Trends in US Congressional Support for Israel

By and June 6, 2016
Israel support in the United States Congress
Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 121

American political leaders have supported the “special relationship” between the US and Israel since the earliest days of Israel’s existence. Support for Israel is invariably invoked during presidential campaigns and in party platforms. During their terms in office, US presidents regularly address issues relating to Israel and assert their commitment to Israel’s security.

Despite wide interest in the special relationship, the role of Congress has received relatively little attention, with the focus almost exclusively on appropriations bills. Appropriations are the predominant tool by which Congress exerts its influence and are unquestionably a critical factor in the US-Israel relationship, but they are an insufficient gauge of underlying congressional attitudes. Appropriations for Israel are often dictated by the president and attached to bills that contain appropriations for other countries.

A better gauge of trends in congressional activity with regard to Israel is the sponsorship of bills and resolutions designed to demonstrate support. This study uses such sponsorship to investigate the direction of congressional activity toward Israel over the past four decades. It addresses four issues: the frequency with which members of Congress show support for Israel through legislative action; the correlation of congressional activity toward Israel with wider trends of congressional activity regarding foreign policy; the ways in which Congress’s use of this tool on Israel’s behalf has changed; and the differences in trends between the House of Representatives and the Senate.

This investigation by Dr. Amnon Cavari with Elan Nyer of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya shows that while congressional support for Israel has historically transcended the partisan divide, the parties are growing less cooperative with regard to the means by which to express that support. The authors term this development as “Congressional Dysergia.”

At the same time, Congress increasingly views Israel as a topic of great importance that warrants regular discussion. These trends fuel debate about Israel and force the White House to consider congressional responses to the administration’s policy decisions. They also spark tension between the branches, as exhibited in conflicts between the Republican-dominated Congress and President Obama.

As long as the cost of support for Israel remains low, the growing partisan divisions are likely to remain muted. That can change, however, if the relationship with Israel becomes perceived as a threat to American security and interests.

 

Dr. Amnon Cavari

Dr. Amnon Cavari is a Lecturer at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel.

Elan Nyer

Elan Nyer completed his MA at the IDC, where he wrote his thesis on congressional actions toward Israel.