As the 2012 election nears, Democrats and Republicans are both courting the American Jewish community, although the process is inherently an antithesis to one of their key talking points.
Earlier this week, six GOP presidential candidates attended a forum by the Republican Jewish Coalition, condemning President Obama for what they say is a lackluster response to the Iranian nuclear threat and an alienation of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and one of our closest allies. That criticism is coupled with contentions that calling for the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, likely leading to the rise of an Islamic fundamentalist Egypt, and tepid opposition to Syrian dictator Basher al-Assad are also main talking points to paint President Obama as anti-Israel, thereby attempting to entice many members of the traditionally pro-Israel Jewish community to help oust President Obama from the White House.
Meanwhile, President Obama has also embarked on his own courting ritual, regularly celebrating Jewish holidays with staff throughout his tenure in office and previously on the campaign. His annual Passover Seder’s began on the campaign and continued in the White House, becoming a highly written about event. Today, Obama also decided to celebrate Hanukkah … although the Festival of Lights doesn’t begin for another 12 days.
It’s unclear whether the White House’s Hanukkah celebration has been on the schedule for months or weeks. But one thing is clear — holding the celebration this week helps to tie President Obama with the Jewish community at a time when Republicans are trying to drive a wedge into that relationship and, as some reports indicate, Jewish support for Obama dwindles.
The fight over American Jewish support in some, but not all, respects hinges on a candidates stance on Israel. Comments at the Republican Jewish Coalition reflect that fact, as do remarks from President Obama at the Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony, where he mentioned the United States’ commitment to the security of Israel.
I’ll take the GOP candidates and President Obama for their word, that they actually do have Israel’s best interests at heart and are only focusing on their alleged differences to create the perception of being stronger allies to the only democracy in the Middle East, even though the true difference is minimal.
Support for Israel has historically been bipartisan, with many Democrats and Republicans touting their backing of Israel as main tenets of their foreign policy goals. Some presidents — such as George H. W. Bush — did not focus as much on this relationship, but our most recent presidents have made their support very clear.
The utilization of Israel, though, as a political pinball to score votes come November is antithetical to the parties’ supposed true desires — a safe, secure and prosperous Israel that remains one of the United States’ closest allies.
Israel’s interests, which are shared with the United States, hinge on the Jewish state obtaining support from both parties on Capitol Hill and the administration. That support can come in appropriations, U.S. stances at the historically anti-Israel United Nations, diplomatic leverage over some countries in the Arab world, and defense against Israel’s enemies. Generating political tension over any one of those issues could lead either party to take a stance that is not in Israel’s best interest for fear of appearing to cave to the other party, a distinct possibility in an election year when candidates attempt to distinguish themselves on as many issues as possible. However, jeopardizing any one of those avenues of support would undermine the claimed goals of both Republicans and Democrats to foster a safe and secure Israel.
Support for Israel should continue to be bipartisan, and Jewish American organizations courted by presidential candidates and Israeli officials should make it crystal clear that the political polarization of Israel must be ceased immediately.
Instead, while Democrats and Republicans haven’t agreed on much in the past few years, they should prove to Americans that Washington can work by cooperating to promulgate pro-Israel policies. That kind of bipartisan effort would foster the United States’ interest in the Middle East and keep Israel out of political cross-hairs. Both parties would benefit by proving to constituents that they can govern, while the United States and Israel would have their shared interests safe from election-year politics.