For many American Jews, choosing who to support in a presidential election comes down to a simple litmus test proposition: Which candidate will be better for Israel? Among an increasingly vocal group of Jews, the answer to that question has meant voting for a Republican. It is true that the vast majority of American Jews are Democrats, having supported both Gore and Kerry by wide margins. But George Bush received 26% more Jewish support in 2004 than he did in 2000, and that trend seems poised to continue.
Throughout the Democratic primary race, Barack Obama has been accused of being anti-Israel on a number of different occasions. Some of this was the product of false and spurious email campaigns aimed at portraying Obama as a Muslim-in-disguise. In a less conspiratorially ridiculous context, Obama has been condemned for including, among his vast array of foreign policy advisors, individuals who have been critical of some aspect of Israeli government policy.
Suggesting that someone is anti-Israel because he disagrees with an aspect of Israeli policy is tantamount to calling those who have been critical of the Bush administration anti-American. This is, to be sure, the strategy that neoconservatives have employed since the invasion of Iraq, and it strikes a particularly un-American -- and un-Jewish -- tone. For American Jews to choose our next president based on such assessments will be enormously dangerous, both for the United States and for the State of Israel.
There are, of course, some who use concerns about Obama's Israel policy to thinly veil their real worries about having a president whose middle name is Hussein. But for the larger majority for whom an honest assessment would be welcome, it is clear that we must look at the statements of both candidates as well as the impact their policies could have.
Both candidates have made strong statements in support of the unique relationship that the United States shares with Israel. Early on in the campaign, Obama stated his view that "the United States' special relationship with Israel obligates us to be helpful to them in the search for credible partners with whom they can make peace, while also supporting Israel in defending itself against enemies sworn to its destruction." McCain has made similar overtures. He was also quick to suggest on Sunday that, though his earmark reduction plan would cut off all U.S. aide to Israel, it would not be his intention to do so.
With near identical proclamations about the need to continue to strongly support Israel, one must turn to their policy positions to find their true differences, many of which are quite dramatic.
John McCain's foreign policy philosophy is identical to the neoconservative ideology of President Bush. McCain has advocated an open-ended commitment to occupy Iraq and has continued to assert the possibility of a military action against Iran. Like President Bush, he is willing to prioritize Iraq above the war in Afghanistan, despite its being the epicenter of Al Qaeda.
What has the Bush foreign policy meant for the region thus far? Among other things, the destabilization of Iraq has caused a Sunni-Shiite civil war that threatens Israel's long-term stability everyday that it continues. Where the power in the region was once balanced between Iraq and Iran, the administration allowed Iranian influence to fill the post-Iraq power vacuum, making it significantly stronger and more difficult to contain. Hezbollah has grown substantially stronger in Lebanon, both politically and with respect to its militia. Another conflict with Israel could certainly be on the horizon. Syria, too, appears to be preparing for hostilities with Israel, with recent reports suggesting that President Assad believes war to be a real possibility.
With such disastrous consequences, the result of horrifically incompetent American policy planning, one thing must be universally understood. Though George Bush may be a friend of Israel, his policies are certainly not. John McCain's candidacy thus begs the question: What could a continuation of a Bush foreign policy mean for the region?
A McCain/Bush worldview will mean continued destabilization of the Middle East, which will pose a serious security risk to Israel. If McCain attacks Iran, as he has suggested he is inclined to do, the Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq could easily morph into a Pan-Arab conflict, in which recruiting aims could be achieved, in part, by launching sustained attacks against Israel. Four to eight more years of neoconservative policy has the potential to set off a powder keg of chaos, from which hard-liners and fanatics will likely ascend to power.
The State of Israel cannot afford to have the United States continue a policy of occupation and destabilization. The consequences would be perilous. Barack Obama's reasoned approach to the Middle East will mean more stability, more accountability, and a policy agenda that will help shield Israel from the brink.
There is little doubt that the politics of the Middle East and the safety and security of Israel will look quite different at the end of a McCain or Obama presidency. But with McCain's puzzling willingness to continue a policy that means nothing but risk and danger for Israel, the choice should be utterly obvious. There are, it seems, few things more anti-Israel than being pro-McCain.