It's difficult for me to address Mitt Romney's blunders in Israel because I come at them from a different place than many in the pro-Israel community.
One, I do not share the view that Israel should not be an issue in American politics. For instance, an organization I support, Americans For Peace Now, spoke for most, if not all, pro-Israel organizations when it issued this statement:
It is deeply troubling that Governor Romney, his advisors, and some of his key supporters are seeking to exploit Israel as a partisan issue to score political points in this election campaign. This is a reckless and irresponsible tactic that comes at the expense of the best interests of both the U.S. and Israel.
Why shouldn't Israel be a "partisan issue" in American elections? If Democrats and Republicans have differing views on an issue, why shouldn't they try to "score political points" off of them?
That is what they do on every other issue. Why should Israel be above or beyond politics? U.S. taxpayers send more money to Israel than any other country and millions of Americans care deeply about Israel's fate. What makes it not a legitimate issue?
Unfortunately, however, the two parties do not have differing views on Israel. Both candidates and both parties support the Netanyahu government's positions on Iran, the Palestinians, Hamas and pretty much everything else. Sure, Mitt Romney went overboard in Jerusalem by saying that on critical matters like Iran we should defer to the wishes of Israel (rather than decide these issues exclusively based on U.S. interests) but that is what successive administrations have been doing for years. It is certainly what the Obama administration has done. Obama just doesn't proclaim it while in Israel's capital.
That is why Israel's hawkish Minister of Defense Ehud Barak says that Obama has been the president most supportive of Israel in its 64 year history. President Shimon Peres, who has played a part in that history since the beginning, says pretty much the same thing.
There is no indication that Romney would be any different. Sure, his statements in Israel indicate an over-the-top quality that Obama's lack. Nor would Obama have made that invidious comparison of Israeli and Palestinian cultures. But Romney isn't president. If he should be elected, there is little doubt that his policies would be virtually identical to those of Obama, or Bush, or Clinton, etc., except for the Muslim-bashing elements that are the specialty of some of his neocon aides and his fundraiser Sheldon Adelson.
Romney can be no more "pro-Israel" than Obama because Obama simply does everything Israel asks for: from raising aid levels, to accepting Israeli settlements, to vetoing every resolution Israel wants vetoed at the United Nations, to piling Iran sanction on top of Iran sanction (while leaving the possibility of war on the table), to exempting Israel from budget cuts that will affect every other program in the budget. What more can Romney do? Move our capital to Jerusalem?
In short, the whole GOP argument that Obama is not pro-Israel enough is hogwash.
Where I differ from Americans For Peace Now and other pro-Israel organizations is that I wish candidates would make Israel a political issue, because the politically expedient status quo policies both parties endorse don't advance U.S. interests or Israel's.
I wish one of the two parties would say that the United States will do everything in its power to prevent Iran's development of nuclear weapons through diplomacy -- and not by means of a war that would result in needless deaths and crash the world economy. I wish one of the two parties would say that the United State will promote Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that include representatives of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Gaza with only one condition: that all sides foreswear violence. I wish one of the two parties would commit our country to serving as an honest broker in the Middle East rather than as "Israel's lawyer," as former Clinton-era negotiator Aaron Miller memorably put it.
Of course, I don't expect any of that to happen -- not so long as both parties seem more dedicated to impressing some donors to defending U.S. interests or Israel's. It certainly is not happening in this campaign, which has already become a race to demonstrate who can be more effusive about Binyamin Netanyahu's policies.
Something's got to give. Israel's survival is at stake (whether Netanyahu understands that or not). The Palestinians are being squeezed to death, particularly in Gaza. And a war with Iran that would make the Iraq war look like a summer outing could be ignited at any time.
All these things should be issues in our presidential campaign, not simply opportunities for pandering. Unfortunately it won't happen this year. On the Middle East, it's tweedle dum and tweedle dee.
When Democrats say Romney is "anti-Israel" or Republicans say Obama is, don't believe them. If "pro-Israel" means following Binyamin Netanyahu's lead on all matters relating to the Middle East, they are one and the same. And that is the pity.
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