Israel and USA

Analysing their relation

  Articoli (Articles)
  Matteo Gabutti
  04 April 2024
  12 minutes, 42 seconds

Translated by Giulia Maffeis

It took over five months and more than 30,000 Palestinian casualties for the United States to withdraw its veto and allow the UN Security Council to impose an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

Among the bloody collateral damage of the current conflict is the breakdown of the US-Israeli relationship. Netanyahu's war campaign has indeed revitalized critics of Washington's unconditional and unwavering support for Tel Aviv.

Political figures of the caliber of Jewish Senator Chuck Schumer have even called for the removal of the Israeli Prime Minister, venturing into slippery and amphibious terrain. A terrain that makes it difficult to distinguish between anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and mere criticisms of the Israeli government, especially in the fog of war.

It is an inevitable terrain to contest American support for Israel.

Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, two of the most eminent neorealist authors in the field of international relations, are well aware of this.

The ‘Lobby’

This awareness emerges in the introduction of a controversial article co-written in 2006 for the London Review of Books,where the two academics distance themselves from any form of anti-Semitism. A necessary but insufficient caution, given the plethora of criticisms and accusations that greeted the publication.

It is difficult to imagine a different outcome given their thesis, according to which "the thrust of US policy in the [Middle East] region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and in particular from the activities of the 'Israel Lobby.'"

This latter expression embraces a conglomerate of individuals and organizations, united not by a single leadership, agenda, or value scale, but rather by active commitment to directing Washington in favor of Tel Aviv. Therefore, Walt and Mearsheimer deny that the Lobby includes all US citizens of Jewish origin - estimated at 7.5 million in 2020, or 2.4% of the entire population. Above all, they reject the idea of a monolithic entity acting in favor of darkness, a dark reminiscence of the twentieth-century historical forgery of the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion.'

That said, the beating heart of the Lobby would be AIPAC, a bipartisan lobbying group of around three million members with the declared intent of strengthening and expanding relations between the USA and Israel. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee would play a central role in the Lobby's two objectives: ensuring congressional and executive support for Tel Aviv, and softening Israel's public image through think tanks, the media, and universities.

As a result, Washington would provide Tel Aviv with constant, albeit costly, economic and reputational support, exposing itself to Arab hostility and Islamic terrorism. The Lobby's influence would thus harm American national interests, as demonstrated by its critical, albeit not exclusive, role in President Bush Jr.'s ill-fated decision to invade Iraq in 2003, or in the deterioration of US relations with Iran.


Beyond the controversial thesis, the article is not immune to methodological criticisms.

Walt and Mearsheimer provide examples in an almost anecdotal form, citing excerpts from interviews and often relying on journalistic sources, betraying a lack of academic rigor and depth of research. Certainly not helping was the absence of footnotes, present instead in a version of the article published for the Harvard Kennedy School - where Walt is a Professor of International Affairs - and in the bestselling book that followed.

Moreover, despite the cautious clarifications, the cohesive Lobby outlined in the article risks overly flattening the heterogeneity of the American Jewish population.

AIPAC indeed remains by far the leading pro-Israel lobby in the United States. According to OpenSecrets - a nonprofit organization that monitors money flows in American politics - with over $7 million donated in 2024 alone, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee would be the 27th organization out of nearly 30,000 for contributions to Democratic and Republican candidates.

Nevertheless, it is not a monopoly. Excluding non-Zionist or anti-Zionist groups, Professor of Israeli Studies Dov Waxman distinguishes at least three pro-Israel lobbies: a centrist one, led by AIPAC and focused on presenting a united front in support of the current Israeli government, and two more politically ideologized, respectively on the right and on the left, and therefore more ready to criticize Tel Aviv when it deviates from their ideals.

Furthermore, Waxman criticizes Mearsheimer and Walt for having mixed in the same pot formal lobbies like AIPAC with think tanks, individuals from the American Jewish community, Christian-evangelical Zionists, and neoconservatives. Above all, the latter are not entirely overlapping with AIPAC, despite often drawing similar conclusions - as regarding the intervention in Iraq - and despite having pro-Israel sympathies, since their first concern is the United States.

The ‘Lobby’ thesis suffers from simplifications that likely reduce its explanatory scope, albeit not refuting it. Other elements are therefore necessary to reconstruct the case of the alliance between Washington and Tel Aviv.

Cold War

The common belief traces this strong relationship back to President Truman's recognition of the State of Israel, which came a few minutes after its proclamation on May 14, 1948. A broader historical perspective, however, reveals both a prior American interest in the Zionist cause and a less firm and consistent support than is apparent from Walt and Mearsheimer's article.

The "special relationship" between the two countries, as defined by President Kennedy, would have blossomed in the context of the Cold War for purely geo-strategic reasons. The Middle East became one of the privileged theaters in the confrontation between the USA and the USSR, given that the superpowers shared interests in the region and its resources, intervention readiness, and the tendency to exploit ethnic and religious differences to their advantage.

In this scenario, while the Soviet Union favored the Arab regimes of Egypt and Syria, Israel became the natural ally for the United States, building a bond that survived the fall of the Berlin Wall and Cold War logics.

In this sense, current US support for Israel could represent a form of path dependence, i.e., the tendency to follow a certain path under the influence of past events or decisions, which end up becoming binding. Although not incompatible with the thesis of the 'Israel Lobby,' the legacy of the Cold War adds another nuance to a polychromatic picture.

Quo Vadis?

Although not flawless or exhaustive, Walt and Mearsheimer's article certainly had the merit of opening a debate on pro-Israel influence within the US government, as well as on the validity of the "special relationship" between Washington and Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu's government action in the Gaza Strip, and the reputational and moral cost it entails, has put these issues back in the spotlight. As noted in a previous article, the Biden Administration itself, which in the wake of Hamas's attack on October 7 promised and kept "rock-solid and unshakable" support for Israel, is showing timid signs of frustration.

Despite some signs of wear and tear, the bond between the two countries remains strong and tangled.

As emphasized by Walt himself, moreover, the influence that the United States can exert on its client and ally is often overestimated. Although Israel still depends heavily on American economic and military aid, a stern phone call from Biden is not enough to impose a change of strategy on Netanyahu - who has said he is ready to trample the White House's "red line" on the invasion of Rafah.

Indeed, the two political leaders further complicate the situation, demonstrating the centrality of analyses focused on the individual level.

The tendency of the American president to invest politically in personal relationships and the obstinate character of the Israeli prime minister are not mere curiosities but indispensable variables within an equation that unfolds even before the existence of the State of Israel.

The current conflict has exacerbated the contradictions and internal tensions within the 'special relationship.'Whether it will end up resolving them or breaking them remains to be seen.

Mondo Internazionale APS - All Rights Reserved ® 2024

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Matteo Gabutti


Matteo Gabutti è uno studente classe 2000 originario della provincia di Torino. Nel capoluogo piemontese ha frequentato il Liceo classico Massimo D'Azeglio, per poi conseguire anche il diploma di scuola superiore statunitense presso la prestigiosa Phillips Academy di Andover (Massachusetts). Dopo aver conseguito la laurea in International Relations and Diplomatic Affairs presso l'Università di Bologna, al momento sta conseguendo il master in International Governance and Diplomacy offerto alla Paris School of International Affairs di SciencesPo. All'interno di Mondo Internazionale ricopre il ruolo di autore per l'area tematica Legge e Società, oltre a contribuire frequentemente alla stesura di articoli per il periodico geopolitico Kosmos.


Matteo Gabutti is a graduate student born in 2000 in the province of Turin. In the Piedmont capital he has attended Liceo Massimo D'Azeglio, a secondary school specializing in classical studies, after which he also graduated from Phillips Academy Andover (MA), one of the most prestigious preparatory schools in the U.S. After his bachelor's in International Relations and Diplomatic Affairs at the University of Bologna, he is currently pursuing a master's in International Governance and Diplomacy at SciencesPo's Paris School of International Affairs. He works with Mondo Internazionale as an author for the thematic area of Law and Society, and he is a frequent contributor for the geopolitical journal Kosmos.


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