Grumpy Old Man: Don’t vote for our sake

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would mean very different Americas, but in all likelihood pretty much the same Israel.

Pretty good Romney, Obama cartoon 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Pretty good Romney, Obama cartoon 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The American political conventions are behind us. We’ve seen each party’s inventory.
Now it’s time to hear the candidates explain away some of the damaged goods as they zero in on swing states and weak constituencies over the next couple of months.
Of course, here in Israel just a relative handful of us have any say in the matter. Everyone else can only sit back and watch things play out and then rejoice or curse or nod off.
Like almost all Americans who made aliya, I retained my US citizenship and right to vote. But since making the move in the summer of 1976 I have never exercised that right, believing that you vote where you live (although considering the political choices we often face here, sometimes I’d rather suck on the tailpipe of an idling car).
Also, I’ve never lobbied my family or friends in the States on which party or candidates are best for Israel.
Even when my mother would consult with me I’d explain to her some of the nuances, but then tell her to vote for whomever she thought best for America. No matter who wins, I’d say to her, the benefit for Israel will be more or less the same.
I WAS RAISED in a New Deal household. My parents grew up during the Great Depression and never lost sight of the good that a strong central government could do. They were decent, hard-working Democrats who believed that it was not enough to get ahead – that once you got ahead you were obligated to hold the door open for others and even reach out and pull along the weak.
Both were the children or grandchildren of immigrants and believed the portals should remain open, although within reason. And although they were active and involved Jews, they were keenly aware of the need to separate church and state. Government has no place in religion, they would say, and vice versa.
My mother and father believed in a strong and proactive foreign policy, but with limitations; if there were to be sacrifices they had to be realistic and appreciated.
They were among the first adults I knew who came out against the Vietnam War when it was clear it could not be won, expressing this to their friends, writing letters to the editor and flirting with support for peace candidate Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 Democratic primaries.
Like many American Jews, they only flirted with McCarthy because his views on Israel were a bit too vague. My parents, especially my father, were ardent Zionists.
In the end they voted Democrat, of course. The party’s eventual nominee, the incumbent vice president, Hubert Humphrey, was a strong supporter of Israel. But he bore too much of the Vietnam legacy of his boss, Lyndon B. Johnson, and narrowly lost to Richard Nixon, who promised that the war would end soon. Ultimately, though, with all the talk about a “secret plan,” Nixon presided over American involvement in Vietnam for the rest of his ill-fated presidency, with tens of thousands more Americans being killed.
I’m not saying that had more Jewish voters supported McCarthy he would have been the nominee and beaten Nixon – the race for the 1968 Democratic nomination was too wild, and in the end too stacked in favor of Humphrey and the machine. But it’s food for thought.
Interestingly enough, and despite a dark streak of anti- Semitism that became more widely known only with the Watergate tapes, Nixon is seen by many as having been one of Israel’s best friends in the White House, for he restocked Israel with badly needed weapons following its devastating losses in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Nevertheless, if you flip through history books you’ll see just how edgy the US-Israel relationship was throughout much of the rest of his presidency.
It’s been this way, to a greater or lesser degree, with just about every president before or since, both Democrat and Republican, even those who were the friendliest to Israel. Remember Ronald Reagan and the Iraqi reactor brouhaha? Reagan and the AWACS brouhaha? Reagan and the Beirut brouhaha? This year, were my mother around to consult with me, my answer might go like this: Mitt Romney has a lot going for him when it comes to Israel. He’s been saying things that make many Israelis happy. He’s the nominee of a party whose members for the most part embrace Israel, if not all its policies.
He took time out from a hectic July schedule to visit the country. And to hear a lot of people tell it, he’s a buddy of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from their days working at the same Boston investment firm.
Barack Obama has a lot going against him. He’s been saying things that make many Israelis unhappy. He’s the nominee of a party in which numerous members seem to be ambivalent, at best, about Israel. As president he’s visited the region more than once, but pointedly has stayed away from Israel. And there’s that disquieting middle name.
Couldn’t be more cut and dried: Vote for the one you think will be best for America, because more or less it will mean the same for Israel no matter who wins.
I’M SURE the eyebrows of more than a few readers just brushed the ceiling. And why not? But think about it.
What Obama says that leaves “many Israelis” discomfited has to do with the peace process, and nothing, but nothing, could placate a lot of them short of annexation and transfer (the latter being a subject that, judging from at least one regular Post columnist, seems to be gaining in respectability, although no one has bothered to posit just how we’d be able to get away with it).
It’s gotten so that “pro-Israel” must necessarily mean pro-territory, pro-settlement and pro-Likud. Anything less is “anti-Israel.”
And now, with both parties’ conventions over, there’s a lot of talk about platforms. Hackles here were raised by the Jerusalem debacle at the Democrats’ Charlotte gathering, but no one seems to mention the changes in the 2012 Republican platform. Where’s the “undivided capital” that graced the party’s 2008 position on Jerusalem? Where’s the part about moving the embassy here? My goodness, even the Republicans are backing away. But the rancor is reserved for Barack Hussein Obama.
In the end, though, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. It’s the walk, not the talk, and no one can argue about the tangible security support the Obama administration has provided to Israel – and security support is what counts. If the president has made any mistakes they were his ill-conceived demand for a settlement freeze, which emboldened the Palestinians to dig in, and his non-visit, because gestures go a long way here.
Is this a pitch for Obama? Not at all. Like I said, it will be the same for Israel no matter who wins.
Romney has been saying things that make Israelis happy? He’d probably be a good friend to Israel, but check back with him on the particulars if he makes it into the Oval Office.
Holding the reins of power, with all the responsibility that goes with it, makes people think differently. That’s why campaign promises get tossed like so much confetti at a victory rally, and are then swept up and put out with the trash.