My Turn: Israel, United States are close friends

Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2001

In Mr. Rob Miller's My Turn: "America needs to be fair in Mideast" and in Lisle Hebert's My Turn: "Palestinians Don't trust U.S. to broker justice," in the Juneau Empire of Dec. 16, 2001, Lisle Hebert states: "If I am wrong in this, please prove it to me with fact." Here they are, facts, not a demagogy.

Since Israel's creation in 1948, the United States has been an ardent supporter of the Jewish state, providing large quantities of economic and military assistance and extensive diplomatic and political support to Israel. Even today, Israel remains the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid for military and security purposes (about $3 billion annually). There are several reasons why the United States has been so closely identified with Israel.

First, because of the atrocities visited upon the Jewish people by the Nazis during World War II, there has been widespread sympathy in the United States to the need for a Jewish state, a homeland where Jewish people can live without fear of domestic persecution by the repressive government.

Second, U.S. sympathy for Israel has been strengthened over the years by four major Arab-Israeli wars, in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, wars initiated by Arab nations. During the last three of these wars, Arab forces were supplied by the former Soviet Union. Therefore, Israel was often seen in the United States as an American ally in the Cold War, and today Israel is an American ally in the war against terrorism.

Third, despite disagreements and Israel's frequent willingness to pursue its own policies independent of U.S. preferences, Israel has been a U.S. ally in the Middle East. Israel also frequently points out that it is the only democracy in the Middle East. The U.S.-Israeli relationship is strengthened because of this.

Fourth, the American Jewish community (6 million American citizens in the United States, or 2.2 percent of the U.S. population) has often been an extremely vocal supporter of Israel. This adds to the already-strong support within the United States for Israel.

This, of course, does not mean that the United States and Israel see eye-to-eye on all issues. They do not. For example, when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the United States refused to recognize Israel's occupation as legitimate. Similarly, the United States and Israel have had major disagreements over Israel's policy of encouraging Israeli citizens and new Jewish immigrants to Israel to move to and settle in the occupied West Bank. The United States has also on occasion objected to Israel's treatment of its Palestinian and Arab peoples, who are not considered full citizens by Israel.

Despite these disagreements, the maintenance of a free and independent Israel remains a primary U.S. interest in the Middle East. Virtually everyone agrees that the United States and Israel are close friends, if not formal allies. Friends support each other's interests and well-being.

Alexander Dolitsky is the director of the Alaska-Siberia Research Center. He lives in Juneau.

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