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In George Washington’s farewell address of 1796, he cautioned his fellow countrymen in a grandfatherly tone on several subjects relating to their budding government. One cannot read these instructions without honestly observing how far we have strayed from them, and what damage that failure has wrought. Notable among the other items of counsel is a recurring theme to steer clear of foreign entanglements with other countries. One portion of Washington’s letter reads:
Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.
Those who most frequently refer to this letter as a signpost from which America long ago deviated often reject this wise counsel in at least one specific case: when the subject at hand is a country whose name and citizens’ lineage share a Biblical connection. The mere mention of Israel leads some otherwise-faithful advocates of Washington’s guidance to cast their principles to the wind and embrace deeply entrenched relations with another country.
Why the cognitive dissonance?
To understand why this may be, let’s first look at a few expressions by U.S. politicians regarding this relationship to better understand the history. Recently, Rep. Michelle Bachmann had this to say:
I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States . . . [W]e have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play.
Rep. John Culberson has recently written:
Israel and the United States share a common dedication to peace, democracy, and freedom. Israel is surrounded by hostile neighbors dedicated to her destruction, yet she exemplifies the prosperity and progress that can be achieved by embracing democracy and free market capitalism. She deserves nothing short of our unwavering support. We must continue to stand with her, as she has stood with us.
Rep. Mike Pence:
We and all the freedom-loving nations of the world must stand with Israel and condemn the violence that’s been perpetrated against her people. We cannot stand idly by while a gathering menace grows in the region, and a menace perpetrates such acts of evil against our cherished allies.
“We must come together to rededicate ourselves to the preservation and the protection of Israel as a Jewish state and to Jerusalem as her eternal capital.
The political ties go back much further, of course, and cross party lines. The following are a few select quotes from past presidents affirming the same thing we read above from current congressmen. Here’s John F. Kennedy:
This nation, from the time of President Woodrow Wilson, has established and continued a tradition of friendship with Israel because we are committed to all free societies that seek a path to peace and honor individual right. We seek peace and prosperity for all of the Middle East firm in our belief that a new spirit of comity in that important part of the world would serve the highest aspirations and interests of all nations. In the prophetic spirit of Zionism all free men today look to a better world and in the experience of Zionism we know that it takes courage and perseverance and dedication to achieve it.
Israel was not created in order to disappear—Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom.
We support the security of both Israel and her neighbors….
The United States.. has been proud of its association with the State of Israel. We shall continue to stand with Israel. We are committed to Israel’s survival and security. The United States for a quarter of a century has had an excellent relationship with the State of Israel. We have cooperated in many, many fields — in your security, in the well-being of the Middle East, and in leading what we all hope is a lasting peace throughout the world.
America must and will pursue friendship with all nations. But, this will never be done at the expense of America’s committment to Israel. A strong Israel is essential to a stable peace in the Middle East. Our committment to Israel will meet the test of American stead, fairness, and resolve. My administration will not be found wanting. The United States will continue to help Israel provide for her security. My dedication to Israel’s future goes beyond its military needs to a far higher priority — the need for peace. My commitment to the security and future of Israel is based upon basic morality as well as enlightened self-interest. Our role in supporting Israel honors our own heritage.
We have a special relationship with Israel. It’s absolutely crucial that no one in our country or around the world ever doubt that our number one committment in the Middle East is to protect the right of Israel to exist, to exist permanently, and to exist in peace. It’s a special relationship.
Since the rebirth of the State of Israel, there has been an ironclad bond between that democracy and this one.
In Israel, free men and women are every day demonstrating the power of courage and faith. Back in 1948 when Israel was founded, pundits claimed the new country could never survive. Today, no one questions that Israel is a land of stability and democracy in a region of tyranny and unrest.
America has never flinched from its commitment to the State of Israel–a commitment which remains unshakable.
The friendship, the alliance between the United States and Israel is strong and solid, built upon a foundation of shared democratic values, of shared history and heritage, that sustains the life of our two countries. The emotional bond of our people transcends politics. Our strategic cooperation—and I renew today our determination that that go forward—is a source of mutual security. And the United States’ commitment to the security of Israel remains unshakeable. We may differ over some policies from time to time, individual policies, but never over the principle.
Our relationship would never vary from its allegiance to the shared values, the shared religious heritage, the shared democratic politics which have made the relationship between the United States and Israel a special—even on occasion a wonderful—relationship.
The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul.
….My country’s admiration for Israel does not end there. When Americans look at Israel, we see a pioneer spirit that worked an agricultural miracle and now leads a high-tech revolution. We see world-class universities and a global leader in business and innovation and the arts. We see a resource more valuable than oil or gold: the talent and determination of a free people who refuse to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny.
If this long list of quotes have not already so indicated, it is important to note that there are many, many more that say essentially the same thing: Israel is our partner, our friend, our faithful ally with whom we will never, ever break relations. This declaration of co-dependence is repugnant to the principles advocated by this nation’s founders, and stands in stark contrast to Washington’s counsel.
For those who align themselves with Judeo-Christian theology, Israel holds a special place in our hearts. They are God’s chosen people who once enjoyed an intimate relationship with Him, and will one day be restored to that primacy among God’s followers. In recent times, they have become a hiss and a byword, downtrodden by dictators and constantly threatened by those who would do them harm. As individuals and as a collective society, they should be free to pursue their own peaceful goals.
But is the modern nation state of Israel the same thing?
Imagine a wealthy man going to Missouri, buying up a bunch of land, and founding a new city he decided to call New Jerusalem—a city prophesied to one day be established in that location. Do the laws of his new city suddenly carry divine authority, since “out of Zion shall go forth the law”? Are the city’s inhabitants to be treated by all others as the Lord’s blessed people charged with a sacred duty? Should the U.S. government form a “special relationship” with this new city, and fund a substantial portion of its operations with taxpayer money?
While the example is absurd, it is, in effect, what has happened with the country named Israel. The quotes above, and numerous others, all testify of an unwavering commitment that American politicians have to the government who has adopted the name of a once-favored people. Does this “unbreakable” commitment know no limits? Should the American people be forced to fund the operations of another government which—like any other government—is riddled with corruption, waste, and power-lusting politicians?
Consider another option: what if the citizens of Israel decided to change the name of their country to something else? If they were then no longer known as Israel, would people still be as inclined to support them financially and militarily? What if they chose the name Babylon? Would we then look at them with scorn, somehow tying them to the actions and culture that once described the ancient city of the same name?
According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of (un-constitutional) U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. It was the largest annual recipient of our money for nearly three decades until finally dethroned in 2005 by Iraq. Since 1985, our federal government has given out $3 billion annually to Israel for its military (making up one-fifth of its military budget), with an extra $2 billion per year in federal loan guarantees since 1991. This comes out to roughly $13.7 million per day, and constitutes around 30% of the total U.S. foreign aid budget.
The consequences of this constant flow of cash are readily visible. Consider, as one example, the much-discussed strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities by Israel. Rather than making their own decision, Israel deferred in every way to the U.S. government, seeking permission before executing any strategy. Our government is essentially a powerful shareholder in Israel’s affairs, with significant authority to guide decisions, veto actions, and otherwise influence domestic processes. As such, Israel is not sovereign, but rather a puppet government doing the bidding of its wealthy master. “Special relationship,” indeed.
This odd union between governments distorts allegiances, as demonstrated by a recent non-binding House resolution that expressed support for Israel’s military operations. Harry Reid remarked that the resolution “reflects the will of the State of Israel and the will of the American people”. The order should be apparent here, with a duly-elected representative in Congress placing first the will of the Israeli government before that of his own people. Last I checked, he was not placed in power to do the bidding of some foreign government or group of people, no matter how noble or worthy the cause.
These repeated declarations of unwavering support by the majority of American politicians are eerily reminiscent of the similarly meaningless and unapologetic call for “supporting our troops”. Both affirmations lack any qualifiers, and lead to unconditional (and hence problematic) support given at all times. We have clearly failed to learn from our history, since former friends have turned foes, fighting against us with our own weapons and funded by our own money. The recent history of the entire Middle East can be simply summarized as a long string of imperial involvement in dethroning democratically elected officials, manipulating public opinion, propping up governments, and throwing taxpayer money at whatever problem arises.
The scriptures that I read contain no commandment that we submit to taxation and inflation in order to send billions of dollars to a foreign government (despite no constitutional authority to do so) which has adopted for itself the identity its ancestors once shared. While the people themselves may properly be referred to as Israel and be worthy of our support, to argue that our government must have a “special relationship” with theirs is an outright rejection of Washington’s counsel, wholly un-constitutional, and a recipe for continual geopolitical conflict.