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The Foreign Policy of Israel Between Realpolitic and Jewish Foreign Policy

Yizhak Mualem Ph.D., Department of Political Studies

Yitzhak Mualem completed his studies by means of a scholarship from The Exilarch's Foundation under the patronage of NAIM DANGOOR


In this paper the purpose was to examine whether the Israeli foreign policy is affected by the fact that the State of Israel is the state of the Jewish People or whether this has no impact on the conducting of foreign relations of the State of Israel. That is, that the Israeli foreign policy is a policy which is conducted and based primarily on realistic foundations, its meaning being focused political activities for the purpose of realising the state goals in order to reinforce its independence and status as nationality-state in the international arena.

The theoretical framework which has been adopted to deal with the fact that the State of Israel is both a State and the Jewish State is constructed on combination of two theoretical approaches, the realistic and that of extra-national relations. The State of Israel, due to the structure of the Jewish people which is a case that cannot be for the analysis of foreign policy of a state. Therefore, it is not possible to explain this policy according to the realistic model alone. Hence, to be able to present an effective analysis we needed a complementary theory. The extra-national theory enables us to analyse the phenomenon of the State of Israel and the Jewish world, the structure of which, as noted, goes beyond the framework of a regular nationality-state.

The empirical framework of the research is comparative: three different illustrative cases in respect of their time and place of occurrence. The illustrative cases are: A. Israel-France relations and the future of Algerian Jews between the years 1958-1962; B. The Jewish Community and the Israeli foreign policy toward South Africa under the Apartheid regime 1960-1967; C. The campaign for USSR Jews after the Six Days War. This is while focusing on issues-field which is defined by set rules of behaviour of the actors: the State of Israel, the Jewish organisations in the Diaspora and other states that took part in this field of activity.

The historical message on which this research is based has its source in the central foundations of the Israeli foreign policy as it was formed in the first decade. In that decade the Israeli-Jewish politics was based on the statehood principle. This approach considered it necessary to subject all the internal and external means within the State of Israel and the Diaspora for the realisation of the primary goal of the Jewish People, which is making the State of Israel a central state factor within the Jewish People. This unique political approach had, therefore, impact on the formation of the Israeli foreign policy, and it is also manifested in the illustrative cases, which were examined in the course of this research paper.

In the first illustrative case there was an attempt to examine the nature and essence of the Israeli foreign policy in two fields of activity which have influenced each other. The first is the field of Israel-France relations, and under the second we have dealt with the question of the rendering of spiritual and material assistance to a non-Zionist Jewish community in Algeria throughout the 1950's and early 1960's. The research in this case focused, as noted, on two parallel lines the first of which and the prominent and significant one being the discussion of Israel-France relations which has affected the other, more inner line, which dealt with the relations of Israel and the Jewish community in Algeria.

The involvement of the Israeli Government in South Africa and in the new states in that continent had influence on the status and welfare of the Jewish community in South Africa. In this case the policy of the Israeli Government regarding the question of preferring the interest of the Jewish community, which emanated from the context of the Middle-East conflict, over the interest of the Jewish community was examined. The Israeli Government has deepened its political and economic ties with the new states in Africa and supported motions of the UN organisation to condemn the inter-racial separation regime in South Africa and to impose sanctions on this state, while this notwithstanding the harming of the welfare status of the South African Jews. The political interest was dominant and essential whereas the overall Jewish interest was marginal in the interest scale of the State of Israel. This is because the harming of the South African Jews was limited, as a result of the policy of the Israeli Government, to the political and economic fields alone and did not spread to the physical one.

The tension between the state interest and the Jewish interest was intensified in the campaign for the USSR Jews, especially in the period following the Six Days War when the diplomatic ties between these two countries were severed and the bilateral political chains have been removed. The Israeli Government dared and commenced acting decisively on the issue of the USSR Jews. It took advantage of the structural changes which started to form at that period, when a new international reality started to come into being which was based on the policy of amelioration - the détente - between the two superpowers. At that period the Israeli Government laid the issue of the USSR Jews openly on the Jewish and even the international agenda. It has initiated a battle for the granting of immigration-permits and not departure-permits and this contrary to the policy which has been determined by the large Jewish organisations in the United States, such as the Jewish-American Committee and the World Jewish Congress. These organisations demanded to provide assistance to the USSR Jews to run their cultural life independently, and to campaign for the cessation of persecution and detention of Jews, as well as for their departure to Western countries apart from Israel. These goals were defined by them as primary and essential goals.

From the facts which have been revealed in those three cases we conclude that the Israeli Government finds it difficult to conduct foreign policy which is based on the political realism alone, as a result of the international and inter-Jewish reality. It was forced to take into account the magnitude and impact of extra-state factors in the Diaspora. The Israeli Government accorded weight to the overall Jewish goals, when it has defined the shape of the national interest of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People. This accession means, politically speaking, that the Israeli Government was forced to conduct foreign policy that is not focused from the purely state viewpoint, which did not provide full explanation of this foreign policy. Through the complementary model, the real-political viewpoint has offered a more precise explanation of the foreign policy of Israel.

According to the findings of this paper it seems therefore that two things are present in the Israeli foreign policy, and these are: the fundamental-declarative aspect and the operative one. The foreign policy was characterised by the declarative aspect in the parallel commitment both to the state interest and to the overall Jewish interest. Moreover, in this aspect it has been relatively easy to create an overlap between the two so that the realisation of the state interest was defined as clear manifestation of the overall Jewish interest. On the other hand, in the operative aspect there were discovered contradictions and contrasts between the two types of interests. Examination of those issues is what stands at the heart of this paper.



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