A “Holy” War?

February 1st, 2012 - by Elise

In the summer of 1099, Jerusalem was seized and captured after one of the most brutal sieges of all time. Catholic crusaders from Europe slaughtered the remaining Muslims who sought refuge in the Dome of the Rock and the Temple of David. Fulcher of Chartres wrote, “In this temple 10,000 were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet coloured to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared.” 1 The crusaders then went on to the sepulchre where the Jews were hiding and burned them alive. These Muslims and Jews had fought side by side–working together to defend Jerusalem from the invading Christians.

The United States of America has been providing support and assistance to Israel ever since Israel’s establishment in 1948. The US government was the first in the world to recognize Israel’s statehood and began supplying aid to Israel immediately. In the early 60s, the United States began supplying Israel with weapons and ammunition. Ever since 1985, we give the Israeli government at least 3 billion dollars in aid every year. Go ahead and read that last sentence again: 3 billion dollars every year.

What has been bothering me (besides the ridiculous amount of aid we give out) is this: how did we pick a side? Jerusalem has been fought over, conquered, and demolished numerous times throughout history. We all know that it is a holy place for Christian, Jewish, and Islamic people.

What then, gave the United States the authority to determine who had the rights to the holy land? About 711,000 Palestinians were forced out of Israel following its creation. 2 Somehow, Americans place most (if not all) of the blame on them for the conflict over Israel. Politicians suggest that it is the Palestinians’ fault because they won’t accept a two-state solution; yet they fail to mention that in these proposed “solutions,” the state of Israel of course gets Jerusalem–and isn’t that what the conflict is all about?

In the January 26, 2012 Republican debate in Jacksonville, Florida, the candidates were asked about their views on US-Israeli relations. Newt Gingrich wanted the Palestinians to say, “we give up the right to return” while Mitt Romney declared, “We will stand by our friend, Israel.” No deeper explanation was offered as to why Palestinians should give up or why Israel is our “friend.”

Why do so many politicians and the majority of Americans agree that we have a duty to defend Israel?

Former president Jimmy Carter said, “The survival of Israel is not a political issue, it is a moral imperative.” Our support of Israel and involvement in the Middle East is seen by many as a duty to protect democracy or to spread freedom. Some Americans feel guilt over how much the Jews have suffered, saying, “We owe it to the Jews because of the Holocaust.” As I have struggled to understand this, I came up with two questions.

1. Is there actually a moral reason we should be involved in Israel’s affairs? I obviously feel that the answer is no. It is being painted as such so freedom-loving Americans can feel good about spending money and spending lives on Israel’s behalf. Why would we choose one religious group (Jews) over another (Muslims)? So what then is the underlying reason behind our support for Israel? Is our foreign policy really in the hands of puppets being controlled by AIPAC and Israel herself?

Some might feel we have a duty to defend Israel because it is the only democracy in the Middle East. Here, the definition of “democracy” obviously gets a little blurred; just because there is an election every few years where citizens vote does not equate to a democracy. Indeed, Israel’s open use of torture tactics, socialist programs, and government takeover of private property does not paint a very clear picture of democracy.

2. Is our involvement even doing anything good for Israel? Foreign aid almost always results in “taking money from the poor people of a rich country and giving it to the rich people of a poor country” (Paul). How does this protect the freedoms of the average Israel citizen? Are we prolonging and enabling the conflicts and wars by providing those weapons of war?  We have obviously not stopped the war or stabilized the region: ”a legal state of war has existed between Israel and her Arab enemies since…1948″ 3.

If no clear answer can be found as to why we are continuously supporting Israel, isn’t it time to stop pouring money that direction?

“The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.

“So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.” – George Washington, Farewell Address 4

Are we taking part in another “religious” crusade for the Holy Land that will just end in more lives being lost?

3 Responses to “A “Holy” War?”

  1. Quincy says:

    I think that for many Americans, the decision to support Israel is based primarily on religious belief and pity for what Jews had to suffer during the Holocaust. An example of this is found in the following video from a debate in Indiana among candidates for the 2010 republican nomination to the U.S. Senate:

    http://www.youtube.com/embed/65y3Zk6bUhU?start=424

    The candidate mentioned democracy and the war on terror, but his “most important reason” was religious, and that is what drew applause.

    I have always been a bit puzzled by the religious motivation. Israel as a political state is not the same as the house of Israel or the tribe of Judah mentioned in the Bible, and it doesn’t make sense to apply to it the promises and privileges given to biblical Israel.

    The pity argument, that the U.S. should support Israel because the Jews suffered so much during the Holocaust, doesn’t make sense either. History is full of examples of terrible suffering and brutal genocide, and the U.S. response has not been remotely proportional to its treatment of Israel. The Armenian genocide, in which over 1.5 million were killed, is a useful example because it has been a controversy for President Obama’s administration. Obama originally promised to recognize the Armenian Genocide. He has taken this statement off of his website, but an archived copy is available here (pdf). However, he has subsequently failed to do so. Moreover, Secretary of State Clinton recently said that recognizing the Armenian Genocide was a dangerous, and that it was still subject to historical debate. The reason for all the hemming and hawing about the issue is, of course, the U.S. relationship with Turkey–another strategic resource.

    I know that most of this is only tangentially related, but it is a good example of why it doesn’t make sense to justify supporting Israel out of pity for the Holocaust. The Holocaust was terrible and inexcusable, but that doesn’t mean that the U.S. should fund Israel for the rest of its existence.

  2. Wataru says:

    Lori: Israel is a doecmracy with fair elections, a free press, an independent judiciary and a diverse population. The idea that you or I can explain to them how to run their country or fight their battles is either condescending or foolish. There probably is a reason why Israelis (or at least Jewish Israelis) have decisively rejected the Left, and those who would preach to Israelis should probably understand that reason. What friends of Israel can do is support Israel, even when they disagree with the positions of its elected government. Probably a good start to supporting Israel would be to refrain from comparing it to a drunkard who beats people up. A good example of how to support Israel was provided by my evangelical Christian friends, who certainly opposed the withdrawal from Gaza and regarded PM Ehud Olmert as a doofus at best, yet still strongly supported Israel.With regard to Israel, I am uninterested in your self-assessment of your Zionism and Jewish identity. What interests me is your willingness to support Israel in word, deed and through your associations. In particular, I am interested in what you are doing to prevent Israel from being isolated, terrorized and overrun by murderous savages, or obliterated with nuclear weapons by genocidal fanatics. To me, that is the bottom line for supporters of Israel.I am not a blind supporter of Israel. I am keenly aware that Israel is not a utopia and not populated by saints. I would like it to be better (as I define better , of course), but as a Zionist I respect the choices of the Israeli people, because they have a lot more skin in the game than I do.Eliot: You are certainly within your rights as an American to urge the US government to reduce the amount of our tax dollars spent on aid to Israel? There are any number of reasons to advocate such a course of action, some of which are not animated by animosity to Israel. But if you do so with the intent or effect of coercing Israel to do actions that its elected government thinks are detrimental to its security, then honesty demands that you cease to refer to yourself as pro-Israel or Zionist.

  3. Adam says:

    This article was very thought provoking. After doing a little online research, it appeared to me that a strong motivating force behind the United States’ support of Israel is Christian Zionism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Zionism). “Christian Zionism is a belief among some Christians that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy.” Id. Religious motivations for political action are seldom stated explicitly, and other rationales are often used to justify actions that are based upon such motivations. Furthermore, religious motivations can be very strong and can exert a powerful influence on politics. However, I am somewhat puzzled that U.S. support of Israel has stayed relatively strong even as the U.S. has become increasingly more secular and less Christian since 1948 (realizing, of course, that only some Christians embrace Zionism). Perhaps motivations such as supporting democracy and maintaining a close ally in the Middle East have surpassed Zionism as political motivations for supporting Israel. Thanks for the well-written article.

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