Speaker discusses history, and future, of U.S.-Israeli relations
In a valiant effort to shed some understanding on United States-Israeli relations, the New Canaan Library -- in tandem with the Stamford-based World Affairs Forum -- hosted a speaker Monday night who discussed the nations' complicated history and where they may be headed.
Seth Anziska, a teacher and Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University in international and global history, did his dissertation on the relationship between Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. from the Camp David Accords through the war in Lebanon and the first Intifada, or Arab uprising, in 1987.
"I think that no matter where you position yourself on the political spectrum, I think there was something tragic about the violence that took place over the last few months," he said, calling an examination of this topic "timely and critical."
Anziska began his talk with an overview of U.S. relationship with Israel, the world's only Jewish-majority republic, which began in 1948. Contrary to some popular beliefs, he said, it has not always been a clear or close relationship.
"One of the things that we forget is that this is not a relationship that was inevitably close or warm from the start," he said. "It had its ups and downs."
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"President (Harry) Truman was the first foreign leader to recognize the newly created state of Israel in 1948," Anziska said, though feelings in the United States were mixed, with support coming in an ideological sense. The pivotal first Arab-Israeli War, however, resulted in 700,000 displaced Palestinians, which Anziska said, "spawns a very extensive and controversial debate."
As each U.S. administration came to power, the perceived value and subsequent degree of support for Israel evolved. President Dwight Eisenhower, operating in a Cold War climate, had cold relations with the country. President John Kennedy, on the other hand, recognized its strategic value.
"He began to treat the country as a bulwark against Soviet aggression in the Middle East," Anziska said. "Kennedy was really the first U.S. president to define U.S.-Israel relations as special."
"Carter is really the first U.S. president to speak openly and in a way empathetically ... about the Palestine issues," Anziska said, noting he was the first president to use the word "homeland" in reference to the Palestinians.
"He was not a global Cold War geostrategic thinker ... His approach was focused on regional dimensions ... and there was, of course, a human rights dimension to everything that Carter tried to implement in his foreign policy decisions."
Anziska said 2014 was a decisive year regarding the future of U.S.-Israeli relations, speaking about how the recent war has affected public opinion in both countries.
"I think one of the things that the war demonstrated was that even in Israel there is no real military solution ... of how to deal with the Palestinian question," he said, noting that support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has plummeted and many people in the country don't see what was achieved.
"The death of about 70 Israelis and over 2,000 Palestinians left nobody feeling that there had been any point of success for this fighting," Anziska said.
"At its core there are lots of tactics, but no grand strategy of where this is going," he said.
Ironically, he said, Hamas had been experiencing a lot of internal opposition before the recent conflict and "was in some ways politically on the way out before this summer's war."
"The irony, of course, is that in the wake of all of this, the popular opinion has shifted," he said, brought about by "a sense of solidarity that there was some military resistance to what was happening," even though it wasn't necessarily ideological identification with the group.
"I think Hamas has walked away in some ways strengthened by what happened this summer."
On a parallel note, Anziska said he continues to grow more and more aware of how polarized people's views on the situation have become, with social media mainly serving to fuel the entrenched beliefs for both sides of the argument
"There is a complete silo of beliefs ... and perspectives ... and it's just gotten worse," he said, with people hardening their own sense of belief and ignoring all contrary views.
Anziska asked the question, "Is Israel now, after 66 years (an) enhanced strategic asset and ally with the United States ... or is it becoming a strategic liability? Are people tiring of the Right Wing government and its failure on the peace process."
"How does Israel fit into the constellation of U.S. interest?" he asked.
Anziska said he doesn't see congressional support of Israel changing "in the short term," but various factors will continue to make the situation evolve. Among them, he said, are increases in the Arab population in Israel, which could become the majority population in 15 years.
"That struggle for equality internally will also play into it," he said.
"Because of this anxiety and worry, there are a lot of people in the center and even on the center Right, who are calling for an immediate and unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank," he said.
Listeners to Anziska's talk were pleased with his balanced and in-depth presentation.
"I thought he really reached into the deep core of the issues," said Joan Milliken of New Canaan, "and also explored all of the difficulties."
"I thought it was very even-handed and informative," said Steve Myers of Greenwich. "Our speaker was true to the best characteristics of a true historian. It was illuminating and insightful."