American support has been consistently strong, Aish speaker says


Democratic Presidents from Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama, and Republican Presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush have been supportive of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, but from differing perspectives, according to political analyst David Luchins. Luchins, professor of American Politics and International Relations at Touro’s Lander College of Women, spoke to about 125 people last Tuesday, April 28 at the Marilyn Fox Building of the Jewish Community Center.

Luchins’s topic, “Shifting Sands: American and Israeli Relations in a New Era,” was part of the Aish HaTorah Speaker Series, and in partnership with the JCC in celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day.


According to Luchins, Republican presidents and their administrations tend to frame support of Israel as a “strategic ally” of the United States, while Democratic Presidents tend to frame that support on “moral grounds and shared values.” He added that George W. Bush was the only president since the establishment of Israel in 1948 who based his support of Israel on both factors.

Luchins said each position has its plus and minus side. “Calling a nation a strategic asset can be somewhat cold and detached, when conditions change, while basing support on shared moral values sometimes puts pressure on Israel to meet higher than normal or practical standards of behavior,” he explained. “For example, from the latter viewpoint, if the Israelis had used sharpshooters to kill three pirates to rescue a ship’s captain as the United States did, they probably would have been criticized by the international community for using excessive force.”

Regarding the 2008 presidential election, Luchins said that neither Obama nor Republican nominee John McCain had especially extensive records of support for Israel, though both did express support during the campaign. Luchins also pointed out that “support for Israel is the only issue on which all candidates can agree. The only exceptions during the last presidential race were Congressman Dennis Kucinich on the far left among the Democrats and Ron Paul, on the far right of the Republicans. An example of the extent of the continuing bi-partisan support for Israel was the fact that in October of this year, the Foreign Aid bill passed with 94 votes in the Senate, which provides $1.5 billion a year in foreign assistance for Israel for each of the next 10 years. This is remarkable especially in the midst of the downturn in the economy.”

Referring to how support for Israel’s goals ebbs and flows among American politicians, Luchins recalled that his former boss, U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., had introduced a bill in 1974 to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “Since then, practically every presidential candidate has promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but after all these years, the embassy remains in Tel Aviv.”

As an example of how Israel is still treated differently from other nations, Luchins pointed out that when the Saudi King addressed Congress, it was called a “Joint Session,” while when the late former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin spoke, it was called a “Joint Meeting” of Congress. “The difference is,” Luchins said, “that at a Joint Session, the entire foreign policy team is required to be there, while in a Joint Meeting they do not have to be there. If the State Department total staff was present, it might offend the Arabs.”

Similarly, Luchins noted, when former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited President George W. Bush in Texas, Sharon stayed at a hotel, while when the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia visited Bush, he stayed in the house on the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas. “Of course we could not require the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to sleep in the same bed where the Prime Minister of Israel had previously slept.”

Discussing the support by Democrats of Israel as a moral asset and fellow democracy in the Middle East, Luchins recalled, “Senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson, of blessed memory said that support for Israel fulfilled the moral values of the United States. And Scotty Reston in The New York Times said, ‘Israel is our only ally that has the courage of our own convictions.'”

Luchins said that until the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the Cold War had “framed our vocabulary for looking at the world. There was the Free World, which included us, NATO, Western Europe and Israel, but also included such people as Franco of Spain, Salazar of Portugal and Chiang Kai-shek in China, hardly examples of democratic leaders….On Sept. 11 we found ourselves caught in the middle of an Islamic civil war between Sunnis and Shiites.

“We are not really involved in a war against terrorism,” Luchins said. “Saudi Arabia, counted as our ally, is the single most de-stabilizing and terrorist supporting regime in the world. So is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, counted in the list of our ‘allies’ against terrorism. The present delegations from Iraq and Afghanistan put in power by our troops, each year vote in favor of a U.N. resolution to expel Israel from the General Assembly.”

Turning to the tendency of Republicans to frame support of Israel as a strategic asset, Luchin said, “Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and especially the first Bush spoke of Israel as a strategic asset. But this framing can reduce Israel to a poker chip, which can be played either way. Thus it was that Eisenhower removed the tax exemption from Israel Bonds and forced Israel to withdraw from the Sinai in 1957; George Herbert Walker Bush cancelled the loan guarantees to Israel. If Israel is only a ‘strategic’ asset, it becomes expendable on issues in which America’s strategic influences conflict.

“The Democratic approach of viewing Israel as a moral asset means that we support Israel on moral grounds even when America’s strategic interests might be in conflict,” Luchins continued. “At the same time, these moral standards for Israel are often set unreasonably high in comparison to what we expect from other nations or even ourselves.”