Israel and the United States
Why should Americans care about the internal affairs of Israel?
By virtue of its foreign aid, the United States funds Israel at the rate of about $10,000,000 a day. If nothing else, Americans need to know how this money is being used and decide whether that is the best use of the American taxpayer's money. Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid. Secondly, as a member state of the United Nations and a signer of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United States must concern itself whenever human rights are disregarded. Israel's occupation of Palestine violates many human rights conventions. The United States is also a party to the Geneva Conventions and is obligated to uphold them along with other signatories such as Israel. The Fourth Geneva Convention concerns people under occupation.
In addition to the theological issues relating to the value of human life, church people are concerned that Palestinian Christians are emigrating due to the oppressive conditions under occupation. Churches are concerned that the Holy Land not become a museum of Christianity, but that living Christian communities be free to remain in the country of the birth of Christianity.
Doesn't the U.S. need to protect Israel for its own security in the area?
This was the argument made during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Currently many people believe that the United States is less secure because of its backing of Israel. By being associated with Israel's actions, the United States' standing in many parts of the world is undermined and the United States is less secure.
Is US support of Israel linked to the events of September 11, 2001?
Palestinian leaders, as well as international leaders, have stated that the events of September 11 were not directly prompted by the occupation. That the terrorists behind September 11 claimed to be supporting Palestinians does not mean that any Palestinian groups are connected to or, in turn, supportive of such terrorism. On the contrary, Palestinians leaders forcefully condemned this terrorism and expressed unwavering sympathy with Americans. Nevertheless, the long-standing instability in Israel and Palestine complicates U.S. relations throughout the Middle East and adds to the discontent with American policies in that area.
Prime Minister Sharon has taken advantage of the U.S. "War Against Terrorism" to dramatically increase Israeli military activity against the Palestinians, claiming to be participating in wiping out terrorism. The definition of terrorism is not agreed on internationally and many people claim that Israel's military activity is state-sponsored terrorism.
Should we support Israel because it is the only democracy in the Middle East?
This depends on how you define the essence of a democracy. Israel functions as a democracy but does not share the same moral values as other democracies. A democratic system like the U.S. is governed by the principle of equal rights for all. The rights of Arab citizens of Israel are not equal to the rights of Jewish Israeli citizens, even though Arab citizens have the right to vote, to freedom of religion and to freedom of speech. For instance, some Jewish organizations are given special governmental status and have authority for governmental functions, such as developing the land and building housing projects and settlements. The Palestinian Arab minority in Israel, which is commonly referred to as "Israeli Arabs" and accounts for about 20% of the population of the state of Israel (excluding the West Bank and Gaza), is excluded as beneficiaries. In addition many employment and housing preferences and benefits in Israel and economic opportunities in general are conditioned on military service. Most Arab citizens of Israel are not conscripted and do not serve. Jewish yeshiva (theological school) students do not serve in the military, but are still granted the benefits.
With regard to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank (including East Jerusalem), features of the occupation include expulsion, assassination, torture of prisoners, detention without charges or trial, and other measures that would not be considered signs of a democracy in the West. Because Israel has no constitution or Bill of Rights, the Court cannot rule that discriminatory laws are unconstitutional.
Isn't Israel acting in self-defense?
The term "self-defense" is completely subjective because it is defined by those engaging in it. It is also defined as against something or someone, who is then construed as evil or the enemy. The Palestinians are resisting the occupation and Israel's military actions constitute an effort to quell the resistance. Both would seem to be acting in self-defense. Media reports have often used terms such as "provocation" and "retaliation" which takes actions of both sides out of context and makes "self-defense" an even more dubious term. It is the Palestinians who have had the most deaths and injuries, homes demolished, trees and other agricultural products destroyed as well as their own land invaded.
Are we being anti-Semitic if we do not support Israel?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Anti-Semitism came into use around 1880 as a term to describe prejudice or actions against Jews. Actually Semites are a large language/cultural group that includes Hebrews and Arabs as well as those who speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The narrowing down of the definition came at the same time as the rise of Zionism and is a Western concept.
Anti-Semitism is a form of discrimination against a group of people and should not be tolerated. Criticism of Israel and its policies and practices is not anti-Semitic or even anti-Jewish since they are the policies and practices of a sovereign country, not a religious, ethnic or racial group. It might be called anti-Zionism.
Pro-Israel groups and individuals in the West wrongly use the term anti-Semitic to condemn anyone who criticizes the policies and practices of the State of Israel or challenges its myths. It needs to be made clear that the moral teachings of Judaism and its cultural and religious practices and the policies and practices of the State of Israel are not the same thing. Many Christians and Muslims support individual Jewish causes, especially in the field of peacemaking and humanitarian issues, and few oppose Judaism as a religion or culture.
How much money does the U.S. provide to Israel and what is it used for?
Since the money comes from different parts of the national budget, it is hard to pinpoint a specific amount for each year. The June 2003 issue of The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs says that U.S. support since World War II (in 2002 dollars) is well over $3500 billion dollars. They also estimate that $40 to $50 billion goes to Israel from private U.S. groups.
Additionally the government money is given in cash at the beginning of the fiscal year, so Israel can invest the money and gain the interest, a practice not followed with any other country.
The United States does not ask the Israeli government to account for its use of the money. Furthermore, U.S. law governs the use of U.S. arms sold to other countries, but the U.S. has never asked Israel to conform to that law. Economic development money has no restrictions and can be used for settlement development if Israel so chooses.
If the U.S. stops funding the Israeli military, won't Israel be destroyed by the Arab countries?
Since the U.S. funded the development of Israel's military for so many years, it is now one of the most powerful military nations in the world. It also has nuclear capability and no Arab nation (nor all of them combined) has the power to destroy Israel. Furthermore, Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties with Israel.
Will Israeli Jews have a safe place to live if Palestinian refugees return?
Israel will never be secure until the Palestinian situation, including refugees, is solved. In this sense, real security transcends the question of how Palestinian refugees would return to their homes.
There is also the question of whether the rights of Palestinians who fled or were expelled in 1948-49 should be respected as international law requires. Recently many Jews have been compensated for their labor in concentration camps and for their possessions that the Nazis appropriated. Some Palestinians are asking for a similar compensation, although in this case some would prefer to go back to their original homes. Actually most Palestinian refugees would like to move on from being stateless. Many proposals include Palestinians going to a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem).
What is AIPAC and how much influence does it have in the U.S.?
AIPAC is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It is one of the largest donors to election campaigns for those who agree with its policies on Israel. AIPAC has also been known to work to defeat congressional candidates who do not favor Israel. Its influence is largely through money, lobbying, and potential electoral opposition. The amount of money it has at its disposal is difficult to estimate since it makes suggestions to other national organizations and has state organizations in most states with separate budgets. The "Washington Report on the Middle East Affairs "publishes yearly financial figures.