In Washington: When 'pro-Israel' means not giving a damn about Israel

Supporting the status quo is a wonderfully lucrative path of least resistance.

mjrosenberg88 (photo credit:)
mjrosenberg88
(photo credit: )
I had a conversation the other day with a friend who asked me if I was really sure Barack Obama is pro-Israel. "I mean, we know John McCain is." We do? How do we know that? Besides what does it even mean to be pro-Israel? There is a real irony here, one which most of us who deal with this issue in Washington confront daily. It is that the politicians who are most deft at spouting memorized "pro-Israel" talking points tend to care about Israel the least. The ones who speak from the heart and the head, who study the issue and try to come up with ways to break out of the deadly status quo are the ones who care the most. This includes Jewish politicians, many of whom pretend that they care deeply but only discovered Israel when they decided that playing the Jewish card would help them politically. One Jewish senator I know is well-known for being a fiery uber-hawk on Israel. In fact, he has no interest in Israel at all and never has. He cares deeply about America's domestic problems, on which he's a leader, but is indifferent to Israel, Palestinians and Middle East issues in general. It is precisely because he doesn't give a damn that he can mouth the Marty Peretz/Alan Dershowitz line with such enthusiasm. It matters to him not at all, but it keeps the campaign money rolling in (allowing him to keep doing the things he does care about). He's entitled I suppose. Not everybody has to care about this issue, and I'm glad he has the financial resources to keep getting reelected. Nor do I mind that he is playing the lobby for dupes. What I resent is that this guy, indifferent to Israel, helps set the Senate standard of what is and isn't pro-Israel. But, as I said, what does he care? Other than when he is talking to AIPAC or the American Jewish Committee, he doesn't give Israel's problems a thought. THINK ABOUT it. There is no political downside to simply going with the lobby on the Middle East. It's like what Jackie Kennedy said: You can't be too rich or too thin. In American politics, you can't be "too pro-Israel." A politician knows that all he has to do is say that he is for Israel and against the Palestinians, and he will be deemed a "staunch supporter" of Israel and the campaign money will flow his way. In short, supporting the status quo is a wonderfully lucrative path of least resistance. That is why it is the default position for every politician. It's easy, risk-free, costs nothing but pays great returns. Of course, it also adds significantly to Israel's security problems - and America's declining strategic position in the Middle East. Unfortunately, many, if not most, in the pro-Israel community seem not to understand this. These are the people who think that George W. Bush is the "most pro-Israel president ever" and that the last eight years have been wonderful for Israel. They could not be more wrong. Eight years ago, as president Bill Clinton was preparing to leave office, Israelis and Palestinians were closer to an agreement than ever before. Israel had experienced three years that were virtually terror-free, thanks to Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation. The Clinton-engineered peace treaty with Jordan had eliminated the threat from the east, especially given that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had been neutralized and defanged by sanctions. The eight years that followed were some of the bloodiest in Israel's history. A second intifada took more than a thousand Israeli lives (and three times as many Palestinians). Following its conclusion, and the end of Yasser Arafat's reign, the US demand for elections in the West Bank and Gaza brought Hamas to power. With the US abandoning the role of Middle East "honest broker," Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were intermittent and fruitless. Settlements expanded. Today, in the summer of 2008, Israelis see a new frightening form of terrorism manifested by two attacks by bulldozer in the streets of Jerusalem. And then there is the utter destabilization produced by the Iraq War, which has moved Iraq into Iran's orbit, facilitating Iranian trouble-making and making it more of a threat to Israel than ever before. This is not a status quo anyone should seek to preserve, let alone celebrate. Politicians who endorse it serve neither America's nor Israel's interests. Pro-Israel? No way. Pro-themselves? Indeed. The writer is director of Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy Center.