As the United States presidential campaign moves from state to state, issues are debated and voters engage with candidates.One issue that is consistently important to voters is support for Israel.Following the early contests of Iowa and New Hampshire, the candidates and their campaigns traveled through South Carolina, Nevada and the south on Super Tuesday.
Allen Gillespie has a keen perspective on South Carolina. Former chairman of the South Carolina Retirement System Investment Commission and chief investment officer of FinTrust Investment Advisors, Gillespie explains the importance of Israel in the state.“Israel is on the minds of many people in South Carolina for various reasons. There are a lot of military families in South Carolina. Such families tend to be more national- security conscious and supportive of Israel as our strong ally in the region. There is also a sizable defense industry in the state that employs hundreds of people who rely on Israeli defense contracts, but mostly, the support for Israel is value-driven – our shared Judeo-Christian values. For many, that goes hand in hand with strong religious support for Israel.”Such religious-driven support in a state where more than 90 percent of the population self-identify as believers cannot be underestimated. It is broad and cuts across party, denominational and racial lines.Pastor Thomas Dixon, a prominent leader in the African-American community in Charleston, is running for the US Senate as a Democrat. He states that while Israel is not on the top of his community’s concerns, given more pressing issues such as poverty and injustice, the love for our country is strong. Dixon points to the strengthening of support for the Jewish state over the past years inside African- American churches.“The more contemporary faith-based communities exercise a stronger affiliation with Israel than the traditional African- American ones, because there is more of an emphasis on the biblical connection between Christianity and Israel.“There is a strong teaching [emphasis] on the historical aspects of Judaism, which are the foundation of Christianity. From focus on the study of the Bible, which takes place in Israel, to learning about archeological findings in Israel that substantiate the biblical stories, the connection to Israel is tangible and strong.”When the presidential candidates moved to Nevada (the fourth Republican primary and third Democratic), the issue of support for Israel maintained a high profile in speeches and in voters interests.Unaffiliated Christian and undecided voter Brian David Carter attended rallies of candidates from both parties to learn about their positions. While issues relating to the Constitution are top of his list, Carter stresses that strong support of Israel is an absolute must.“Let’s be clear. We in America would not be a nation without Israel,” he says.“Also, some people do not realize that a lot of what is in our founding document, the Constitution, is taken from biblical doctrines – from the Torah, from the Tanach, and from the New Testament. The freedoms that we have today are to a large extent thanks to the people of Israel.”From Nevada, the candidates traveled south to Texas, where Israel continued to be a factor. Such was reflected in the Houston debate, which included a sharp exchange between the candidates on the degree of support for Israel.More importantly, it was reflected on the ground in the Super Tuesday states.Brant Frost IV is a Republican leader in Georgia, one of the largest states in terms of delegates (behind only California, Texas, Florida and New York). Early last year, candidates met with Frost and his family to make their cases and ask for his support, as they did with other local leaders. Through intense dialogue, he carefully explored the candidates’ positions on various issues. One of the items on the top of the list was support for Israel.“THE ISSUE of Israel is a deal-breaker,” he explains. “If we agree on all things, but not on Israel, it won’t work. If a candidate would say ‘Israel is a problem,’ it is as if he would say that he hates Jesus.”Frost, who decided to support Ted Cruz, acknowledges the complexity in assessing the degree of support for Israel. He makes it clear that blanket statements are not sufficient.“In the Republican primary you have to say you are pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-Israel, but then the question is what it means. Some candidates would say, yes – I’m pro-marriage, but what can I do – the Supreme Court has spoken. Similarly with Israel, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama would both claim they are pro-Israel. It is not the words that matter, it is your actions and policies.”This is especially the case since Frost acknowledges that the issue of Israel is a way for candidates to court the Evangelical community (over half of Republican voters in Georgia).“There is no doubt that the stronger you support Israel, the stronger connection you will have to the evangelical community.”In rallies, cafes and restaurants throughout the south and the heartland, voters get excited by the opportunity to meet someone from Israel and express their support.Like many others, Barbara Tawzer of Lexington, South Carolina, explains that God blesses those who stand with Israel by quoting the verse from Genesis 12: “I will bless those who bless you.”On the other side of that same verse, a tidal wave of Israel-bashing is sweeping through international organizations, European circles and increasingly trickling to the US via campuses and other circles calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Jewish State.The large number of grassroots supporters across the land serves as a powerful backstop to such title wave by sending a strong and unequivocal message: “Americans stand with Israel.”