The History of US Support for Israel Runs Deep, but With a Growing Chorus of Critics

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With President Joe Biden pledging unwavering support of Israel in its fight against the Hamas terror group, he’s the latest U.S. leader promising the United States’ commitment — an allegiance dating back to the Jewish state’s inception 75 years ago when President Harry S. Truman became one of the first world leaders to embrace the creation of the democratic country in the Middle East

“If you think of American history in the 20th Century and in the 21st Century, America’s enemies and Israel’s enemies were the same, whether it was Nazism, whether it was communism, whether it was Islamist extremism,” David Makovsky, director and senior fellow on Arab-Israel relations at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israeli American think tank in Washington, D.C., told ABC News.

Mark Mellman, president of the Democratic Majority for Israel, a U.S. organization that works to maintain and strengthen support for the U.S.-Israel alliance, said the friendship between the two countries was borne out of the United States’ effort to secure allies during the Cold War.

“America wanted allies, as many as we could get, and Israel was one of them,” Mellman told ABC News. “But there’s also … a long historical affinity, a belief that the Jewish people have a right to a state and a right to a homeland, in their historic homelands, which had been the homeland of the Jewish people for thousands of years. And that sort of biblical perspective, if you will, animated some Americans in this respect. But basically, we had two countries that had similar values and similar interests. Those have been the things that have really brought the United States and Israel so very close together.”

Mellman added, “There has always been an important level of bipartisan support for Israel. Both Democrats and Republicans have long been pro-Israel.”

However, there has also been a growing chorus of critics of Biden during his tenure, most prominently among progressive Democrats, including Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who was censured by her House colleagues for using a phrase that some said endorsed wiping the state of Israel off the map — an interpretation that Tlaib has denied.

“From the river to the sea is an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate,” Tlaib said in a statement on X. “My work and advocacy is always centered in justice and dignity for all people no matter faith or ethnicity.”

America’s support for Israel comes as the country was attacked last month. The militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel retaliated with a bombing campaign and military operation in the neighboring Gaza Strip.

In Israel, at least 1,200 people have been killed and 6,900 others have been injured since the Oct. 7 attack, according to Israeli officials. In Gaza, at least 13,000 people have been killed and over 30,000 have been injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. That unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza has complicated the U.S. relationship with Israel.

As the war rages on, the sympathy of some Americans appears to be shifting from Israel to the Palestinians in Gaza. A Quinnipiac University national poll of registered American voters released on Nov. 16 found that overall 54% said their sympathies lie more with the Israelis, down from 61% in an Oct. 17 poll. Meanwhile, 24% of American voters said they were more sympathetic to Palestinians, up from 13% in the October survey.

Among Democrats, 41% said their sympathies lie more with the Palestinians, while 34% said their sympathies lie more with the Israelis. In October, 48% said they were sympathetic to the Israelis and 22 percent said the Palestinians, according to the Quinnipiac poll.

Among American voters 18 to 34 years old, 52% of respondents in the Nov. 16 Quinnipiac poll said their sympathies lie more with the Palestinians, while 29 percent said they were sympathetic to the Israelis. The numbers indicated a sharp reversal from October when 41% said the Israelis had their sympathies and 26% said they were sympathetic to the Palestinians.

For Republicans, there is a combination of politics at play in terms of the evangelical community, which is very strongly supportive of Israel, Mellman said. Democrats, he said, are also close to Israel because they see Israel “as the only country in the Middle East that really shares our values in terms of things like freedom of expression, gay rights and an independent judiciary and rule of law and so many other things.” said Mellman.

The shared values between the two countries are especially what prompted Truman to publicly support Israel within days of a resolution approved on Nov. 29, 1947, by the U.N. General Assembly creating the Jewish state, Makovsky said. Since then, every U.S. president regardless of political party has bolstered that support and belief that “Israel is like us in America in terms of commitment to pluralism, in terms of commitment to being democratic and having an independent judiciary,” Makovsky said.

“These were ideas that were really near and dear to us as Americans,” Makovsky said.

Over the years, American presidents have attempted to find a path to peace between Israel and its neighbors. Makovsky said he was at the White House in 1993 when President Bill Clinton got then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands with Palestinian political leader Yasser Arafat over the Oslo Accords peace agreement between their two countries.

“It would be a day that would make even the most cynical person hopeful of a better future,” Makovsky said.

Israel, according to the U.S. State Department, receives $3.3 billion annually from the United States in foreign military aid.

“The reality is that military cooperation benefits the United States as well as Israel,” said Mellman. “It benefits Israel by also helping to deter attacks by very strong powers like Iran, which also helps the United States to prevent wider wars.”

Makovsky noted that having the backing of America, specifically militarily, has led Israel to “a great success story,” helping it survive wars that broke out in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973.

“When the U.S. Military aid comes, now we’re seeing Arab states making peace with Israel,” Makovsky said. “We saw this as an investment of peace. And indeed it worked because there were no wars between these countries since the ’73 war.”

Source: ABC News