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Research Report

Trends in US Congressional Support for Israel

Amnon Cavari
with Elan Nyer
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2016
Pages: 49

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 2-5)
  2. (pp. 6-6)
  3. (pp. 7-8)
  4. (pp. 9-11)

    In March 2013, the Obama administration and the international community were focused on pursuing non-military approaches to the Iranian nuclear threat, including sanctions and diplomatic negotiations. During that month, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) introduced a resolution to support Israel and “its right to self-defense against the illegal nuclear program by the Islamic Republic of Iran” (H.RES.98). Thirty-four Republicans and one Democrat added their names as cosponsors of the resolution.

    This resolution has no policy ramifications. It was never brought to the floor for a vote. Even if it had been voted on and passed, it would have had no direct...

  5. (pp. 11-13)

    The US Constitution is vague on the respective roles of the president and Congress when it comes to foreign policy. This creates what Corwin refers to as an “invitation to struggle for the privilege of directing foreign policy.”10 In this struggle, the president has the upper hand, but Congress has several tools with which to exert its influence.

    The most powerful of these tools is the power of the purse, which gives Congress the ability to decide which and to what extent countries receive aid and which and to what extent foreign programs are funded. While the president and his...

  6. (pp. 14-16)

    The clearest gauge of congressional support for Israel is foreign appropriations, or the power of the purse. Israel has been the largest recipient of US foreign assistance since WWII, having received $205 billion from its inception through 2014 (in historical amounts, equivalent to over $200 billion in inflation-adjusted values).22 Figure 1 presents the total amount of US foreign assistance among the top ten countries that received assistance between 1948 and 2013 (inflation-adjusted). The next country, Egypt, received in total about 60 percent of the amount Israel received ($126 billion, inflation adjusted).

    Most US aid to Israel is in the form...

  7. (pp. 16-22)

    The appropriation of funds by Congress to Israel, while a dominant aspect of the relationship between Israel and the US, does not reflect the full extent of support for Israel among members. Appropriations bills and other actions are contingent on a variety of external factors, such as budget concerns and political agreement between the administration and Congress. By contrast, resolutions — another tool with which members of Congress express their support for Israel — are not constrained by those factors.

    Ten days after Operation Opera in June 1981, Israel’s military action to destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirak, Congress...

  8. (pp. 22-34)

    Our analysis, divided into three parts, demonstrates related trends:

    1. Congressional attention to Israel began to increase at the end of the Cold War and rose particularly sharply in the aftermath of 9/11 due to the American shift of interest toward the Middle East.

    2. Congressional activity toward Israel follows general patterns of congressional involvement in foreign affairs.

    3. Starting from the late 1990s and especially in more recent years, the growing divide between the parties is manifested in a growing partisan divide in congressional activity toward Israel.

    The Middle East has been a concern in American foreign policy since the end of...

  9. (pp. 34-35)

    On July 14, 2015, following nearly two years of negotiations, the US, together with five countries (China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom) and the European Union (the P5+1), signed an agreement with Iran to restrict its nuclear program and submit it to international oversight (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). From the outset, the public and congressional debate about the issue took on a partisan perspective. Popular support for the 2013 interim agreement (signed in November 24, 2013) demonstrated a strong partisan gap: 33 percent support among Republicans and 62 percent support among Democrats. This gap widened during the...

  10. (pp. 36-38)

    Although the pendulum has swung substantially in the direction of the president, Congress has involved itself in questions regarding Israel at various degrees of intensity throughout modern American history and has shown consistent support for Israel. Legislative actions referring to Israel have largely contained few policy ramifications, but have demonstrated strong support for Israel — support that transcended conventional partisan divisions.

    For most members of Congress, support for Israel carries little cost. Groups representing anti-Israel interests are negligible and are usually poorly organized. In contrast, the strength of organized interest groups in support of Israel and the overwhelming public support...

  11. (pp. 41-48)
  12. (pp. 49-49)