Israel and the United States: A Brief History


Over the past century, the relationship between Israel and the United States has vacillated between strained periods of diplomatic tension and unerring support, an indication of the complex nature of American politics being divided by Zionists and Liberals. With Obama’s questionable treatment of the Jewish government during his administration, a look back at the history of these two nations is required to understand the context of involvement.

In November of 1917, the UK’s Foreign Secretary wrote a letter to Baron Rothschild in Britain’s Jewish community that would come to be known as a definitive statement by England’s government to support a sovereign Israeli nation. Known as the Balfour Declaration, President of the United States Woodrow Wilson, while in favor of maintaining British relations, stated that America’s foreign policy on the matter would accept the goal of the UK without officially supporting their Zionist intent.

Despite his reluctance to give validation to the idea of a Jewish state, US Congress in 1922 pushed the Lodge-Fish resolution as a joint statement within American politics in agreement with the British declaration, which was echoed by the League of Nations when they passed the Mandate of Palestine on the same day with the exact same purpose. After this, however, there was little outward support by American presidents until the conclusion of WWII.

From Wilson to Truman, the US Commander-in-Chief always gave lip service to the Balfour Declaration without actually supporting it, and America only did so after WWI due to a widespread fear that the Soviets would invade the unstable Middle East to capitalize on the fall of the Turkish Empire, as well as the fact that the region was understood to be full of petroleum reserves as of 1908.

After 1947 and the details of the Holocaust spread, the US under Truman adopted a measure of support for Resolution 181 among the United Nations General Assembly, which was a partition plan for Palestine. Truman himself stated that the vote was lobbied by Zionists, but while the State Department and the Defense Department were hesitant about destabilizing the region and limiting access to oil, concern for displaced Israelis in May of 1948 urged the president to make America the first nation to outwardly recognize the Jewish state, which had only come into existence hours beforehand.

After this came a period of economic aid for food from the US, along with international funds filtered from German war reparations that were used to build the infrastructure of the new Israel. France became their military supporter, offering the Jewish people the prospect of an internal army which would become an ally of France and Britain against Egypt under Nasser in 1956, when ownership of the Suez Canal was in contention along with critical shipping routes in the Gulf of Aqaba.

Trying to remain neutral in the region, while still offering assistance to Israel, the United States came to the side of Egypt to assure that they would not become closer allies with the Soviets. Upon brokering a deal that would give the entire Sinai Peninsula back to the Egyptians after it was effectively conquered by the Israeli army, essential trade routes in the area fell under US protection. With the continuous wars that followed between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors on all sides, in the early 1960s America started selling defensive weapons technology to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan to protect its influence in the region.

After the assassination of JFK, Lyndon Johnson took over the presidency and shifted America’s foreign policy to one-sided support for the Jewish state. Up until then, it was said that the Middle East viewed the US as an ally, even a friend, in the period before 1948, and Eisenhower’s political maneuvering during the Suez Crisis led the Arabs to believe that America was fair and impartial. After LBJ, however, the viewpoint of civilians in the Middle East was that the United States was entirely pro-Israel, and after the Six-Day War in 1967 it came to be distrusted by Arab nations, if not openly hated.

Before this, the American government seemed to classify its relationship with Israel as patronizing, and many officials felt that Israel might respond irrationally to the danger around it, preferring diplomatic relations for the purpose of maintaining the US connection to oil found in Saudi Arabia in 1938. Another concern over garnering ties with Israel was the belief that choosing sides might lead to escalated warfare in the region, especially if the Soviet Union was pulled into a conflict on the opposing side, and the danger of World War Three afterwards became a talking point among isolationists from both right and left wing officials to justify non-involvement and ignore obvious diplomatic and financial interests.

During the Yom Kippur war in 1973, when the Israelis trapped the Egyptian army without food or water east of the Suez canal, America intervened on behalf of Egypt and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger pressured Israeli ambassador Simcha Dinitz to avoid the destruction of the enemy. As a result, Egypt officially disconnected from the possibility of a Soviet alliance, which had brought such fear from the US as to increase the DEFCON (Defense Condition) level. After the conflict, American involvement brought a new era of lasting peace between Israel and Egypt.

The foreign policy of the US Presidency shifted again during the Carter administration, creating hostility between bilateral relations over America’s push for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories. With President Reagan, an amicable relationship resumed over the shared threats of terrorism and security against the Soviets, and in 1981 a Strategic Cooperation Agreement was signed with Israel Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon. In November of 1983, both countries created a Joint Political Military Group that would meet twice a year, and combined military exercises began in June of 1984 with the US creating a War Reserve Stock in Israel to stockpile weapons for the use of either nation.

In 1989, Israel was given non-NATO ally status that allowed them to bid on US defense contracts, and after a free trade agreement was reached in 1985 that offered economic stability of $1.5 billion in two-year loan guarantees, America upheld grants to the Israeli economy in the amount of $3 billion annually, three-quarters of which had to be spent on American imports. After the fall of the Soviet Union, tension in the area eased due to the lack of exaggerated fear over the possibility of World War Three, and from then forward the Middle East situation was seen predominantly to be an Israeli-Palestinian issue to resolve. Hardliners in both camps made the prospect of peace impossible, especially with the assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, who was murdered by Jewish radical Yigal Amir in opposition to the signing of the Oslo Accords.

For diplomatic reasons and because of internal division over the value of Zionism versus rampant anti-Semitism, America has since been talking out of both sides of its political mouth while simultaneously backing Israel and showing outward sympathy towards displaced Palestinians. The effect of this internal division in America between those who side with Israel and those who side with Arab terrorist-run governments has led to financial rewards for the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the tune of $500 million dollars a year after Obama’s election in 2008. This money to the Palestinian Authority is divided between $200 million for budget assistance, $100 million for non-lethal security measures, and the remaining $200 for US grants to contractors for internal renewal projects.

The current US administration’s surge in support for the Palestinians was increased from George Bush II, whose policies offered $170 million a year to the plight of their starving women and children, and Bill Clinton’s financial support of $70 million per year, some of which was notoriously siphoned off by the corruption of former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat into European bank accounts. Overall, America’s relationship with Israel over the past century has not been as chaotic as it would appear, since the true foundation of the US has always been the liberation of people in need.

That viewpoint shifted from the dire conditions of Jewish refugees after the Holocaust and has since been placed upon Palestinians who are currently languishing in exile from their rightful ethnic home of Jordan after a brief civil war that ended in the early 1970s. Regardless of what administration rules the financial landscape in the United States, and despite the complex arrangements necessary of foreign policy in a region that is still evolving through feudalism, the historical proof of America’s support of Israel has been steadily growing as both nations come to view their common ground, religiously and politically.

By Elijah Stephens

US State Department
Times of Israel
Jewish Virtual Library

One Response to "Israel and the United States: A Brief History"

  1. Matt McLaughlin   March 24, 2014 at 9:40 am

    “…make America the first nation to outwardly recognize the Jewish state, which had only come into existence hours beforehand.” The notion of the new ‘Israel’ becoming a Jewish state was as new as the name ‘Israel’> ‘hours before’, yes!


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