it that Israel gives us that makes it indispensable to our national interest? Does it have a natural resource that we need for economic or military reasons? No, as a matter of fact the direct opposite is true — those countries that are Israel’s sworn enemies have oil. Being friends with Israel has placed the lifeblood of our economy at risk many times throughout the years, yet we continue to support Israel with aid, both military and economic, votes in the United Nations, and rhetorically through our leaders.
Does Israel’s location provide us with security of a trade route or a convenient military outpost? Again the answer is no. In the Middle East it is other states, some not friendly with Israel, that control or are near strategic trade routes. Egypt owns the Suez Canal. Iran and the United Arab Emirates surround the Straits of Hormuz. As far as military outposts are concerned, the United States has fought two gulf wars in the last twenty years and has never used Israeli soil to encamp or to launch an attack. Bases in Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia were used with great success.
Lastly, one could ask, does Israel produce some good or service that Americans need to warrant the cozy relationship between them and us? I can’t think of any. Certainly our countries trade with each other, but that might continue even if we were not necessarily allies. Didn’t the United States and the former Soviet Union trade with each other?
As far as I can understand from our leaders, the reason the United States and Israel are such close allies is because Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. This view is a throwback to Woodrow Wilson’s idea that the United States is ultimately responsible for “making the world safe for democracy”. Under this mindset, the United States must support Israel unconditionally to ensure its survival and help spread the ideals of representative government throughout the Middle East. This of course runs counter to what I learned in college about the pragmatic actions of nation-states. Why would the United States support a country on high principle and at the same time jeopardize its own well-being?
The answer to the above question is, it wouldn’t. The real reason our government has close ties with Israel is because our shameless politicians love to be reelected. There are two groups in America that support Israel with all their might, American Jews and Evangelical Christians. These two groups are vociferous, politically well organized, capable of raising large amounts of money and they vote all the time. Why else would the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, be in Israel right now to show his support for its actions? Doesn’t he have enough to worry about at home with the financial crisis on Wall Street?
Now, this is not a criticism of Israel. As a sovereign nation it has a right to defend itself. This is a criticism of our politicians for placing their interests ahead of our country’s interests. We support Israel to our detriment. Why have so many Middle Easterners trained to be terrorists to strike American targets? Why is the supply of oil and its price so unstable? Why are some Arabs threatening revenge against both Israel and the United States over the current violence in Gaza. The answer to all of these questions is because we support Israel. By not supporting Israel the United States would be safer and oil would probably flow more freely. We would be promoting our national interests and perhaps no more American international schools would get blown up as well.