These last couple of weeks has been what some may call a great week for Israel and the so-called “pro-Israel” community in America – at least the hawkish, near-sighted one. The Obama administration stuck hard to its opposition to the Palestinian bid for statehood and showed its unequivocal support for Israel at the UN General Assembly, resulting in a poll showing a sudden surge in Israeli approval of US President Barack Obama, who has largely been considered by Israelis (despite actions to the contrary) to be a “pro-Palestinian” president.
Newspapers have been saturated recently with polls on waning Jewish support for Obama, raising the question of whether he will lose the large Jewish backing he enjoyed in 2008 in the next election. The American Jewish Committee just published a poll showing that “53 percent disapprove of the president’s handling of US -Israel relations” (however it found that overall, American Jews would still largely vote for him).
This story began gaining traction when Anthony Weiner’s job as congressman in New York’s 9th district was taken by a republican for the first time since 1923 last month – largely with the help of former NY mayor Ed Koch’s crusade to convince district voters that Obama, and by extension, democrats, are bad for Israel. It is thus no wonder that Obama decided to flex his “pro-Israel” muscle at the UN General Assembly, which Israel’s Foreign Minister was quick to praise.
Meanwhile republican presidential candidates have all been making definitive “pro-Israel” statements and, following in the footsteps of former US vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, have been visiting Israel and asserting that it should not give up a single inch of West Bank land. Texas Governor Rick Perry declared that “As a Christian, I have a clear directive to support Israel,” while Mitt Romney, who is increasingly popular among Jewish republicans, asserted that Obama has “thrown Israel under the bus.” All this is being done – not with regard for Israel’s interests or for facts on the ground – but rather in an effort to challenge Obama’s seat and woo not only Jewish but “pro-Israel” voters that include the evangelical community, as well as anti-Muslim voters.
It is no secret that Jews, although only 2% of America’s population, are a crucial factor in US presidential elections. The electoral system makes it so that certain states – such as Pennsylvania and Florida – where Jews make up closer to 5-8% of the population and actually comprise a swing constituency. American politicians also pander to leaders of the Jewish community because “pro-Israel” money (which is not strictly Jewish) comprises between a quarter and a third of all donations to major political parties in the US.
In the race to win over the “pro-Israel” voters in America, politicians are throwing around “pro-Israel” statements left and right to serve their own interests– and in the process, repeatedly affirming a narrow definition of what it means to be “pro-Israel” as a position where security justifies occupation, where settlements are not an obstacle to peace—and in some cases are even deemed a great and divinely ordained thing—and where the stalled peace process is not Israel’s responsibility. Obama fell into this trap last week at the UN. After all, how is it possible for Obama to be seen as a president hostile to Israel when he has repeatedly reaffirmed the Likud government’s position by voting against the resolution deeming settlements illegal several months ago, and now, by going against Palestinian statehood, even at the expense of other American geopolitical interests?
As a New York Times Magazine article about Obama entitled “The first Jewish president” recently put it, “despite the damage thwarting that bid might do to America’s standing in the region, the Obamans have never wavered in going balls-out for Israel.” Even at the expense of American positioning in the Middle East, Obama has affirmed his support for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Israel not because he or the GOP candidates are that concerned for Israel’s future, but rather in order to try and solidify political power at home.
Israel, a country that claims to represent world Jewry and whose democratic character and viability is highly questionable as its government increasingly passes discriminatory legislation, is merely a pawn in American electoral politics. While some may think that Israel’s influence on American politics shows just how important its security is to the US, it rather shows just how carelessly Israel’s character and future can be utilized for political gains that have nothing to do with the well-being of its citizens and those under its control. This does not bode well for the myriad of American and Israeli Jews who feel that this definition of “pro-Israelism” does not represent them. Nor does it bode well for those who have hoped that America could act as a strong broker for peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
The careless and oversimplified use being made of “pro-Israel” positions
in the American electoral race highlights just how dangerous it is to
use Israel’s politics to leverage support at home. It is not only
problematic for those American Jews whose views are not represented by
this rightwing “pro-Israelism,” but is further dangerous for America’s
geopolitical standing in the Arab world (which now sees America as
unconditionally behind Israel).
Finally, it is chiefly problematic for both Israelis and Palestinians, whose very futures are at stake. The writer is an Israeli-American
freelance journalist and translator based in Tel Aviv. She is a writer
and editor with 972mag.com.