Any time a discrepancy arises in the special relationship between Israel and the U.S., the debate arises anew: are we facing a passing phenomenon or are we seeing a glimpse of a negative trend pointing to a deep and continuing decline in the relationship? The outcome of this debate is inconsequential to formulating policy recommendations aimed at defending and strengthening this special relationship. With this in mind, the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) is conducting a project aimed at identifying the “drivers” that operate beneath the surface and influence the Israeli-American relationship, both positively and negatively. Identifying these drivers and gaining a better understanding of their influence is intended to afford decision makers the tools to characterize the implications of various policy actions on the special relationship – both actions that help in shoring up the relationship as well as those that erode it.
In referring to the various “drivers,” it is important to note a number of factors:
- When formulating policy, one must be aware of the relative weight of the various “drivers,” the timespan of impact (short- or long-term) and depth of influence of each one, and certainly the question of whether these drivers can be influenced at all through Israeli policy actions.
- Since the U.S. is a multi-faceted society with multiple identities and positions, at times polarized, Israeli actions can influence the relationship between the two countries at different time frames and at different levels of intensity (and sometimes even in different directions). The main variable is the identity of the administration (and congress) – Democratic or Republican, and the president’s preferences themselves.
- The considerations that inform Israeli decisions are not limited to questions of their possible impacts on relations with the U.S., important as they may be. Obviously, Israel could find itself in a situation where it makes a decision critical to its own interests, despite the possibility that it may further erode its relationship with the U.S.
- The drivers that seem to us most important among those we assess can be influenced through Israeli policy steps (as opposed to drivers that are not accessible to us):
- Shared ethos and values
- The American Jewish community
- The defense/military relationship between Israel and the U.S. (including regarding the Iranian nuclear program and related issues)
- The Israeli-Arab conflict
2. Below are policy steps we assess could be the most influential (for better or worse):
Actions that help:
- Highlighting the values of equality, democracy, religious pluralism and respect for human rights in Israel, and backing that up with policy and concrete actions.
- Reinforcing the image of Israel’s power and resilience, both militarily and economically.
- Strengthening the connection to Israel with the American Jewish community, in part by remaining sensitive to and taking into account how Israeli decisions affect American Jews.
- Presenting an Israeli diplomatic initiative committed to a two-state solution that gains American support.
- Fostering bi-partisan support for Israel.
- Investing resources to create a base of support for Israel among minority communities in the U.S. (Hispanics, Blacks, Asians).
Investing resources especially to foster connections to Israel among youth and on college campuses (Jews and non-Jews).
Actions that harm:
- A situation in which Israel is seen as becoming further removed from the values that characterize an open and liberal society.
- Israeli interference in the American political system.
- Placing the American Jewish community in a situation in which it is “torn” between its connections to Israel on the one hand, and an “American” agenda on the other.
- Construction and settlement in Judea and Samaria in a way that is seen as undermining a two-state solution, with an emphasis on construction in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and in areas beyond the major settlement blocs.
- Especially critical rhetoric directed against American leaders of either party by Israeli leaders and the heads of the American Jewish community.
The following table presents a summarized version of the conclusions from this project so far.