Sunday, July 27, 2014

Israel: The 51st State

Truman with David Ben Gurion and Abba Eban, 1949

Back in 1945, Zionist lobbyists began pressing Harry Truman to recognize Israeli statehood.  Apparently, Truman held out for a joint-Palestinian-Israeli solution but as the pressure grew Truman gave into the lobbyists and recognized the State of Israel in 1948.  In a new book, Genesis, John Judis explores the roots of the pro-Israel lobby in United States and its ever-increasing influence over American politics.

Since 1948, each president has had to wrestle with the hostilities and wars that came with that decision.  US Foreign Aid has poured into Israel each year, starting with $100 million in 1949, roughly $1 billion when adjusted for inflation.  Today we pay out a little over $3 billion in military aid per annum, plus we have an extensive free trade agreement that imports roughly $20 billion in Israeli goods each year, while exporting approximately $10 billion.  A surplus that clearly works in Israel's favor.

Israel isn't exactly a ward of the United States, but it benefits heavily from American support, especially in the UN, where the US consistently overrules any international measure leveled against Israel with its veto power on the Security Council.  Efforts to make Israel abide by UN resolutions regarding the Palestinian territories have ended miserably.

In 2002, Israel began constructing a barrier wall, following a Palestinian Intifada in the wake of another round of failed Peace Talks.   The wall has grown to over 300 miles along the West Bank border.  It carves out parts of the 1967 Palestinian border for Israeli settlements, and in many cases closes off parts of Palestine from each other.  The wall has been universally condemned but no matter.

Gaza is similarly closed off from Israel, yet as we have seen in this latest round of air strikes, Palestinians have bored under the wall to get to the other side, as their economic livelihood depends almost entirely on Israel.  Some of these tunnels date back to antiquity and are only now being discovered by Israeli defense forces in this latest effort to destroy Hamas once and for all.

As Jimmy Carter wrote in his 2006 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Israel has segregated Palestinians much in the same way South Africa once did blacks and other ethnic groups, using them essentially as a cheap labor pool, while not providing any of the benefits of living in the State, except for those fortunate few who stayed in Israel proper following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.  Carter had been the only president to strike a peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world with the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979, but attempts to build on this historic accord have largely gone for naught.

Bethlehem, located in the West Bank

It seems most Americans have accepted Israel's belligerent position regarding Palestinians since 2002. Israel is seen as an extension of ourselves.  We readily identify with the way Israel has built itself up from the desert over the last 66 years and regard them as protector of the Holy Lands, even though most of the significant Christian religious sites are in the West Bank, with many Palestinians regarding themselves as Christian.  Even in Gaza, there are approximately 1000 Palestinian Christians attending a Greek Orthodox Church that dates back to the 12th century.  Yet, the conservative fundamentalism that drives the Republican Party today has little or no sympathy for these Christians who find themselves under bombardment by the IDF.

Like Tea Party politics, it is easier to view these conflicts in terms of black and white.  American Evangelical Christians have thrown their full support behind Israel for whatever reasons of their own.  Israel has actively courted these religious conservative groups over the years as Timothy Weber illustrates in his book, On the Road to Armageddon.  Hard to believe given the virulent anti-Semitism that once ran trough these groups and still runs through many of them.

In many ways, Israel is our 51st state with a very powerful political lobby that not only influences the Republican Party, but the Democratic Party as well.  I don't think Harry Truman had any idea what he set in motion all those years ago.

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