Where the GOP and Democrats differ on Israel
Friday, February 5, 2016
Where the GOP and Democrats differ on Israel by Richard Baehr
Where the GOP and Democrats differ on Israel
The Iowa caucuses served their usual function in winnowing down the field of candidates to a more manageable number, and a smaller number of realistic possibilities for the nomination. On the Democratic side, barring an indictment for her private server issues with classified information sent and received, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite to be nominated. It is not, however, a sign of strength that she could only win half the vote in Iowa against Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old curmudgeonly socialist, who was not even a Democratic Party member until 2015. Clinton appears to lack pretty much all the political skills of her husband and is running a campaign reminiscent of 2008 when she campaigned as if she were entitled to the nomination, and greatly underestimated the threat of Barack Obama. More than half of Americans do not trust her, and she has provided plenty of ammunition to the doubters.
The Republican race has settled into a contest between three leading contenders -- Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, businessman/reality TV star Donald Trump and a few pretenders -- former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and former pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Christie and Kasich have been living in New Hampshire the past few months, much as Ted Cruz did in Iowa, but without gaining the same traction. A Bush super PAC has been blasting Rubio for months, with some damage done to Rubio but no noticeable gain for Bush. The results in Iowa -- a win for Cruz, with Trump second and Rubio a closer-than-expected third, has shaken up both the state and national polls. A new national poll has Trump at 25%, and Cruz and Rubio at 21% each.
In a week, Cruz has stayed where he was, despite the Iowa victory, and Rubio has doubled his share, almost all at Trump's expense. Trump's campaign has been largely based on the fact that he is a winner, will make America win again and he is winning in all the polls. When the first actual votes did not deliver a win for Trump, a good bit of the bubble was burst.
Looking at the five remaining candidates who could be nominated (including Sanders is a stretch), foreign policy and Israel are a major dividing line between the parties, similar to so many other issues. Historically, this has not been the case -- support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship transcended party lines. As the Democratic Party has moved left, steered there in large part by President Obama, many Democrats have begun to echo the sentiments on Israel so common on the left, and so pervasive in academia and the media. At the Democratic convention in 2012, angry anti-Israel invective coming from the delegates was ignored by the convention chair, who ruled that various pro-Israel measures had passed on a voice vote, when clearly they had not. It has gotten worse since then. Obama has not lifted a finger to condemn the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and the harassment and intimidation of pro-Israel students on campus. Pretty much any speaker supporting Israel at any public event can now expect nasty anti-Semitic activists trying to shout them down. Supporting Israel is viewed these days as similar to supporting fossil fuels, or even worse, the police. On the left, there is a theme of intersectionality that unites various activist groups, and those who oppose Israel are right at home with the Black Lives Matter movement, various leftist unions, and open-borders supporters.
Obama has been arguably the least sympathetic president toward Israel since Jimmy Carter. Carter, however can claim a role in the Camp David accords, which effectively ended the state of war between Egypt and Israel. It was of course Anwar Sadat who paid the ultimate price for making peace, gunned down by assassins.
Obama has attempted to make the U.S. position toward Israel mirror that of the EU nations and the United Nations. Israel is to blame for the failure of peace talks, and settlements and the intransigence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are the reasons there is no peace. Palestinian disinterest in even talking to Israel, their incitement and worship of terrorists is always downplayed. Terrorism is regarded as understandable, given the occupation.
Obama is ever ready to claim his own great achievement -- the Iranian nuclear accord, which so far has produced a cash windfall for Iran, the end of most sanctions, and significant new business deals for the formerly isolated nation, in exchange for a partial reduction in the country's nuclear program. And as expected, Iran's international belligerence has picked up, including the capture and humiliation of U.S. sailors; ballistic missile tests, some very close to U.S. assets; and stepped up military support for their allies in Syria and Yemen. The anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric are as high as ever. Holocaust denial seems to have become a favored activity. The idea that the deal would change Iranian behavior, open up the society, and make them better behaved on the world stage, was a farcical notion, already debunked. Yes, the United States can now call the Iranians (or some of them) to plead for something, but pretty much every difficult issue has been resolved in the Iranians' favor. As for opening up the society, about 99% of the candidates for elections who were not adherents of the theocratic rulers, were knocked off the ballot. The mullahs are still fully in charge, now playing with a new stack of cash.
The deal was supported by 42 of 46 Democratic senators, and 85% of Democratic House members. When Obama said jump, they jumped. Loyalty is now very important or Democrats could be challenged from the left the next time they seek office. Both Clinton and Sanders supported the Iran deal. Clinton has given a few talks trying to create a little space between her own views on Israel and Obama's, trying to reassure Jewish donors and liberal Jewish voters. But they had the feel of one more point on a list checked off.
On the Republican side, the foreign policy views of Donald Trump are truly unknown. There is no evidence that he has thought seriously about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given his common sense theme for his presidency, he might wind up on the pro-Israel side, but this is a guess. A week ago, this uncertainty was a bigger concern. This week, the chances of Trump being the nominee are a good bit lower. Had Trump won Iowa, he could have run the table with the first few states, and made himself a heavy favorite for the nomination.
There is very good news for Israel with the two Cuban-American senators -- Cruz and Rubio. Both have been forthright about specific initiatives were they elected, designed to demonstrate that American support for Israel was no longer in question. Pulling back on some or all of the Iran deal would be part of this, but there is also the possibility of a U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem, commitments to back Israel in the U.N. Security Council, a change in the State Department's perpetual war on Israel, a commitment to consultation with Israel rather than public attacks, and even new American policy on various issues related to Israel's borders and rights under international law. Whether any of this will matter to Jewish-American voters is not clear. But it might boost turnout among Christian supporters of Israel, a far larger group.