Once upon a time, Israel presented itself in the American political discourse with some plausibility as a kind of charity case. Under modern circumstances, that makes no sense. Israel is a high-income country with the strongest military in its region and an arsenal of nuclear weapons that secure it from conventional attack. Israel is a democracy with a claim on our sympathies, but countries from Brazil to Mexico to India to South Africa all suggest themselves as democracies with much more in the way of objective material needs. But no political movement lives on raw congressional power alone, so the advocates for heavy U.S. subsidization of Israel are increasingly turning to a preposterous rhetoric in which said subsidization is actually beneficial to American citizens rather than an act of charity. Hence Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ridiculous though much-applauded claim that “America has no better friend than Israel.”
Today in the Wall Street Journal, George Gilder of the Discovery Institute takes a break from peddling creationism to argue, “We need Israel as much as it needs us.” The argument here is that Israel makes some high-tech goods:
Israelis supply Intel with many of its advanced microprocessors, from the Pentium and Sandbridge, to the Atom and Centrino. Israeli companies endow Cisco with new core router designs and real-time programmable network processors for its next-generation systems. They supply Apple with robust miniaturized solid state memory systems for its iPhones, iPods and iPads, and Microsoft with critical user interface designs for the OS7 product line and the Kinect gaming motion-sensor interface, the fastest rising consumer electronic product in history.
It’s quite true that Israel’s high-tech cluster is an impressive achievement, and it plays an important role in a globally integrated economy. But in an era of global supply chains, American technology firms obtain components from all kinds of places — China, Taiwan, Korea, etc. — and nobody’s suggesting that the United States ought to subsidize any of those other countries at anything remotely approaching the Israeli rate. More to the point, this form of argument seems to miss the entire point of commerce and gains from trade. The consumer surplus from Israeli technology products is available to customers in Canada and New Zealand and Peru and Botswana just as much as it is to Americans. We’re not deriving any special benefit from Israel-based firms in light of our relationship with Israel.
Indeed, I’d say serious examination of Israel’s commercial and economic success militates in the opposite direction. It underscores the reality that Israel is a strong and prosperous state that has no particular need of American assistance. Nor does it have any particular need for land in the West Bank or military control over the Jordan Valley. Instead, a very successful society’s long-term viability is severely threatened by its insistence on trying to govern a population of millions of non-citizens.