By David Spero
Why do Israel and the USA seem so closely connected, each supporting whatever the other does, as long as the US pays the bills? Some, especially liberal Jews, believe Israel acts as a lieutenant for US imperialism, an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” guaranteeing the flow of Mideast oil. Others, especially Jew-haters say the connection goes the other way; that Israel controls the US government from behind the scenes.
Both explanations hold at least a little truth, but the reality is deeper: the two countries have so much in common that their connection is practically inevitable. They come from the same background and share similar ideologies and history. Although they have differences, the relationship is like a dysfunctional family, a crime family, with each one encouraging the other’s worst instincts. The US constantly enables Israel’s ethnic cleansing and aggression against neighbors, while Israel consistently works to promote antidemocratic tendencies and militarism in the US.
While it is true that Zionist groups have worked tirelessly for 70 years to move the US towards Israel, they could never have succeeded if America weren’t already so inclined. Where does this entanglement come from?
1. The US and Israel are both settler states. They were each started by and are both run by people who came from Europe looking for new land. Both countries required displacing, and in some cases exterminating the indigenous people they found there. Such oppression inevitably leads to racist dehumanization of the victims, so that oppressors can justify their behavior to themselves. The racism typically starts with the relatively benign: ‘We’re bringing them the blessings of civilization.’ When the dispossessed continue to resist, the attitude gradually morphs to the ‘Kill them all,’ approach that American settlers adopted towards the Indians and Israeli settlers often advocate toward Palestinians.
2. Both countries are projects of British imperialism, which caused more suffering than probably any other empire that has ever existed. Palestine became a colony of Britain after World War 1, before they gave a large chunk of it to the Zionist movement to start Israel in 1948. Lord Rothschild, one of the great British imperial financiers, funded many of the early Jewish settlements in Palestine, as he had invested in British colonialism in South Africa and India. The USA was entirely a project of Britain, including wars to drive out French rivals. This is not a happy tradition to descend from, and we can see British imperial practices like pitting indigenous groups against each other and propping up corrupt monarchies in American and Israeli strategy.
3. Both the US and Israel have constantly expanded from the moment they were founded, using independent settlers (“pioneers”) and government military force. America went faster, taking a whole continent whose people did not have armed militaries with which to resist. Both are continuing their expansion at the present moment: Israel in the Golan and West Bank, the US with hundreds of military bases around the world.
4. Both believe they are exceptional. America is “the indispensable nation,” the “shining city on the hill” according to presidents such as Ronald Reagan. The Israelis believe they represent the “chosen people,” the Jews of the Bible, ordained by God. As exceptional, chosen peoples, the world’s rules don’t apply to them. In Israel’s case, the long history of European anti-Jewish crimes, culminating in the Nazi Holocaust, also serves to give Israel a free pass — ‘After what you’ve done to us, we don’t have to listen to you.”
5. Both refuse to admit they have ever done anything wrong or to be held accountable for mistakes. After a U.S. Navy ship shot down an Iranian passenger jet in 1989, killing almost 300 people, American president George H.W. Bush said “I don’t apologize for America.” No US official has acknowledged that the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which killed about a million people, was in any way wrong, or even a mistake. The Israeli government maintains that gunning down unarmed protestors in Gaza is a legitimate self-defense strategy.
The Neoconservative movement, which informs the militaries of both countries, explicitly holds that lying to the people is often necessary and good. They have lied both nations into countless wars, which have led to widespread devastation in West Asia and Africa and a refugee crisis in Europe. But American and Israeli leaders never admit their wars have anything to do with the crisis.
6. Both are in process of becoming police states, which can be seen in statistics about mass incarceration in both countries, police murders of citizens in America, videos of home destructions in Israel, or restrictive laws such as the Patriot Act in the US and the Jewish Nation State law in Israel.
Israeli defense forces (IDF) train American law enforcement agencies including ICE agents and police. While American police have long been regarded as occupiers by residents of minority communities, the IDF is an official occupation army in Palestine and trains American cops to think of themselves as occupiers, leading to higher levels of violence and surveillance.
There are some differences, of course, such as the attitude toward diversity in their populations. Israel considers itself an ethno-state; it’s mostly Jewish and is working hard to be all-Jewish. The USA is extremely diverse, because of centuries of bringing in labor from all over the world. Unlike the US, Israel has no history of chattel slavery, which ruined the lives of millions of Africans in the USA and continues to harm their descendants to this day.
The two states are not twins, but they are inextricably linked. The USA is like Israel’s big brother. (In this analogy, the UK might be the semi-retired father.) Israel strives for regional hegemony as part of American world hegemony. They don’t agree on everything, but they do work closely together. Their militaries have training exercises together every year; their intelligence agencies work together, the US sends billions in arms to Israel annually, all bought by US taxpayers from US corporations.
This connection has deadly consequences for the people of both nations and of the world. Freedoms are being rescinded, as with the criminalization of the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement. Military budgets expand; new wars keep starting, while old ones never end. It’s the world’s most dysfunctional relationship, and it needs to break up, for all of our sakes.
David Spero is an activist with Jewish Voice for Peace Bay Area. https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/