Professors debate American support for Israel

On Thursday night, the College’s chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society hosted a debate on the controversial topic of American support for Israel. Arguing in favor of continued support was Steven David, professor at Johns Hopkins University and scholar of international politics and security; arguing against continued support was Brendan Green, visiting professor in political science.

Professor of Political Science and moderator James McAllister looked on while Steven David spoke on American support of Israel. Photo courtesy of Cole Leiter.

James McAllister, professor of political science, moderated the debate, which attracted a full house in Griffin 3.

The debate began with a series of opening statements. David emphasized three main justifications for the current supportive U.S.-Israel relationship: shared values, strategic support and domestic support. “[Israel] stands alone in the Middle East in terms of its commitment to democracy,” David said. “America admires this, and America should admire this.” David argued further that Israel is able to act quickly in American interests across the Middle East.

He also noted U.S. domestic support for Israel. “American support for Israel is strong and broad,” David said. He noted in particular that the American Jewish population, the evangelical population and the Republican Party are as a whole adamantly pro-Israel.

In Green’s opening statement, he clarified what he viewed as America’s national interest and proposed that a cost-benefit analysis be put in place to determine the worth of the current U.S.-Israel relationship and whether the U.S. government should make alterations. Green concluded that “the costs far outweigh the benefits, and thus the relationship must change.”

Green argued that the American relationship with Israel uses “all carrots and never sticks.” Support for Israel also enables anti-Americanism and terrorism, according to Green. It also perpetuates the desire for other Middle Eastern states to acquire nuclear weapons, he argued, given that the United States looked away as Israel developed its own arsenal.

“Israel gives us no help,” Green said. “There’s nothing they can do militarily that we can’t do ourselves … Israel is hung like an albatross around our neck. I propose we get rid of the albatross.”

Following the opening statements, both David and Green put forth rebuttals prior to a Q&A session.

David took issue with a number of Green’s primary arguments. “In terms of tangible interests, yes we want our security, and we should work for our security,” David said. “But we should want more than that.” Shared values are critical to the cost-benefit analysis, according to David.

Further, David claimed that Green’s conclusion on anti-Americanism is “dangerous and misguided.” He questioned the foundation of Green’s argument: “Do we want to send a message to terrorists that if they don’t like American foreign policy and kill 3000 people, that then we’ll change our policy? I think this sets a dangerous precedent,” David said.

Green countered, “There is no reason for the United States to have permanent standing alliances.” Given the strength of United States, Green argued, its alliances should be strategic and purposeful.

The fact that the United States stands alone as a superpower fundamentally informed Green’s analysis of how foreign policy should operate. “If people aren’t cooperating with us, we shouldn’t call them friends,” Green said. “If they act like jerks, we should call them out. If they do what we want, we should lavish money and wealth on them.”

Following the rebuttals, McAllister opened the floor for questions. Green and David fielded questions ranging from the Middle East peace process to spending on counter-terrorism.

Despite their differences on much of U.S.-Israeli relations, both David and Green agreed on the need for American involvement and leverage in the Middle East peace process.

“The Israelis and Palestinians can’t do it themselves,” David said. “The only country that has the leverage and the influence to do it is the United States, and I think this may be a point where Brendan and I agree. We have to put pressure [on both sides].”

However, David noted, “The Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity [for peace]. Since 1948, each time [a deal has been considered], the Palestinians say no.”

After the final question was answered, the two political scientists respectfully acknowledged their differences and laughed. “Don’t trust political scientists,” Green said in conclusion. “We know nothing.”