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Keywords:

  • Political culture;
  • discourse;
  • framing;
  • Israel;
  • focus groups;
  • mass media;
  • content analysis

Two apparently contradictory ideas are closely linked in Israeli political discourse: Israel is powerful and independent and Israel is vulnerable and dependent. This study used content analysis and focus groups, as well as existing survey data analyzed by others, to explore how this paradox has been reflected in newspapers and conversations during six different time periods from 1948 to 1996. The goal was not to explain the paradox but to examine its consequences for Israeli perceptions of U.S. policy in the Middle East—and, in the process, to explore Israeli self-images. The nature of U.S. strategic interests was originally treated as problematic and in need of political discussion, but in the past 25 years these interests have become taken for granted. Surprisingly, even after the end of the Cold War, a critical discourse moment in which a reexamination of U.S. interests in the Middle East would seem inevitable, the U.S. role remains taken for granted and largely unexamined. The strong/vulnerable paradox explains this absence of discussion: Examining U.S. interests too closely upsets the delicate balance that keeps the sense of vulnerability in check.