2020 Annual Assessment

The declining US interest in leading the world order could cause a gradual erosion of Israel’s deterrence and perceived power, which are largely based on the American superpower’s friendship and aid. The isolationist trend could also threaten US annual aid to Israel and undermine American understanding and acceptance of Israeli actions that could be seen as opposed to US interests, such as Israel’s burgeoning economic relations with China. In this regard, it is instructive to note how the current administration acknowledges the importance of the Jewish side of the “triangle.” In a June 15, 2020 address during  American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Virtual Global Forum, Secretary of State Pompeo said, “We all must be alert to the Chinese Communist Party’s threat to our way of life. Standing against bad actors is at the core of America’s values. Both of our nations are rooted in respect for God-given rights, individual freedom and human equality.”4

The deepening ideological polarization in the United States, and Israel’s transformation into a partisan issue, have also harmed the triangular relationship. Wide dissemination and reiteration of Trump’s statement that Jews who don’t vote for his party “don’t love Israel enough,” makes it hard to sustain bipartisan support for Israel. The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that broad swaths of US Jewry are hostile to Trump and vote Democratic, while a large majority of Israelis are hoping for a Trump victory in the upcoming elections. Israeli support for Trump stems from an array of meaningful pro-Israel actions credited to the current president: the US Embassy move to Jerusalem, recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, overall acceptance of Netanyahu’s views on an agreement with the Palestinians, and a record of resolutely standing by Israel in the international arena – as on the issue of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) possible investigation of claims that Israel committed war crimes against the Palestinians in Judea-Samaria and Gaza. (The Court has yet to make an initial finding on the issue’s judicial merit.) Trump has bluntly attacked the ICC’s proceedings against the US and Israel, and has even signed an executive order sanctioning ICC staff (June 11, 2020).

The polarization of the two main US political parties over Israeli policy is not limited to the election campaign alone. A Gallup poll (April 2020)5 found that, while the American public has greater sympathy for Israel than for the Palestinians on issues related to the conflict, the percentage of those favoring Israel is much higher among Republicans (91 versus 67 percent among Democrats). And in fact, when the House of Representatives passed a resolution (December 6, 2019) supporting a two-state solution and cautioning Israel about annexation, most Democrats voted for the measure and most Republicans voted against it. In another emblematic split (June 2020) Democratic House members signed a letter opposing annexation, while House Republicans signed a letter in favor. The Black Lives Matter demonstrations that followed the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, and the concomitant radicalization of American political discourse, are reinforcing a tendency within the Democratic Party’s progressive wing to equate the plights of American Blacks and the Palestinians.

The annexation that was planned in Judea and Samaria could have strengthened the trend of portraying Israel as a racist state.

In a polarized US reality, Israel faces a growing temptation to seek immediate-term benefits from the supportive (Republican) side, while ignoring the possible longer-term price (unqualified support for Trump bears a cost, if only because he is loathed in Europe). This temptation is exacerbated by the fact that some of the Democratic presidential hopefuls did not hesitate to criticize Israeli policy: not only have intentions been voiced of cancelling the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, but there have been threats of cutting American aid to Israel should the latter take annexation measures.

This situation, in which attitudes toward Israel are becoming increasingly partisan, poses a major challenge for what has always been the strategic goal of Israeli governments: to maintain bipartisan US support, and to maintain the support and solidarity of American Jewry as a whole (most US Jews vote Democrat). Weakened intra-Jewish solidarity could make it more difficult to unify forces and mobilize to help Israel in an hour of need.

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