Romney vs. Obama vis-à-vis Israel
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
NRO title: "What the 2012 Election Means for Israel"
"President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus." That's what Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president, said in the high-profile speech accepting his party's nomination last week, repeating a slang phrase for sacrificing a friend for selfish reasons. Romney had deployed this phrase before, for example in May 2011 and Jan. 2012. This criticism of Obama fits a persistent Republican critique. Specifically, several other recent presidential candidates used or endorsed the same "bus" formulation vis-à-vis Obama and Israel, including Herman Cain in May 2011, Rick Perry in Sept. 2011, Newt Gingrich in Jan. 2012, and Rick Santorum in Feb. 2012.
These Republican attacks on Obama's relations with Israel have several important implications for U.S. foreign policy. First, out of the many Middle East-related issues, Israel, and Israel alone, retains a permanent role in U.S. electoral politics, influencing how a significant number of voters - not just Jews but also Arabs, Muslims, Evangelical Christians, conservatives and liberals – vote for president.
Second, attitudes toward Israel serve as a proxy for views toward other Middle Eastern issues: If I know your views on Israel, I have a good idea about your thinking on such topics as energy policy, Islamism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, AKP-led Turkey, the Iranian nuclear build-up, intervention in Libya, the Mohamed Morsi presidency in Egypt, and the Syrian civil war.
Third, the Republican criticism of Obama points to a sea-change in what determines attitudes toward Israel. Religion was once the key, with Jews the ardent Zionists and Christians less engaged. Today, in contrast, the determining factor is political outlook. To discern someone's views on Israel, the best question to ask is not "What is your religion?" but "Who do you want for president?" As a rule, conservatives feel more warmly toward Israel and liberals more coolly. Polls show conservative Republicans to be the most ardent Zionists, followed by Republicans in general, followed by independents, Democrats, and lastly liberal Democrats. Yes, Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York City, also said, in Sept. 2011, that Obama "threw Israel under the bus," but Koch, 87, represents the fading old guard of the Democratic party. The difference between the parties in the Arab-Israeli conflict is becoming as deep as their differences on the economy or on cultural issues.
Fourth, as Israel increasingly becomes an issue dividing Democrats from Republicans, I predict a reduction of the bipartisan support for Israel that has provided Israel a unique status in U.S. politics and sustained organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. I also predict that Romney and Paul Ryan, as mainstream conservatives, will head an administration that will be the warmest ever to Israel, far surpassing the administrations of both Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. Contrarily, should Obama be re-elected, the coldest treatment of Israel ever by a U.S. president will follow.
Obama's constipated record of the past 3½ years vis-à-vis Israel on such topics as the Palestinians and Iran leads to this conclusion; but so does what we know about his record before he entered high electoral politics in 2004, especially his associations with radical anti-Zionists. For example, Obama deferentially listened to Edward Said in May 1998 and sat quietly by at a going-away party in 2003 for former PLO flack Rashid Khalidi as Israel was accused of terrorism against Palestinians. (In contrast, Romney has been friends with Binyamin Netanyahu since 1976.)
When one puts this in the context of what Obama said off-mic to then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in March 2012 ("This is my last election. And after my election, I have more flexibility") and in the context of Obama's dislike for Netanyahu, it would be wise to assume that, if Obama wins on Nov. 6, things will "calm down" for him and he finally can "be more up front" about so-called Palestine. Then Israel's troubles will really begin.
Sep. 5, 2012 update: Before the Democrats restored mention of Jerusalem as Israel's capital to its party platform, Romney called the omission "very troubling" and "one more example of Israel being thrown under the bus by the president."
Sep. 16, 2012 update:Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu twice avoided answering the question of whether Obama throws Israel "under the bus" or not, finally relenting the third time. Of course, he had to deny the charge, which does not enhance Mitt Romney's credibility.
Mar. 20, 2013 update:Abunimah has just posted a picture of the whole gang - himself, the Khalidis, the Obamas, and the Saids - at a Chicago dinner.
Reader comments (47) on this item
Comment on this item
Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes