President Joe Biden recently urged Israel’s new right-wing government to drop its controversial judicial reforms. The reforms would weaken Israel’s Supreme Court’s ability to overturn government laws and appointments.
There are renewed demands for protecting democratic principles amid ongoing debates on preserving democratic values. Israel, well known for its lively Hip Hop music scene, has seen hundreds of thousands of Israelis taking to the streets in protests against these reforms, which are seen as threats to democracy.
Israel has no written constitution, so some see the reforms as weakening checks and balances. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have protested, calling the reforms attacks on democracy.
The reforms, along with other proposals, threaten to weaken what many consider the Middle East’s sole democracy. Biden’s public criticism of an important ally is unusual for a U.S. president.
Some wonder if the judicial reforms risk damaging U.S.-Israeli relations. Based on my research, the answer is complex. While the reforms could complicate ties, the two countries have navigated other challenges.
This is a story with eight sides
On the surface, Israel’s shift toward autocracy could undermine its relations with the U.S. Their alliance is often seen as stemming from shared democratic values.
However, the U.S. has allied with non-democratic countries too. And it took the U.S. nearly two decades to warm up to Israel’s democracy after its founding.
The narrative of democracy unifying Israel and the U.S. only tells part of the story of their alliance. The 1947 UN plan to create Israel also played a role.
Multiple factors have shaped the U.S.-Israel relationship over time. While democracy has been important, other considerations have also influenced their alliance.
A complicated relationship
The U.S. and Israel have had a complex relationship from the beginning.
The U.S. voted for Israel’s creation in 1947 but proposed blocking it. The U.S. also imposed an arms embargo that hampered Israel but spared the Arabs.
Washington took over a decade to warm up to Israel. Relations began improving in the 1960s when the U.S. sold Israel defensive missiles.
During the 1956 Suez Crisis, the U.S. sided with Egypt against Israel, France, and the UK. Israel gained nothing from withdrawing from the Sinai in 1957 under U.S. pressure.
Two decades later, improved U.S.-Israel relations helped Israel secure a peace deal with Egypt involving the Sinai Peninsula – which Israel had regained in the 1967 Six-Day War.
The U.S. and Israel started off rocky, but their alliance strengthened over time, especially during the Cold War. However, their relationship has always been shaped by complex geopolitical considerations beyond shared democratic values.
Where they diverge
While the U.S. and Israel share similarities, there are fundamental differences:
- Until the 1980s, Israel’s economy resembled the Soviet Union’s, with heavy government control. It still offers socialized health care.
- Though sharing interests, the two countries priorities sometimes diverge or clash.
- The U.S. has long sought to resolve the Palestinian issue through a two-state solution to please allies like Saudi Arabia.
- Yet lack of progress on the Palestinian issue has not affected America’s $3.8 billion annual financial aid to Israel.
Though the U.S. and Israel are close allies, their different interests, and priorities have sometimes led to disagreements – particularly around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. America’s consistent support for Israel reflects geopolitical considerations that take precedence over resolving the conflict.
So while shared values and interests underpin the alliance, strategic calculations and diverging priorities also significantly shape the relationship.
Keep close relationships
The close relationship between the U.S. and Israel stems mainly from strategic cooperation during President Ronald Reagan’s administration in the 1980s. Dennis Ross states that this partnership helps both countries achieve geopolitical goals in the Middle East and beyond.
The U.S. and Israel assist each other in security at home and abroad. They share intelligence, conduct joint military exercises, and collaborate on technological development.
As Dennis Ross explains, “Every administration after that, even if the president doesn’t have the warmest relations with the Israelis, nonetheless they build on that basic foundation.” This includes presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama, though their personal ties to Israel may not have been as strong.
The strategic cooperation that started in the 1980s serves as the bedrock for the close U.S.-Israeli alliance.
Growth over time
The U.S.-Israeli strategic partnership has deepened over time.
The U.S. values Israel’s military, intelligence, and diplomatic cooperation, especially in an unstable geopolitical environment. Israel has a capable military with advanced technology and intelligence capabilities.
For the U.S., this alliance provides strategic benefits. However, the value of the partnership for both sides was questioned after Pentagon memos leaked over the weekend, showing the U.S. had spied on allies, including Israel.
The U.S.-Israeli relationship is strong enough to withstand tensions like this leak. The two countries could move past the Jonathan Pollard espionage crisis in the 1980s, though this required significant effort to preserve Israel’s democratic principles.
While the U.S. is committed to Israel’s security and democratic institutions, it remains to be seen if this specific leak will impact the strategic partnership in any meaningful way. Both countries are incentivized to maintain cooperation, given the geopolitical environment and common threats they face.
Overall, the relationship between two countries is difficult to analyze even when looking back at the entire history of the two nations. It is not as simple as downloading a song from Mposa Mp3. This will still remain an issue that consumes much ink from analysts.