It is perhaps no surprise that the media and chattering
class in Israel are following the U.S. presidential nominating process with
an intensity not to be seen anywhere else. The interest is somewhat odd, given
that no fundamental shift in the U.S.-Israel relationship appears possible.
Apart from Ron Paul, who has no chance to be nominated, no candidate is likely
to challenge the "special relationship." Some critics of Middle Eastern
policy have been hopeful that Barack Obama, who has less baggage on the issue
than the other candidates, might approach the Israel-Palestine conundrum with
a more open mind. Such hopes are fleeting, as Obama has adopted an increasingly
strident pro-Israel line to make himself more electable. This line was apparently
crafted by his key adviser on the region, Dennis Ross, a former State Department
official who was the key negotiator between Palestinians and Israelis under
President Bill Clinton. Ross has invariably tilted in the Israeli direction
by defining most regional problems in terms of Israeli security concerns. When
he is not advising Obama, Ross is now a "distinguished fellow" at
the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the strongly pro-Israeli
Washington think tank that was founded by the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC). He is also a Middle East analyst for Fox News.
Israeli interest in the outcome of the election is legitimate, because the
billions of dollars in U.S. economic and military aid are seen by most Israelis
as crucial to their country's prosperity. For this same reason, it is worthwhile
for Americans to note just how the Israeli media evaluates the various candidates'
pro-Israel credentials. The Israeli national interest is clearly not identical
to that of the United States, except possibly to AIPAC, but it would be difficult
to discern the difference based on the comments being made by American presidential
candidates. Indeed, many of the candidates sometimes seem as if they are actually
running for office in Israel.
Ha'aretz, the more liberal of the two Israeli English language newspapers,
assesses the presidential candidates in a monthly feature called "The Israel
Factor: Ranking the Presidential Candidates," which rates the candidates
from 1 to 10, with 10 being "best for Israel" and 1 being worst. The
most recent "Israel Factor" appeared on Jan. 17. It should be noted
that Republican Congressman Ron Paul is not included in the rankings because
the Israeli panelists believe that to do so would be a "waste of time."
Rudy Giuliani is, not surprisingly, Tel Aviv's favorite son. He rates an 8.37
based on stirring rhetoric such as "Israel is the only outpost of freedom
and democracy in the Middle East and the only absolutely reliable friend of
the United States" and "the people of Jerusalem and the people of
New York City are shoulder-to-shoulder; and the people of America and the people
of Israel are shoulder-to-shoulder in the fight against terrorism." While
in New York, Rudy picked up valuable points for having Yasser Arafat thrown
out of a concert at Lincoln Center in 1995 and for turning down $10 million
in post-9/11 aid from a Saudi prince when the prince had the temerity to question
U.S. policy in the Middle East. Giuliani reiterated his anecdotes about Arafat
and the Saudi prince in the most recent Republican debate, but it is not clear
whether dissing the same Arabs twice with the same story is good for extra points
or not. Giuliani had an 8.75 in last month's ranking, so he clearly is slipping
and has to come up with some new material to regain his edge.
Hillary Clinton is a surprise number two in the Ha'aretz ranking, with
a 7.62. She gets top grades for demanding that the U.S. embassy be shifted from
Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and also for some of her effusive affirmations of Israeli
exceptionalism, calling it a "beacon of what democracy can and should mean."
Hillary is apparently not familiar with the face of democracy in the West Bank
territories that are still occupied. Nor is she shy about suborning U.S. interests
to any old scheme for regional domination dreamed up by Israeli politicians,
as she has also said that "the security and freedom of Israel must be decisive
and remain at the core of any American approach to the Middle East." Hillary
is a strong supporter of keeping Arabs out of Israel: "The top priority
of any government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens, and
that is why I have been a strong supporter of Israel's right to build a security
barrier to keep terrorists out. I have taken the International Court of Justice
to task for questioning Israel's right to build the fence." (Note: A fence is
about five feet high and is designed to keep horses and cattle from straying.
Most people call Israel's 20-ft.-high solid masonry construction a wall, and
large segments of it are built on Arab land.) Hillary apparently has not encouraged
Chelsea to enlist in either the IDF or the U.S. armed forces, but she has no
problem pounding on America's traditional European allies to make them do Israel's
bidding. Addressing AIPAC in 2005, she said, "A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable,
but it is not just unacceptable to Israel and the United States. It must be
unacceptable to the entire world, starting with the European governments and
John McCain, once the neocons' anointed as the candidate best equipped to light
the flame of freedom in the Middle East, rates a strong but disappointing 7.12.
Never having met an Israeli he couldn't admire and an Arab he couldn't disdain,
he has said, "There can be no comprehensive peace accord between Israel
and the Palestinians until the Palestinians recognize Israel, forswear forever
the use of violence, recognize their previous agreements, and reform their internal
institutions." "Between" would appear to imply a certain reciprocity,
but John probably skipped his English classes at the Naval Academy. Like Hillary,
he believes that good fences make good neighbors, and he is happy to help steal
someone else's land to help out a friend: "The Oslo accord failed because
it was based on the premise that the Palestinian and Israeli peoples could live
peacefully together. The security fence will test whether they can live peacefully
apart." He is also more than generous with American taxpayers' money: "America
must provide Israel with whatever military equipment and technology she requires
to defend herself, above and beyond what we supply today if necessary."
Mitt Romney only rates a 6.5 in spite of his courageous refusal to provide
Massachusetts state troopers to protect former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami
during his visit to the U.S. in 2006. As he put it at the time, "State
taxpayers should not be providing special treatment to an individual who supports
violent jihad and the destruction of Israel." Mitt, a self-described deep thinker,
apparently was unaware that Khatami is a moderate who was in the U.S. in an
attempt to establish dialogue to avert war. Khatami has never advocated jihad
or the elimination of Israel. In the latest presidential debate, Romney called
for "good schools" in the Arab world that are not "Wahhabi schools,"
a generalization that left some observers who actually know about the Middle
Former candidate Fred Thompson, also at 6.5, scored some points in the Republican
debate when he gave sage advice to the Iranians harassing U.S. naval vessels:
"One more step and they would have been introduced to those virgins that they're
looking forward to seeing." And then there is poor Mike Huckabee at a pathetic
6, an also-ran among stalwart Republicans seeking to kick Arab butt and go toe-to-toe
with the hated mullahs. Mike is all for sending Iranians molesting U.S. ships
to see the "gates of Hell" and is noted for his willingness to consider a Palestinian
state located somewhere in the Arab world but not anywhere on the West Bank,
which he considers part of Israel. He has visited Israel nine times, but apparently
his standing around waiting for the Second Coming so he can be Raptured up to
heaven doesn't impress the Ha'aretz panel.
At the bottom of the heap? Yes, it's Barack Obama with a 5. He has tried to
demonstrate that he is true blue when it comes to Israel by manfully supporting
last year's invasion of Lebanon, which killed more than 1,000 civilians and
caused billions of dollars worth of damage: "I don't think there is any nation
that would not have reacted the way Israel did after two soldiers had been snatched.
I support Israel's response to take some action in protecting themselves."
I suppose that, in spite of the bad grammar, that came off a bit too eggheaded,
not to mention mealy-mouthed. Obama lived for a while in Indonesia, which is
known to be overrun with Muslims. He could himself be some kind of crypto-Islamofascist,
and a few years ago he had some nice things to say about Palestinians. You lose,