Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should not meet with Republican presidential
candidates during his upcoming trip to Washington so as not to be perceived as
taking sides in the campaign, Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the
Orthodox Union (OU), said this week.
Netanyahu will be addressing the
annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington a week from Monday, the same day
Republican hopeful Newt Gingrich is scheduled to address the gathering.
source in the Prime Minister’s Office said that while no final decision had been
made on whether Netanyahu would meet the Republican presidential candidates, it
was not likely he would meet with one if could not meet with all four –
Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul – which was an unlikely
In past election years, the source said, Israel’s prime
minister had generally met only with presidential candidates after their party’s
Diament, in Israel for last week’s annual meeting of the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that
during the US campaign, Israeli leaders needed to be careful not to play into
While Israel has been an issue in the Republican
campaign, Diament said this was because the candidates had made it one, not
According to Diament, the Republican candidates at this stage of
the campaign want to appeal to Republican primary voters and financial
contributors, and there is a “significant segment in both categories who feel
passionately about Israel.”
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He referred not only to Jews, but also to
Also, Diament added, each candidate was trying to
portray himself already as the nominee, and interested in highlighting the
contrasts with US President Barack Obama on a wide variety of issues – including
foreign policy and Israel.
“But for voters who care passionately about
the issue – Christian, Jewish or otherwise – it is appropriate for Israel to be
part of the debate,” he said.
Asked if he was concerned for Israel if
Obama were to win a second term and not have to face the electorate again,
Diament answered: “Yes and no.”
No, he said, because “no president has a
totally blank check – we have checks and balances.” He acknowledged that while
the president has a great deal of latitude on foreign policy, “Congress is a
check, and the American public is a check.”
He also said he felt Obama
learned a great deal during his first term about the issues and the
Referring to Obama’s assumption at the beginning of his term that
if he could get Israel to freeze settlement construction, he could then get the
Arab states to put some “gestures” toward Israel on the table, Diament said “he
and his administration learned the hard way that things are a lot more
complicated. I don’t think those lessons have
Diament said he was a bit concerned about a second term
because the president does believe that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict is in the best interests of both the US and Israel, and would like to
make progress in that direction. As to why that should worry him, Diament said, “Because they
may want to pursue it in a way that the Israeli government, for its reasons,
does not want to – and that could lead to difficulty.”
Diament said the
OU does not endorse candidates in elections, and would lose its tax-exempt
status if it did so. However, he did acknowledge that among the OU’s constituent
synagogues, the Republicans fared much better than they did among the larger US
In the 2008 presidential election, for instance, he
said that while Obama beat John McCain by about a 3-1 margin among Jewish
voters, in districts with high percentages of Orthodox Jewish voters, McCain
outpolled Obama by the same 3-1 margin.
Diament explained the difference
by saying that for the Orthodox Jewish community, Israel was a much higher
priority issue than for other American Jews, for whom domestic issues loom more
important in deciding for whom to vote.
In polls the American Jewish
Committee takes on Jewish opinion, Diament noted, one question always asked is
the degree to which the respondents feel close to Israel.
“The numbers of
Orthodox who feel very close to Israel is much higher,” he said, maintaining
that the issue is more salient for them, and that they put it at the top of
their list when voting.
Plus, Diament added, Orthodox Jews are more
conservative on social values questions – such as abortion and church-state
issues – than many of their American coreligionists.
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