Last week, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney visited Israel. While he was there he said a few things that made the news.
He vastly underestimated the income disparity between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, a gap he attributed to Israel's cultural superiority. He was bellicose towards Iran. He said Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. He raised a million dollars from a small group of Americans. He declined to meet the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority.
All of these comments and actions were repeated, via the media, to hundreds of millions. But they might as well have had an audience of one: Sheldon Adelson.
The Republican Party has not always operated in lockstep with Israel. Reagan condemned Israel's attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor. Bush I withheld loan guarantees to pressure Israel on settlement expansion. Bush II did the same thing, and pushed Israel to allow elections in Gaza that brought Hamas to power.
Even today, a significant minority of Republicans support the isolationist policies of Ron and Rand Paul. These Republicans do not want to see a war with Iran; nor do they support U.S. aid to Israel or Egypt. Others, like Rep. Joe Walsh, undermine Israel by advocating a one-state solution that would end democracy in the Jewish state.
But in 2012, it is Sheldon Adelson who is setting the boundaries of acceptable discourse for the Republican Party. In the primary he single-handedly kept alive Newt Gingrich's quixotic campaign. Adelson was rewarded when the former House Speaker raised the bar of anti-Palestinian rhetoric, describing them as "an invented people."
Romney's assertion that Palestinian cultural inferiority is responsible for their economic situation shared key characteristics with Gingrich's early statement. Both rely on a selective view of history in which Israeli Jews are uniformly righteous and Palestinian Arabs are irredeemably wicked. Both embrace a version of Jewish exceptionalism that is neither true nor helpful. Both reveal a bias so deep as to be debilitating; neither candidate seems to care much about American credibility in the region.
I believe Barack Obama should be reelected. He has my full support. But I would raise my voice in protest if I felt like he was allowing one donor to dictate policy, particularly foreign policy where the President has tremendous latitude to act without action from Congress.
Republicans are not the monolithic pro-Israel party they claim to be (see: Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan). They surely are not unified in support of Adelson's vision. Yet Republican voices of protest are muted. This is bad for the GOP, for Israel, and yes, for America. Fingers crossed that they find those voices soon.
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