By Robert A. Vella
Every four years when America considers who’ll be its next president, the concerns of Israel are addressed before the nation. The issue is always couched in the same way. Will the U.S. vigorously defend Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state? Will the U.S. loyally stand with Israel in its ongoing defense against the surrounding Islamic sea which seeks to destroy it? Will the U.S. continue to supply Israel with the military means to do so?
This quadrennial rite of political passage for all presidential candidates is highlighted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, a lobbying group which advocates pro-Israeli policies before the U.S. Congress and the White House. AIPAC is a hard-line organization, supporting whichever American political party and presidential candidate most in sync with its aggressive right-wing rhetoric. Just last year, it pummeled President Obama over the now-passed nuclear agreement with Iran.
Along with the systematic eradication of indigenous peoples in the Americas, the enslavement of West Africans in the colonial New World, and the atrocities committed against the Chinese population by Imperial Japan, no ethnic group has likely been as persecuted as the Jewish people. The genocidal campaign waged by Nazi Germany during The Holocaust was only the lowest point for Jews in their long torturous history in Europe. When the United Nations recognized the nation-state of Israel in 1948, the insufferable enduring nightmare of the Jewish people was finally seen to be coming to an end.
But, that nightmare was replaced by a different one. The Palestinian peoples, who had inhabited that territory in relative peace for centuries, lost their land and were themselves subject to persecution. Some western powers, such as Great Britain, resented the creation of Israel because it complicated and hindered their economic relationships in the region. Israel’s Sunni Muslim neighbors – principally Egypt, Jordan, and Syria – launched a series of costly military campaigns against the new Jewish nation which resulted in deadly wars and ultimate defeat. After the Camp David Accords were signed in 1978, the Sunni leaders of the Middle East reluctantly accepted (even if not publicly stated) Israel’s right to exist; but, then a new threat emerged. With the rise of Shiite (a.k.a. Shi’a) Muslim power in Syria beginning in the late 1960s and in Iran following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Israel was openly confronted once again. This historic split within Islam underlays the great turmoil now afflicting the entire region and beyond.
Consequently, the geopolitical dynamics surrounding the Middle East generally pit a U.S./Israel/Sunni coalition against a Russia/China/Shiite coalition with Europe somewhere in between. The Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS, ISIL) – a Sunni Islamist, Jihadist organization – is a corrosive wildcard element opposed to both coalitions.
With this background context in mind, take a look at what the presidential candidates are saying about Israel.
From The New York Times – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Vow to Protect Israel but Differ on Means:
Mrs. Clinton promised she would stand unwaveringly with Israel while accusing her potential Republican rival, Mr. Trump, of being an unreliable partner for one of America’s closest allies. “We need steady hands,” she said, “not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who-knows-what on Wednesday.”
Speaking to the same audience hours later, Mr. Trump swore his fealty to Israel and condemned President Obama’s policies. But Mr. Trump, who describes himself as a “master counterpuncher,” declined to answer Mrs. Clinton’s criticisms, offering a standard appeal to a pro-Israel audience. “When I become president,” he said, “the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on Day 1.”
Mr. Trump’s remarks, which came after he had sent a series of conflicting signals about Israel on the campaign trail in recent weeks, drew less sustained applause than Mrs. Clinton’s from the crowd of 18,000 people assembled by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the nation’s most influential pro-Israel lobbying group.
Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state and the Democratic front-runner, wasted no time taking aim at Mr. Trump for declaring recently that he would be “neutral” when it came to negotiating a peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians. While Mr. Trump’s remark did not stray far from traditional American policy, his blunt language rattled some in Israel, who worry that it might portend a less supportive United States.
“America can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security and survival,” Mrs. Clinton declared. “My friends, Israel’s security is nonnegotiable.”
Mrs. Clinton declared that she would allow no daylight between the United States and Israel on the peace process. But she opened some daylight with the White House, reiterating her opposition to any United Nations Security Council resolution that would seek to impose the contours of a two-state solution. Mr. Obama is contemplating such a move before he leaves office, though he may instead lay down parameters for a deal in a speech.
“I would vigorously oppose an attempt by any outside party to impose a solution, including by the United Nations Security Council,” she said.
Mrs. Clinton reaffirmed her support for Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, but she repeated her warning that she would use military force, if necessary, to punish Iran for violating the terms of the agreement.
From The Washington Post – Sanders pledges to extend friendship to both Israelis and Palestinians:
SALT LAKE CITY — Bernie Sanders pledged Monday that if elected president he would be “a friend not only to Israel but to the Palestinian people” as the United States seeks a help broker a two-state solution to the region’s long-standing conflict.
“Peace has to mean security for every Israeli from violence and terrorism,” Sanders said during a speech here. “But peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights and economic well-being for the Palestinian people.”
Sanders said there is “too much suffering in Gaza to be ignored,” referring to the Palestinian territory.
The speech by the Democratic White House hopeful was intended to touch on themes he would have addressed if he had accepted an invitation to speak at a gathering in Washington on Monday of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Sanders, who would be the nation’s first Jewish president, was the only remaining presidential candidate from either major party to pass on the opportunity to speak to the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group.
Dear readers, how would you describe these three presidential candidates vis-à-vis Israel? Who is the Hawk, who is the Vulture, and who is the Dove?
Note: I’ll cover the other two Republican presidential candidates’ positions on Israel, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, if and when they become more relevant this election season.