I likely cannot say what I want to say on the topic of Israel and U.S.-Israel relations in a realistic amount of time, so I will break down the rest of this series of related stories in the confines of the next two editions of TKS.
I will focus on the escalation of the United States’ relationship with Israel and what allowed the relationship to become what it is today. This happened during the last half of the administration of President Lyndon Johnson.
President Johnson’s grandfather was a preacher of an obscure sect of protestant Christianity called Christadelphianism. Christadelphians believe that Jews are the chosen people, something they have in common with only the religious dogma of Judaism itself.
While, the Christadelphian viewpoint on this is more complex than that of what I have articulated, there is no need to go further in depth on this subject, due to its lack of relevance to the subject at hand. In fact, when President Johnson was Congressman Johnson in the 1930s and 1940s, he spearheaded a failed effort to change the federally mandated and enforced immigration quota to allow Jews persecuted in Nazi Germany to be able to immigrate to Texas without any interference with the federal quota. This was ultimately rejected by congress, likely due to pressure from the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration.
For the next several decades the United States vigorously recognized Israel and supported them in the United Nations, but it wasn’t until the mid-1960s when Johnson was President in his own right that the United States-Israel relationship escalated to a scale it still is at today. It was around the time public opinion started to shift in the war in Vietnam that President Johnson was able to persuade the United States to increase support for Israel. This was due in part to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which increased the President of the United States’ war power, thus enabling Johnson to not have to politick as much as he would have otherwise.
In addition, Johnson realized he needed a foreign policy success to get re-elected or even re-nominated in 1968. Johnson knew that gathering support for Israel would be tough when there was opposition to this move on both the right and the left of President Johnson.
This opposition on the left was much smaller, in part due to a much heavier domestic focus from the American left. On the right there was still many anti-semitic attitudes, but a case could be made to the right about how this move could help solidify the United States’ strength over the Soviet Union. For most of Israel’s brief two decade history, Israel only had one major party, a social democratic leaning party that advocated for a more diplomatic form of Zionism. This party was ambivalent about the bipolar system that personified the Cold War and thought Israel would be the most secure by not getting too involved in the Cold War.
The United States and the Soviet Union tried to persuade Israel to join their respective sphere of influence. Yet, many American officials wanted a second, more neoliberal leaning party to form, yet when that party did form, it was no more neoliberal than the original party. The difference it did have was that it had a more jingoistic and militant message despite a nearly identical domestic message. Due to this, Johnson was able to begin to convince policymakers that the United States could be able to support Israel by revitalizing its military.
Johnson tried to implement this policy when it looked like Israel would be at war again with many Arab states, which mostly had some role in the Soviet sphere of influence.
Yet, the war was short and Israel lost much of its land to neighboring countries, Egypt and Palestine. Both Egypt and Palestine were becoming more integrated within the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. Through being able to more directly relate this to the overall United States versus Soviet Union battle that occupied the Cold War, Johnson was able to assure the support for Israel like he wanted. As a result, Israel became increasingly militaristic and had a much larger role in the foreign arena because of backing from the United States. These wins were attributed to the more jingoistic party in Israel, which after the incorporation of more religious Jews became the Likud Party, the party currently led by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Within the United States the Vietnam War was becoming even more unpopular and President Johnson was not willing to back down from the criticism he was getting. Since his assistance to Israel was more subtle than he wanted, he still lost a lot of the support he needed from the left to get renominated. The support he gained from the left mainly consisted of a handful of the disproportionate amount of Jews on the American Left. Yet that support diminished after a more liberal, anti-Vietnam war candidate was thrust into the primary against President Johnson: New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy also held similar views on Israel as President Johnson, thus making the little support he gained from his policies concerning Israel temporary. Nonetheless, the increasing support for Israel among Americans remains to this day.