Yesterday, I explained at length why Efraim Halevy’s oddly partisan op-ed in the New York Times alleging that only Republicans have strong-armed Israel was as absurd as it was irrelevant to the question of whether President Obama should be re-elected. Nevertheless, some liberals have continued to circulate Halevy’s piece as if it was conclusive proof that Democrats are always good and Republicans are bad. As I pointed out, presidents from both parties have been pressuring the Jewish state since it was born. Even if we were to accept the former Mossad chief’s lame attempt to summarize the history of U.S.-Israel relations so as to focus only on episodes of tension when the GOP had the White House, it does nothing to answer the justified criticisms of President Obama’s undeniable record of pressure.
But there is one aspect of Halevy’s piece that is relevant this morning: his discussion of the way the George W. Bush administration hammered Israel into accepting the “road map” for Middle East peace in 2003 prior to the Iraq War. The prime mover behind that policy went unnamed in Halevy’s piece, but he is very much in the news today: former Secretary of State Colin Powell. To no one’s surprise, Powell endorsed President Obama for re-election. The former general had a number of reasons for backing the president, but by all accounts the most important one was distrust of the “neoconservatives” who advise Mitt Romney on foreign policy. Those who think criticism of the Bush administration’s attitude to Israel should inform the 2012 election need to understand that Powell — the most prominent critic of Israel on Bush’s team — is weighing in on the election largely because he doesn’t like the pro-Israel tone of the Romney campaign and endorses Obama’s policy of pressure. That puts Halevy’s “bad Republican” argument in a perspective that renders it useless to those supporting the president’s re-election.
In today’s New York Times, former Mossad director Efraim Halevy writes about the history of U.S. pressure on Israel. Halevy’s ostensible purpose is to remind voters that Republican presidents have strong-armed Israeli governments in the past. On its face, this is a rather uncontroversial thesis. Who would possibly deny the fact that Republican presidents have abused Israel over the years? Indeed, Halevy’s list is incomplete, since along with Dwight Eisenhower and both the elder and the younger George Bush who were mentioned in the piece, we should not forget Richard Nixon proposed the first land-for-peace deal with the Rogers plan and then muscled the Israelis during the War of Attrition and after the Yom Kippur War. Ronald Reagan also had his moments of confrontation with Israel over arms sales to Saudi Arabia and especially over Lebanon.
The fallacy here is that Halevy cites this in order to refute Mitt Romney’s charge that President Obama has repeatedly thrown Israel “under the bus.” In doing so he chooses to ignore the many instances of pressure from Democrats. Indeed, just as every Republican occupant of the White House has some blots on his ledger with regard to Israel, the same is true of almost every Democrat dating back to Harry Truman. Yet what’s truly odd about the piece, and causes me to question the judgment not only of the Times editors that chose to publish it but those liberals circulating the article around the Internet today as if it was a damning refutation of Romney’s allegations, is that none of this stuff about past Republicans or Democrats has anything to do with Obama. Based on the tone of the last debate, the president seems quite anxious to demonstrate his pro-Israel bona fides to wavering Jewish voters in Florida and Ohio. Those who care about Israel will judge him on his record, but it mystifies me as to why anyone’s vote would be influenced by unhappy memories of Ike or the Bushes.