The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy: How Significant Are They Really?

Israel has historically received unequivocal support from the U.S. in forms of aid, UN vetoes and public backing. Thus, to isolate the influence of the Israeli lobby, it is critical to analyze if U.S. support aligns with American foreign policy interests. If the policies indeed further U.S.interests, it is reasonable to assume that the Israel lobby is only a minor factor in the decision-making calculus as American support would be present regardless of the existence of the lobby. If the policies do not align with or even contradict U.S.interests, support for Israel would be attributed to domestic politics, conceivably influenced by the Israeli lobby. 

 As a champion of regional stability, “Israel [is] the linchpin of American Middle East strategy.” For the U.S, Israel is seen as a “force for stability” that can “stabilize [situations] in the Middle East” by posing a threat to any threat towards the West — be it Islamic terrorism, Iranian proliferation or the oppressive government of Saddam Hussein. 

This stability ensures access to energy markets, minimizes immigration and refugees, and promotes peace in the region — all of which are potential reasons the U.S.maintains support for Israel across different administrations. 

Specifically, after the 9/11 attacks, Israel increased its regional counterterrorism operations and was also more willing to exercise the Israel Defense Force to address non-state actors such as ISIS, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda. Historians like Jonathan Panikoff point out that Israel does not offer unique strategic importance because other U.S.allies such as Saudi Arabia or Türkiye could achieve the same purposes. Yet, Israel’s advantage comes from its central location in the Middle East and the possession of superior technology (cyber capabilities, missile defense, nuclear capacity) lacking in other countries in the region gives them a strategic edge compared to its alternatives. Additionally, its democratic system provides more domestic stability — lessening the chances of coups, civil wars and enabling long-term planning and investments by the US. Perhaps most importantly, Israel has historically been more willing to act on behalf of American interests, giving more confidence to policymakers to unilaterally support Israel. All of these reasons may explain why Saudi Arabia and Türkiye’s backing from the United States remains limited compared to Israel’s. 

Being a unique guarantor of American interests in the Middle East suggests that the Israel lobby is likely inconsequential in policymaking as the U.S.would comprehensively support Israel irrespectively. 

On the other hand, the United States’ unequivocal support for Israel could be seen as undermining American interests. For instance, compromising the United States’ status as a neutral broker during peace negotiations in the region and encouraging states to turn to Russia as a power broker. Moreover, America’s unconditional support even when Israel commits atrocities, breaks international law or threatens nuclear strikes sparks international condemnation of the United States, erodes confidence in American leadership, and is sharply at odds with American values. Holistically, the benefits Israel provides to American interests do exist, but it does not justify nor explain the categorical support from the United States when considering its disadvantages. 

Ergo, this suggests that domestic politics must be an indispensable aspect of U.S.foreign policy towards Israel — which will be explored by examining three groups: the Christian Right, the general public and the Israeli lobby. Starting with the Christian Right, aside from being “the most politically engaged group in the United States,” they are also overwhelmingly pro-Israel. Israel’s popularity is deeply rooted in the Christian understanding of America, as the leaders of Puritan New England predicted “the demographic return and political revival of the Jewish people in the biblical promised land,” which they believe is Israel. This Judeo-centric interpretation of the biblical prophecy remains popular today among evangelical Christians and acts as a powerful pro-Israel voting block with tens of millions of followers and a major base of support for the Republican Party. 

Despite support becoming increasingly concentrated among Republicans, Israel remains incredibly popular for voters on both ends of the political spectrum. The most recent survey shows “74% of U.S. adults view Israel favourably,” with only 23% viewing it unfavorably. Compared with other ethnicities in the region, surveys showed that nearly three times as many Americans sympathized with Jews over Arabs. A major factor of Israel’s popularity is “a perceived sense of ‘shared values’” between Israelis and Americans. Historians like Michael Barnett go as far as to argue that “the American moral image of Israel — ‘the only democracy in the Middle East,’ for example — is the ‘foundation of US-Israeli relations.’” 

Furthermore, “progressive social institutions, such as the kibbutzim, [and] relatively high level of social equality” are attractive to American voters. Yet, as mentioned previously by scholars like John Mearsheimer, Israel has routinely committed war crimes, frequently ignored established international norms and repeatedly threatened to strike its neighbors — all of which should raise massive red flags among American voters if their support for Israel stems from shared values. This insinuates that the lobby must have some influence over domestic politics as purely shared values do not always align in favor of Israel. 

The Israel lobby influences U.S.electoral dynamics in two ways, the first of which is in Washington. The Israel lobby only spends around $3 million annually, which is minuscule in terms of lobbying. Yet, investigations proved committees such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) funnels funds “outside the official umbrella of the organization so that the money doesn’t show up.” David Ochs, a senior member of AIPAC, admits to an undercover journalist that “this is the biggest ad hoc political group, definitely the wealthiest, in D.C., it has no official name, but is clearly tied to AIPAC. It’s the best bang for your buck and the networking is phenomenal.” 

Second, “the lobby strives to ensure that public discourse about Israel portrays it in a positive light,” by promoting Israel’s side of any situation. This method, although fueled by the already overwhelmingly pro-Israel public, remains constrained by the electoral dynamics within the United States. For example, the Israel lobby would choose to push for certain policies while abandoning others, depending on the political feasibility and the amount of support it would garner. Logically, the lobby would back policies that are already in line with the mainstream U.S.political narrative and foreign policy agenda, which is a factor in why the lobby’s actual influence is likely exaggerated. 

In conclusion, Israel is a net strategic asset for the United States, but its benefits alone do not substantiate the amount of unconditional support they receive. Therefore, a further investigation of domestic political factors illuminates the warrant for America’s unequivocal backing of Israel — that is, Israel is already exceedingly popular among the American public as well as the Christian Right, regardless of whether the popularity stems from shared values or otherwise. Combined with the electoral dynamic of the United States and the strategic selection of policies for which it advocates, it is evident that the additional political influence from the Israel lobby is only a circumstantial factor in U.S. foreign policy’s unequivocal support of Israel. 

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