Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called Israel a “racist state,” touching off a controversy about America’s views toward the world’s only Jewish state.
The House on Tuesday passed a resolution pledging unfailing support for Israel, condemning antisemitism and declaring that the country is neither racist nor an apartheid state, in an implicit rebuke of Democrats who criticized the nation ahead of an address by its president to a joint session of Congress.
Americans have supported Israel since the minute of its re-birth in 1948, when President Harry Truman recognized the country. Large majorities of Americans have told pollsters that they supported Israel for more than seventy years—one of the most durable results in American polling. What’s more, America is home to more Jews than any other nation on Earth, including Israel itself. Until recently, support for Israel was nearly unanimous in both political parties.
Israel’s demography is far more complex than critics like Rep. Jayapal imagined. One of out every five Israelis was either born in Morocco or the parents of Moroccans. Another fifth hail from elsewhere in North Africa or East Africa, such as the Ethiopian Jews, many of whom were airlifted out to Israel in the 1980s. Then there are the Israelis from the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. Then there are Jews who hail from the former Soviet Union, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and other eastern lands. And, of course, there are European descendants of the Nazi horror. And all of that only counts the Jews.
Israel also has many Christian and Muslim citizens who fully participate in public life. Indeed, more than a baker’s dozen of Muslims sit in Israel’s Knesset, the country’s parliament. Non-Jews enjoy full constitutional rights in Israel, something that cannot be said of non-Muslims in many nearby states.
Comparing Israel to Apartheid South Africa, a now well-worn cliché, ignores the reality that is visible to anyone who stands on an Israeli sidewalk.
That this controversy erupted during the Israeli president’s visit to Washington DC, who told the press in the Oval Office that he had brought a message of greetings and gratitude from “the whole country of Israel, from all sides of the political spectrum,” only added fuel to the fire.
It is true that the differences exist, and they are publicly aired by the Biden administration, but the American public’s support for Israel has never wavered.
The U.S.-Israel relationship is not simply the convenient overlap of shared interests in fighting terror and promoting democracy. It is far deeper. American non-Jews support Israel in larger numbers than American Jews, according to numerous polls. Christian evangelicals, who make up nearly one-third of the U.S. population, support Israel in numbers approaching unanimity. More than half of the U.S. Catholics tell pollsters that they support Israel.
Why do so many U.S. Christians support Israel? One reason is a Bible-focused religion makes Israel a familiar place, at least in the mental maps of many believers. It does not seem far away or even all that foreign; they have grown up reading and hearing about ancient Israel and seemingly have no trouble translating that into an affection for modern-day Israel.
Another reason is a parallel history. Like America, Israel was settled by farmers and homesteaders . Yet they persevered and built a modern country that waters fruit trees in its deserts and invents software companies in its cities. It is a nation that doesn’t like war, but fights vigorously when attacked and invariably wins. It doesn’t revolt against unpopular rulers; it patiently votes them out.
Perhaps the biggest reason for warm feelings is that both countries have similar institutions and shared values: elected government, social tolerance, dynamic capitalism, the supremacy of law, a reverence for the past, and a passion for innovation.
But Israel is not America in one important respect: it has real extremes that could tear the tiny country apart. In the 1960s, Palestinian politics took a feverish turn, and extreme regimes, like Iran, have funded violent factions for decades including Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In response, an extreme Zionism emerged. While it does not carry out terror attacks, it advocates for extreme policies that would result in many Arabs being deported from the land where they were born.
Tragically, but inevitably, these two extremes feed off each other, threatening to ignite a scorched-earth civil war of undiluted barbarism.
Here the parallel with America ends. Even America’s newest immigrants only want to join American society, not end its existence. Partisans of both sides cite the U.S. Constitution as their friend and fear that the other side will tear it up. Americans, of all political stripes, seek only readjustments, not revolutions.
The strength of American constitutional institutions has made it the most powerful and influential country in the world. Since its institutions work, Americans know that America will remain America, no matter who is elected to Congress or to the presidency. They may say something different on social media or at political rallies, but no American really believes, deep down, that their elected representatives would dynamite the national institutions.
Israel’s future has been in doubt since its beginning. Its neighbors have taken many decades to acknowledge its legitimacy. Terror groups send rockets and set bombs. Even a sizable plurality of its Arab citizens say that it shouldn’t exist. This is a social challenge far beyond anything that any other industrial democracy must endure. And yet those who call for Israel’s end are not jailed, beaten, or driven from their jobs. Their remarks are shrugged off; their democratic rights are respected.
Israeli openness had also created a dynamic economy. In Tel Aviv, citizens continue to experiment, test, and invent-both software systems and new social ideas.
America and Israel should not doubt the strength of their democracies. The aftermath of dramatic campaigns in both countries shows that a system of government that lets the people rule has the energy to survive and thrive.
At pivotal moments in its history, Israelis have delved into the writings of Zionism’s founders and found a way forward. Today, the words of David Ben-Gurion still ring true: “We don’t have the approach of the German Social Democrats. . . of the British Labor Party. . . [or] Soviet communism. We have paved our own way.”
While the danger of Iran and its proxies are still there, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s greatest challenge is to rely on this exceptional friendship between the two countries to strengthen the Abraham Accords, which brought peace between four Arab lands and Israel in 2020.
Today, a new hope has emerged, to open a new chapter in Palestinian history, The young Palestinians really want peace, prosperity, and dignity.
Rather than faulting Netanyahu’s controversial judicial reform, the Biden administration would be wise to build on the Abraham Accords. The American public would remember those efforts during an election year and enjoy vast, bipartisan support. Peace is always worth a chance.
Ahmed Charai is the Publisher of Jerusalem Strategic Tribune. He is on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council, the International Crisis Group, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and the Center for the National Interest.