Support for Israel is nowadays a bedrock principle for Republican politicians, but it was not ever thus. Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, for instance, both sought to move away from what they saw as their respective predecessors’ excessive favoritism toward the Jewish state. Identifying the presidency of Ronald Reagan as the decisive turning point, Tevi Troy traces the evolution of Republican attitudes:
[By the late 1970s, a] confluence of forces [was] remaking the Republican party. The growing evangelical support for Israel had its greatest impact in the South, fast becoming the GOP’s stronghold. And it coincided with Ronald Reagan’s eloquence in support of the Jewish state.
Reagan did not see eye to eye with the Israelis on every issue; he approved the sale of AWACS radar planes to Saudi Arabia in 1981, criticized the 1981 attack on Iraq’s reactor at Osirak, and was not supportive of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. But Reagan spoke and thought of Israel in a manner new to American presidents. He saw that Israel was a strategic asset to the United States in the struggle against totalitarianism. Reagan recognized the alignment not only of interests but foundational Judeo-Christian beliefs: “Israel represents the one stable democracy sharing values with us in that part of the world,” he said.