With the political conventions behind us and the final lap of the long election season proceeding apace, now is a good time to ask how we should assess candidates asking for our vote.
Watching the conventions, with the differences and arguments of the primary season behind us, one is encouraged to think that each party believes its nominee is the greatest, the wisest, the best equipped to handle any and all problems, the answer to whatever ails us as a nation.
For those of us on the outside looking in, unfazed by the Kool-Aid of uniform thinking, we need to prioritize the key issues that matter most, and to establish how to measure the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates.
This question arises as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both point to the president’s record to make the case that they deserve to win the vote of Jewish Americans. One argues success, the other alleges failure.
So, how do we interpret the record they dispute? For starters, the standard by which we judge politicians should not be based solely on the partisan label at the voting booth. I care much more about a candidate’s track record of performance than his or her party affiliation, which is why over the years I have supported both Democrats and Republicans. When a president of either party does the right thing and has earned the support of the Jewish community, we should not hesitate to say so.
Second, how a president performs on the most critical issues, when bold leadership is required to make a difference, is more important than down-the-line agreement on everything, which is an unfair test.
A vigorous debate with a range of opinions aired is a healthy exercise. But as the saying goes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. And on the big questions concerning Israel, I believe the facts support the president.
By the most important benchmark – security – the Obama administration has invested more in Israel’s defense than any of its predecessors. Specifically, the president spearheaded funding for the Iron Dome system to shield families in Sderot and Ashkelon and Beersheba from ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza.
Under the president’s leadership, cooperation between the US and Israeli militaries, intelligence communities and defense establishments has become closer and deeper than ever. He clearly appreciates and has delivered on Israel’s need to have a qualitative military edge over declared enemies who vastly outnumber the Jewish state. He has pledged to ensure Israel can defend itself, by itself, from any threat – and he has provided Israel the tools, resources and means to get the job done.
Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Israel’s leaders and to military commanders in the United States and Israel: all agree there never has been a time of better security collaboration between our two countries.
On an equally vital matter, a major Palestinian and global initiative is well under way to try to delegitimize Israel, to use international institutions to elevate Palestinians while diminishing Israel at every opportunity. The BDS approach – boycott, disinvestment, sanctions – is dangerous because it has received support from so many in the world.
No longer are these tactics backed by just a hodgepodge of undemocratic, rogue nations; these ideas have permeated respectable regional powers in Latin America, Africa and Asia, constituting a growing threat to Israel’s economy and security.
But at the UN, when Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas tried to circumvent the peace process to get premature UN endorsement for a Palestinian state – with the world expecting Abbas would succeed – President Obama stood firm and spoke eloquently in opposition.
A large majority of well over 100 countries was arrayed against Israel and the US, but the plan fell apart in the Security Council after effective US lobbying derailed the vote. The mischief makers who often hold sway at the UN and at various international forums were stopped cold thanks to President Obama’s leadership.
On the single greatest threat to Israel’s security, the prospect of a nuclear Iran, President Obama has dramatically tightened the screws on Tehran through a series of economic sanctions. He argued for sanctions in the US Senate, and under his leadership the UN has passed measures that many doubted could be achieved.
Few imagined President Obama could unite Europe. Almost no one believed Russia and China would provide support, albeit to a more limited extent. But thanks to President Obama, the sanctions regime has a chance to work.
In the end, no one can be sure if the mullahs in Tehran will relent. Diplomacy is not the goal; it is a tool. The bottom line is that the president has made it plain that Iran will not be allowed to intimidate and threaten the security of Israel, the entire Middle East, or the US and its allies.
To the American people, to Israel, and to Iran, President Obama has given his word: US national security interests demand that we not take any option off the table to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
These are the things that matter most. On each one – security cooperation with Israel, combating international efforts to undermine Israel’s legitimacy, and pursuing a policy that prevents Iran from developing nukes – the president’s actions have backed up his pledge to support Israel.
The Middle East is undergoing tremendous change, and Israeli security officials have their hands full with terrorist and jihadi threats on every border. The next president will have enormous decisions to make, ones that may determine the direction of the region for an entire generation.
This election, as Vice President Joe Biden might say, “is a big deal.”
As Jews, we have a lot to consider, much to sift through and analyze, with serious consequences for Israel’s future. It is a burden for which exhaustive Talmud study has prepared us well. Let’s not allow the heat of the political moment to take our eyes off the ball and miss what is most important in determining our vote for president.
The writer is chairman of the American Jewish Congress. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent the organization.