In May, when President Obama made a speech about Israel in which he repeated long-standing U.S. policy regarding the use of pre-1967 borders as a basis for peace negotiations, the right wing responded with a coordinated, profoundly dishonest attack intended to drive a wedge between Obama and the Democratic Party, on the one hand, and American Jews on the other.
Benjamin Netanyahu and his right wing allies in Israel, who saw the manufactured American political conflict as a means for improving their own domestic political situation, unfortunately were all too happy to assist American conservatives in this plan. Still, at the end of the day, Israeli politicians care more about Israel than their own political fortunes (in contrast to many American conservatives, who think nothing about harming the interests of the U.S. in furtherance of their own political interests), and so a short time later Netanyahu tempered his critique of Obama and even explicitly adopted that very same policy when he offered the Palestinians negotiation based on 1967 borders, proving the Obama speech was not an abandonment of Israel. American conservatives, of course, ignored Netanyahu when he did this.
Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed. Unrestrained by any sense of decency or accountability, the right wing propaganda campaign worked, and Obama’s support among American Jews clearly ebbed, not only according to polls, but, frankly, the recent results in NY-9 — plenty of issues were in play in that ancestral Far Rockaway home of the “aznew” clan, but the perception that Obama was weak on Israel clearly helped to set the tone for a Republican to win what should have been an easy Democratic victory.
Well, for Netanyahu and his ilk, the chickens are coming home to roost now. In condoning the use of outright lies in an effort to turn American Jews from Obama, Netanyahu and conservative American Jews have created a Frankenstein monster in the GOP as Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and the entire crew of presidential candidates began tripping over themselves to get to Obama’s right flank on Israel.
(more on the flip)
The problem was, there wasn’t much room over there on Obama’s right side when it came to Israel. Despite the right’s histrionics last Spring, Obama never strayed from basic U.S. policy on Israel policy – a policy that has served Israeli strategic interests relatively well over the past 30 years, through wars, uprisings and other difficult times.
The result of this ill-conceived effort is the GOP candidates for president articulating an American Policy for the Middle East that has, well, scared the crap out of just about everybody in the world outside of the apocalyptic Christian community in the United States that is a key part of the Tea Party that dominates the Republican Party these days.
But the GOP is getting called on it now. Republicans may be able to get away with their particular brand of crazy in this country, where they can simply make up or ignore facts when reality doesn’t suit their ideology, but in is tougher in a place like Israel, where misjudgments and ill-advised policies are measured in lives lost.
Netanyahu and conservative Israeli leaders, including the influential Avigdor Lieberman (about as right wing as they get in Israel) have clearly had second thoughts about their meddling in America’s 2012 presidential campaign, and are now trying to distance themselves from the irresponsible and dangerous rhetoric coming out of the GOP presidential candidates. Ultimately, their concern will trickle down to the conservative American Jews over whose opinions, as least when it comes to Israel, these Israeli politicians exercise significant influence. As a result, whatever inroads Republicans were able to make into Jewish support for Obama and the Democratic Party in recent months will be largely undone, and Jews will soon be returning to Obama and the Democratic fold for 2012 (look for polls to begin reflecting this in the coming months).
So, what so frightened Bibi and Lieberman, and in coming months will drive Jewish Americans away from the Republicans?
Well, for starters, there is the GOP threat of withdrawing aid to the Palestinians. This is a crackpot idea, and is the last thing any Israeli — right, left or center – wants, because it would cause dangerous economic instability in the West Bank.
Of course, if your objective is to create Armageddon, this policy makes perfect sense. Indeed, it is a perfect example of how profoundly the Republican candidates utterly fail to understand the actual strategic, historical and diplomatic issues and dynamic driving the Middle East peace process. Even as it seems that they are making common cause, Perry’s recent pronouncements stand as a clear demonstration of the split between the objectives of American evangelicals and the Israelis themselves for the Jewish state.
Then there was Perry’s unbelievable press conference last week in New York. First, it was apparent that it was completely wrong for Perry, an American, a sitting governor and a candidate for President, to try to upstage and embarrass his president, particularly when Obama was facing such a critical and difficult diplomatic challenge.
Question: How did Perry’s agitprop help Israel?
Answer: It didn’t.
Next, Perry showed that he completely lacks the judgment, diplomatic skill, and command of history and issues that any serious candidate for the presidency ought to fairly be expected to possess. In diplomacy in general, and in the context of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in particular, the use of nuanced and measured language is essential. Instead, Perry called U.S. policy “naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous” – inexact, clumsy, over-the-top language that has no place in a discussion of the Middle East peace process.
Third, Perry used the term “appeasement” to describe U.S. policy. Even leaving aside the fact that there is simply no basis for the charge, did Perry realize the specific significance of this particular word in relation to Jews, due to its connection to World War II? On the one hand, if Perry did understand the implications of using this particular term in the context of discussing U.S. policy toward the Palestinians, he exercised poor judgment in deciding to use it. On the other, if he did not appreciate the implications of the term, then he is abysmally uninformed and he has no business talking in public about these issues, much less running for President.
Lastly, and perhaps most dangerously, there was Perry’s assertion that as a Christian he is “directed” to support Israel, presumably in an effort to ensure the return of Jews to Israel as a condition to some kind of end-of-days apocalypse.
Whatever the religious or political explanation for this statement, is there any serious person thinks a President of the United States will further the cause of Middle East peace or advance Israeli interests by casting U.S. support for Israel in Christian eschatological terms?
Perry statement here simply leaves me speechless, and whether one is Jewish or not, any reasonable person who gave this comment a few moments of thought ought to conclude that neither Perry, nor anyone else who views the Middle East conflict in these terms, is qualified to be President of the United States. Hopefully, every GOP presidential candidate will be asked for his or her views on this critical question.
As for other candidates, there is the idea, expressed by Romney this past week, that Obama has “thrown Israel under a bus.” Obama has done nothing of the kind, and Romney knows it. Even Netanyahu never went that far in his rhetoric, and t the extent that this formulation grossly misstates both reality and U.S. policy, it is nearly as dangerous as Perry’s ill-advised rhetoric.
As for Herman Cain, perhaps not a candidate with a serious chance of winning, but clearly the darling of the GOP faithful in light of his win in the Florida straw poll, well, he just doesn’t have a clue what is happening in the Middle East. In May he was asked by Fox’s Chris Wallace (so he can’t complain it was a gotcha question) about the Palestinian’s right of return, a well-known deal-breaker for Israel in any peace scenario. Here was his answer:
CAIN: Right of return? Right of return?
WALLACE: The Palestinian right of return.
CAIN: That’s something that should be negotiated.
* * *
CAIN: Yes, but under – but not under – Palestinian conditions. Yes. They should have a right to come back if that is a decision that Israel wants to make…. I don’t think they have a big problem with people returning.
Cain seems like a goofy, if amiable fellow. Still, these answers show he just doesn’t know what he is talking about, and is woefully ignorant of what is happening in the Middle East. That said, he is better than frontrunners Perry and Romney.
It is, my friends, a sad state of affairs when among the three top candidates, ignorance is the best one could hope for.