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  You are in: Home > Middle East Studies > US Policy toward Israel  

US Policy toward Israel
The Role of Political Culture in Defining the ‘Special Relationship’

Elizabeth Stephens

Elizabeth Stephens is a Ph.D. graduate from the London School of Economics & Political Science, in the department of International Relations. Her research focuses on US foreign policy, the international relations of the Middle East and American political culture. She has worked as a researcher for the Gulf Research Centre, where she published a paper on the history, politics and economics of EU–GCC relations. She now works as a freelance writer for financial and academic publications.


The rationale for Washington’s enduring commitment to Israel has long been a puzzle. During the Cold War it was argued that democratic Israel was a natural ally amidst a world of semi-authoritarian and often pro-Soviet states,. But the Cold War is over, and the American commitment to Israel, a small state that is largely oil free, and of little tangible economic benefit, remains.

An alternative view is that the US commitment is underwritten by the Jewish lobby which exercises a disproportionate influence on American policy. Even when combined with the influence of Protestant fundamentalists who, for largely religious reasons, increasingly support Israel, it is still questionable whether interest group politics could determine American foreign policy to such an extent. Despite transitions between Republican and Democratic presidents, bureaucratic support for Israel remains relatively constant indicating that support for Israel is not a product of partisan politics but a given, firmly ingrained in political discourse.

This book explains the American commitment to Israel within a framework of political culture. Although political culture is not the sole explanatory factor in the development of US policy toward Israel, it has played a key role in serving to shape and define the American approach to foreign affairs, thus contributing to decisions and operations that cannot easily be explained solely in geopolitical, economic or military terms.


1 The Special Relationship
Defining Specialness
The Religious Foundations of the American–Jewish Relationship
The Historical Foundations of the American–Jewish Relationship
The Holocaust and the Transformation of American Jewry
Truman and the Recognition of Israel

2 Framing American Foreign Policy
The Components of Policy
The National Interest Perspective
The Strategic Interest Perspective
The Economic Interest Approach
The Domestic Politics Perspective
American Jews and the Pro-Israel Lobby
Christian Evangelicals and the State of Israel
Arab Americans and the Pro-Arab Lobby
Limitations of Domestic Political Influences on Foreign Policy Decision Making
Defining Political Culture
The Construction and Development of Political Culture
Adaptation and Change at Different Levels of Political Culture
Myths & Symbols
Elite and Mass
Political Socialisation

3 American Political Culture
The Evolution of American Political Culture
Defining American Political Culture
The Influence of Culture & History in American Foreign Policy toward Israel
The Marginalisation of the Holocaust
The Integration of Israel into American Culture
Israel and American Popular Culture
The Entry of the Holocaust into American Life
Shared Values and Practices
The Selection of the Case Studies

4 The Johnson Administration
Global and Regional Perspectives
The Evolution of US–Israeli Relations
Arms for Israel: The Special Relationship Begins
Prelude to Crisis
The Crisis of May 1967
Descent into War
The Six Day War
US–Israeli Relations under Pressure: The USS Liberty
Cultural Change and Israel’s Place in America
American Diplomacy and the United Nations
Popular Opinion and the Media
US-Israeli Diplomatic Relations in the Aftermath of War
Assessing Johnson’s Middle East Policy

5 Nixon, Kissinger and US Policy towards Israel
The Changing Place of Israel in the Mind of America
The Nixon Team: An Administration Divided
The War of Attrition
Reflection and Reassessment
Arms for Israel
The Cease-Fire Agreement
Crisis in Jordan
Israel as a Strategic Asset
Standstill Diplomacy
The October War
Re-arming Israel
The Financial Relationship Begins
Israel, the Holocaust and the Palestinians
Oil Politics
Nuclear Alert and the Cease-Fire Agreement
Step-by-Step Diplomacy
Public Opinion, Israel and the War
The Holocaust and American Life
The Final Assessment of the Nixon–Kissinger Partnership

6 Reagan, the Neo-Conservatives and Israel
Reaganism: The First Year
The AWACS Debate
The Israeli Invasion of Lebanon
The Conflict Intensifies
The Siege of Beirut
The Reagan Peace Plan
Sabra and Shatila
The Failure of the Reagan Plan
The Lebanese–Israeli Peace Initiative
Bitburg, Reagan and the American Jews
The Intifada and the Shultz Plan
The US and the PLO
Explaining the Reagan Administration’s Response to the Intifada
Reagan and the Neo-Conservatives
Assessing Reagan’s Middle East Policy

7 Bush, the Gulf War and Israel
The Conservatism of George Bush Sr.
Baker and America’s Middle East Strategy
Popular Opinion and the Peace Process
The American Reaction to the Shamir Plan
The Ten Point Plan
The Gulf War 1990-91
The Road to Madrid
Loan Guarantees and Settlements
The $10 Billion Question
Operation Solomon
Bush and Rabin
Bush’s Declining Fortunes

8 Framing American Foreign Policy in the New World Order
The Strategic Interest Approach
The Gulf War
Defending the New Strategic Interest
Nuclear Proliferation
Islamic Terror
Islamic Democracy
The Economic Interest Approach
The Domestic Politics Approach
Israel and the Pro-Israel Lobby
Israel and American Jewry
Who is a Jew?
Demographic Change in the American Jewish Community
The Future of Israel’s Relationship with the American Diaspora Community
Israel and American Christian Evangelicals
American Political Culture and Foreign Policy in the Twenty-First Century
George W. Bush and the State of Israel



“Dr Stephens’ book is a thoughtful examination of the foundations and complexities of the ‘special relationship’ between the US and Israel from 1948 to the present. As a work of contemporary importance, it should take the reader beyond simplistic notions of relations between Washington, Tel Aviv, and the rest of the world. As a work of academic scholarship, it should remain an essential study for years to come.” William Lucas, Professor of American Studies, University of Birmingham

“The special relationship between the United States and Israel has been the subject of much study and analysis over the decades of its existence. Explaining the phenomenon has enticed numerous scholars and observers to examine and often to complain about the relationship. This work is a useful contribution that facilitates our understanding of this phenomenon and suggests a number of new ways to think about the interaction of these two states.” Professor Bernard Reich, George Washington University, Washington, DC

“One of the many strengths of this absorbing book is that the religious upbringing of Presidents is explored. Lyndon Johnson, raised on Bible stories, believed in the right of the Jews to their own homeland and considered Islam incompatible with American political culture. Richard Nixon also underwent a religious immersion and saw Jews as congenial outsiders, appointing several to key posts in his administration. Ronald Reagan quoted the bible and, despite differences, the special relationship blossomed during his tenure of the White House. Editing horrific footage of the Nazi concentration camps imbued him with a moral obligation to ensure there was no repeat of the Holocaust

Written with aplomb, US Policy towards Israel is engaging and replete with measured judgements. Wisely it does not claim that political culture provides a one-size-fits-all explanation for the special US-Israeli relationship, but it does succeed in demonstrating that underlying historical, cultural and religious affinities brought the bonding to fruition and ensure its continuance. In short, it is an outstanding debut from an astute author who will go far, and it comes highly recommended.” Journal of American Studies


Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Paperback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
272 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Release Date:
Hardback:September 2005 Paperback:December 2013
  Illustrated:   No
Hardback Price:
£55.00 / $67.50
Paperback Price:
£25.00 / $37.95

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