Adnan Abu Amer
Middle East Monitor / June 14, 2022
An increasingly fragmented society in America, especially acrimonious between politicians and activists, has raised fears among Israelis about the number of left-leaning members of the House of Representatives and Senate. Political and societal disputes are expected to increase in frequency and intensity as November’s mid-term elections approach.
Such polarization does not bode well for Israel, because the US may be more interested in solving domestic issues rather than maintaining and developing its international alliances. With almost half of the world’s Jews living in the US, and differences existing between Tel Aviv and Washington over Iran and the Palestinian issue, it is no wonder that Israelis are fearful.
Support for the Palestinians is rising in the US. Polls reveal that such support is especially strong among young Americans up to the age of 29. While support for Israel is evident among young Republicans, their Democrat contemporaries tend to favour the Palestinians. Opposition to Israel and its “right” to exist in occupied Palestine is growing.
Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said recently that Israel’s failure to solve the Palestinian issue increases the chances of anti-Semitic views being expressed around the world, as well as the growth of the radical left. Being anti-Israel does not necessarily equate with being anti-Semitic, of course.
Although most members of the Democratic Party are not hostile to Israel, left-leaning progressives within the party are, and they are challenging the leadership. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, for example, are part of this anti-Israel movement and attack the Biden administration’s stance on Israel.
The fact that polling data suggests that younger Americans are less sympathetic towards Israel and tend to favour the Palestinians is a worry for Israelis, because these young people are the future political leaders of the US. Israel’s standing in America is likely to change, presenting a challenge to the occupation state.
This has prompted Israeli research organizations to put forward the hypothesis that Israel “is losing America’s support”. The conclusion of this hypothesis is that Israel is responsible because it does not want to change its policy in the region and its attitude towards the Palestinians; it wants to be the “nation state for the Jewish people” instead of a democratic state for all of its citizens. Such obstinacy persists even though Israel needs the US, and American public opinion is key if it is to maintain its current level of financial and political support from Washington.
There have been calls for an end to security cooperation between the US and Israel, including aid for the Iron Dome missile defence system. Some have also come out in support of the legitimate right of return for Palestinian refugees, and the establishment of an official Nakba Day commemoration. Over time, these anti-Israel circles among members of Congress will grow in relative importance when compared with the veteran political leadership. We can already see this in the House of Representatives, where the conflict is open between supporters of Israel and its opponents, and this is worrying the occupation state.
Israel’s political leaders do not hide their disappointment and frustration, with negative responses to US President Joe Biden’s expected visit next month, although it is not confirmed yet. It may yet be cancelled in the event of a collapse of the shaky Israeli coalition government. Biden’s visit will be important for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who wants to use it to score political points against his arch-enemy, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Developments across the Atlantic confirm that Israel has to get used to not being at the centre of US politics; in the newly emerging situation, it no longer has as much weight on the agenda in Washington. Right now, all eyes are on Saudi oil reserves, without which Europe will have to continue importing fuel from Russia and thus indirectly finance Moscow’s war against Ukraine.
The natural trend in Washington is to support Bennett’s coalition. It will suit Biden and his team if he does not need to get acquainted with Netanyahu, who as prime minister was a source of real concern for former US President Barack Obama. Biden’s proposed visit to Israel could thus be interpreted as interference in its domestic politics by strengthening one party at the expense of another. However, the main reason for the visit is Washington’s need to increase oil production in Saudi Arabia, which is where Biden will head after Israel. His stopover in Tel Aviv is important, but not the most important.
Despite the reduction in support for Israel in America, I don’t expect there to be a complete break in relations between Washington and Tel Aviv. The ties are too complex and longstanding for that. However, Israel will become a real hindrance to a smooth enactment of US foreign policy.
If Biden’s visit to the region goes ahead, and includes Israel (as well as the Palestinian Authority), it does not mean that all Israeli demands and conditions will be met, especially in connection with Iran and Palestine. Israel will remain at the forefront of US policy in the region even though Washington has been drawing back across the Middle East in recent years. That is bad news for Israel, but not quite the end of the “special relationship”.
Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah in Gaza