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constructing the underdog, part iv: israel
the separation of church and state vs. foreign policy
by jeffrey d. walker
4.21.08
news


This article is part of a series intended to foster open discussions on the issues as we get set to elect the next President of the United States. See here for more info on the concept; here for the piece on immigration; and here for the piece on Iraq. You're invited to add your two-cents by joining the discussion.

For those just tuning in to this series, I request that you read at minimum last month's piece on Iraq before proceeding, because this article's content is influenced by discussions following that piece, particularly those by Rob Costello and Reem Al-Omari.

Let me begin stating stating that my plan for a "division" of Iraq was based more on a presumption that the various factions within Iraq would prefer to be left to their own devices. I wasn't suggesting that the U.S. should be the ones drawing up lines and forcing them on the Iraqis. I envisioned more that people there would settle where they wanted once the U.S. was out of the way.

Sure, I figured there would be some fighting. I figured most of it would be containable. I submit this premise is at least somewhat accepted by Reem, who stated: "... that the US needs to get the hell on and get out [of Iraq]. I won't say it'll fix things right away, but I think Iraqis need to solve their own problems... they refused to topple a leader whom they supposedly hated, and just sat around waiting for a miracle to happen. I am Iraqi, and I will always be Iraqi and I love my country with all my heart and soul, but I think the only way to "fix" the damage is to let Iraqis fight it out, and if people die, so be it."

I must add here, that news stories demonstrating 1,300 Iraqi troops and police deserted during recent fighting against Shiite militias in Basra have only strengthened my resolve that America should cease its policy of trying to stabilize the government we want it to exist and leave. I simply don't think it's our business.

But then Rob Costello, in addition to taking a more cohesive stance on Iraqi policy than Hillary Clinton has thus far, suggested that: "... If the stabilizing presence of U.S. troops were to be removed entirely from Iraq, it is very likely that the historic religious schism between Sunni and Shia Islam would find fertile ground to wage a fresh holy war upon the killing fields of Mesopotamia. If that were to occur, the entire Middle East might become involved, as different states - Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, etc. - all waged a proxy war with each other via the Sunni and Shia populations of Iraq. Israel could be draw in and instead of the bloody and costly, but fundamentally minor conflict we face now, we could be staring down the barrel of WWIII. Imagine a world of $200 or $300 a barrel oil, where Chinese, Russian and U.S. forces are all arrayed in one region to protect their national interests. The risks are tremendous!

I started to contemplate just what might happen if a U.S. pullout escalated into a several nations' war in the middle east.

Of course, oil cost, as Rob pointed out, would be an issue. However, America's dependence on oil is an issue in its own right that I intend to cover more in another installment of this series. Taking oil off of the table, what else is America's concern in the middle east?

The answer was revealed to me is examining Rob's doomsday scenario. Israel: if they were drawn into a conflict, we would be, too.

I had to ask myself: why is that?

Let's start by looking at the candidates. Israel is not listed on McCain's, Clinton's or Obama's official presidential campaign websites as an "issue." In fairness, it wasn't really on my hitlist as an issue, either.

Truth be known, it isn't really one. Clinton and McCain are committed to the U.S.'s support of Israel. Moreover, though some have used Obama's association with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Junior, as well as other circumstantial evidence to suggest that Obama is not a supporter of Israel (See, e.g., here), I believe that the facts tend to support that Obama, too, is a firm supporter of Israel.

I asked myself, and I'll admit I may be naive here: why is it that America supports Israel?

First, what kind of aid is America giving Israel: According to Wikipedia: "Since the 1970s, Israel has been one of the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid... mostly military aid," .... "In 2004, the second-largest recipient of economic foreign aid from the United States was Israel, second to Iraq. In terms of per capita value Israel ranks first. In 2007, the United States increased its military aid to Israel by over 25% to an average of $3 billion per year for the following ten year period, while ending economic aid."

But Israel is not poor. Israel, according to Wikipedia: "... is considered one of the most advanced countries in the [sic] Southwest Asia in economic and industrial development. The country has been ranked highest in the region on the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index as well as in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report."

So why are we sending so many American dollars into Israel? Do they really need it?

Another issue about American aid to Israel struck me. One cannot discuss Israel without addressing the fact that Israel is considered a "Jewish state". That being said, the United States has a Constitutional separation of church and state.

I can't help but look at Israel and the middle east, and somehow feel like the U.S. is treading dangerously close to (if not in fact infringing upon) it's constitutional obligation not to promote a particular religion when it so obviously backs Israel in the middle east.

I become even more unnerved about the whole situation when I read stories about Israel Israel selling American nuclear weapon technology to China.

I do understand that there is a firm link between America's economy and Israel: Israel has the largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies outside North America.

I'm not saying that America should leave Israel flapping in the breeze. But I am asking myself, why is the U.S. Government sending so much money over there? Are we throwing money in an attempt to forestall a holy war? And if we are, is that our business?

What say you?


ABOUT JEFFREY D. WALKER

A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.

more about jeffrey d. walker

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COMMENTS

russ carr
4.21.08 @ 11:09a

Okay, I'll wade in here first.

I don't expect any of the candidates to have a position regarding Israel, because it's a fait accompli that anyone who expects to hold the office of president MUST support Israel, as must our blessed nation. That's just become a political reality, impressed on our system over the past 60 years.

Unfortunately, it's also a load of crap that undermines our entire economic infrastructure and geopolitical perspective.

Somewhere along the line, the US, and much of "Western society" got the idea that Israel needed our protection as if Jesus was still a baby in a barn in Bethlehem, and that all Christian nations were obligated to defend Him and, buy extension, the land of His birth. Truth is, Israel (and Jesus, or even YHWH) needs us about as much as Iraq does, which is to say not at all.

This next bit is going to come off sounding anti-Semitic...Hitlerian, even. Rest assured, I'm not. I have no grievance with ethnic Jews any more than I have one with ethnic Arabs or Kurds or Persians.

The number of Jewish voters is relatively small - 3 percent of US voters, according to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs - but they control formidable blocs in crucial states (NY and FL). That's why every election, you'll see candidates meeting with important Jewish cultural groups, courting the vote.

More importanly, however, they control enormous wealth. The Jewish lobby is massive, both on behalf of business and on the State of Israel itself. A 2000 book by Steven Silbiger reported that 45 percent of the richest 40 Americans were Jewish, and that 1/3 of America's multimillionaires were Jewish. Is that a bad thing? Of course not! I'm a staunch capitalist, and more power to 'em! However, when the money behind these tycoons is brought to bear, it can buy a lot of political influence. If they're salving their ethnic consciences by buying influence on Israel's behalf, then it's a sure bet that they're going to put their money toward pro-Israel candidates. Waver from that line, and you'll find yourself replaced by a candidate who's more sympathetic.

On the grander scale, if the US were to pull back from its open-handed support of Israel, I guarantee there would be an economic backlash. Any administration that attempted to take a more realistic approach to foreign and economic relations with Israel would get the smackdown immediately.


[edited]

russ carr
4.21.08 @ 11:13a

[continued]

Israel suffers. I don't dispute that. It is surrounded on three sides by people and nations that would just as soon it disappear, even though they may lack the forthrightness of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to say so. It demonstrates remarkable patience on Israel's part that they haven't struck back more fiercely at times.

But with a military that has never lost a significant ground war, and the trump card (for now) of a nuclear arsenal, Israel is hardly the regional weakling, reliant on other nations' protection for its survival. Moreover, its left hand/right hand approach to dealing with the Palestinians living within its borders and disputed territories reinforces the perspective that Israel is a nation that is just as selfish with its interests as any other in the region, if not moreso. The forced relocation of Palestinians, and the creation of Jewish settlements in previously Palestinian/Arab lands seized for reasons of "protection" of Israel is little different than the appropriation of chunks of central Europe by Germany in the name of "lebensraum."

This is the geopolitical reality.

Regrettably, that reality is obfuscated by economics and a vague sense of moral obligation to Judeo-Christian tradition that will continue to keep the United States cowed to any alternatives well past this election and for the foreseeable future.


[edited]

jeffrey walker
4.21.08 @ 11:32a

I'll wait until (hopefully) more people jump in to the discussion, but as far as this part of Russ' posts: "This next bit is going to come off sounding anti-Semitic." -- I re-wrote this piece 3 or 4 complete times trying to avoid sounding this way. I know I am not anti-Semitic, but it's hard to not come off that way in any less-than-positive piece on Israel.

russ carr
4.21.08 @ 11:46a

And in truth that's part of the difficulty that comes with taking any kind of realistic political approach toward Israel -- the broad brush of, "If you're not 101% friendly toward Israel, you must be an anti-Semite. Or a neo-Nazi. Or a racist, period."

Painting any of this in such absolute conditions is the substantial reason why attempts to solve the perpetually extant volatility in the Middle East all fail. There is no room for compromise or conciliation. It's all or nothing. But it's that kind of hubris -- whether it's bound to nationalism, religion or ethnicity -- that precludes various sides from talking on so many divisive issues, whether it's immigration in the United States, or co-existence on the banks of the Jordan River.


[edited]

rob costello
4.21.08 @ 1:20p

Thanks for quoting me, Jeff, and for feeling inspired by my previous disavowal of your interpretation of Hillary Clinton’s Iraq policy to continue this discussion via Israel! At the risk of flogging a dead cat, just let me state flat out that, again, I feel Hillary’s approach to Iraq (and foreign policy generally) is superior to both McCain’s and Obama’s, and her policy directly informs much of my thinking on the issue. We can, I guess, agree to disagree about the merits of Obama vs. Clinton on such matters.

Let me also say that the doomsday scenario of mine you quoted was just that; I merely wanted to describe the absolute worst case scenario in order to bolster my underlying argument. I don’t necessarily think things will go that far should we pull out of Iraq entirely. Nevertheless, I think the policy of total military disengagement that Obama proposes is a recipe for disaster for both the Iraqi people and for our interests in the region. When we so cavalierly “broke” Iraq, we essentially took on full ownership and responsibility for fixing it. It is morally untenable to wash out hands of the situation now. We have sadly undertaken, through the foolishly careless way this war has been waged, primary responsibility for maintaining stability in that part of the Middle East. I wholly disagree with those who say our continued presence is the primary destabilizing factor in Iraq, even Hillary when she makes that claim (which I think she does primarily because of the audience she’s pandering to right now). The very reference you make to the recent fiasco of the Iraqi government’s disastrous foray into Basra only emphasizes my point that without some amount of U.S. military muscle, Iraq would very likely descend into pure chaos. (How you define that amount of muscle, however, is a very important issue. I think McCain proposes too much continued involvement, Obama not enough. Only Clinton seems to me to have the right formulation in mind, although to get at it you have to carefully parse all the things she’s said about Iraq. I wish she was in a position to be more upfront about what I perceive her Iraq policy will be, as described in my comments to your previous post.)

In a scenario of pure chaos in Iraq, Israel would be a mere sideshow. We have other, much stronger interests in keeping the peace there besides the welfare of Israel. My purpose in illustrating the doomsday scenario was, in fact, to emphasize the point that other major military powers are as invested in the Middle East as we are, and in a worse case scenario, Middle Eastern instability brought about by the dissolution of Iraq could put us into direct and disastrous conflict with them... to be continued...



[edited]

rob costello
4.21.08 @ 1:20p

...continued from previous post...Nevertheless, since Israel is the topic of your post, I will described some of the many, many reasons why I believe the U.S. has been such a traditionally strong supporter of Israel. I can think of about a dozen off the top of my head… (a) Israeli is the only stable, Western style, genuinely representative democracy in the region (at least for the Jews who live there). (b) As Russ states above, the Jewish vote is an important voting block in a few key states (similar to the Cuban vote in Florida), and they have ably mobilized to support Israel in Congress whenever necessary, via; (c) the powerful Israeli lobby in Congress. (d) Judaism is the closest religious kin to Christianity. In a wider region dominated by a religion, Islam, that most Americans don’t understand and fear, it is natural that the largely Christian American population would identify with the perceived struggle of the Jews to survive in a hostile region, especially in light of (e) lingering guilt over the Holocaust, and also (f) Evangelical Christians’ belief that the state of Israel will play a crucial role in the coming Rapture. (Without the Jews returned to the Promise Land, Jesus will not return to earth.) (g) In addition, Israel has historically played a tremendously effective role as the primary American surrogate in the region (against the Soviets and Iranians, specifically). (h) Our support for Israel gives us tremendous leverage over our other allies in the region, i.e., the Saudis, the Egyptians, etc., thus allowing us to play the role of “honest” broker in keeping the peace and enhancing our ability to keep these various powers in line. Imagine how influential the Saudi’s would be in the region, for example, without the counterbalance of Israel. (i) The plight of the Palestinians helps to distract the populations of repressed regimes in the region from their own plight, and since many of those regimes are U.S. friendly and oil rich, Israel indirectly helps to keep a potentially unstable region stable enough to maintain our economic interests. (j) We make lots of money selling arms both to Israel and those of their enemies who are our allies, such as the Saudis, Egyptians, etc...

I’m sure there are lots and lots of other reasons. I am not a foreign policy expert by any means, but these seem like the most obvious reasons for the U.S. “marriage” to Israel. Underpinning all these various issues are the two main motivations that I think are key to understanding the perpetual U.S. support of Israel: cultural identification and (perhaps counter intuitively) oil.... to be continued...



[edited]

rob costello
4.21.08 @ 1:21p

... continued from previous... Having said all this, I am in NO WAY trying to justify the one-sided, short-sighted U.S. policy toward Israel. I could think of another dozen reason why our favoritism towards Israel is unwarranted and counterproductive to our own interests, chief among them Israel’s total loss of all moral authority via its outright persecution and marginalization of the Palestinians. What they’ve done over the past 60 plus years to the Palestinians is essentially what we’ve done to the Native Americans, and what was done to the Jews throughout their entire history in Europe prior to the Holocuast (think ghettos and Cossacks). Frankly, I don’t know how Israelis sleep at night. I personally believe it is high time for the U.S. to completely revaluate its policy of favoritism toward Israel, but, for the reasons stated above, I don’t think that will ever likely happen, especially when any thought of criticizing support for Israel is labeled as anti-Semitism. Frankly, I'm not afraid of the accusation. It’s been brazenly politicized and harmfully overused, and thus completely devalued. If questioning the continued, counterproductive, unquestioned, knee-jerk U.S. support for Israel in every instance of Israeli misbehavior makes me an anti-Semite, so be it.

P.S.... The Palestinians have done some really nasty, horrible things. They are not angels nor are they innocent victims. Nevertheless, the widespread displacement of Palestinians from their homeland, justified solely by what is at core a Judeo-Christian religious belief, for me, as a secularist, seems wholly and reprehensibly indefensible.


[edited]

david turner
4.21.08 @ 4:22p

Israel provides invaluable intelligence to the U.S. from the Middle East and many other parts of the world. One doesn’t have to dig far to discover that the State of Israel has acted as a hired gun, muscling for U.S. interests openly and covertly for some time now.

Here is one example of this that I can speak to:

From the 1950’s to the Late 1970’s, the United States directly and openly supported military operations in Central America via the CIA. Those operations resulted in the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Guatemala and the murder or “disappearing” of hundreds of thousands of innocent people with the aim of “reversing the spread of communism”. A majority of the victims were poor indigenous peoples having no real communist affiliations, other victims included human rights workers who dared to protect or speak out on behalf of the oppressed.

During the late 1970’s, a few organizations with limited support from the media were beginning to be heard by the rest of the world regarding the atrocities being committed in Central America and the U.S. support to the parties responsible for them.

At that point, the Carter Administration moved to stop openly supporting the anti-communist militias working in Central America. However, at the same time, the CIA more than doubled their “off the books” funding to Israel, who was already serving as an integral component of our “anticommunist operations” in that part of the world. Israel in turn, used those funds to increase provisions of weapons, training and other resources on our behalf.

To this day, much of Guatemala’s military, who was responsible for the worst of the atrocities, continues to be outfitted with Israeli firearms and other weaponry.

This is only one example of how Israel has, and still does a great deal of our Country’s “dirty work” around the world. So it only stands to reason that we would support Israel’s statehood and consider them one of our closest allies in our “War on Terror”.


[edited]

rob costello
4.21.08 @ 5:08p

Sadly, Israel is far from the only client state of the U.S. to behave as you suggest, David. We have had a long history (continuing to this very day) of using other states to carry out our dirty work in Latin America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia. Just think of our policy of extraordinary rendition. I would even hesitate to consider Israel one of the worst offenders in this regard. I don't know much about what you describe, so I hesitate to seem to support or deny what you claim. Neverthless, while Israel's perhaps questionable acts on our behalf certainly play an important role in the enduring nature of the U.S.-Israeli partnership, I think there are other factors that are even more significant, such as American cultural and religious identification with Israel, and our mutual fear of Islam.

[edited]

david turner
4.21.08 @ 6:05p

I am not refuting Zionism as a key factor for the U.S. supporting Israel as a state.

And, I am well aware that, we have done the same type of business with both Iran, Iraq and countless others.

I am merely stating that since the formation of a Jewish state from the territories formerly known as Palestine, the U.S. has both supported israel in it's own clandestine endeavors and has entrusted Israel consistently with playing major roles in it's own clandestine operations around the globe- especially those in the Middle East.

I view Israel as one of the United States' very closest partners in crime. I definately don't see that changing after this election or anytime soon for that matter

[edited]

[edited]

[edited]

russ carr
4.23.08 @ 12:31a

Speaking of clandestine endeavors...

When Israel believes they're not getting enough from us as it is, they simply acquire what they desire by spying on us. Shalom, dudes.

[edited]



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