The Israel Factor: Israel suffers from Tea Party confusion

While the panel is still not enthusiastic about the Partiers, it is also not as judgmental and negative as it was back in November.

By SHMUEL ROSNER
March 2, 2011 13:20
3 minute read.
Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin 311 Reuters. (photo credit: Reuters)

What do Israelis make of the Tea Party movement? What do they know about it, and how do they think it will affect US-Israel relations? Judging by the ranking of our Israel Factor panel (meet our distinguished panel here), there's no clear answer to these questions other than: We're confused, we don't yet know, we might not be as apprehensive as we were couple of months ago, nevertheless, we're still quite suspicious.

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In the graph you can see here, (Changes in People and Institutions) two things are notable:

1. The Tea Party movement isn't yet considered "good for Israel" by our panel.
2. While the panel is still not enthusiastic about the Partiers, it is also not as judgmental and negative as it was back in November, when Tea Party candidates swept the country. The trend is upwards.

As many commentators and reporters have noted before me, the Tea Party movement is sending mixed signals on Israel. What some have described as the "Ron Paul" approach and the "Sarah Palin" approach towards Israel can be quite confusing – even more so due to the fact that (as Nathan Guttman reported) "For most Tea Party movement activists, the ideological chasm separating Paul and Palin on issues relating to Israel is of little interest. Foreign policy questions are rarely raised by Tea Party activists in articles and events."

Interestingly, both Paul and Palin are rated fairly low by the panel on the question of possible 2012 presidential candidates (as you can see in the table entitled Rate the Possible 2012 Presidential Candidates). However, one might suspect that Paul is ranked at the bottom of the list because of his views related to Israel (and to foreign affairs in general – when I interviewed Paul a couple of years ago, he insisted that "I'm not anti-Israel in any way"). Palin isn't doing well with the panel because of a more general perception according to which she doesn't have the weight needed for presidential ticket.

But as you can see in the same table, the panel isn't biased against all Tea Party backed candidates. True, Mike Pence will not be running (he will be eliminated from our next survey), but he is the darling of Indiana Tea Partiers, and our panel feels quite positive about him. Marco Rubio, another example (Rubio's relations with the TP became somewhat more complicated), is a Tea symbol, one of the movement's most notable successes in the 2010 elections – our panel likes him. In short: the panel doesn't look to identification with the movement, but specifically at each candidate. But this leaves an open question: What is The Israel Factor of the emergence of the Tea Party movement?

I guess the answer should be: We don't know. The panel doesn't, but also many Israeli officials with which I've tried to examine this question didn't have clear answer. On the one hand, many partiers come from the quarters most supportive of Israel. On the other hand, there's this nagging isolationist streak that Israelis do not feel comfortable with. All in all: what you see (in our charts) is what you get: the TPM isn't the most reassuring phenomenon Israelis could imagine – but they've realized by now that it's really not about "cutting aid/ties to Israel" and that in fact many TPM leaders aim to be leaders of the pro-Israel camp in Congress (we will not discuss the "what pro-Israel means" question – it's been discussed before to the point of exhaustion).


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