U.S.-Israel Shared Value Initiatives:
An Introduction

By Mitchell G. Bard

The U.S.-Israel relationship is based on the twin pillars of shared values and shared interests. Given this commonality of interests and beliefs, it should not be surprising that support for Israel is one of the most pronounced and consistent foreign policy values of the American people.

Although Israel is geographically located in a region that is relatively undeveloped and closer to the Third World than the West, the Jewish State has emerged in less than half a century as an advanced nation with the characteristics of Western society. This is partially attributable to the fact that a high percentage of the population came from Europe or North America and brought with them Western political and cultural norms. It is also a function of the common Judeo-Christian heritage.

Simultaneously, Israel is a multicultural society with people from more than 100 nations, including more than 45,000 who came in the dramatic airlifts from Ethiopia in the 1980’s. Today, approximately four in ten Israelis are Eastern or Oriental Jews who trace their origins to the ancient Jewish communities of the Islamic countries of North Africa and the Middle East.

While they live in a region characterized by autocracies, Israelis have a commitment to democracy no less passionate than that of Americans. All citizens of Israel, regardless of race, religion or sex, are guaranteed equality before the law and full democratic rights. Freedom of speech, assembly and press is embodied in the country’s laws and traditions. Israel’s independent judiciary vigorously upholds these rights.

The political system does differ from America’s — Israel’s is a parliamentary democracy — but it is still based on free elections with divergent parties. And though Israel does not have a formal "constitution," it has adopted "Basic Laws" that establish similar legal guarantees.

Americans have long viewed Israelis with admiration, at least partly because they see much of themselves in their pioneering spirit and struggle for independence. Like the United States, Israel is also a nation of immigrants. Despite the burden of spending nearly one-fifth of its budget on defense, it has had an extraordinary rate of economic growth for most of its history. It has also succeeded in putting most of the newcomers to work. As in America, immigrants to Israel have tried to make better lives for themselves and their children. Some have come from relatively undeveloped societies like Ethiopia or Yemen and arrived with virtually no possessions, education or training and become productive contributors to Israeli society.

Israelis also share Americans’ passion for education. Israelis are among the most highly educated people in the world. Twenty-nine daily newspapers are published in 10 languages. More books are published per capita in Israel than anywhere else.

From the beginning, Israel had a mixed economy, combining capitalism with socialism along the British model. The economic difficulties Israel has experienced — created largely in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War by increased oil prices and the need to spend a disproportionate share of its Gross National Product on defense—have led to a gradual movement toward a free market system analogous to that of the United States. America has been a partner in this evolution.

In the 1980’s, attention increasingly focused on one pillar of the relationship — shared interests. This was done because of the threats to the region and because the means for strategic cooperation are more easily addressed with legislative initiatives. Despite the end of the Cold War, Israel continues to have a role to play in joint efforts to protect American interests and strategic cooperation has progressed to the point where a de facto alliance now exists. The hallmark of the relationship is consistency and trust: The United States knows it can count on Israel.

It is more difficult to devise programs that capitalize on the two nations’ shared values than their security interests; nevertheless, such programs do exist. In fact, these Shared Value Initiatives (SVIs) cover a broad range of areas such as the environment, energy, space, occupational safety and health. Nearly 400 American institutions in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have received funds from binational programs with Israel. Little-known relationships like the Free Trade Agreement, the Cooperative Development Research Program, the Middle East Regional Cooperation Program and various memoranda of understanding with virtually every U.S. governmental agency demonstrate the depth of the special relationship.

Source: Partners for Change