With the approach of the 2012 U.S. presidential elections scheduled for November, difficult questions have arisen about the significance of the Jewish lobby in those elections on the one hand, and its ability to influence the U.S. stance towards the Israeli establishment and its orientations on the other.
It appears that the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney's recent visit to Israel marked the beginning of a campaign to increase his support base and gain the trust of American Jewry, who number in the region of 5.5 million, and given the significant standing of the Jewish lobby in the U.S.
Accordingly, while in Israel, Romney declared that the U.S. should support the military option for putting an end to Israeli fears over Iranian nuclear ambitions. But more than this, one of his close associates asserted that Romney would respect any possible Israeli decision to launch strikes against Iran, even if they did so without getting the green light from the U.S.
In response, Obama has sought to appease the Israeli establishment by constantly talking about the strategic relations between the United States and Israel, and went even further than this by issuing several laws that would support Israel at all levels.
The two candidates and appeasement of the lobby
The election campaign is expected to be heated as both candidates; Barack Obama for the Democratic Party and Mitt Romney for the Republican Party, will seek to use all cards available to them in order to reach the White House.
Among the telling signs of the battle ahead are the attempts to appease and gain the trust of the Jewish lobby; whether to win the votes of key states such as Florida and Pennsylvania, or to gain financial support for the presidential candidate even though Jews make up less that 2% of the total U.S population.
Nevertheless, Jewish influence far exceeds their numerical strength owing to their effective organization and high levels of participation in voting during elections in general. More importantly, many Jews hold high-profile economic positions, alongside the obvious exclusivity they wield over the US media.
Accordingly, due to the relative importance of the capacity and influence of the well-organized Jewish lobby, both candidates have begun to make remarks indicating support for Israel. President Obama issued a law to support Israel's security through additional grants to finance the anti-missile Iron Dome project, and recently received several prominent Israelis. While in response, successive statements made by Romney – particularly during his recent visit to Israel– contain clear and public admissions regarding his views about Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel in addition to considering Israel's security a matter of importance to US national interest. On the other hand, he described the economic problems afflicting the Palestinian territories as not being a product of restrictions resulting from the occupation.
Israel, America, and the rock-solid bond
We can be certain that successive Israeli governments since 1948 have followed the Zionist movement's approach in relying on external allies. By linking its internal potential with external support, a certain type of force can be exerted in two directions. The first being to build and provide viability to the Zionist project, and the second being to conjure the strength needed to meet external challenges to Israel. Here we mean Israeli fears of its Arab surroundings which perceive it as a state established under exceptional circumstances, and at the expense of the Palestinian Arab people and their land.
In this context, in the mid-fifties Israel forged an alliance with France as a primary means of arming the Israeli army. It has also been able to build a strong relationship with former West Germany, and until the mid-seventies benefited from excellent German support in military and economic areas. Those relationships were preceded by the fact that Israel and the Zionist movement relied on the British support in the diplomatic, political and military arenas.
What is evident is that after its establishment in 1948, Israel was able to enlist America as an ally, which had a strong presence in the framework of international relations formed after World War II. Since that year, its relationship with the US has been characterized as 'special' when compared to US relations with other countries. Direct and indirect US aid to Israel appeared to be the key attribute in the context of US-Israeli relations.
The reason for forging these relationships lies in the role played by Israel in the context of American political and strategic interests in the Middle East on the one hand, and the Jewish lobby's role in maintaining US support for Israel at all levels: military, political and diplomatic, on the other hand.
Observers note that the war of June 1967 was the cut-off point between the stage when Israel merely played an important role in the context of US interests in the Middle East, and the stage when it began to play a more significant role; this has left its mark on the US's exceptional relations with Israel.
The ever-ready US veto
Israel has financed its wars and aggression against the Arab states through emergency annual US logistics aid. Various studies confirm that US aid emerged as one of the most important indicators of US-Israeli relations. Hence since 1948 successive US administrations have approved the strategy based on the development of an alliance with Israel and of strengthening it in the various political, economic, cultural, and diplomatic fields.
This was reflected in America's support for Israel in the corridors of international organizations and the use of the US veto against any attempts to pass resolutions condemning Israel's practices and its repeated aggressions against Arab states. One of the most important features of American support for Israel is the policy of exerting constant pressure on the UN, which was forced several years ago to revoke the international resolution which drew parallels between Zionism and racism.
However, US aid to Israel has always been a cornerstone in the context of constant US support for Israel. Such assistance has solved numerous Israeli economic crises such as inflation in the mid-eighties, and has limited the worsening of other economic crises. Not to mention its important impact on helping to modernise the Israeli military machine and equipping it with various advanced American technology, including planes and tanks among other things.
Returning to the issue of financial aid to Israel, various specialized studies indicate that the value of accumulated US aid to Israel between 1948 and 2012 has reached $ 116 billion – about 60% of which has been in the form of military assistance, and 40% in the form of economic assistance. It is estimated that the value of direct accumulated US government aid to Israel will reach about $ 125 billion by 2015.
It is worth noting lastly that despite 78% of American Jews voting in favour of Obama during the last elections, and that 68% of registered Jewish voters support him [as compared to 25% support for Romney, according to opinion polls prior to Romney's recent Israel visit], he still needs opportunities to emphasise more clearly his support for Israel's security and the various orientations of the Israeli establishment in order to secure a large percentage of the Jewish votes. This is because Obama has not visited Israel during the past few years, and during his presidency, US-Israeli relations have witnessed several crises regarding Israeli positions. This includes the issue of settlement expansion and Israel rejecting the principle of the freezing settlement activity in the West Bank.
The author is a Palestinian writer. This article is translation from the Arabic which appeared in al Jazeera, 27/9/2012
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.