Israel is a pawn in American electoral politics

Israel’s influence on US politics shows how its future can be utilized for political gain, not how important its security is to the US.

Obama at UN R 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama at UN R 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
These past couple of weeks has been what some may call a great period for Israel and the so-called “pro-Israel” community in America, at least for the hawkish, near-sighted one. The Obama administration stuck hard to its opposition to the Palestinian bid for statehood and showed its unequivocal support for Israel at the UN General Assembly, resulting in a sudden surge in Israeli approval of Obama (who has largely been considered a “pro-Palestinian” president by Israelis, despite actions to the contrary) .
Newspapers have been saturated recently with polls on waning Jewish support for Obama, raising the question of whether he will lose the large Jewish backing he enjoyed in 2008 come next November. The American Jewish Committee just published a poll showing that “53 percent disapprove of the president’s handling of US-Israel relations” (however, it found that overall, American Jews would still largely vote for him).
This story began gaining traction when Anthony Weiner’s job as congressman for New York’s 9th District was taken last month by a Republican for the first time since 1923 – largely with the help of former New York Mayor Ed Koch’s crusade to convince voters that Obama, and by extension, Democrats, are bad for Israel. It is thus no wonder that Obama decided to flex his “pro-Israel” muscle at the UN General Assembly, which Israel’s foreign minister was quick to praise.
Meanwhile Republican presidential candidates have all been making definitive “pro-Israel” statements and, following in the footsteps of Sarah Palin, have been visiting Israel and asserting that it should not give up a single inch of West Bank land. Texas Governor Rick Perry declared that “As a Christian, I have a clear directive to support Israel,” while Mitt Romney, who is increasingly popular among Jewish Republicans, asserted that Obama has “thrown Israel under the bus.” None of this is being done with regard for Israel’s interests or for facts on the ground, but rather in an effort to challenge Obama’s seat and woo not only Jewish but “pro-Israel” voters, including the evangelical community, as well as anti-Muslim voters.
It is no secret that Jews, although only 2 % of America’s population, are a crucial factor in US presidential elections. The electoral system makes it so that certain states – such as Pennsylvania and Florida – where Jews make up closer to 5-8% of the population actually comprise a swing constituency. American politicians also pander to leaders of the Jewish community because “pro-Israel” money (which is not strictly Jewish) comprises between a quarter and a third of all donations to major political parties in the US.
In the race to win over “pro- Israel” voters in America, politicians throw around “pro-Israel” statements left and right to serve their own interests. In the process, they repeatedly affirm a narrow definition of what it means to be “pro-Israel” as a position where security justifies occupation, where settlements are not an obstacle to peace and in some cases, where settlements are great and divinely ordained. According to this approach, the stalled peace process is not Israel’s responsibility.
OBAMA FELL into this trap last week at the UN. After all, how can Obama be seen as a president hostile to Israel when he has repeatedly reaffirmed the Likud government’s position by voting against the resolution deeming settlements illegal several months ago, and now, by going against Palestinian statehood, even at the expense of other American geopolitical interests? As a New York Times Magazine article about Obama entitled “The first Jewish president” recently put it, “despite the damage thwarting that bid might do to America’s standing in the region, the Obamans have never wavered in going balls-out for Israel.” Even at the expense of American positioning in the Middle East, Obama has affirmed his support for Netanyahu’s Israel – but not because he or the GOP candidates are interested in Israel’s future, but rather in order to try and solidify political power at home.
Israel, a country that claims to represent world Jewry and whose democratic character and viability is highly questionable as its government increasingly passes discriminatory legislation, is merely a pawn in American electoral politics.
Some may think that Israel’s influence on American politics shows just how important its security is to the US, but in fact, it shows rather just how carelessly Israel’s character and future can be utilized for political gains that have nothing to do with the well-being of its citizens and those under its control. This does not bode well for the myriad of American and Israeli Jews who feel that this definition of “pro-Israel” does not represent them. Nor does it bode well for those who have hoped America could act as a strong broker for peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
The careless and oversimplified use of “pro-Israel” positions in American electoral politics highlights just how dangerous it is to use Israel’s politics to leverage support at home. It is not only problematic for those American Jews whose views are not represented by right-wing “pro-Israelism,” but dangerous for America’s geopolitical standing in the Arab world (which now sees America as unconditionally behind Israel) and for both Israelis and Palestinians, whose very lives are at stake.
The writer is an Israeli-American freelance journalist and translator based in Tel Aviv. She is a writer and editor at