President Obama, a friend

As a general rule and ethical principle, Israelis should refrain from enunciating their preferences and defer the decision to American voters.

By ALON PINKAS
November 1, 2012 23:04
US President Obama with Mitt Romney at debate

US President Obama with Mitt Romney at debate 370 (R). (photo credit: reuters / pool)

 
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I was asked by the editor to write an article in support of President Barack Obama ahead of Tuesday’s presidential election in the United States. I will not. I was asked to endorse Obama, to state the case for his reelection, to provide a “pro-Obama” essay from an Israeli perspective. I could, but I won’t.

This is not because I think differently or am incapable of making a compelling and convincing case for President Obama. I’d like to think I can, and I genuinely think Obama has been a reliable friend of Israel. Like his predecessors.

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The reasons I will not indulge in this endeavor or add my invaluable insights and numerous gems of wisdom stem from several imperatives: First, Israelis should not meddle, interfere or express an opinion on who should be the president of the United States. It concerns us, but it is just none of our business to take sides.

Israelis are entitled to an opinion, entitled to their passions, entitled to their sympathies or antipathies. What they are not entitled to is to publicly choose a side and to follow it up with advocacy and reasoning.

As a general rule and ethical principle, Israelis should refrain from enunciating their preferences and defer the decision to American voters.

When I write “Israelis,” I don’t mean Mr. Cohen or Mrs. Levy. The rule applies to official Israel, obviously not including the 7.6 million Israelis who know exactly what Israel and America need. This official Israeli includes, first and foremost, the occupant of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The second issue is more political than ethical. When Israelis are inclined or encouraged to endorse President Obama or governor Mitt Romney (or any other candidate in any other elections) the inevitable impetus and reasoning behind it is the determination: “Who is better for Israel?” I question the very premise of this. Before anyone can determine whether Obama/Romney is “Good for Israel,” you need to define what exactly constitutes “Good for Israel.”

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Actually, you need to define “better” and to define “Israel.” Such a definition is not only subjective, elusive and politically biased and tainted. It is also impossible to formulate unless it is reduced to the lowest common denominator.

Was Richard Nixon “Good for Israel”? Was Jimmy Carter “Good for Israel”? What about George H.W. Bush (a.k.a. “41”)? In fact, why not do a little improvised exercise: Get 10 American Jews and 10 Israeli Jews in a room and ask them to list American presidents according to their “Good for Israel” credentials and track records. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will surely figure prominently.

Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush will not. But that is not a real reflection of their policies and the quality of their contributions to the US alliance with Israel.

These four were not “Good for Israel.” They were “Great for Israel.”

Says who? Says me, subjectively, says the historical record, objectively, and says the empirical and impartial analysis of their cumulative added-value to Israel’s security, diplomatically, politically, militarily, technologically, economically and above all, strategically.

Thirdly, Israel’s real source of durable and enduring power in the US has always been the bipartisan support in Congress and of whoever occupied the White House on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Democrat or Republican. This bipartisanship is not a cliche, nor is it a hollow bumper sticker used for political expediency. It is real, and must be cherished, nurtured, safeguarded and never ever compromised on transient political grounds. One certain way of breaching and violating it is to declare that Obama or Romney is better for Israel. Keep Israel out. Always. This US bipartisan consensus on Israel was always the source generating the necessary support and providing the foundations of the “Unshakeable Alliance” between the two countries.

When Israel consciously inserts itself into US presidential elections it is committing nothing short of slow-motion political suicide. It is sacrilegious and dumb. When Israel is mentioned more than 25 times in a presidential debate it is a bad, cringe-inducing spectacle for anyone who has ever been involved in the building, strengthening and maintenance of the US-Israeli relationship.

It is not because of Israel’s importance or ubiquitous presence in the minds of American voters in Ohio or Virginia. It is because Israel forced its way into the debate and superimposed itself on the agenda.

What is there to gain from that? What possible benefits or tangible achievements can Israel reap? Now that I’ve made my points clear, and unequivocally reasoned with you why none of us should get involved or mobilized in the US elections, I feel I do have to emphasize an important issue lost in the translation of US-Israeli politics.

President Barack Obama is a friend of Israel. He has been a trusted ally when we needed the US to veto anti- Israel resolutions in the UN Security Council. He has been an attentive and reliable ally when we asked, and received, his consent and approval to gain access and acquire state-of-the-art military technology. During his tenure the level of intelligence-sharing, consultation and assessmentexchange, particularly on Iran, has been unprecedented. Don’t ask me, ask Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

When he says, “I’ve got Israel’s back” I trust him. Why? because he was good on all his pledges and promises, because he delivered everything Israel asked for, because his policy on terrorism, Iran and the Arab world corresponds to Israel’s strategic outlook, even when there are differences of emphasis or timetable.

Would Mitt Romney be the same? Most definitely. Which is why Israel should not and is not an issue in these elections.

The president of the United States of America is the president of the United States of America. He is not the project-manager for the USIsraeli relationship. So he didn’t visit Israel (neither did Thomas Jefferson, or George W. Bush until his seventh year in office) or has a confrontational relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Get over it.

What matters, in fact the only thing that matters, is the consolidation of our relations with America.

In this regard, Obama’s record is impeccable. So will Romney’s be if he is elected. So I will not endorse anyone, nor should any other Israeli. This is for Americans to decide and for us, uncharacteristically, to shut up for once.

The writer is a former Israeli consulgeneral in New York and a Fellow at the Israel Policy Forum.

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