When we talk about the "special relationship" between Israel and America, we describe shared values like commitments to democracy, freedom and self-determination. And as Americans, we like to think about Israel as our Middle Eastern doppelganger. Foundational American narratives dovetail nicely with Israeli ones - humble pioneers fleeing persecution to build a bright new country through hard work and determination.
But these narratives obscure the fact that American and Israeli successes are built on injustice and theft. The first Americans massacred Native Americans and took their land in the name of Manifest Destiny. The first Israelis did the same, most famously murdering the 107 inhabitants of Deir Yassin during the Israeli War of Independence, known in the Arab world as the Catastrophe. Today, Israel remains engaged in a slow annexation of Palestinian lands in violation of the Geneva Convention, though we use the word "settlers" instead of "colonists."
I don't see that support for Israel is an automatic expression of American values - at least not the ones we're proud of. For example, Americans like to talk about tolerance and equal opportunity. As President Obama said in his victory speech last week, "It doesn't matter whether you're black or white, or Hispanic or Asian or Native American, or young or old, or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight - you can make it here in America if you're willing to try." And the audience erupted in cheers. In contrast, Israel's immigration policy explicitly discriminates on the basis of race and religion. The Right of Return guarantees citizenship to all Jews while barring Palestinians and Arabs. It's been said that Tel Aviv is the only major city in the world without any Arab or Muslim inhabitants. The word "apartheid" is unnecessarily inflammatory, but does accurately describe the Israeli policy of separating Israelis and Palestinians.
Pro-Israel Americans often talk about supporting the only democracy in the Middle East. But this same democracy denies political autonomy to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and detains them for months at a time without a charge or legal representation. We like to think that people around the world look up to America as a beacon of freedom, but our unwavering support for Israel makes it difficult to maintain that kind of moral superiority.
Moral issues aside, at a time of intense focus on spending and national debt it's time to challenge the sanctity of American aid to Israel. For example, Romney joked about cutting $445 million to PBS, but discussion of the $3 billion we send to Israel every year remains taboo. Interestingly, Israel is not a particularly cooperative ally. Of course, I am not suggesting that we cut all aid to Israel. But America could compel Israel to halt the construction of settlements and begin realistic peace negotiations with the Palestinians. That would be a true expression of American values.
Katherine Sola '14 would like to taste your vitriol. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.