The benefits of U.S. support no longer outweigh the costs.
The latest round of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians ended in the usual way: with a cease-fire that left Palestinians worse off and the core issues unaddressed.
It also provided more evidence that the United States should no longer give Israel unconditional economic, military, and diplomatic support.
The benefits of this policy are zero, and the costs are high and rising. Instead of a special relationship, the United States and Israel need a normal one.
Once upon a time, a special relationship between the United States and Israel might have been justified on moral grounds.
The creation of a Jewish state was seen as an appropriate response to centuries of violent antisemitism in the Christian West, including but hardly limited to the Holocaust.
The moral case was compelling, however, only if one ignored the consequences for Arabs who had lived in Palestine for many centuries and if one believed Israel to be a country that shared basic U.S. values.
Here too the picture was complicated. Israel may have been “the only democracy in the Middle East,” but it was not a liberal democracy like the United States, where all religions and races are supposed to have equal rights (however imperfectly that goal has been realized).
Consistent with Zionism’s core objectives, Israel privileged Jews over others by conscious design.
Today, however, decades of brutal Israeli control have demolished the moral case for unconditional U.S. support.
Israeli governments of all stripes have expanded settlements, denied Palestinians legitimate political rights, treated them as second-class citizens within Israel itself, and used Israel’s superior military power to kill and terrorize residents of Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon with near impunity.
Given all this, it is not surprising Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem have recently issued well-documented and convincing reports describing these various policies as a system of apartheid.
The rightward drift of Israel’s domestic politics and the growing role of extremist parties in Israeli politics have done further damage to Israel’s image, including among many American Jews.
In the past, it was also possible to argue Israel was a valuable strategic asset for the United States, though its value was often overstated. During the Cold War, for example, backing Israel was an effective way to check Soviet influence in the Middle East because Israel’s military was a far superior fighting force than the armed forces of Soviet clients like Egypt or Syria. Israel also provided useful intelligence on occasion.
The Cold War has been over for 30 years, however, and unconditional support for Israel today creates more problems for Washington than it solves.
Israel could do nothing to help the United States in its two wars against Iraq; indeed, the United States had to send Patriot missiles to Israel during the first Gulf War to protect it from Iraqi Scud attacks.
Even if Israel deserves credit for destroying a nascent Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 or helping develop the Stuxnet virus that temporarily damaged some Iranian centrifuges, its strategic value is far less than it was during the Cold War.
Moreover, the United States does not have to provide Israel with unconditional support to reap benefits such as these….