Does Israel Need America’s Support?

A sizeable portion of Israel’s political right has united with a sizeable portion of the country’s political left. The issue: The United States’ support for the Jewish State. It now appears that both sides believe that Israel does not need America’s backing. On the right, witness the bad child Bezalel Smotrich’s demand to become Israel’s Defense Minister despite Washington’s clear strong opposition; the Americans want a serious person sitting across the table from them. On the left, witness a number of reports and opinion pieces in the daily Ha’aretz blasting the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for supporting “Trumpist” Congressional candidates and its “arrogance” in claiming that the organization represents America’s Jewry by pushing the U.S. Congress to support Israel, no matter what.

On the right, just look at the spate of recent public statements and interviews by newly elected or reelected Likud Knesset Members and other officials. Danny Danon, Israel’s former United Nations Ambassador (who should know better) and the current Chairman of World Likud, told a television interviewer last week that “America will not tell Jerusalem who its Defense Minister should be.” And the gun toting MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, most likely the next Minister of Public Security, told the incoming Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to agree to Smotrich’s “legitimate demand” to become Defense Minister.

On the left, Ha’aretz’s Washington correspondent reported on a number of occasions how AIPAC-supported candidates failed to get elected to Congress and how AIPAC’s newly established PACs – Political Action Committees – donated reelection funds to at least 150 Republican Trump-election denying candidates. (Please note that the “PAC” in AIPAC stands for Public Affairs Committee; the organization in 2021 established Political Action Committees, or PACs, to fund candidates, in response to America’s changing political reality.) Or for example the recent opinion piece by Daniel Bral, Chair of Progressive Zionists of California, on “The Arrogance and Absurdity of America’s ‘pro-Israel’ Lobby,” in which he accuses AIPAC of “enabling the most abhorrent currents in Israeli politics” by its “total embrace” of the GOP and evangelicals. The latter view is shared by not only many Labor Party and Meretz Party voters but also some in Yesh Atid and even among Benny Gantz’s supporters.

If one thinks that Israel will do fine without America’s support, as the sizeable portions of Israel’s right- and left-wing do, you are at best ignorant of what this support means and at worst you are endangering Israel’s existence. This shows how little you know about how America’s political system works and it is especially true when attacking AIPAC and what it does.

As many of you know, in the United States there are 50 states, each voting for two senators, and 435 electoral districts, each voting for a member of the House of Representatives. Unlike Israel, which for the purposes of national elections serves as one electoral district, when you vote in the U.S. your vote only counts in your state and your district. How your next door neighbor votes, if he or she live in a separate district, does not matter in your district. And what are the issues that the Americans voted on in the Midterm Elections on November 8?  Abortion, gun control, crime, the economy, climate, what books should be allowed in school libraries, illegal immigration, Trump’s belief that he won reelection in 2020, etc., etc. Very few people voted on the issue of U.S. support for Israel.

This is where AIPAC comes in. The lobby wants practically all of the 100 U.S. Senators and at least 400 out of the 435 Members of the House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans, to show a bi-partisan wall-to-wall voting record in America’s support for Israel, which without such numbers would be meaningless.  AIPAC wants the votes in support of a number of pro-Israel resolutions, emergency aid and the $3.8 billion in military aid annually, which by the way remains in the U.S and supports employment in its military industries producing armament for Israel’s needs. To achieve such support for Israel, AIPAC cannot dismiss a single Senator or Congress Member because he or she opposes abortion or is a 2020 election denier. Support for Israel is hardly on the minds of those running for office in America. By donating to their election or reelection campaigns, AIPAC’s PACs hope to make sure that when faced with an “Israel vote” they will vote yes.

Those on the right and the left in Israel who believe that Israel will do fine without that $3.8 billion or pro-Israel resolutions fail to understand their meaning. Yes, Israel may do fine without that money or occasional votes, but to Israel’s detractors and enemies in the world, this concrete support means that America has Israel’s back, and that if you mess with Israel America will stand with the Jewish State. Imagine a world without the Iron Dome, without F-16s or F-35s, without the U.S.-Israel intelligence sharing and many other joint endeavors. Imagine a world where the U.S. turns against Israel and votes for anti-Israel resolutions at the UN. Would other Western countries continue to support Israel? Would the Arab States that made peace with Israel still stand by the deals? Wouldn’t Iran be emboldened to spread its tentacles further in such a world?

Netanyahu knows all this intimately. And no doubt he understands the importance of the support by a majority of U.S. Jews for Israel. He understands how wrong are those dismissing America’s vital importance to Israel. He understands that the very recent about-face by the U.S. to have the FBI probe the killing of Al Jazzeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is clearly a warning shot by the U.S. to him to take the appointment of the next Defense Minister seriously. We can only hope that Netanyahu will show strength and leadership in standing up to those in his coalition who do not understand the existential importance of the U.S. – Israel relationship.

About the Author
Tom Sawicki retired from AIPAC's Israel Office at the end of 2020 where he was its director of Programming.