Observations of an Expat: US Support for Israel Cracks

One of the rock solid, unwavering givens in the world’s diplomatic playbook has cracked – the 76-year-old bipartisan US support for Israel.

There will be repercussions for Israel, the United States, the Palestinians, Europe and the Middle East.

Since before 1948, support or opposition to Israel has been one of the world’s key political fault lines. Which side a government chose played a major role in determining their position on a host of other issues.

At the fulcrum of this fault line was support for successive Israeli governments from Republican and Democratic American administrations. More than $4 billion a year in military aid flows from Washington to Israel, and that is only the money that is known. Whenever Israel faced UN condemnation it could count on the American veto. And if it was attacked, America, supplied the latest weaponry. Israel was America’s only certain and democratic ally in the Middle East and Israel could not exist without America.

The public appearance of the crack was the Senate speech last week by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. He called on Israelis to vote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of office. And he implicitly warned that if the voters did not remove “Bibi” then American aid and political support was in jeopardy.

President Biden gave the Schumer speech the presidential seal of approval. It was, he said, “a good speech.” Republicans disagreed and the battle lines were drawn. Senate Minority leader accused Schumer of interfering in the democratic processes of a close ally. Donald Trump said that Jews who voted Democrat “hated Israel” and “hated their own religion.” Speaker of the House Mike Johnson said he would be inviting Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress. This event is unlikely to happen because it requires the support of Chuck Schumer.

In a post-speech interview with the New York Times, Senator Schumer, said his disillusionment did not start with the war on Gaza. The impetus for him was the bromance between Trump and Bibi and the Trump-organised Abraham Accords which established diplomatic relations between Israel and several Arab countries without any consideration for the Palestinians. Netanyahu, said Schumer, made the crack inevitable when he decided that his interests lay with Trump and the Republican Party at the expense of the Democrats.

The Biden Administration had hoped that Republicans and Democrats and other governments could rally around an American resolution which it put to the UN Security Council on Friday morning. It was much stronger than a previous un-submitted draft and called for “an immediate ceasefire” and the “release of all hostages.” The proposal secured the support of the EU which, up to this week, had been divided over the issue. But it was vetoed by Russia and China who see the Gaza War as a useful diplomatic tool for driving a wedge between America and the Global South.

Canada, however, has taken the dramatic step of stopping weapons sales to Israel because of the rising death toll in Gaza. Palestinian supporters in the Canadian House of Commons introduced the necessary legislation through a long-standing Canadian law that prohibits the sale of arms to countries that “violate human rights” or “harm women and children.” Canada’s Palestinian Solidarity Movement was pushing for the ban. However, it failed to persuade the government to issue more visas to Gazans fleeing the violence; impose sanctions against Israeli government leaders; recognise a Palestinian state and suspend all military and technology trade with Israel.

While the Biden Administration’s Security Council resolution was being vetoed.  Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrived in Israel for talks with Netanyahu.  As his plane landed, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced that Israel was declaring another 1,977 acres of the West Bank Israeli “state land”—a clear signal that Israel was determined to take a strong and independent anti-Palestinian line regardless of American opposition.

In Qatar, ceasefire talks are deadlocked. Hamas refuses to release any hostages unless Netanyahu agrees an end to the war. Netanyahu has agreed to a six-week ceasefire and the increased flow of humanitarian aid in return for 40 hostages out an estimated 130 remaining. But, says Netanyahu, the war resumes after six weeks.

President Biden said an attack on Rafah is a “red line” without saying what happens if the line crossed. Netanyahu says he will attack regardless of Biden’s warning, but he will send a delegation to Washington to explain how the attack will be conducted “humanely.”

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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19 Comments

  • John McHugo 23rd Mar '24 - 3:24pm

    Tom – thank you for yet more interesting reflections on the Gaza crisis. But has US support for Israel always been bipartisan over the last 76 years?

    Previous US presidents have had the guts to stand up to Israel. Good examples are Eisenhower in 1956 over the Suez crisis and Ben Gurion’s hope to illegally annex parts of Egyptian Sinai, Reagan in 1982 over Begin’s onslaught against Beirut (the civilian casualties were uncounted but certainly many less than in Gaza today), and George H. W Bush’s attempt to broker peace after the liberation of Kuwait that led to the 1993 Oslo Accords.

    Why has Biden not yet behaved the same way? Part, but only part, of the reason lies in the atrocities of 7 October and Israel’s right to try to free the hostages and take action to prevent such occurrences in the future (Note: I do not say “Israel’s right of self-defence” – those weasel words are far too vague and I do not believe Biden thinks they justify what Israel has been up to).

    I believe much more significant, however, are the culture war issues that increasingly bedevil US politics. There is a subconscious Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism across much of America that instinctively leads many people to back Israel, right or wrong. It is present in today’s Britain, and I believe it underscores the attitudes of Sunak and Starmer during this crisis, to say nothing of figures like Gove and Braverman on the Tory right.

  • Cj Williams 23rd Mar '24 - 5:07pm

    If Biden carries out his threat will Israel cease to exist?

  • Mary Fulton 23rd Mar '24 - 6:29pm

    Let us not forget that the USA is the only country in the world that recognises the Israeli annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights. Maybe, if the USA really believed that borders should never be changed by force, they will choose to reverse this recognition? I won’t be holding my breath.

  • John McHugo 24th Mar '24 - 7:21am

    Mary Fulton – it is worth recalling that Israel seized the Golan Heights in breach of a UN cease-fire. A precedent was its seizure of the southern Negev (now part of Israel) in 1948-8.

  • Eddie Larkin 24th Mar '24 - 12:41pm

    The world had a chance in 1948 to recognise both states. If they had done then the thousands of innocent people on both sides would not have been murdered by both sides. Palestine 🇵🇸 was an independent state in one way or another for thousands of years before 1948 The Jewish refugees from Europe agreed to share the land with the Palestinians but thanks to the Zionist group this never happened and we all know what has happened since and even today they are STEALING yet more land from Palestine 🇵🇸 I’m not antisemetic or have islammaphobic but let’s all be fair to both sides. We need an immediate end to hostilities, release the hostages and recognise both as independent states. I am not ashamed to say that I cried when Layla gave her speech at the spring conference

  • Peter Martin 24th Mar '24 - 1:10pm

    “Palestine 🇵🇸 was an independent state in one way or another for thousands of years before 1948 ”

    Immediately before 1948 it was under British rule. Before that it was part of the Ottoman empire. It’s been part of the Byzantine Empire, the Greek and the Roman Empires. The Kingdom of Jerusalem was once a crusader state.

    This is all quite irrelevant though. In 1948 there were people living there, of all religions, who had a legitimate claim to nation status. If they wanted to share their land with a newly forming Jewish state that should have been their decision to make.

    It wasn’t for Lord Balfour to make it for them.

  • Nonconformistradical 24th Mar '24 - 4:08pm

    ” “Palestine 🇵🇸 was an independent state in one way or another for thousands of years before 1948 ”

    Immediately before 1948 it was under British rule…..”

    And around that time Britain was struggling over granting independence to any of its Southern Asian colonies. Maybe small wonder it didn’t handle the Palestine situation well.

  • Alex Macfie 24th Mar '24 - 6:34pm

    “Palestine 🇵🇸 was an independent state in one way or another for thousands of years before 1948 The Jewish refugees from Europe agreed to share the land with the Palestinians” This is somewhat misleading because the modern “Palestinian” people are not linear descendants of the people who inhabited the geographical region of Palestine in, say Biblical times. Palestine became majority-Muslim through Arab conquest in about the 7th century CE. Biblical Palestine and many tribes, religions and languages, most extinct. The modern Jewish people represent just one such tribe.

    So history is really not helpful in resolving the modern Israel~Palestine conflict, and a necessary (but perhaps not sufficient) condition for peace there is for all sides to put aside their historical grievances.

  • Nonconformistradical 24th Mar '24 - 8:57pm

    “a necessary (but perhaps not sufficient) condition for peace there is for all sides to put aside their historical grievances.”
    Indeed. But there seems no sign that it could happen without a lot of outside persuation…

  • Peter Hirst 25th Mar '24 - 4:42pm

    What would it take to make Palestine a liberal democracy? The end to violence, free and fair elections, a functioning economy, a respect for human rights, credible social support and institutions that act against corruption are honest and respect the rule of law. If we can do it for Ukraine then surely we can for Palestine with political will.

  • David Allen 25th Mar '24 - 4:55pm

    It’s too late, Biden. Netanyahu has virtually won.

    The pretence that Israel was primarily targeting Hamas was just a ruse to fool the credulous West. Demolition of Gaza, and the complete removal of its Palestinian population through the threat or the reality of famine and/or epidemic, were the true aims all along. They are well on the way to being realised.

    Egypt’s President Sisi has long warned against displacing two million Gazans into the Negev Desert. The time is fast approaching when he, and his Arab neighbours, will have to beg Netanyahu to let that happen. Because the alternative will truly be genocide.

    Don’t leave it too late, Sisi. If cholera takes hold, there won’t be time to stop it. Netanyahu won’t care.

    The Israeli smokescreen about finding tame Palestinians to run Gaza after Hamas is eliminated is now gradually being abandoned. It has done its job of fooling Westerners.

    Israel will run Gaza. Jared Kushner, who wants to build a new Mar-a-Lago on Gaza’s fabulous beaches, will be welcomed with open arms. Biden will leave in humiliation. Trump and Netanyahu will triumph together.

    And where will Arabs and Palestinians then turn for their revenge? To Iran? To Russia?

  • Mary Fulton 25th Mar '24 - 7:55pm

    @Alex Macfie
    ‘historical grievances’…
    Perhaps the core problem is that the millions of Palestinian are currently living in refugee camps because they, their parents, or their grandparents, were forced to leave their land due to the creation or expansion of Israel. That is not a historical grievance but an issue that hugely and adversely affects them every day.

  • @Peter Horst; all good and laudable aims, some would say Ukraine does not yet have what you describe, are you certain that the majority in Gaza would embrace that offer? Not every culture yearns to embrace Western values and norms.

  • @Peter Hurst; apologies for misspelling your name.

  • It seem from the stated ambitions of some politicians that very might, again be walking very close to the cliff edge of trying to impose the West’s favoured outcome on non-Western players.
    We can of course encourage and facilitate talks, support where we are invited, but the solution needs to come from those involved in the dispute, and if that solution doesn’t follow the template of a nice Western liberal democracy, then so be it.

  • Israelis claim that “God gave us this country”. Perhaps God took it away later as a punishment.

  • @Peter Hirst; and sadly apologies again! I my phone screen is very dodgy, no offence intended!

  • Peter Hirst 26th Mar '24 - 3:50pm

    no offence taken Noah, it’s with an i. i’ve never come accross with an o. ea is another version. Good point. I thought that America might take more notice of Palestine if it was more democratic than Israel or even America itself. There is no limit to democracy and smaller countries might have an advantage. Perhaps both countries might have challenges with a country more democratic than itself including ourselves. I just feel that palestineans have a yearning for democracy though I have no personal knowledge. Almost anything would be better than what they are living with now.

  • @Peter Hirst; thanks, I’d have to agree with your last point.

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