The $36 Billion Bargain: Strategy and Politics in U.S. Assistance to Israel

Why does the U.S. government provide such generous support to Israel? I asked this obvious question early in my post 9/11 research into the origins of Salafist extremism [Islamist terrorism]. A number of reference threads recommended this study by A. F. K. Organski (reviewed here by Daniel Pipes):

. . .Conventional wisdom points to American Jews, their votes, their political donations, and their well-organized lobbying efforts. Whole books (notably Paul Findley’s They Dare to Speak Out and Edward Tivan’s The Lobby) have been written to make this point.

A. F. K. Organski, professor of political science at the University of Michigan, has looked at the record of American aid to Israel and come to a different conclusion. He observed a striking fact: U.S. aid was very low before 1970 and very high afterwards. Noting that American Jews exerted about the same efforts on Israel’s behalf before 1970 as after that date, he asked himself why the dramatically different aid levels? Logic holds that a constant factor cannot explain a variable event; obviously, the author concludes, American Jews cannot be the decisive factor here. To clinch this argument, he points out that it was Richard Nixon, a politician singularly not beholden to Jews (according to Henry Kissinger, he “delighted in telling associates and visitors that the ‘Jewish lobby’ had no effect on him”) who raised the levels of aid.

Organski posits a contrary argument for the turn in 1970. For him, the critical change had to do with American attitudes toward Israel’s utility. From Truman through Johnson, he shows, American administrations saw Israel as a weak state that could provide no help in the Great Game versus the Soviet Union; if anything, the Jewish state was perceived as a liability. Thanks to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Nixon saw Israeli military power as a significant benefit to the United States. This transformation was then completed in the aftermath of the 1973 war.

As his previous books, most notably The Stages of Political Development, have shown, Organski has a powerful and disciplined intelligence. In $36 Billion Bargain, he relentlessly applies logic to a large, amorphous body of data, and so goes far beyond the anecdotal montages that have served other authors as evidence. The result is a tour de force which actually settles a highly contentious issue. This rare accomplishment deserves to be rewarded by calling off the old and sterile debate over the Israel lobby.