I wonder how many American Jews are getting mighty uncomfortable about the way Israel has become politicized this election year. I do not mean that Israel should not be discussed in the context of a campaign. Of course it should be. Any foreign policy issue that affects U.S. national interests should be discussed and argued about. Israel is no different, especially when there is no consensus on what our policies should be.
The only consensus is that Israel has the right to exist in peace, with U.S. aid to guard its security. But that is it.
The specifics of U.S. support are not anything the country agrees upon, or, I would guess, even talks about. But why not? Even the most popular domestic program, Social Security, is argued about in elections with candidates differing on how to "save" it from the imagined or real threat of insolvency.
Nothing is off-limits in elections or, more precisely, nothing should be. Israel should be politicized, like everything else. As is the case with every other issue, that is how democracies make decisions. Or should.
This year the argument that Israel not be politicized is coming almost exclusively from Democrats who, as supporters of the incumbent president, vehemently oppose making Israel an issue. (They feel differently when the Republicans hold the White House).
Democratic Party chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz said last month that presumed Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, is "playing politics with America's bipartisan support for Israel...."
He certainly is but no more than President Obama does when his campaign surrogates declare that Obama is the best friend Israel has ever had.
The difference between Romney and Obama is that Obama has never suggested that he would allow the Israeli government to make key decisions on Israel for him, rather than decide himself based on U.S. national interests. Romney has.
On Iran, Romney's spokesman said during the governor's recent visit to Israel that whether or not Israel bombs Iran is up to Israel. "If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that [nuclear] capability, the governor would respect that decision."
In other words, even though an Israeli attack would undoubtedly affect U.S. interests in the entire Middle East (including our men and women in uniform) and the world economy and even though it might result in an Iranian attack on a U.S. vessel, bringing us into the war, Romney would simply defer to the Israeli government if it decides to prevent an Iranian nuclear capability.
Then there is the question of Jerusalem. Every president since Lyndon Johnson has avoided moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem not because they did not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital but because doing so would almost certainly cause the Arab and Muslim world to erupt in (perhaps violent) opposition. (Jerusalem is holy to Muslims and Christians as well as Jews, so any change in the status quo must be taken with great sensitivity).
Romney says that he would not necessarily move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem on his first day in office but would "select the timing in accordance with the government of Israel." Of course, timing is at the root of the whole issue; Israel wants the U.S. to move the embassy today if not yesterday. But Romney says the decision is up to Israel even though American lives could be at stake if others view Israel's choice of timing (i.e, now) as incendiary.
So here is the difference between Romney and every other candidate who has politicized Israel. He is the very first to say that on at least two critical policies, he would simply defer to the government of Israel -- even though American interests and lives would be at stake. Obviously, the same standard would apply to other Israel-related issues like borders, arms sales, relations with the Arab states, etc. After all, if Romney would defer to Israel on matters as volatile as Iran and Jerusalem, wouldn't he do the same with other less sensitive issues?
It's crazy. The United States has never contracted out its foreign policy to any foreign country.. Even when our closest ally, the United Kingdom, was fighting for its life against Nazi Germany, President Roosevelt made his policies based on his perception of U.S. interests, not Prime Minister Churchill's. (Churchill would have had us join the war against Germany in 1939, long before we were ready).
As an American, Romney's statements strike me as shockingly out-of-step with the American tradition since George Washington (who warned against the dangers presented by a "passionate attachment" to any foreign country in his Farewell Address).
As a Jew, it strikes me as deeply offensive. Does Romney really believe that this is what Jewish voters want? Is he unaware that his super-donor and adviser on all things related to Israel, Sheldon Adelson, is so right-wing that he broke with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) because he considered it too sympathetic to the Palestinians? Does he think that Adelson who says he regrets serving in the U.S. rather than the Israeli army is typical of American Jews? Or that his wish that his 13-year old son become "a sniper for the IDF" is in any way representative of us?
The fact is that Romney has crossed the line from pandering to American Jews to insulting us. The insult is his belief that the way to gain support from Jews is by promising to make the policies of our country subservient to those of Israel. Mitt Romney is not hostile to Jews, far from it, but if he was, he could not be more offensive.
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