Over the past two months, I’ve been part of a dedicated group of advocates for Palestine engaging in conversations within the halls of Congress, urging recognition of Palestinian humanity, and simply pleading for the U.S. to condemn the violence in Gaza. “Can you please call for a ceasefire so civilian children, women, and men aren’t slaughtered by the hundreds, sparing them from the fate of having their body parts carried in bags for burial?”
As I navigate the echoing corridors of Congress, the struggle to persuade lawmakers contrasts sharply with the fervent protests flooding the streets of Washington, D.C.
Alongside fellow advocates for Palestine, a pressing question lingers: How did the United States become entangled in a complex alliance seemingly at odds with the sentiments of its citizens? To unravel this, let’s delve into the extensive history of the U.S. relationship with Israel.
Unwavering Alliance at a Grave Cost
Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the alliance between Israel and the United States has been underpinned by a complex web of factors. The initial bond was forged in the aftermath of World War II, as the U.S. recognized a moral imperative to provide a homeland for Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.
The sense of moral obligation to uplift a Jewish state (built at the cost of the indigenous peoples of the land) solidified the alliance’s foundation. During the Cold War, the strategic alignment of the two nations against Soviet influence in the Middle East further strengthened their ties. At the same time, influential domestic lobbying, notably from Zionist groups, played a pivotal role in shaping U.S. policies and fostering unwavering support for Israel.
The lasting partnership has inflicted significant suffering on Palestinians through decades of
brutal occupation, apartheid, and settler colonialism. The alliance, rooted in perceived shared values and geopolitical interests, has inevitably prolonged Palestinian hardship, urging a critical assessment of its ongoing implications.
The U.S. Enables Israel’s Occupation
Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip has been intensified by incidents widely deemed as war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to Amnesty International, an organization that advocates for human rights worldwide. Additionally, the crime of genocide surpasses the realm of a typical conflict.
The U.S.’s enablement of Israel’s crimes traces back to the inception of the state in 1948, during the Nakba, when approximately 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled and displaced from their homes. The lack of U.S. accountability for these actions set a precedent that persists today, fostering a climate where war crimes have occurred without the necessary scrutiny and consequences.
One egregious example is the construction and expansion of settlements in the West Bank, a direct violation of international law, specifically the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its civilian population into the territory it occupies. The continued expansion of these Israeli settlements further entrenches the occupation and undermines the livelihood of Palestinians.
The deliberate and indiscriminate targeting of civilian infrastructure and populations during
Israeli military operations has regrettably evolved into a longstanding pattern. The most obvious example is the recent surge in Israel’s bombing of Gaza since early October of 2023, evoking a distressing déjà vu reminiscent of the war on Gaza in 2014. During that period, residential areas, schools, and hospitals were extensively bombed, resulting in a staggering civilian casualty toll.
Despite being the worst attack on Gaza at the time, the events of the last 60 days have tragically surpassed the previous death tolls, including that of the Nakba and Israeli invasions of the past decades combined, highlighting a disturbing escalation.
These actions not only violate the principles of distinction and proportionality, as enshrined in international humanitarian law, but also underscore an alarming persistence in tactics that disproportionately harm Palestinian civilians. Organizations such as Amnesty International and the United Nations have consistently documented and reported these violations, providing evidence of a concerning pattern of behavior that demands urgent international attention and accountability.
Additionally, the severe restrictions on the freedom of movement imposed on Palestinians in the West Bank and particularly in Gaza amount to collective punishment and contribute to the humanitarian crisis.
Many notable human rights organizations have acknowledged that Israel’s policies, particularly in the Gaza Strip, implicate a genocide designed to bring about the physical destruction of a national, ethnic, or racial group, as defined by the UN Genocide Convention. The ongoing 17-year blockade of Gaza, coupled with military operations causing mass civilian casualties, has led to an immense humanitarian crisis, prompting concern about the impact on the Palestinian population’s well-being and future.
The More Americans See, the Less They Favor Israel
Over the past decade, there has been a gradual but discernible shift in the American public’s perception of Israel’s actions and apartheid system. This transformation has been fueled by increased access to information, grassroots activism, and a heightened awareness of the human rights violations Palestinians endure.
However, the last eight weeks have marked an unprecedented acceleration in this shift. As Israel’s actions, including the crime of genocide, become more pronounced, a growing number of Americans are waking up to the harsh realities faced by Palestinians. This challenged the once-prevailing narrative of unwavering support for Israel.
This shift is underscored by recent polling data, revealing a significant change in the stance of Americans. A striking 68% of Americans and 80% of Democrats align with the call for an immediate ceasefire, reflecting a departure from previous alignments. A growing number of Americans now believe that Israel should not be receiving military aid from the U.S., indicating a substantial reevaluation of the U.S.-Israel alliance within a traditionally staunch demographic.
These statistics signal a crucial turning point, suggesting that the American public is increasingly unwilling to endorse actions that contradict their moral values and human rights principles.
Why is the U.S. Pledging Allegiance to the State of Israel Instead of its Constituents?
Despite a notable shift in public sentiment, the persistence of unwavering support for Israel in U.S. foreign policy is intricately tied to the formidable influence of the Zionist lobby, with organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) playing a central role. The Zionist lobby’s assertive and well-funded lobbying efforts have long been a powerful force shaping political decisions, creating an environment where politicians face substantial pressures to maintain the status quo in their support for Israel. AIPAC, in particular, has demonstrated an aggressive approach to advancing pro-Israel policies on Capitol Hill.
By blurring the lines between legitimate criticism of a government’s policies and bigotry towards Jewish individuals, the lobby stifles open dialogue. It undermines efforts to address Israel’s human rights violations.
AIPAC is just one of many Zionist groups impacting elections and legislation. For example, during the 2022 midterm elections, Zionist groups collectively spent over $70 million. This significant financial backing demonstrates the considerable resources these groups mobilize to influence political outcomes. The funds were utilized to support candidates who aligned with an extremist pro-Israel agenda and to counter dissenting voices, particularly those critical of Israeli policies.
Notably, the top recipients of these pro-Israel contributions were Democrats. This included candidates like Shontel Brown (D-OH) and Haley Stevens (D-MI), who ran in contested Democratic primaries against opponents labeled as ‘anti-Israel’ by the right-wing Israel lobby — the financial support aimed to influence the outcome, favoring candidates perceived as more pro-Israel.
The financial backing of candidates aligned with right-wing Zionist views extended to key figures in Congress. For example, Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who became the House Democratic Leader, experienced a massive increase in pro-Israel contributions, likely tied to his anticipated role. Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) also received significant pro-Israel funding.
Why did Zionist groups spend so much money to impact the midterms? The increase in spending and contributions was a response to the growing support for Palestinian rights in Congress. Newer members like Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Andre Carson (D-IN), and Cori Bush (D-MO), who openly spoke about the struggles faced by Palestinians, attracted attention and support, prompting a heightened reaction from right-wing Zionist groups.
These well-funded Zionist groups use their enormous wealth and revenue to lobby for unconditional support for Israel as the default position in American politics. In 2020 alone, lobbyists spent $224,925,359 in furtherance of Zionist causes, which was three times more than the annual spending of pro-Palestine organizations lobbying for Palestinian human rights.
The financial power of the U.S. pro-Israel industry, as evidenced by the top ten Zionist groups, far surpasses that of other ideological groups. Collectively holding over $500 million in assets, these organizations dwarf the assets of pro-Palestinian and liberal Zionist organizations. The disparity in financial resources allows pro-Israel groups to have a disproportionate impact on American politics.
One of the concerning aspects of this influence is the lobby’s role in perpetuating the dangerous conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism. By blurring the lines between legitimate criticism of a government’s policies and bigotry towards Jewish individuals, the lobby stifles open dialogue. It undermines efforts to address Israel’s human rights violations. This conflation serves to shield
Israel from accountability and suppress dissenting voices, ultimately inhibiting a nuanced and honest discussion on U.S.-Israel relations.
The U.S. government’s unconditional funding of Israel’s military, despite mounting evidence of war crimes and human rights violations, raises profound ethical concerns. The financial support provided by the U.S. not only enables the continuation of the occupation but also sends a troubling message that undermines the principles of justice, human rights, and international law.
The persistently close alignment with Israel, driven in large part by lobbying efforts, reflects a stark disconnection from the values of justice and accountability that the American public increasingly demands in its foreign policy. As the Zionist lobby continues to wield influence, the ethical implications of such dynamics necessitate a critical reevaluation of the entrenched patterns that have defined U.S.-Israel relations.
The End of a Status Quo
As we witness the harrowing consequences of Israel’s recent actions, marked by collective
punishment, war crimes, and a disturbing intent that echoes genocidal rhetoric, a stark
dissonance emerges between the longstanding U.S.-Israel alliance and the values held by the American public. The brutal reality faced by Palestinians over the last two months, coupled with the historical toll of decades-long occupation, demands a reckoning with the ethical implications
of the United States’ enablement.
While the U.S. government may continue to uphold the alliance, the people are waking up to a new reality. The last eight weeks have seen unprecedented statistics reflecting a growing unwillingness to endorse actions contradicting evolving moral values. The Zionist lobby has played a substantial role in perpetuating the disconnect between public sentiment and government policies, promoting a narrative that stifles open dialogue and hinders accountability.
The glaring ethical concerns arising from the Zionist lobby’s influence, coupled with the stark divergence between American values and U.S. policies, demand a thorough reevaluation of the historic alliance with Israel. As the American public increasingly asserts its voice in favor of justice, human rights, and international law, the time has come for the U.S. government to align its foreign policy with its constituents’ principles and moral compass. The enduring impact of well-funded lobbying efforts must no longer hinder a just and accountable approach to U.S.-Israel relations.
Despite the clear violation of international laws, Israel has remained the most significant recipient of U.S. foreign aid, having received some $263 billion between 1946 and 2023, with a $3.8 billion annual memorandum. This unconditional financial support has made the U.S., utilizing constituent tax dollars, not only complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestine but also a direct accomplice. It’s long overdue for the status quo, rooted in decades of unwavering support, to end.
Ayah Ziyadeh is a Palestinian-American human rights scholar, advocate, and writer. Ayah holds a master’s degree in International Human Rights from Josef Korbel School of International Relations. Throughout her graduate studies, she specialized in the occupation of Palestine, with a focus on the settler-colonial project, Islamism, and the dynamics of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Currently, Ayah serves as the advocacy director for Americans for Justice in Palestine Action and American Muslims for Palestine.