Op-Ed: The Gipper’s Gift: A Pro-Israel GOP


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[The following Op-Ed was written by Tevi Troy]

As America marks the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, we will be remembering one of our country’s greatest leaders with speeches, tributes and television specials. Friends of Israel will have a special reason to celebrate: Reagan made the Republican Party into the unambiguously pro-Israel party that it is today.

Indeed, before the Reagan era, the Republican Party had a decidedly mixed record on Israel. In the 1940s and early 1950s, the conservative movement had strong isolationist and even anti-Semitic tendencies. Later, Republican presidents, such as Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon — while by no means isolationists — had complicated relations with the Jewish state. Eisenhower forced Israel to return the Sinai to Egypt after capturing it in 1956. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Nixon wasted precious days before finally re-supplying a tapped out Israel with arms.
Reagan, by contrast, had staunchly pro-Israel views. These were informed by his perception of Israel as an important American ally in the Cold War and his identification with Israel as a vibrant democracy.

“Only by full appreciation of the critical role the State of Israel plays in our strategic calculus can we build the foundation for thwarting Moscow’s designs on territories and resources vital to our security and our national well-being,” Reagan said. As Mitchell Bard, executive director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, has noted: “Ronald Reagan was the first President to state explicitly that Israel was a strategic asset to the United States.”

But for Reagan, America’s friendship with Israel wasn’t only a matter of strategic calculus. As Reagan said in his 1980 campaign, “Israel represents the one stable democracy sharing values with us in that part of the world…. I think we should make it plain that we are going to keep our commitment to the continued existence of Israel.”

This sort of talk was music to the ears of neoconservatives, many of whom had backed Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election only to grow disillusioned. Reagan gave pro-Israel neoconservatives, such as Jeane Kirkpatrick and Elliott Abrams, prominent roles in his administration. Kirkpatrick, in particular, defended Israel from her perch as American ambassador to the United Nations. The neoconservatives helped give Republican foreign policy a pro-democracy emphasis that it often lacked in the era of Kissingerian realpolitik, permanently altering the way that Republicans related to Israel and its conflicts with its undemocratic neighbors.

Of course, not every action by the Reagan administration was pro-Israel. Reagan supported the sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia over Israel’s objections, and he shortsightedly condemned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility. He also displayed genuine anger with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin over Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. But all of these incidents took place within the context of Reagan taking the U.S.-Israel relationship to a place of genuine friendship.

After some hiccups during the first Bush administration, Republicans have drawn on their Reaganite inheritance and become a reliably pro-Israel party. The post-1994 Republican Congress regularly backed Israel on both substantive and symbolic issues. After 9/11, the Reaganite view that Israel is on the side of democracy in the struggle against the forces of tyranny secured an uncontested place as a central pillar of Republican foreign policy. President George W. Bush was so supportive of Israel that his mother reportedly joked that he was “the first Jewish president.”

A visit to Israel is now a rite of passage for prospective GOP presidential candidates (which is remarkable given that so few Jews vote in the Republican primaries), with Mitt Romney recently undertaking such a pilgrimage. At the grassroots level, according to a Gallup poll last year, 85% of Republicans say they support Israel over the Palestinians, compared to slightly less than half of Democrats — this despite Jewish voters’ longstanding alliance with the Democratic Party.

Some might counter that Republican support for Israel is simply a byproduct of the Evangelical community’s affection for the Jewish state. Others might argue that America’s alliance with Israel was always set in stone. But the strength of the American-Israeli alliance, and in particular the passionate Republican support for this relationship, are in fact more recent achievements. And we have Reagan to thank for them.

Just as Reagan knit together the diverse strands that today make up the Republican Party’s base — social conservatives, national security conservatives, fiscal conservatives and neoconservatives — he also took the passions of these constituencies and wove them into a seamless fabric of support for Israel. As we celebrate this great American’s centennial, those of us who care about Israel owe him our enduring gratitude.

Tevi Troy, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, was a deputy secretary of Health and Human Services and senior White House aide in the George W. Bush Administration.

The above Op-Ed was originally published in the Forward, and submitted to YWN by the author.

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)


  1. The general jewish population will never vote GOP because for the older generation, all they remember is the far right xtian xenophobia and trumped up charges of “deicide”

    The newer generation is split into two camps

    1: Jews who were brought up in homes where they were told “you owe it to the democrats because they wanted to save you during ww2 (which is a historcal fallacy as Roosevelt felt pressured into war by those “Bankers”)

    2: Jews who have a modicum of independant thought and will vote republican if they feel the politician will show some pro israel tendancies.

    Personally in this day and age, the GOP is really no better the Democrats as both are beholden to the same corporate interests and both sides have a stake in the endless and pointless wars we’re fighting.

    The GOP of today is nowhere near the GOP of the Regan Revolution and if the recently sainted president were around today he would probably drop dead of a heart attack.

    One of the key principals of the GOP is small government and while the democrats are out there saying ” we need more government” instead of countering with “no we dont” the GOP is saying “lets just grow government more slowly”

    I know that as religious jews we are stuck between ideals and practicality. I.E. Do i support the candidate that is Pro Israel and anti abortion or do I support the fellow with the toievah tendancies but he will get me a WIC card so I can buy groceries.

    My answer is support neither!

    As long as the either party is in power it will just be a shouting match that the other side is worse.

    Bring me a party that will back individual liberty, freedom of speech, wont interfere with the internal issues of other countries, and will bring back the gold standard and I’m sold.

    Otherwise we’re just driving down that road that will lead us to bankrupcy and needing to learn both Spanish and Chinese

  2. The author seems to suggest that post-Reagan Republicans just follow like sheep without re-evaluating their positions, and therefore may be anachronistic relics of a past era, no longer really relevant in the current political environment. I hope that was not what he meant to imply.

  3. Oh, how we miss Ronny…

    It’s interesting to see how the “mainstream media” – the ones who led the battle against Reaganomics and his “favoring of the rich” – try to compare the great communicator to Obama. It’s ironic to see those publications that berated Reagan for his policies place Gipper hugging Obama on its front page. I suspect that the “media” isn’t interested in writing history as it was or apologizing to Ronald Reagan, rather rewriting history to include Obama being on the same page as the [reinvented] greatest president of modern times.

  4. The Reagan centennial birthday celebration is the first one I can remember for a 20th Century president. In fact, other than Lincoln and Washington, I cannot recall a significant celebration of any past US president’s centennial.

    I personally think the interest in the centennial is being driven by an intellectually bankrupt Republican party which currently has a field of nobodies (Sarah I-can-see-Russia Palin), rejects (Mitt Romney, Rudolph Giuliani) and know-nothings (Palin again) as the prospects for its 2012 presidential nomination. In the absence of anyone of genuine stature and accomplishment, Republicans are rallying around the rose-tinted memory of the president who set us on the path to the 2008 financial crash. Eisenhower, by contrast, was a genuine hero, who supported the civil rights movement when a block of the GOP (including Goldwater and Reagan) were standing with the Dixiecrats, and Eisenhower set the stage for the civil rights triumphs of the ’60’s, and even warned us of the mistakes we would make in Vietnam. But the Republicans at the time of Eisenhower’s centennial – 1980 – had a sweet-talking former actor to lead them, and thus no need to honor the honorable Eisenhower. The next Republican former president to celebrate a centennial birthday will be Richard Nixon in 1913. I’m not setting any money aside to buy any Nixon souvenirs.

  5. Ronald Reagon? Wasn’t he the president that laid a wreath on an SS Nazi commanders grave honoring him even though Holocaust survivor Eli Weisel begged him not to?
    I like the way this article picks and chooses who is pro Jewish and who isnt. It was President Dwight Eisenhower that instructed his personnel to take thousands of photographs and videos of the concentration camps when they were liberated because he knew there would come a day when the anti Semites would deny the Holocaust and he wanted there to be proof. i think he deserves more credit that Mr Reagan who ran like a coward from Lebanon when 240 American marines were murdered by islamic terrorists. and we can thank Mr Reagan for encouraging illegal immigration by giving three million illegals amnesty. by todays conservative standards he would be a RHINO or a liberal

  6. #6, Reagan may have technically still been a Democrat, but he voted for Eisenhower rather than Stevenson.

    Goldwater, Reagan, and Bush 41 all opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

  7. Hm, no edit to my previous comment, so here’s a P.S. I just did my homework (though I won’t say how long I spent on it). The google sources my filter allowed me to open lead to the conclusion that Republicans opposed it because they felt it was a states’ right issue and would be better resolved that way. (Though there is a quote about Goldwater that mentions political expediency, and I didn’t bother checking out Bush 41, just the first two.)

  8. To 8/9, tzippi: I have not done my homework, but I believe that years after Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act, he said his vote against it was the biggest mistake and greatest regret of his political career. The “states’ rights” issue was settled in 1865, and the states’ rights side lost. To paraphrase one of our sages, everything since 1865 is commentary.

    To No. 6: I know that Reagan began his political life as a Democrat, and I am not sure when he switched. But so what – his switch has no impact on my comment. So please check your reasoning before you check my facts.