Monday, April 15, 2024 -
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This election harms Israel by making it a party issue

Israel needs the support of both Democrats and Republicans. Israel has the support of both Democrats and Republicans, but there’s something new and unsettling in this presidential campaign: leading Democrats are blaming Israel’s weakened position on Republicans. True, Israel is weakened, but mostly that’s due to Israel’s poor decisions. To the extent that it’s due to an administration in Washington, both Democrats and Republicans bear the blame.

Both George Bush and Bill Clinton have made egregious errors in the Middle East. Simply put, the “Israel is worse off today than it was in 2000” argument cuts both ways.


Here’s what Democrats from John Kerry to Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) to Rep. Robert Wexler ((D-Fla.) to Bill Clinton said in Denver last week: The emergence of Hamas and Hezbollah is George Bush’s fault. The emergence of Iran as a Middle East kingpin is George Bush’s fault. A basis of Bush’s failures is his inconsistent use of diplomacy.


There is truth in these charges — but not the whole truth. It is true that Bush’s irrationally exuberant promotion of democracy anytime, anywhere, helped Hamas gain power in Gaza in January, 2005. It is true that on Bush’s watch Hezbollah armed itself to the teeth. It is true that Bush’s poor execution of the war in Iraq diverted his attention and American power from stopping Iran’s nuclear program.

It is equally true Israel was much worse off in 2000, when Bill Clinton left office, than it was in 1992, when he took office. Clinton’s policies weakened Israel.

It was Clinton’s policies that set in motion the “peace process” dynamic that Bush adopted. Specifically, Clinton made the fundamental error of compelling Israel to recognize and reconstitute a Palestinian Authority in 1993 that had no intention of making peace with Israel, and did not do so. It was Clinton’s “diplomacy” in July, 2000 that led directly to the second Palestinian intifada, which is a root cause of the rise of Hamas. It was Clinton’s praise of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May, 2000, which is a root cause of the rise of Hezbollah there.

The “Israel is worse off” argument cuts both ways: It is worse off because of Clinton, and worse off because of Bush. Political humility in the 2008 election is in order.

Now, Israel is also better off because of both Clinton and Bush. Most important of all, both presidents sold major arms to Israel and sustained its qualitative military superiority. Both presidents promoted the legitimacy of Israel dramatically and sincerely, and sustained the special relationship between Israel and the US.

To Bush’s credit, he put an end to the unwise, unfounded and detrimental legitimation of Yasir Arafat by Bill Clinton; stated what everybody knows, namely, that some large Israeli settlements will not be voluntarily withdrawn from; and supported Israel’s life-saving security fence.

To the Democrats’ credit, they are dead right that Bush has overemphasized one-third of his “axis of evil” — Iraq — at the price of dealing effectively with the threat from Iran.

Bottom line: Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have a monopoly on mistakes made to Israel’s detriment. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on emotional and material support for Israel.

To both parties we say: Stop blaming the other for Israel’s predicament. To the Democrats who blamed Bush last week, in a partisan show, we say: Don’t place Israel at the heart of the partisan battle. This is bad for Israel.

To the Republicans who responded to the Democrats, we say: Tone down the rhetoric (the Democratic charges were “absolutely ludicrous,” said a Republican Jewish spokesman).

The heat of an election is not the place for lovers of Israel to do their best work. Jewish supporters of Israel in both parties could play an important role in getting their respective party’s records on Israel out of the partisan firing line. Neither record is lily white.

As to which presidential candidate is best for Israel — that’s a separate issue. Let the candidates be quizzed intelligently, penetratingly, even unmercifully.
We have a right to know where they stand — beyond the generalities and platitudes. This — not Bush and not Clinton, nor the Democratic and Republican records — are the appropriate focus on Israel in this campaign.

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