Counterpoint: The next president

It's not about whom I want for president - it's about what we can expect.

david forman 88 (photo credit: )
david forman 88
(photo credit: )
A few days ago, I returned from a lecture tour in the United States. The question that seemed uppermost in the minds of my Jewish audiences was which presidential candidate would be most supportive of Israel? Anticipating this question, I prepared a stock answer in advance of my trip. Speaking from a Jewish perspective, I instructed anyone who asked me this question that first and foremost a Jew must vote for the individual who gave a prophetic nod to social justice and equality. Immediately I was labeled an unrepentant liberal - an accusation to which I readily admit. My reference to Jewish sages did not strike a chord with most of my listeners. While there are those American Jews who believe that the only way to express their Jewishness in the voting booth is by playing the Israel card and not by calling upon Jewish moral values, the vast majority of American Jews do not take Israel into consideration when weighing their political options. Ultimately, there was no escaping a specific answer to the persistent query: Who would best serve Israel's interests - John McCain, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? Some Jews believe that George W. Bush has been the best president for Israel since Harry Truman, who, above the objections of his State Department, recognized Israel after it declared itself an independent nation. But there are others, myself included, who believe that Bush has been the worst president for Israel - and for America - for three reasons: 1) his virtually uncritical support for Israel; 2) his disastrous war in Iraq; and 3) his "seat-of-the-pants" economic policies. This forthright answer caught my listeners' attention. Needless to say, I had to explain my response - if only to have people close their mouths which were wide open, aghast at what I thought was my bold perspicuity, but what they considered simple inappropriateness. After all, who am I to come into their home and insult their president - never mind that they asked for it - or agree that Bush's administration is made up of a bunch of hopeless incompetents, the president being the first among equals. AND SO, I explained my threefold claim that present US policies - domestic and foreign - were disastrous for Israel, and any candidate who perpetuates those policies will prolong the disaster. This is not to blame America for all our ills. We can certainly point a finger at our own inept leaders and, even more so, at our Arab enemies who seem hell-bent on our destruction. But since the latter is the reality with which we live, we should expect a friend in the White House to not abet our enemies by supporting every stupid decision of our government by disengaging himself (in Bush's case until recently) from the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio, by continuing the misguided war in Iraq and by presiding over a rudderless economy. After every meeting between Ehud Olmert and George Bush, including the recent one in Israel, Olmert commits to dismantle illegal settlements and end the internal roadblocks and checkpoints in the territories. Instead, expansion of settlements continues and new ones are constructed. While in Israel, Bush should have called Olmert on the carpet, forcing the issue, telling him that if the settlements continue to grow, he will instruct America's UN ambassador to vote for a Security Council resolution that condemns Israeli settlement policy. He should have insisted that internal roadblocks and checkpoints be eliminated and, if not, recall the US ambassador in protest. Alas, Bush's lassitude continues to provide complicit support for Israel's duplicitous behavior. The construction of settlements, along with punitive actions in the territories that have little if any security value, serve as an impediment to the peace process, turning Bush's commitment to the road map and Annapolis into empty rhetoric. AS FOR the war in Iraq - al-Qaida cells, which never operated before in that country, are now free to cross over the porous border between Jordan and Iraq, head toward the vast Sinai Peninsula and infiltrate Israel, either by the Red Sea or through Gaza. It is not enough that Israel contends with local terrorists; it now must deal with international terrorists who, in addition to possibly wreaking havoc in Israel and the West Bank, can destabilize its peaceful neighbors, Egypt and Jordan. More problematic is that the war has undermined US military capability to face the real enemy - Iran. Lastly, current US economic policy has seen the dollar become so weak in the international arena that Israeli factories and industries that rely on American imports and exports are shutting down. Because America's Persian Gulf friends have Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in their pockets, countries like Saudi Arabia, instead of helping the US by pumping more oil so that no longer will demand outstrip supply, feel free to reduce production, thereby driving up the price of oil and the cost of gas at a dizzying pace. In many respects, as the American economy goes, so goes the Israeli economy. Having said all the above, I then turned to the stunned audience and, employing yet more chutzpah, postulated that none of my arguments makes any difference, because in today's America it is still highly doubtful that either a black man or a woman (especially Hillary Clinton with all her negative baggage) could win the presidency. Therefore, with John McCain at the helm, Israelis, as well as Americans - and the world community - face a long difficult road ahead.