While the alliance between the US and Israel is largely supported across the American political spectrum – one of the few things on which the left and right wings can actually seem to agree – this support is far from universal. Given the importance of the of the alliance with the US to the state of Israel, both Israelis as well as American Jews and non-Jews alike who support Israel should have some sense of who the opposition is, and what they are saying. Note here that I am not talking about the crackpots and obvious anti-Semites, but rather those who would be considered inside a broadly defined “acceptable mainstream”.
One example of policy-based opposition to the US alliance with Israel was on display yesterday afternoon in Washington, DC at a Congressional hearing on the Middle East and al-Qaeda. One of the witnesses was an ex-CIA analyst and operations officer Michael Scheuer.
For many years Scheuer was head of the team at the CIA studying and tracking Osama Bin Laden. Scheuer is perhaps best known for a book he wrote after retiring from the CIA called Imperial Hubris, which he initially published under the pseudonym “Anonymous.” Since then, Scheuer has published a number of other books and made a name for himself as an outside the box thinker.
In Scheuer’s appearance before Congress – which is on YouTube here – he argues that al-Qaeda’s hatred towards the West is driven by western policy and actions in the Middle east, as opposed to a more generalized cultural or religious animosity. If you listen to Scheuer’s testimony, you can see he is not spouting anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist or pro-Palestinian rhetoric. While he is rather eccentric, Scheuer bases his opposition to the American alliance with Israel on the purely Realpolitik argument of the US needing to disentangle itself from ties to both Israel and the Middle East more broadly. In fact, it is worth noting that Scheuer considers the US alliance with the Saudis to be far worse to the US from a policy perspective. The thrust of his argument, to greatly simplify, is change American policy and the problem goes away – and a big part of the policy change he advocates is that the US should end its alliance with Israel.
I am not saying I support Scheuer’s argument, and from an American perspective, there are a number of reasons both strategic as well as moral and cultural that underpins US support of Israel. Furthermore, as noted in a previous post, al-Qaeda recently released a speech online in which it explicitly said it hated the West as ‘infidels,’ not because of US or Israeli policy. Indeed, one line from the speech states “the best way to get rid of them (infidels) is to continue jihad until the Allah’s faith (Islam) is completely enforced all over the world,” which is hardly a policy-based argument for Jihadists’ hatred towards Jews and Christians.
The broader issue though is that supporters of Israel do need to differentiate between anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist arguments against Israel – which are easy to counter and have little traction in the broader American body politic – as opposed to the type of Realpolitik argument Scheuer makes. After all, in politics, things change, leaders change, and as an American, I can assure any non-US readers that there is a rising isolationist trend within American politics. Therefore, those who support a strong US-Israeli alliance are best served not by burying heads in sand, but by studying the views of analysts like Scheuer’s, and then preparing the strong policy-based arguments necessary to counter.