Skip to comments.Is Israel in America’s Interest?
Posted on 10/13/2006 4:13:35 AM PDT by familyop
The question of whether Israel is or is not an asset to the United States is one we rarely bother to ask ourselves. Time and again, we see prominent Americans -- presidents of the United States at the forefront -- emphasizing their special relationship with Israel. In polls of American public opinion, Israel scores very high marks, while sympathy for the Palestinians, never very high, continues to drop. Why should we even ask ourselves whether Israel is an asset or a liability to the United States? Isnt the answer obvious?
Most supporters of Israel, when pressed to go a bit deeper, will give two prime rationales for why the United States should back Israel. One is a moral obligation to the Jewish people, grounded in the history of Jewish persecution and culminating in the Holocaust. Israel, so this thinking goes, is something the civilized world owes to the Jewish people, having inflicted an unprecedented genocide upon it. This is a potent rationale, but it is not clear why that would make Israel an asset to the United States. If supporting Israel is an obligation, then it could be described as a liability -- a burden to be borne. And of course, as time passes, that sense of obligation is bound to diminish.
Another powerful rationale is the fact that Israel is a democracy, even an outpost of democracy, in a benighted part of the world. But the fact is that there are many non-democratic states that have been allies of the United States, and important assets as well. Quite arguably, the Saudi monarchy is an asset to the United States, because it assures the flow of oil at reasonable prices, a key American interest. In contrast, the Palestinian Authority and Iran, which have many more democratic practices than Saudi Arabia, are headaches to the United States, for having empowered the likes of Hamas and Ahmadinejad through elections. So the fact that Israel is a democracy is not proof positive that it is an American asset.
Nevertheless, the Holocaust argument and the democracy argument are more than sufficient for the vast majority of Americans. On this basis alone, they would extend to Israel support, even unqualified support. And there is an important segment of opinion in America, comprising evangelical Christians, who probably do not even need these arguments. Israel is, for them, the manifestation of a divine plan, and they support it as a matter of faith.
But everywhere in the West, there is a sliver of elite opinion that is not satisfied with these rationales. It includes policymakers and analysts, journalists, and academics. By habit and by preference, they have a tendency to view any consensus with skepticism. In their opinion, the American people cannot possibly be wiser than them -- after all, look whom they elect -- and so they deliberately take a contrary position on issues around which there is broad agreement. In this spirit, many of them view U.S. support for Israel as a prime focal point for skepticism.
In March, two American professors subjected the U.S.-Israel relationship to a skeptics examination. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the former from the University of Chicago, the latter from Harvard, published a paper under the title The Israel Lobby: Israel in U.S. Foreign Policy. One version appeared in the London Review of Books; a longer, footnoted version was posted on the website of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. The paper caused a firestorm.
Mearsheimer and Walt are academic oracles of the so-called realist school in international relations. Realism, in its policy application, is an approach that seeks to isolate the conduct of foreign affairs from sentimental moral considerations and special interests like ethnic and commercial lobbies, and to base it instead on a pure concept of the national interest. Realists are not interested in historical obligations, or in whether this or that potential ally respects human rights. They see themselves as coldly weighing U.S. interests, winnowing out extraneous considerations, and ending up with policies that look out solely for number one: The United States.
Realist thinkers are not isolationists, but they are extremely reluctant to see U.S. power expended on projects and allies that do not directly serve some U.S. interest as they define it -- and they define these interests quite narrowly. Generally, they oppose visionary ideas of global transformation, which they see as American empire in disguise. And empire, they believe, is a drain on American resources. They are particularly reluctant to commit American troops, preferring that the United States follow a policy of offshore balancing wherever possible -- that is, playing rivals off one another.
These were the principles that guided Mearsheimer and Walt when they examined the United States-Israel relationship. And this was their finding: By any objective measure, American support for Israel is a liability. It causes Arabs and Muslims to hate America, and that hate in turn generates terrorism. The prime interest of the United States in the Middle East is the cultivation of cooperation with Arabs and Muslims, many of whom detest Israel, its policies, or both. The less the United States is identified as a supporter and friend of Israels five million Jews, the easier it will be for it to find local proxies to keep order among the billion or so Muslims. And the only thing that has prevented the United States from seeing this clearly is the pro-Israel lobby, operating through fronts as diverse as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and so on.
This Israel Lobby, with a capital L, has effectively hijacked U.S. policy in the Middle East so that it serves Israels, not Americas, interests. In one of their most provocative claims, the authors argue that Israel spurred its neo-conservative allies in Washington to press for the Iraq war -- a war that served no identifiable U.S. interest, but which was waged largely for Israeli security. And, they continue, the growing drumbeat for an attack on Iran also has its ultimate source in the Lobby. A nuclear Iran would not constitute a threat to the United States, they argue, and military action against Iran would not be in Americas interest, since it would inflame the Arab and Muslim worlds yet again, producing a wave of anti-American terror and damaging the American economy.
The Mearsheimer-Walt thesis is not a new one. What is new is the prestige that they lent to these ideas. Because their paper appeared on the Kennedy School website, it soon became know as the Harvard study on the Israel lobby. Harvard is one of the most recognizable names in the world, familiar to every American from high school on up. Their study could not be ignored, and the responses came fast and furious.
Many of them took the form of reiterating the two arguments I mentioned earlier: Israel as a moral obligation of the West, and Israel as a democracy. These arguments are compelling, or at least they are compelling when made well. But for arguments sake, let us set aside the claim that Israel and the United States share democratic values, rooted in a common Judeo-Christian tradition. Let us set aside the fact that the American public has a deep regard for Israel, shown in poll after poll. Let us just ask a simple question: Is Israel a strategic asset or a strategic liability for the United States, in realist terms?
My answer, to anticipate my conclusion, is this: United States support for Israel is not primarily the result of Holocaust guilt or shared democratic values; nor is it produced by the machinations of the Israel Lobby. American support for Israel -- indeed, the illusion of its unconditionality underpins the pax Americana in the eastern Mediterranean. It has compelled Israels key Arab neighbors to reach peace with Israel and to enter the American orbit. The fact that there has not been a general Arab-Israeli war since 1973 is proof that this pax Americana, based on the United States-Israel alliance, has been a success. From a realist point of view, supporting Israel has been a low-cost way of keeping order in part of the Middle East, managed by the United States from offshore and without the commitment of any force. It is, simply, the ideal realist alliance.
In contrast, the problems the United States faces in the Persian Gulf stem from the fact that it does not have an Israel equivalent there, and so it must massively deploy its own force at tremendous cost. Since no one in the Gulf is sure that the United States has the staying power to maintain such a presence over time, the Gulf keeps producing defiers of America, from Khomeini to Saddam to Bin Laden to Ahmadinejad. The United States has to counter them, not in the interests of Israel, but to keep the worlds great reserves of oil out of the grip of the Wests sworn enemies.
Allow me to substantiate my conclusion with a brief dash through the history of Israels relationship with the United States. Between 1948 and 1967, the United States largely adhered to a zero-sum concept of Middle Eastern politics. The United States recognized Israel in 1948, but it did not do much to help it defend itself for fear of alienating Arab monarchs, oil sheikhs, and the Arab street. That was the heyday of the sentimental State Department Arabists and the profit-driven oil companies. It did not matter that the memory of the Holocaust was fresh: The United States remained cautious, and attempted to appear evenhanded. This meant that the United States embargoed arms both to Israel and to the Arabs.
So Israel went elsewhere. It bought guns from the Soviet bloc, and fighter aircraft and a nuclear reactor from France. It even cut a deal with its old adversary Britain at the time of the Suez adventure in 1956. Israel was not in the U.S. orbit, and it did not get significant American aid.
Nevertheless, the radical Arab states gravitated toward the Soviet Union for weapons and aid. Israel felt vulnerable, and the Arab countries still believed they could eliminate Israel by war. In every decade, this insecurity indeed produced war: 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973. The United States was not invested heavily enough to prevent these wars; its diplomacy simply kicked in to stop them after the initial energy was spent.
Only in June 1967, with Israels lightning victory over three of its neighbors, did the United States begin to see Israel differently, as a military power in its own right. The Arab-Israeli war that erupted in October 1973 did even more to persuade the United States of Israels power. Although Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel, Israel bounded back to achieve what military analysts have called its greatest victory, repulsing an enemy that might have overwhelmed a less determined and resourceful people.
It was then that the United States began to look at Israel as a potential strategic ally. Israel appeared to be the strongest, most reliable, and most cost-effective bulwark against Soviet penetration of the Middle East. It could defeat any combination of Soviet clients on its own, and in so doing, humiliate the Soviet Union and drive thinking Arabs out of the Soviet camp.
The 1973 war had another impact on American thinking. Until then, Arab-Israeli wars did not threaten the oil flow, but that war led to an Arab oil embargo. Another Arab-Israeli war might have the same impact or worse, so the United States therefore resolved to prevent such wars by creating a security architecture -- a pax Americana.
One way to build it would have been to squeeze Israel relentlessly. But the United States understood that making Israel feel less secure would only increase the likelihood of another war and encourage the Arab states to prepare for yet another round. Instead, the American solution was to show such strong support for Israel as to make Arab states despair of defeating it, and fearful of the cost of trying. To this purpose, the United States brought Israel entirely into its orbit, making of it a dependent client through arms and aid.
That strategy worked. Expanded American support for Israel persuaded Egypt to switch camps and abandon its Soviet alliance, winning the Cold War for the United States in the Middle East. Egypt thus became an American ally alongside Israel, and not instead of Israel. The zero-sum theory of the Arabists -- Israel or the Arabs, but not both -- collapsed. American Middle East policy underwent its Copernican revolution.
Before 1973, the Arab states thought they might defeat or destroy Israel by some stroke of luck, and they tried their hand at it repeatedly. Since 1973, the Arab states have understood not only that Israel is strong, but that the United States is fully behind it.
As a result, there have been no more general Arab-Israeli wars, and Israels Arab neighbors have either made peace with it (Egypt, Jordan), or kept their border quiet (Syria). The corner of the Middle East along the eastern Mediterranean has been free of crises requiring direct American military intervention. This is due to American support for Israel -- a support that appears so unequivocal to the Arabs that they have despaired of overturning it.
United States support for Israel has also enhanced its standing in another way, as the only force, in Arab eyes, that can possibly persuade Israel to cede territory it has occupied since 1967. In a paradoxical way, the United States has been a major beneficiary of the Israeli occupation of Arab territories: Arab leaders who wish to regain lost territory must pass an American test. When they do, the United States rewards them, and the result has been a network of American-endorsed agreements based on American-mediated Israeli concessions.
It is this peace process that has turned even revolutionary Arab leaders into supplicants at the White House door. They would not be there if a strong Israel did not hold something they want, and if the United States was not in a position to deliver it.
Compare this to the situation in the Persian Gulf, where American allies are weak. There, the absence of a strong ally has bedeviled American policy and forced the United States to intervene repeatedly. The irresolute Iranian shah, once deemed a United States pillar, collapsed in the face of an anti-American upsurge, producing the humiliation of the embassy seizure and a hostile, entrenched, terror-sponsoring regime still bent on driving the United States out of the Gulf. Saddam Hussein, for some years Americas ally, launched a bloody eight-year war against Iran that produced waves of anti-American terror (think Lebanon), only to turn against the United States by occupying Kuwait and threatening the defenseless Saudi Arabia.
Absent a strong ally in the region, the United States has had to deploy, deploy, and deploy again. In the Kuwait and Iraq wars, it has put something like a million sets of boots on the ground in the Gulf, at a cost that surely exceeds a trillion dollars.
It is precisely because the Gulf does not have an Israel -- a strong, capable local ally -- that the United States cannot balance from offshore. If the United States is not perceived to be willing to send troops there -- and it will only be perceived as such if it does sometimes send them -- then big, nationalist states (formerly Iraq, today Iran) will attempt to muscle Saudi Arabia and the smaller Arab Gulf states, which have the larger reserves of oil. In the Gulf, the United States has no true allies. It has only dependencies, and their defense will continue to drain American resources until the day Americans give up their SUVs.
In Israel, by contrast, the United States is allied to a militarily adept, economically vibrant state that keeps its part of the Middle East in balance. The United States has to help maintain that balance with military aid, peace plans, and diplomatic initiatives. But this is at relatively low cost, and many of the costs flow back to the United States in the form of arms sales and useful Israeli technological innovations.
In the overall scheme of the pax Americana, then, American policy toward Israel and its neighbors over the past thirty years has been a tremendous success. Has the United States brought about a final lamb-lies-down-with-lion peace? No; the issues are too complex. Are the Arabs reconciled to American support for Israel? No; they are highly critical of it. But according to the realist model, a policy that upholds American interests without the dispatch of American troops is a success by definition. American support of Israel has achieved precisely that.
Then there is the argument that American support for Israel is the source of popular resentment, propelling recruits to al-Qaida. I do not know of any unbiased terrorism expert who subscribes to this notion. Israel has been around for almost sixty years, and it has always faced terrorism. Countless groups are devoted to it. But never has a terror group emerged that is devoted solely or even primarily to attacking the United States for its support of Israel. Terrorists devoted to killing Americans emerged only after the United States began to enlarge its own military footprint in the Gulf. Al-Qaida emerged from the American deployment in Saudi Arabia. And even when al-Qaida and its affiliates mention Palestine as a grievance, it is as one grievance among many, the other grievances being American support for authoritarian Arab regimes, and now the American presence in Iraq.
And speaking of Iraq, we are left with the argument that the United States went to war there at the impetus of Israel and the Israel Lobby. This is simply a falsehood, and has no foundation in fact. It is not difficult to show that in the year preceding the Iraq war, Israel time and again disagreed with the United States, arguing that Iran posed the greater threat. Israel shed no tears over Saddams demise, and it gave full support to the United States once the Bush administration made its choice. But the assertion that the Iraq war is being waged on behalf of Israel is pure fiction.
As for the suggestion that only Israel is threatened by an Iranian nuclear capability, no assumption could be more na?ve. True, Iran has threatened Israel, and it is a threat Israel cannot afford to ignore. But it is not the first threat of its kind. In the spring before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, he declared that we will make fire eat up half of Israel if it tries to do anything against Iraq. The threat was meant to win him Arab-Muslim support, but his real objective was to stand like a colossus astride the oil-soaked Gulf. And so while he threatened strong Israel, he actually attacked and invaded weak Kuwait.
This is unquestionably the first ambition of Iran: The wresting of the Persian Gulf from United States domination. A nuclear Iran -- the nuclearization of the worlds great oil reservoir -- could allow Iran to foment and manage crises almost at will. Iran, without invading any other country, or using a nuclear weapon, could fill its coffers to overflowing simply by rattling a nuclear sabre. Remember that Iran derives more than eighty percent of its export revenue from oil, and its intensified nuclear talk has already contributed to windfall revenues. This year Iran will make $55 billion from oil; it made only a little more than half that in 2004. Every rise of a dollar in price is a billion dollars in revenue for Iran. A nuclear Iran could rattle nerves even more convincingly, and drive the price to $100 a barrel.
So Iran has a structural interest in Gulf volatility; the rest of the developed and developing world, which depends on oil, has the opposite interest. The world wants the pax Americana perpetuated, not undermined. That is why the Europeans have worked so closely with the United States over Iran -- not for Israels sake, but for their own.
A nuclear Iran would also be a realists nightmare, because it could push the Saudis and other Arabs in the nuclear direction. Israel has a nuclear deterrent, but Saudi Arabia does not. To prevent it from seeking one, the United States would have to put it under an American nuclear umbrella. Other Arab states might demand the same. And so the United States might be compelled to extend nato-like status to its Arab dependencies, promising to go to war to defend them. If it did not, the full nuclearization of the Gulf would be only a matter of time.
In summation, American support for Israel -- again, the illusion of its unconditionality -- has compelled Israels Arab neighbors to join the pax Americana or at least acquiesce in it. I would expect realists, of all people, to appreciate the success of this policy. After all, the United States manages the pax Americana in the eastern Mediterranean from offshore, out of the line of sight. Is this not precisely where realists think the United States should stand? A true realist, I would think, would recoil from any policy shift that might threaten to undermine this structure.
Among the many perplexing things in the Mearsheimer-Walt paper, certainly none is so perplexing as this. After all, if the United States were to adopt what they call a more evenhanded policy, Israeli insecurity would increase and Arab ambitions would be stoked. Were such a policy to overshoot its mark, it could raise the likelihood of an Arab-Israeli war that could endanger access to oil. Why would anyone tempt fate -- and endanger an absolutely vital American interest -- by embarking on such a policy?
That is why I see the Mearsheimer-Walt paper as a betrayal of the hard-nosed realism the authors supposedly represent. Sometimes I wonder whether they are realists after all. Mearsheimer and Walt urge using American power to achieve a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Is this realism, or romanticism? After all, just peace is purely subjective, and its definition is contested between and among Palestinians and Israelis. Its blind pursuit might be destabilizing in ways which damage American interests. This hardly seems like a cautious and prudent use of American power. The aim of American policy should be the construction of an American peace, one that serves American interests, not the unstable claims of justice.
The arguments for supporting Israel are many and varied, and no one argument is decisive. Morality- and values-based arguments are crucial, but a compelling realist argument can also be made for viewing Israel as an asset to the West. It does not take a Lobby to explain this to the hard-nosed strategic thinkers in the White House and the Pentagon. Of course, Israel always welcomes help from friends, but it does not need the whole array of organizations that claim to work on its behalf. The rationale for keeping Israel strong is hardwired in the realities of the Middle East. The United States does not have an alternative ally of comparable power. And if the institutions of the lobby were to disappear tomorrow, it is quite likely that American and other Western support would continue unabated.
That Israel looms so large as a valuable ally and asset, in a Middle East of failed and failing states, is an achievement in which Israel can rightly take pride. But it must never be taken for granted. Israel has come perilously close to doing so in recent years, by unilaterally evacuating occupied territory -- first in Lebanon, but more importantly in Gaza. Whatever the merits of disengagement in its various forms, it effectively cuts out the United States as a broker, and has created the impression that Arabs can regain territory by force, outside the framework of the pax Americana.
The main beneficiaries of this Israeli strategy have been Hezbollah and Hamas, which are the strike forces of anti-Americanism in the region. It is true that American democracy promotion has also been responsible for the rising fortunes of such groups. But Israeli ceding of territory outside the framework of American mediation has marginalized U.S. diplomacy. Israel has made Hamas and Hezbollah, which claim to have seized territory through resistance, appear stronger than Americas Arab clients, who had to sign American-mediated peace deals to restore their territory. If Israel is to preserve its value as a client, its territorial concessions must appear to be made in Washington.
For Israel to remain a strategic asset, it must also win on the battlefield. If Israels power and prowess are ever cast into doubt, it will not only undercut Israels deterrence vis-à-vis its hostile neighbors. It will undermine Israels value to the United States as the dependable stabilizer of the Levant. Israels lackluster performance in its battle with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 left its many admirers in Washington shaking their heads in disappointment. The United States, which has seen faceless insurgents shred its own plans for Iraq, knows what it is to be surprised by the force of resistance. But Washington expected more of Israel, battling a familiar adversary in its own backyard.
If Walt and Mearsheimer were right, the disappointment would hardly matter, since the legendary Lobby would make up the difference between American expectations and Israeli performance. But since the professors are wrong, Israel needs to begin the work of repair. Preserving American support comes at a price: The highest possible degree of military preparedness and political resolve, leaving no doubt in Washington that Israel can keep its neighborhood in line. The United States-Israel relationship rests on Israels willingness to pay that price. No lobby, however effective, can mitigate the damage if the United States ever concludes that Israel suffers from a systemic, permanent weakness.
While many Arabs have rushed to that conclusion since the summer war, Americans have not. But a question hangs over Israel, and it will be posed to Israel again, probably sooner rather than later. When it is, Israel must replace the question mark with an exclamation point.
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I am sorry, it is not I who is without sin - except through the finished work of Christ, therefore I am not qualified to cast that stone. I'll defer that to Him.
The U.S.A. needs to side with Israel for a number of reasons, but no one has mentioned a very practical reason that trumps the others: If we abandoned Israel and the Jews faced annihilation then Israel would have no alternative to nuclear war on their enemies. Our involvement in the region has prevented disastrous wars. The same can be said about the India/Pakistan conflict where we have no direct national, cultural, or religious interests. It is in everyone's best interest that nuclear war be avoided.
"Also Israel is our only real friend on the planet.I am convinced she would die for us just as surely as we would die for her, if push ever comes to shove."
Yeh - it seems that way. Again, I think it's that Biblical bond.
So Britain and Australia are not real friends? Don't think so somehow?
Its a hard issure for me to understand also, Jesus clearly states that He didnt destroy the law. Other passages teach us that we are no longer under the Law, but Grace.
Nevertheless, I believe the entire Bible is the inspired word of God, so if there is something I dont understand it is my fault.
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
[ The Scriptures Opened ] Then He said to them, These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.
I believe God still has His hand over Israel, always has and always will. And that He will punish those who come against her for His names sake. I also believe He will bless her allies. He will also punish Israel when His will calls for it, and has many times..
He is the same yesterday, today, and tommorow.
Have you noticed that some say Jesus did destroy the Law and then other say he didn't on this very thread?
Also, some are saying that the Bible is literally true and relevant for today, but that not every commandment is to be accepted?!?!
And on this some are basing American Foreign Policy in the Middle East? Wow!
I think the ultimate reasoning - and probably most logical that could help Jack2006 is that in a geographic area where savage, tribal instincts still exist, where so-called "friend" will cut a friend's throat at the slightest provocation, the relationship of seeing one totally through thick and thin of circumstance bears a testimony totally foreign - yet admirable among Arabs and they are jealous of any similar relationship. I firmly believe our relationship with Israel and her's with us teaches the willing Arab true friendship lies only in mutual admiration and never through fear of the sword.
In turn, it teaches a relationship with our Creator ought be based upon admiration of Him and not through fear of the law - a concept totally alien to the islamite.
"But alternative theories will always exist. There were many failures of communications and much confusion surrounding the incident. I give Isreali the benefit of the doubt."
Me too. It's just a typical anti-Jewish conspiracy theory that people like to spew.
You don't see the same people claiming the US hates Canada and that's why our planes attacked their ground troops (twice, now).
I agree with supporting Israel too. I just won't use the Bible to dictate foreign policy. That is what Islam does.
As for protecting Israel - I have a sure-fire method of doing so.
All the Israelis need to do is let it be known that if anyone tries to fire Nuclear or Chemicals weapons at them (ie not just war but obliteration) then they will totally destroy their most beloved place.
I am sure you can all work out were that is. I think that would stop them.
Did Jesus coming and dying as a sacrifice for our sins change the way some things are done versus when people were under the Law of Moses? Yes, imo.
Did it change the fact that God chose Israel as the Nation through which He would work His will on earth? No.
Suppose you accept that God has a plan for Israel,(Israel is mentioned 1000s of times in the bible) would you want to be a nation going against that plan? That didnt work out well for Ramses, among others.
I think our foregn policy is based on Israel being a strong ally in a cesspool of middle east fanatics mainly. Just as prophesied long ago.
His reminder of the US relationship with Israel before 1967 was interesting. I was just a small child at the time, but I distinctly remember that even though our government may not have been allied with them, our People were. I would say that the government of the US that abandons Israel will not be our government for very long.
Exactly. And if we threw the Izzies to them it would not change their hatred for us one iota.
We support Israel for all the right reasons: self-interest and ideology (i.e., shared democratic values and institutions).
People interpret the Bible dfferently sometimes, no surprise there. Who among us understands it all? Certainly not me.
One this is certain though from a Christian perspective is that Israel is beloved by God.
It would be illegitimate for the United States policy decisions on biblicy precepts, which are open to interpritation, however it's perfectly legitimate for individuals to make their judgments based on religious belief, whether on crime, social issues, or foreign affairs.
Your use of the death penalty is a straw man. In Judaism the death penalty is viewed primarily as an indication of the severity of an offence, the penalty not necessarily carried out by the hand of man, with the exception of murder. The Tanakh doesn't stand alone, rather is explained by the oral law. The death penalty requirements were stringent enough, 2 witness', and prior warning of the crime to be committed and it's penalty, as to be rarely used even in ancient times, and essentially defunct for about 2,000 years. This contension can easily be disproven by relating examples from the last few millenia, but I wouldn't waste much time on it.
I don't like Wikipedia much, but I'll post a short paragraph from them below which is accurate, as well as another article which explains the issue.
If you're point is to debase others opinions which are biblicly based, I'd suggest asking them to provide proof of spontaneously comusting bushes next time.
The official teachings of Judaism approve the death penalty in principle but the standard of proof required for application of death penalty is extremely stringent, and in practice, it has been abolished by various Talmudic decisions, making the situations in which a death sentence could be passed effectively impossible and hypothetical. "Forty years before the destruction of the Temple" in 70 CE, i. e., in 30 CE, the Sanhedrin effectively abolished capital punishment, making it an hypothetical upper limit on the severity of punishment, fitting in finality for God alone to use, not fallible people.
A. At the very dawn of civilization, immediately after the flood, God commands Noah: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man will his blood be shed, for in the image of God did He create man"(Genesis 9:6). It is precisely because of man's elevated, Divine nature that we were commanded to deal strictly with anyone who diminishes the expression of His image by committing murder.
After the giving of the Torah, we find that many different transgressions are liable to capital punishment, including murder, adultery, and desecrating the Sabbath.
So it would seem that for mankind as a whole, and also among the Jewish people, capital punishment is a legitimate and even vital part of the system of justice.
In 1981, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the most outstanding rabbinical authority in the United States at that time, was asked by the Governor of New York (Hugh Carey) to present the Orthodox Jewish approach to capital punishment, which was then (as ever) a controversial topic in the state. In his answer (volume II of Choshen Mishpat number 68), Rav Moshe constantly emphasizes not the underlying liability to capital punishment but rather the many different practical obstacles that the Torah justice system, as explained in the Talmud, places in the way of actual execution of this punishment.
First of all, Rav Moshe explains, "the death penalty is mentioned in the Torah only for the gravest transgressions," which would be committed by people who are completely amoral. He goes on to state that even these punishments "are not out of hate for the wrongdoers or [even] out of concern for the stability of society . . . but rather so that people should be aware of the seriousness of these prohibitions and therefore would not transgress them." Indeed, even these punishments are tempered by "sensitivity to the importance of each soul," to the extent that the technical requirements for carrying out the death penalty were next to impossible to fulfill: That no circumstantial evidence is accepted, that warning of the penalty is given and acknowledged before the crime is committed, and so on.
For this reason, Rav Moshe explains, the death penalty was never customary in Jewish communities even when the secular government authorized them to employ it. "And even so, in all the generations there were virtually no murderers among the Jews, because of the gravity of the prohibition and because they were educated by the Torah and by the punishments of the Torah to understand the gravity of the prohibition, and not because they were simply afraid of the punishment."
We can summarize by saying that on the one hand, the Torah prescribes capital punishment for a variety of transgressions. Yet simultaneously, our tradition tells us that these punishments were next to impossible to carry out. It seems that the prescription of capital punishment is mainly an educational device to impress upon us the severity of a small core of basic regulations which are essential for an ethical society. It is not meant to encourage the legal system to actually sentence offenders to death.
However, Rav Moshe adds that in the case of a particularly cruel murderer, or in a situation where bloodshed becomes widespread and out of control, there is justification for the authorities to carry out the death penalty in order to restore respect for the law.
We can learn from this profound reply that in any system of justice, the educational dimension is at least as important as the deterrent factor. Severe punishments are meant to impress upon citizens the severity of the crime even more than they are meant to raise the cost of crime.
In fact, sometimes the educational and deterrent elements contradict. "Cruel and unusual punishment" forbidden by the US Constitution should be a particularly effective deterrent. Yet its educational message is negative, as it tends to erode rather than affirm man's Divine image. It seems that the United States founding fathers were aware of the inner message of the Biblical justice system, as expounded by Rabbi Feinstein, as they forbade this kind of judgment and thus gave precedence to educating the citizens in what is right and wrong rather than threatening them to toe the line.
Incentives and deterrents have importance, but alone they can never create an enlightened society. The fundamental bedrock of society is education towards uplifting values, and the criminal justice system, like other aspects of law and society, must take this into account.
More detailed commentary could be found here
And THAT'S the differentiating point. Islam is as Islam does - depend upon them at your own peril, it's who they are, it's in their teaching. Biblical precepts governing our FP bear witness whether or not we believe the concept I relayed in the previous post. Are we who we claim to be all the time, or are we not? Can the world rely upon us (and Israel) to stand by our word and our friends in sound doctrine - through good and bad times, or are we subject to conditionary elements such as Islam teaches.
Whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or not, our core values exhibited before others are based upon the beliefs we hold sacred; and those consequently and ultimately govern how we deal with others.
I heard a saying once that if you deal with someone you know is a crook, you shouldn't be surprised when you're hornswoggled.
What is the greatest envy of the world when they see the US (and Israel)? Maybe I should restate that: It's what they don't see that's truly more appealing.
I think it's because we are one of the few countries on the planet that Loves Jews. We do not tolerate anti-semitism, and most of our people love Israel right-or-wrong. Frankly I can't think of any other country that supports the right of the Jewish People to exist as the US does.
"Talking" spontaneously combusting bushes~!
That occured to me while typing, but I couldn't relate it to the topic at hand.