Israel, America, and the War on Terror

By David Hazony

But Bush did not even need to go so far in painting Israel’s enemies as those of the United States. By drawing the line on the grounds of broader moral principles, rather than casting the conflict as against a specific enemy; by acting to shut down the financial apparatus of Hamas and Hezbollah and not just al-Qaida; by repeating over and over the refrain that there can be “no good terrorists and bad terrorists”—the Bush administration has offered its country a logic of war and a logic of how to choose its friends. It is a logic that inevitably places Israel among America’s most significant allies in the new conflict, and Israel’s enemies just as squarely among America’s enemies, and among the potential targets for subsequent phases in the campaign.
This logic has not been limited to official declarations of the Bush administration. On Capitol Hill, for example, representatives from both parties have explicitly drawn a link between the threats faced by Israel and America, and have demanded that the United States back the efforts of its ally to fight back against terrorism. In a hearing of the House Committee on International Relations on October 24, Secretary of State Colin Powell was subjected to a grilling by disgruntled representatives over his criticism of the Israel Defense Forces’ targeted killings of terrorists. The prevailing sentiment was summed up by the ranking Democrat in the committee, Representative Tom Lantos of California:
If Israel targets terrorists who are responsible for the murder of large numbers of innocent private citizens, whether it’s in a discotheque or in a pizzeria or elsewhere, I think it is the ultimate of hypocrisy to have State Department spokesmen criticize our democratic allies for actions we ourselves engage in.
On November 16, eighty-nine members of the Senate sent a letter to President Bush urging the administration to stop pressuring Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. “The American people would never excuse us for not going after the terrorists with all our strength and might,” the letter said, as reported in The New York Times. “Yet that is what some have demanded of the Israeli government after every terrorist incident they suffer. No matter what the provocation, they urge restraint.” Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican of Pennsylvania, was more direct in an interview with The New York Times that appeared on November 17. “Powell talks about the ‘cycle of violence,’ that suggests that one produces the other, and that there is a moral equivalency, which is not true. Terrorists killing civilians is totally unjustified, and Israel’s response is self-defense.”
The underlying assumption on Capitol Hill has been hard to miss: The United States and Israel are engaged in the same war, the means being used against both of them are similar, and it is therefore incumbent upon the United States to stand by its long-time ally.
Opinion leaders have conveyed this sense in even stronger terms. The well-known attorney Alan Dershowitz wrote in a November 2 column that “It is wrong for the U.S. to demand more of Israel than it asks of itself. Both nations are at war with evil forces determined to destroy the democratic values we jointly espouse…. We must stick together to defeat the forces of terror.” In a letter to President Bush on September 20, some forty noted conservatives—including former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, Weekly Standard publisher William Kristol, columnist Charles Krauthammer, and political theorist Francis Fukayama—called on the administration to “fully support our fellow democracy [i.e., Israel] in its fight against terrorism.” But perhaps the strongest statement was made by William Safire in The New York Times on October 25. Safire averred that “at a moment when the U.S. is dispatching bombers and soldiers to kill the assassins of 6,000 of our citizens harbored by the Taliban in Afghanistan, it is the height of hypocrisy to demand that our ally refrain from hunting down killers harbored by the PLO.” Placating the Arab world at Israel’s expense would only backfire, Safire argued, resulting in “intensified attacks on America.” Instead, “the proper response to our ally’s self-defense is to understand Israel’s lonely anguish and applaud its resolve.”
The sense that Israel and America are engaged in the same war, and that the Jewish state therefore deserves the support of America, can be seen even more clearly within the general public, where support for Israel has intensified since September 11. A Gallup poll in the week following the attacks, for example, found support for Israel’s side in the Middle East conflict to be at its highest point since the Gulf War: In the poll, 55 percent of Americans reported siding with Israel, up from 41 percent a month earlier. (At the same time, only 7 percent sided with the Palestinians, down from 13 percent a month before.) And this underlying support did not subside in the weeks following the attack: According to a CBS News/New York Times poll taken at the end of October, 60 percent of Americans reported having a favorable attitude towards Israel, moderately higher than the result of the same poll taken in previous years.
Just as significant has been the shift with regard to U.S. policy towards Israel, as a number of national polls have consistently shown about three-fourths of Americans in favor of maintaining or deepening the present strong ties between the two countries. One survey conducted in early October for ABC News put the number at 81 percent; another, conducted for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal in early November, put it at 77 percent—with 28 percent of Americans calling for even closer relations with Israel than exist at present. On the question of what America’s formal stance should be in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, an increasing number of Americans favor abandoning the neutrality of recent years in favor of a clearly pro-Israeli stance. The last time Gallup had asked Americans what position the United States should maintain in the conflict was in July 2000, and the results then were virtually identical with those of the previous years: 74 percent favored formal neutrality, while 16 percent favored officially taking Israel’s side. After the attacks, however, support for neutrality dropped to 63 percent, with 27 percent now in favor of taking Israel’s side—an 11-percent shift in Israel’s favor. (In both polls, about 1 percent of Americans favored taking the Palestinians’ side.) Moreover, a large portion of Americans have been critical of the State Department’s attempts to apply a different standard to Israel than to America in their respective wars against terror. In a poll conducted for the Anti-Defamation League at the end of October, over half the respondents called “hypocritical” the State Department’s attitude towards Israel’s targeted killings of terrorists.
These numbers reflect not merely support for the Israeli position against the Palestinians, but an underlying identification with Israel’s predicament. Since September 11, many Americans have come to see Israel as a fellow traveler in the odyssey of terror: A country that has for decades been facing the very threat, and living under the very conditions, that Americans now widely believe to be their fate. “The acrid and unexpunge­able odor of terrorism, which has hung over Israel for many years,” wrote columnist George Will just hours after the event, “is now a fact of American life. Tuesday morning Americans were drawn into the world that Israelis live in every day.” Martin Peretz, editor and publisher of The New Republic and a longtime supporter of Israel, perhaps put it best when he wrote that “we Americans no longer need any instructions in how it feels to be an Israeli. The murderers in the skies have taught us all too well. We are all Israelis now.”
The underlying commonality of interest between Israel and the United States has not only been reflected in words and sentiments, but has also been demonstrated at the level of cooperation between the two sides, reflecting the American understanding that Israel might well be the best source of guidance and inspiration in learning how to fight and live with a war against terrorism. This has been evident, for example, in America’s efforts to shore up security in everything having to do with air travel. Lapses at major American airports had a great deal to do with the tragedies of September 11, and Israel’s experience in this regard has been widely seen as the principal model for emulation. “El Al aircraft do not get hijacked,” said senior Pentagon advisor Richard Perle. “We would be making a great mistake if we did not benefit from Israel’s experience and expertise.” On October 1, The New Republic published an essay by Gregg Easterbrook analyzing El Al’s methods and arguing that they should serve as a model for airlines in the United States. Boston’s Logan Airport, the takeoff site of two of the four airplanes hijacked on September 11, quickly hired Raphael Ron, who had just finished a five-year tenure as head of security at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport, to help revamp its security.

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