Republican Mitt Romney gives victory speech in NH 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
Mitt Romney is finally emerging as the Republican nominee for president. In the
weeks ahead, he will begin to face off directly against President Barack Obama,
and this will cause American Jews to once ask again the oft-repeated question of
whether or not Obama is good for Israel. The debate so far has regrettably been
overly partisan and more than a little close-minded. A sincere discussion
of the issue requires us to go beyond the present tendency of each side to
rummage through facts in their mad search for evidence that proves their view.
The truth is that even the most “pro-Israel” administrations have had their very
“anti-Israel” moments, and vice versa. Most crucially, however, we must
alter our myopic view of what is really at stake here for Israel’s national
Common wisdom these days, it seems, holds that Obama is a
disaster for Israel. His critics – such as this paper’s Caroline Glick – begin
any and every critique with his past connection to the rabidly anti-Israel
pastor Jeremiah Wright. From there, they recount his unwillingness to visit
Israel since swearing his oath (visiting as candidate seems not to count), the
priority he put at the outset of his term on improving relations with the Arab
world, and his insistence on a settlement freeze in 2009.
counter by pointing out that two out of three chiefs of staff – arguably the
most important job in the White House – were ardent Zionists: Rahm Emanuel and
now Jack Lew. Obama supporters repeat their mantra that “defense
cooperation between the two countries has never been closer” and point to
Obama’s willingness to take heat for thwarting Palestinian statehood efforts at
the United Nations last fall.
This debate misses two key
points. The first concerns the “evidence” that each side employs to prove
their case. The problem here is that it is easy to cherry pick whatever
fact suits one’s case, because there have been no purely “pro-Israel” or
In 1981, the “pro-Israel” Reagan
administration disregarded Israel’s strident objections and sold cutting-edge
AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, the “anti-Israel” Carter
administration was the first to give Israel billions of dollars in US foreign
aid. Former president Bill Clinton, among the most “pro-Israel” presidents ever,
pressed Israel far more than his predecessors to make concessions on the Golan
Heights and territories within the West Bank. Like Obama and French
President Nicolas Sarkozy, Clinton made little secret of his disdain for the way
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu frequently backtracked on his
promises. Finally, in 2000, with mind-numbing irony, Clinton forced
Israel to cancel its own AWACs sale to China. The arguments put forth by Clinton
about the crucial strategic value of these aircrafts were the same ones the US
itself had dismissed in 1981.
Similarly, our starry-eyed recollections of
the George W. Bush administration continue untarnished, even though in 2005,
administration officials imposed harsh defense-related sanctions on Israel in an
attempt to coerce the latter into firing then-director general of the Ministry
of Defense Amos Yaron. At the time, Israeli leaders realized that this meddling
in our internal affairs marked an unprecedented and grave violation of Israel’s
sovereignty. Indeed, it seems that the presidents who were ostensibly the
strongest supporters of Israel had far more leeway to whack their little ally
upside the head when they thought no one was looking.
The second, and far
more consequential flaw regarding the entire “is Obama good for the Jews”
debate, is that we seem to have a myopic view of what is really at stake here
for Israel’s national security.
To take issue with Ms. Glick, how many
hilltops we do or do not settle in the West Bank, at the end of the day, is a
minor concern and does little to secure the future of the State of
Israel. Instead, what should concern us greatly is that the foundations
of our alliance with the United States may be faltering. Should Israel become a
partisan issue in American politics, it could eventually spell real disaster.
For it is due to strong American backing alone that we still do not face
international sanctions and isolation over the settlements. With
unflinching American backing, Iran will realize that even a nuclear first strike
cannot prevent nuclear retaliation and destruction.
If ensuring continued
American support should be our prime national security concern, then it should
trouble us greatly to read Mark Perry in Foreign Policy
relaying quotations from
“senior intelligence officials” who grumble, “Israel is supposed to be working
with us, not against us.... You know, they’re supposed to be a strategic asset.
Well, guess what? There are a lot of people now, important people, who just
don’t think that’s true.”
In this long-term war for the “heart and minds”
of the American public, there are only a few main battlefronts. Foremost
among them is on college campuses. Universities are the greenhouses for the next
generation’s leadership, and crucially, students’ opinions are still often in
flux. Which is why we should be deeply troubled at the success pro-Palestinian
groups on American campuses are having in convincing tomorrow’s leaders that
Israel is a human-rights-abusing abomination.
Much of this success
derives from pro-Palestinian groups being supported by a number of non-Arab
organizations while pro-Israel groups on campus usually stand alone. The result
is that uninformed by-passers often walk away with the impression that there is
a rainbow coalition of justice on one side and the Jews (who are biased) on the
Having watched these battles up close, I can say that there
remains one extraordinarily powerful ally that pro- Israel groups can call upon:
Barack Obama. Pro-Israel groups can spout out all the historical facts they
want, but nothing is so persuasive for an uniformed undergraduate as a huge
placard with Obama’s picture, followed by him quoted as saying, “If somebody was
sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going
to do everything in my power to stop that.... And I would expect Israelis to do
the same thing.”
However disliked Obama may be by certain segments of the
American public, he is still wildly popular among that generation, and their
belief in him remains largely unshaken. Moreover, when combined with statements
by Martin Luther King Jr., embattled pro- Israel groups can suddenly find
themselves flanked by two of the most prominent African-American leaders of the
past century, both with bona fides as community organizers and
activists. Suddenly, the Jews are not alone, and maybe – thinks the
left-leaning, Wikipedia-informed undergrad – Israel isn’t so bad after
For those who understand what is at stake in this war of ideas,
Barack Obama’s re-election is crucially important. It will prevent Israel
from becoming a partisan issue in American politics and will be hugely important
for winning the “hearts and minds” of the next generation of American leaders.
These are the keys to ensuring continued American support for Israel for decades
to come.The writer is the former deputy director of the Global Research
in International Affairs Center (GLORIA) in Herzliya.