Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S.-Israel alliance

Obama’s False Choice on Israel

Part of the fallout from the controversy over “senior administration officials” telling journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a “chickensh*t” is the revival of an ongoing effort by Obama apologists to convince American Jews that they would be wrong to try and hold the president accountable for his obvious disdain for the Jewish state’s government. This prompted Tablet magazine to publish an editorial claiming that it was wrong for both Israel’s defenders and administration cheerleaders like Goldberg to ask Jews to choose between liberalism and Israel. But their plague on both your houses approach to this debate misses the point. No one, at least no one serious on either side, is really asking Jews to choose between liberalism and Israel. The choice here is between loyalty to the president and Israel. And that is not one that anyone in the pro-Israel community, no matter what their political affiliation, should have much trouble with.

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Part of the fallout from the controversy over “senior administration officials” telling journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a “chickensh*t” is the revival of an ongoing effort by Obama apologists to convince American Jews that they would be wrong to try and hold the president accountable for his obvious disdain for the Jewish state’s government. This prompted Tablet magazine to publish an editorial claiming that it was wrong for both Israel’s defenders and administration cheerleaders like Goldberg to ask Jews to choose between liberalism and Israel. But their plague on both your houses approach to this debate misses the point. No one, at least no one serious on either side, is really asking Jews to choose between liberalism and Israel. The choice here is between loyalty to the president and Israel. And that is not one that anyone in the pro-Israel community, no matter what their political affiliation, should have much trouble with.

Though I am no friend of the political mindset that we associate with modern American liberalism, there is no inherent contradiction between its advocacy and support for Zionism and the defense of Israel’s security. Indeed, some liberal Democrats in the House and the Senate are ardent and reliable friends of the Jewish state. The pertinent question is whether pro-Israel Democrats are prepared to grade Obama on a curve and give him a pass for his propensity for picking pointless fights with Israel or undercutting its position at times of extreme peril (such as cutting off arms delivery during the Gaza War or persisting in supporting libels against the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces even after the U.S. military has debunked them) or in pursuing appeasement of and even détente with the anti-Semitic regime in Iran.

As we saw in 2012, most Democrats were perfectly willing to do so provided the president called a temporary halt to his incitement against Israel with a Jewish charm offensive that didn’t last much beyond his second inaugural. Faced with the arms cutoff, the Iran appeasement, and the chickensh*t insults, it is increasingly difficult for any principled Jewish Democrat to repeat the arguments put forward for the president’s reelection with a straight face. While it is too late to atone for their mistake in giving this president a second chance to undermine the alliance, they can still stand up to criticize his policies on both the peace process and Iran without fear of losing their bona fides as either Democrats or liberals. To claim that fidelity to either prevents them from speaking out when the president is making nice with an anti-Semite like Iran’s supreme leader while trashing Israel’s prime minister is to present with the sort of false choice that is Obama’s favorite public speaking meme.

But even more insidious is the attempt by Obama cheerleaders like Goldberg to flip the argument and to claim that the president is somehow a better judge of Israel’s security that its people or their elected leaders. He does so by arguing in his latest Bloomberg View column that by anyone who agrees with Obama that the status quo with the Palestinians is “unsustainable” must acclaim him as a true friend of Israel while those who disagree with the idea that the Jewish state must be pressured to make concessions are actually undermining its security.

No one in Israel, whether on the right or the left, thinks the status quo is desirable. But in the absence of any indication from the Palestinians—either the supposedly moderate Fatah led by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas or his Hamas rivals—that they are ready to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, Obama’s efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction and to pressure Israel to withdraw from the West Bank makes no sense. No Israeli government of any political party will repeat the mistake made in Gaza when Ariel Sharon withdrew Israeli soldiers and settlements. Another Palestinian terror state like the Hamasistan in Gaza is an invitation to carnage.

Goldberg accepts that such a withdrawal is a bad idea but then says Israel must do more to improve conditions on the West Bank. He’s right, but that is actually a position that Netanyahu has championed. He has urged the West to stop obsessing with a peace process that Palestinians don’t want and to concentrate instead on economic development.

Until the political culture of the Palestinians undergoes a sea change that will make peace possible, talk about what Israel must do is a waste of time. The overwhelming majority of Israelis who, unlike Obama and many American Jews, have paid attention to the Palestinians’ consistent rejection of peace understand this and are prepared to wait until then. Considering that the status quo has lasted for decades after we first heard arguments about it being unsustainable, it is not unreasonable to think that it can go on for a very long time indeed without Israel being obligated to endanger its security in order to avoid its continuation.

That’s a position that all friends of Israel, whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, should be willing to accept even if it goes against our instinctive American belief that all differences can be split in a spirit of compromise that even moderate Palestinians still dreaming of Israel’s destruction don’t share. The only real choices facing Jews and other friends of Israel is whether they are prepared to give the president a pass for his destructive attitude toward the alliance because of his party affiliation or if they are so detached from a sense of Jewish peoplehood that they will tolerate the mainstreaming of anti-Israel attitudes that are growing dangerously close to anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Any argument to the contrary is merely a partisan attempt by Obama apologists to change the subject.

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Israel, Bipartisanship, and the Blame Game

How should pro-Israel Democrats respond to the fact that support for Israel in their party is dropping? That question has renewed relevance with the latest polls showing increasing disapproval of Israel within the Democratic Party. Last week’s Gallup poll showed that Democrats do not think Israel’s actions in Gaza are justified by a 47-31 percent tally. And this week’s Pew poll shows that, astoundingly, Democrats are about evenly divided over whether Israel or Hamas is most responsible for the current violence. (Both polls show Republicans broadly support Israel.)

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How should pro-Israel Democrats respond to the fact that support for Israel in their party is dropping? That question has renewed relevance with the latest polls showing increasing disapproval of Israel within the Democratic Party. Last week’s Gallup poll showed that Democrats do not think Israel’s actions in Gaza are justified by a 47-31 percent tally. And this week’s Pew poll shows that, astoundingly, Democrats are about evenly divided over whether Israel or Hamas is most responsible for the current violence. (Both polls show Republicans broadly support Israel.)

It’s a trend that has been on the march for some time. For a while liberals denied there was rising disenchantment with Israel on the left, but that became impossible after the Democrats’ 2012 presidential nominating convention, when the party’s delegates loudly booed at and resoundingly voted down adding pro-Israel language to the Democratic Party platform (the language was added over their objections, though it was quite a scene). At that point, a new strategy was needed, since everyone was well aware the Democrats’ traditional support for Israel was in danger of collapsing.

The new strategy has two main elements. The first is to rule out debate on the issue. When you hear Democrats accusing Republicans of using Israel as a political football, you can be sure the left has said or done something objectionable. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf tried that tack again today. In trying to deflect criticism of her boss, Harf said, according to the AP’s Matt Lee, that “Many members of Congress, I think, like to use Israel as a political issue to try to divide the country.” Translation: when the Democrats are in the process of damaging Israel, supporting Israel becomes an unacceptable partisan play.

The other side to this strategy is to then use this supposed partisanship (defending Israel when the Democrats refuse to do so) to justify the Democrats’ turn away from Israel. The latest example of this comes from Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall. He concedes the point that having an American native like Ron Dermer as Israel’s ambassador can help communicate Israel’s positions clearly and navigate American politics. But Marshall is troubled by this as well because Dermer has a Republican background:

It should go without saying that the Israel-US alliance becomes more brittle as it becomes more clearly identified with a single US political party. And perhaps more than that, as it becomes more clearly identified with the ties between Netanyahu and US Republicans.

Marshall says, correctly, that it hurts the alliance to have support for Israel as an identifiable characteristic of only one political party. What he doesn’t say is that his party is the one increasingly setting aside that alliance. He hints, instead, that by associating with Republicans Netanyahu is the one who made that choice.

In essence, this line of thinking holds that the Israeli government can only get so much support from Republicans before Democrats will walk away. Marshall is not the first to discuss the situation in such terms. On the eve of the 2012 presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, in making his case for Obama, wrote the following:

Republicans have had a good deal of success turning Israel into a partisan issue, mainly by misrepresenting President Obama’s record (but also helped by certain Obama missteps), and if they continue to press their case, many Democrats will find supporting Israel distasteful — they will lump supporters of Israel in the same category they reserve for climate-change-denying anti-choice Obamacare haters. This would be very dangerous for Israel.

Yes, it would be very dangerous for Israel. But it’s also a profound condemnation, even if unintentional, of Goldberg’s fellow liberals. If they will find voluble support for Israel, which in this case includes criticism of Barack Obama for what they perceive to be his weakening of the alliance, to be enough to convince them not to support Israel, then they are not supporters of Israel: they are leftist partisans.

If they really do support Israel, they would be able to continue supporting Israel even though conservatives get as (or more) animated about their support for Israel as on other important conservative issues. That should go without saying, but it apparently does not. A bipartisan consensus in support of Israel is what is best for both the United States and Israel, which is why that consensus has endured for decades now. And for it to be bipartisan, Democrats will have to get over their distaste for sharing a coalition with Republicans.

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Iran and the Limits of AIPAC’s Power

Supporters of Israel are frustrated. Despite the bipartisan endorsement of 59 members of the U.S. Senate, the effort to enact a new round of tougher sanctions against Iran has stalled. President Obama’s opposition to a measure that would only go into effect after it had been determined that the current negotiations with Iran had failed has effectively spiked the bill. The administration’s misleading effort to portray more sanctions as the moral equivalent of a declaration of war on Iran was enough to stiffen opponents and to spook many of the bill’s Democratic supporters. With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid determined not to allow a vote and with prominent pro-Israel Democrats like New York’s Chuck Schumer not wishing to go toe-to-toe with the White House on the issue, the bill is stuck in limbo.

That has angered Republicans as well as pro-Israel activists who are still determined to keep the issue alive and left some of them looking to assess blame for the bill’s failure. The principal target of those recriminations appears to be the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). As Eli Lake reports in the Daily Beast today, AIPAC is being blamed for its decision to pull back on advocacy for sanctions earlier this month after it realized the bill could no longer count on bipartisan support. Lake describes the lobby’s on-again, off-again campaign for sanctions as a botched job that has disappointed both Republicans and the Israeli government.

But while it’s clear this episode is far from being AIPAC’s finest moment, any effort to pin the blame on the group is mistaken. Whatever mistakes AIPAC may have made in the last few months, once President Obama decided to go all-out to stop the sanctions bill, the issue was decided. Nothing AIPAC could do or say was going to convince Democrats to stand up to a president that claimed opposition to his position was advocacy of war. Scapegoating AIPAC in this manner not only fails to take into account the limits of even the vaunted lobby’s power but also is a misreading of how the group operates.

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Supporters of Israel are frustrated. Despite the bipartisan endorsement of 59 members of the U.S. Senate, the effort to enact a new round of tougher sanctions against Iran has stalled. President Obama’s opposition to a measure that would only go into effect after it had been determined that the current negotiations with Iran had failed has effectively spiked the bill. The administration’s misleading effort to portray more sanctions as the moral equivalent of a declaration of war on Iran was enough to stiffen opponents and to spook many of the bill’s Democratic supporters. With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid determined not to allow a vote and with prominent pro-Israel Democrats like New York’s Chuck Schumer not wishing to go toe-to-toe with the White House on the issue, the bill is stuck in limbo.

That has angered Republicans as well as pro-Israel activists who are still determined to keep the issue alive and left some of them looking to assess blame for the bill’s failure. The principal target of those recriminations appears to be the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). As Eli Lake reports in the Daily Beast today, AIPAC is being blamed for its decision to pull back on advocacy for sanctions earlier this month after it realized the bill could no longer count on bipartisan support. Lake describes the lobby’s on-again, off-again campaign for sanctions as a botched job that has disappointed both Republicans and the Israeli government.

But while it’s clear this episode is far from being AIPAC’s finest moment, any effort to pin the blame on the group is mistaken. Whatever mistakes AIPAC may have made in the last few months, once President Obama decided to go all-out to stop the sanctions bill, the issue was decided. Nothing AIPAC could do or say was going to convince Democrats to stand up to a president that claimed opposition to his position was advocacy of war. Scapegoating AIPAC in this manner not only fails to take into account the limits of even the vaunted lobby’s power but also is a misreading of how the group operates.

AIPAC is among the most effective lobbies on Capitol Hill and has, thanks to support from a broad cross-section off American society that cares deeply about the Jewish state, helped build a wall-to-wall consensus in favor of the U.S. alliance with Israel. When AIPAC takes up an issue or seeks supports for a program of joint interest to the U.S. and Israel, it usually gets its way. But thanks to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” conspiracy theory, AIPAC’s reputation as a Washington super lobby has grown out of all proportion to reality. Far from being the pro-Israel tail that wags the American dog, it is, in fact, nothing more than a manifestation of the bipartisan support for the Jewish state that is deeply engrained in the political DNA of the United States.

Though it has, at times, been unfairly labeled as only supportive of Israeli right-wingers or a tool of the Republican Party, it is nothing of the sort. AIPAC loyally supports whomever the Israeli people elect to govern their nation. And it has as many, if not more, Democratic supporters as it does Republicans. It is that bipartisan nature that is key to its ability to produce results. Though it has consistently pushed both Republican and Democratic administrations to give more to Israel or to be more vigilant about threats to Middle East peace such as Iran, its ability to prevail is based on the sort of access to the leaderships of both parties that makes its involvement in partisan disputes impossible.

That is why Obama’s decision to throw down the gauntlet and veto new Iran sanctions even if they passed both Houses of Congress rendered AIPAC’s role in the debate moot. AIPAC can oppose a policy but it can’t go to war with Democrats any more than it could with Republicans. If Senate Democrats like Schumer were unwilling to stand up to the president’s threats, there was never anything AIPAC could do about it.

As for the government of Israel, it, too, may be frustrated with AIPAC over the defeat of sanctions. But if so, that says more about their frustration with Obama than it does about AIPAC’s shortcomings. AIPAC has a specific role to play in the alliance. That role is to work with the administration and the Congress, not to engage in knock-down, drag-out fights that will hamper its ability to keep U.S. aid flowing to the Jewish state and to foster increased cooperation between the two countries.

One may well argue that the Iranian nuclear issue is of such importance that all other considerations should be put aside in favor of advocacy of a tougher U.S. stance. But even here AIPAC—and the State of Israel—must look at the long-term picture rather than vent anger after a momentary defeat. If the administration’s engagement with Iran fails—as it almost certainly will—then AIPAC must be in position to renew the fight for sanctions and more U.S. action to stop the nuclear threat. Burning their bridges with the Democrats now will undermine future efforts along these lines.

The Israeli government is also in no position to decry AIPAC’s current moderation at the moment on Iran sanctions. AIPAC’s retreat on sanctions is no different from the efforts of the Israelis to paper over their differences with Secretary of State John Kerry over the peace negotiations with the Palestinians. They understand only too well that keeping close to the administration is an imperative even when it does—or in Kerry’s case, says—things that undermine the alliance.

AIPAC may have lost a battle in the last month over Iran sanctions but it still is in a position to win the war to hold the administration to its pledge to stop the nuclear threat from Tehran. In order to do that, unfortunately, it must retreat now in order to prevail later.

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Ambassador Is Proxy Target for Israel’s Foes

Ron Dermer hasn’t yet even been formally credentialed in Washington, but the criticisms of him are already starting. As a feature in Politico Magazine published today noted, many on the Hill and in the White House, as well as Israel’s open foes, consider it to be open season on the new Israeli ambassador to the United States. In the piece written by JTA’s Ron Kampeas, it was made clear that the administration and some Democrats are unhappy about Dermer’s appointment since they are angry about the possibility that he will lobby Congress to undermine the White House position on nuclear negotiations with Iran or see him as a natural ally of President Obama’s Republican foes.

But complaints about Dermer have little to do with unfair accusations that he will behave inappropriately. As Kampeas illustrated in his account of some of the meetings the new ambassador has already held with members of Congress, Dermer is not looking to get involved in partisan battles that would pit Republicans against Democrats. If Dermer worries some people in Washington, it is because, like his boss Prime Minister Netanyahu, he understands American politics and will be a skilled advocate for his nation rather than a cipher that can be ignored.

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Ron Dermer hasn’t yet even been formally credentialed in Washington, but the criticisms of him are already starting. As a feature in Politico Magazine published today noted, many on the Hill and in the White House, as well as Israel’s open foes, consider it to be open season on the new Israeli ambassador to the United States. In the piece written by JTA’s Ron Kampeas, it was made clear that the administration and some Democrats are unhappy about Dermer’s appointment since they are angry about the possibility that he will lobby Congress to undermine the White House position on nuclear negotiations with Iran or see him as a natural ally of President Obama’s Republican foes.

But complaints about Dermer have little to do with unfair accusations that he will behave inappropriately. As Kampeas illustrated in his account of some of the meetings the new ambassador has already held with members of Congress, Dermer is not looking to get involved in partisan battles that would pit Republicans against Democrats. If Dermer worries some people in Washington, it is because, like his boss Prime Minister Netanyahu, he understands American politics and will be a skilled advocate for his nation rather than a cipher that can be ignored.

Dermer has more than the usual diplomatic battles to fight in Washington. Along with the usual cast of Israel-haters who seek to undermine the alliance between the U.S. and the Jewish state, there are many in the administration who regard Dermer with suspicion because of his personal ties to Republicans. Dermer is a former American who is the son and brother of Democratic mayors of Miami Beach. But his first job was in the office of Republican consultant Frank Luntz and the book he co-wrote about democracy with another former boss, Natan Sharansky, was embraced by George W. Bush, who said the work exemplified his own freedom agenda.

But what makes him a target for many in the capital and the media is that he is a confidante of Netanyahu and, like the prime minister, knows his way around American culture and politics. Though like his able predecessor Michael Oren Dermer will be careful about never crossing the line between advocacy and lobbying, the administration would probably prefer someone at the Israeli Embassy who couldn’t speak to Congress as well as the American people with the same sort of fluency as Dermer will be able to do.

Moreover, most of the brickbats being tossed in Dermer’s direction are not only really aimed at Netanyahu and/or the Jewish state. They are also based on a false reading of the disputes that have roiled the U.S.-Israel alliance in the past five years. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of the mainstream press, it has not been the statements and actions of Netanyahu and his “brain” Dermer that have caused rifts in the relationship. Rather, it has been the president’s picking of fights with Israel and policy shifts such as his pursuit of détente with Iran that ignored the Jewish state’s concerns about a weak nuclear deal. Accusations about Netanyahu trying to undermine Obama are really complaints about Israel not knuckling under to U.S. pressure, not evidence of bad behavior on the part of the prime minister or his envoys. Israeli diplomats who aren’t strong advocates tend to get better press than those who aren’t shy about setting Israel’s critics straight.

Those expecting him to diverge from Oren’s oft-repeated theme about the importance and enduring value of the U.S.-Israel alliance are wrong. But neither will he desist from explaining Israel’s concerns to the media and Congress. Moreover, the administration should be glad that in Dermer they have someone with a direct line to the prime minister. If there are further misunderstandings between the two countries, it will clearly be due to the White House’s decision to ignore the Israelis rather than any miscommunications. Though Israel’s critics would prefer to have someone in Dermer’s place who would soft-pedal the country’s valid positions on life and death issues, the idea that the ambassador is disqualified because of his American connections says more about a desire to silence or marginalize him than it does about his suitability for the job.

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Does the U.S.-Israel Alliance Have a Future?

Perhaps a week when the U.S. secretary of state told a Senate committee to “stop listening to the Israelis” and to ignore their concerns about the existential threat from the Iranian nuclear program wasn’t the best timing to write about the importance and the permanence of the U.S.-Israel alliance. But bad timing or not, my post about the rumblings from some in Israel about an alternative to their ties to the only true superpower in the world has provoked some interesting comments and led me to think a bit more about the topic as well. In fact, weeks such as the one we’re currently experiencing may be the best time for those who care about the relationship to explore how to shore it up and the stakes involved for both countries. Even as Kerry seems to be doing everything to downgrade the relationship, it’s important to point out that not only is there no rational alternative to it from Israel’s point of view but that it is of vital importance to the United States as well.

First, let me address the question of whether it is wise to inextricably link Israel’s wellbeing to America’s standing in the world. Martin Kramer wrote here that he agreed with me that it is dangerous for anyone in Israel to even consider trying to play China or Russia off the United States in a vain attempt to outmaneuver Washington when it comes to questions like the nuclear peril from Iran. But he disagreed with this passage from my post:

Israel’s long-term safety must be seen as linked to the ability of the United States to maintain its status as the leader of the free world. Even at times of great tension with Washington, Israelis must never forget that it is not just that they have no viable alternatives to the U.S. but that American power remains the best hope of freedom for all nations.

Kramer believes that American power, like all power, “waxes and wanes.” He goes on to write the following:

More than six years ago, before Obama even declared his candidacy, I told the Conference of Presidents that “America’s era in the Middle East will end one day,” and that “it is possible that in twenty years’ time, America will be less interested and engaged in the Middle East. What is our Plan B then?” Obama accelerated that timetable, but the long-term trend has been clear for years. And one doesn’t have to be a “declinist” to realize that the United States can lead the free world and still write off the Middle East, which isn’t part of it. That’s precisely the mood in America today.

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Perhaps a week when the U.S. secretary of state told a Senate committee to “stop listening to the Israelis” and to ignore their concerns about the existential threat from the Iranian nuclear program wasn’t the best timing to write about the importance and the permanence of the U.S.-Israel alliance. But bad timing or not, my post about the rumblings from some in Israel about an alternative to their ties to the only true superpower in the world has provoked some interesting comments and led me to think a bit more about the topic as well. In fact, weeks such as the one we’re currently experiencing may be the best time for those who care about the relationship to explore how to shore it up and the stakes involved for both countries. Even as Kerry seems to be doing everything to downgrade the relationship, it’s important to point out that not only is there no rational alternative to it from Israel’s point of view but that it is of vital importance to the United States as well.

First, let me address the question of whether it is wise to inextricably link Israel’s wellbeing to America’s standing in the world. Martin Kramer wrote here that he agreed with me that it is dangerous for anyone in Israel to even consider trying to play China or Russia off the United States in a vain attempt to outmaneuver Washington when it comes to questions like the nuclear peril from Iran. But he disagreed with this passage from my post:

Israel’s long-term safety must be seen as linked to the ability of the United States to maintain its status as the leader of the free world. Even at times of great tension with Washington, Israelis must never forget that it is not just that they have no viable alternatives to the U.S. but that American power remains the best hope of freedom for all nations.

Kramer believes that American power, like all power, “waxes and wanes.” He goes on to write the following:

More than six years ago, before Obama even declared his candidacy, I told the Conference of Presidents that “America’s era in the Middle East will end one day,” and that “it is possible that in twenty years’ time, America will be less interested and engaged in the Middle East. What is our Plan B then?” Obama accelerated that timetable, but the long-term trend has been clear for years. And one doesn’t have to be a “declinist” to realize that the United States can lead the free world and still write off the Middle East, which isn’t part of it. That’s precisely the mood in America today.

That’s a sobering thought and the possibility can’t be entirely discounted, especially with figures such as Senator Rand Paul rising to prominence in a Republican Party that has become a bulwark of the alliance in the last generation. Moreover, he’s right when he says that the history of Zionism teaches us that in order to survive, the movement has had to be flexible in its alliances with world powers. A century ago, many Zionists were looking to tie their future to that of the Ottoman Empire. A few years later, after the sick man of Europe collapsed, they cast their lot with a British Empire. But after a few short years when London seemed ready to make good on the promise made in the Balfour Declaration, they were abandoned. Gradually America became the focus of Zionist diplomacy, but until that alliance became a reality after the Six-Day War, Israel relied on a brief yet crucial period of Soviet friendship during the War of Independence and after that a fruitful friendship with France that lasted until 1967.

Israel’s leaders must, as Kramer says, be prepared for all eventualities and they should not, as I wrote, be blamed for seeking to foster ties with other countries. But the problem with planning for a theoretical period of American withdrawal from the world is that the answer to his question about a “Plan B” is that there isn’t one.

Though he is right to assert that the point of Zionism is, to the greatest extent possible, to make sure that Israel can defend itself, no “agility” or ability to “read the changing map of the world” can substitute for an alliance with America. Without a strong United States that is engaged in the world, Israel will not disappear. But it will be weaker and far more vulnerable. For Israel there is not and never will be—at least in the foreseeable future—a viable alternative to the alliance with the United States.

But the key question here is not so much whether Israel appreciates how important the U.S. is to its future—and there’s every indication that Israel’s leaders understand that—but whether Americans understand how important the Jewish state is to it.

The flip side to this discussion is that for all the talk from anti-Zionist conspiracy theorists like those who promote the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” in which the Jewish state is supposed to be the tail that wags the American dog, we don’t talk enough about how Israel is a valued ally of the United States.

After the end of the Cold War, the value of having what many consider to be a regional superpower allied with the United States has been largely ignored. But the notion that the U.S. doesn’t need strong allies in an era in which it is challenged by Islamist terrorism as well as rogue states like Iran is farcical. Moreover, the traditional meme of critics of the alliance—that Arab states are hostile to the United States because of its friendship with Israel—has been exploded both by the Arab Spring and the regional concerns about Iran that have made it clear that they fear Tehran more than they do the Jewish state.

Israel’s intelligence capabilities have long been a boon to the U.S. But its technological resources—both in terms of military and commercial applications—are now just as if not more important. Israel, the “start-up nation,” is a vital partner for the U.S. economy.

But even if we ignore the utilitarian aspects of this friendship, it should be remembered that the core of American foreign policy has, contrary to the slanders of the left, always primarily been moral rather than a nation bent on conquest or empire. As such it needs nations that share its democratic values. That means Israel remains part of the select few countries that will always be natural allies. It is true that Israel cannot always count on the U.S. to do the right thing at the right time. Nor can the U.S. assume that Israel will disregard its interests in order to serve American convenience. But the relationship is both mutual and rooted in something stronger than Lord Palmerston’s famous dictum about permanent interests. Support for Israel is part of the political DNA of American culture. The same is true of Israel’s affinity with its fellow democracy.

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Superpower Outage

Jonathan Tobin rightly dismisses as dangerous any Israeli attempt to play China or Russia off the United States out of frustration with the Iran policy of the Obama administration. When it comes to dealing with the immediate threat posed by Iran, only Washington has superpower leverage, and if Israel wanders off the reservation, it will only damage itself.

But Jonathan makes a further claim: “Israel’s long-term safety must be seen as linked to the ability of the United States to maintain its status as the leader of the free world. Even at times of great tension with Washington, Israelis must never forget that it is not just that they have no viable alternatives to the U.S. but that American power remains the best hope of freedom for all nations.” This “linkage” is problematic, and its acceptance could blind Israelis to what they need to do to survive through the next half-century.

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Jonathan Tobin rightly dismisses as dangerous any Israeli attempt to play China or Russia off the United States out of frustration with the Iran policy of the Obama administration. When it comes to dealing with the immediate threat posed by Iran, only Washington has superpower leverage, and if Israel wanders off the reservation, it will only damage itself.

But Jonathan makes a further claim: “Israel’s long-term safety must be seen as linked to the ability of the United States to maintain its status as the leader of the free world. Even at times of great tension with Washington, Israelis must never forget that it is not just that they have no viable alternatives to the U.S. but that American power remains the best hope of freedom for all nations.” This “linkage” is problematic, and its acceptance could blind Israelis to what they need to do to survive through the next half-century.

The problem with American power, like all power, is that it waxes and wanes. We have become used to the notion that U.S. preeminence in the world and the Middle East is a constant. But it isn’t so. Geography has rendered the United States the most self-contained superpower in history. As a result, it goes through manic bouts of interventionism and isolationism, and sometimes awakens to the responsibilities of its power too late. It did so during the Holocaust, and it did so during the first years of Israeli independence, when the fledgling Jewish state had to look to the Soviet Union and France for the arms essential to its defense. The simple truth is that Israel cannot rely on the United States to do just the right thing at just the right time. That’s at the heart of the crisis of confidence between the United States and Israel over Iran, and its sources run deeper than the particular world view of Barack Obama.

More than six years ago, before Obama even declared his candidacy, I told the Conference of Presidents that “America’s era in the Middle East will end one day,” and that “it is possible that in twenty years’ time, America will be less interested and engaged in the Middle East. What is our Plan B then?” Obama accelerated that timetable, but the long-term trend has been clear for years. And one doesn’t have to be a “declinist” to realize that the United States can lead the free world and still write off the Middle East, which isn’t part of it. That’s precisely the mood in America today.

Hedging has been a fundamental principle of Zionism from its inception. That’s how it managed to outlast the fall of two empires that dominated the Middle East in the pre-state decades. When political Zionism emerged, the Ottoman Empire still held sway over the land, and Theodor Herzl went as a supplicant to the sultan’s palace in Istanbul. As late as 1912, the future first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, and the future second president of Israel, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, went to Istanbul to study Ottoman law, on the assumption that they would have to build the Yishuv under the same Ottoman power that had ruled the country for four centuries. (Here they are, looking like the deputies to the Ottoman parliament they planned to become.) A few years later, Ottoman power collapsed. Fortunately, Chaim Weizmann had laid the foundations for the support of the Allied victors, above all the British, whose empire now expanded to encompass the core of the Middle East.

British dominance in Palestine lasted for thirty years, during which London became the center of Zionist political activity. Britain was the mother of democracy, bastion of freedom, and home to a strong tradition of philo-Judaism and Christian Zionism. Much was made of “shared values.” But Britain, after facilitating the remarkable growth of the Yishuv, backtracked on its commitment to Zionism at the very moment of paramount Jewish need. It was Ben-Gurion who understood that the world war would bring down the British empire across Asia and Africa, Palestine included, and who sought an alliance with the ascendant United States. Still, years would pass before the United States would admit Israel to a “special relationship,” leaving Israel to fend for itself in the world’s arms market. That insecurity drove Israel to ally with Britain and France against Nasser’s Egypt—to Washington’s chagrin—and to build a nuclear capability with French assistance—in defiance of Washington.

Those days may seem distant, and Israel and the United States have had an extraordinary run. But history stands still for no people, and if our history has taught us anything about geopolitics, it is this: what is will not be. However enamored we are of the status quo, Israel needs a Plan B, and it has to consist of more than editorially flogging America for failing to maintain its forward positions in the Middle East. The State of Israel, like Zionism before it, must be agile enough to survive a power outage of any ally, and to plug in elsewhere. If Israel’s long-term safety really did depend on America’s will to govern the world, then it would be a poor substitute for Judaism’s own survival mechanism, by which the Jewish people outlasted the fall of countless host empires. But Israel’s future depends upon something within its own grasp: its ability to read the changing map of the world, to register the ebb and flow of global power, and to adapt as necessary.

Let us pray for the perpetuation of America’s power to do good in the world. Let us prepare for something less.

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Israel Has No Alternative to U.S. Alliance

China and Israel may not have much in common, but that hasn’t stopped the Jewish state from working hard to better ties with the world’s most populous nation. The growing connections between the two countries are largely economic, but the fact that two highly placed figures from Israel’s political and military realms spoke recently at China’s military academy was enough to gain the notice of the New York Times’s Sinosphere blog. The piece, which spoke of the visit to Beijing by Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the United Nations and a confidant of Prime Minister Netanyahu and retired general Uzi Dayan, spoke of how the Jewish state is working assiduously to deepen its relationship with China. Given Israel’s relative diplomatic isolation, there’s nothing terribly surprising about it reaching out in this direction. But put into the context of the last two weeks, any discussion of Israel’s efforts to make friends with a potential rival of the United States must be seen as part of an effort to lessen its dependence on its sole superpower ally.

Indeed, the Times didn’t shy away from such a discussion in the piece as it weighed, not unfairly, the advantages of better relations with China for Israel as well as the complications of trying to work closely with a nation that is also doing business with Iran. At a time when the United States seems to have distanced itself again from Israel on both the talks with the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear threat, the frustration level in Jerusalem with the Obama administration is very high. This has led not only to ruminations about whether the U.S.-Israel alliance is doomed, as was the conceit of a recent feature in Tablet magazine, but to suggestions from some Israeli pundits, like the Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick, that maybe “it is time to reassess Israel’s strategic assumptions and for the country to begin the process of exploring “new opportunities” that will enable it to survive without U.S. help if not to completely replace the old alliance.

But while the notion of playing China or Russia off of the United States may seem tempting to Israelis who are sick of being played for chumps by the Obama administration, any thoughts about “alternatives” to the U.S. alliance are fantasies, not serious policy options. It’s not just that neither of those countries should be considered reliable friends of Israel. It’s that any effort to pretend that there is another option outside of the U.S. alliance is as much of a danger to the future of this relationship as the ill-considered actions of President Obama or Secretary of State Kerry.

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China and Israel may not have much in common, but that hasn’t stopped the Jewish state from working hard to better ties with the world’s most populous nation. The growing connections between the two countries are largely economic, but the fact that two highly placed figures from Israel’s political and military realms spoke recently at China’s military academy was enough to gain the notice of the New York Times’s Sinosphere blog. The piece, which spoke of the visit to Beijing by Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the United Nations and a confidant of Prime Minister Netanyahu and retired general Uzi Dayan, spoke of how the Jewish state is working assiduously to deepen its relationship with China. Given Israel’s relative diplomatic isolation, there’s nothing terribly surprising about it reaching out in this direction. But put into the context of the last two weeks, any discussion of Israel’s efforts to make friends with a potential rival of the United States must be seen as part of an effort to lessen its dependence on its sole superpower ally.

Indeed, the Times didn’t shy away from such a discussion in the piece as it weighed, not unfairly, the advantages of better relations with China for Israel as well as the complications of trying to work closely with a nation that is also doing business with Iran. At a time when the United States seems to have distanced itself again from Israel on both the talks with the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear threat, the frustration level in Jerusalem with the Obama administration is very high. This has led not only to ruminations about whether the U.S.-Israel alliance is doomed, as was the conceit of a recent feature in Tablet magazine, but to suggestions from some Israeli pundits, like the Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick, that maybe “it is time to reassess Israel’s strategic assumptions and for the country to begin the process of exploring “new opportunities” that will enable it to survive without U.S. help if not to completely replace the old alliance.

But while the notion of playing China or Russia off of the United States may seem tempting to Israelis who are sick of being played for chumps by the Obama administration, any thoughts about “alternatives” to the U.S. alliance are fantasies, not serious policy options. It’s not just that neither of those countries should be considered reliable friends of Israel. It’s that any effort to pretend that there is another option outside of the U.S. alliance is as much of a danger to the future of this relationship as the ill-considered actions of President Obama or Secretary of State Kerry.

As for the fissures in the existing alliance, they are serious but should not be mistaken for a fundamental split. Israelis are right to be infuriated about Kerry’s tantrum last week because of his anger about the failure of the peace negotiations he foolishly initiated as well as the U.S. attempt to rush to complete an unsatisfactory nuclear agreement with Iran. Like the spats with Israel that President Obama fomented during the course of his first term, these disputes illustrate the distorted mindset of this administration as well as its willingness to create daylight between the positions of the two allies. But, as both Obama and Kerry understand, there are clear limits as to how far they can go in taking shots at Israel.

Even a reelected Obama who seemingly has little to fear from disgruntled supporters of Israel realizes that picking fights with the Jewish state is a no-win proposition for him. As he showed during the last two years with his election-year charm offensive and the rhetorical lengths to which he went during his trip to Israel last spring, the president is aware of the fact that the roots of the alliance are deep and it can’t be uprooted easily.

The long-term problems that the Tablet piece noted are not to be dismissed. There’s no question that the trends explored by the Pew Report about the decline of the Jewish community and the impact of an increasingly assimilated American Jewry will mean a smaller base of pro-Israel Jews. But that and the growth of anti-Israel opinion, while troubling, should not be mistaken for a fundamental threat to the future of ties between the two countries. Support for Zionism is baked into the political DNA of America and won’t be erased by either Jewish demographics or left-wing activism. The point about the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” myth is that the wall-to-wall bipartisan coalition in support of Israel in Congress and throughout the American political system is wide and so deep as to encompass the vast majority of Americans. As Israeli leaders should have realized a long time ago, the core of that support is not Jewish activism or money but the deeply-held sentiments of American Christians.

Leaders like Obama, who are not in love with Israel, can shake it up. But even he is incapable of altering its foundations, as the growth of U.S.-Israel security cooperation on his watch has proved. It’s hard right now to see past the seeming betrayal on Iran, but pessimists should remember that the intransigent Islamist regime—like the Palestinians—may ultimately push the administration back into Israel’s arms.

But even if one were inclined to despair about the future of U.S. support, neither China nor Russia provides anything like an alternative. Both can be useful at times to Israel and Jerusalem is right to explore how far it might go in those directions, especially when it comes to economic ties at a time when Europe seems to be abandoning the Jewish state. Yet it must be understood not only are these countries not likely to be good or reliable friends of Israel, but flirting too much with them also carries with it the possibility of worsening the far more essential ties with the United States.

There is still only one superpower in the world and neither China nor Russia looks to be catching up with the U.S. in the near future. But if the history of the rest of this century will be read through the prism of China’s drive to attain the status of a global power and Russia’s efforts to reconstitute the old Tsarist and Soviet empires, then there is no question that a small democracy like Israel must place itself firmly on the side of the U.S. in these rivalries. The ties between the U.S. and Israel are based on shared values, not realpolitik. Forgetting that would be an unforgivable error on the part of any Israeli leader and that is a mistake that a savvy operator like Prime Minister Netanyahu is not likely to make.

That’s not just because both are tyrannies that cannot be trusted to deal fairly with Israel, let alone try to protect it against its foes. But also because Israel’s long-term safety must be seen as linked to the ability of the United States to maintain its status as the leader of the free world. Even at times of great tension with Washington, Israelis must never forget that it is not just that they have no viable alternatives to the U.S. but that American power remains the best hope of freedom for all nations.

Those advocating alternatives to the U.S. for Israel are engaging in magical thinking that will do more harm than good. The fix for the gaps that have been created by the administration’s ill-advised moves on the peace process and Iran is to be found in efforts to restrain the president’s folly in the U.S., not searches for new allies to take America’s place.

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Nothing Legitimate About Anti-Semitic Slur

Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is pleading innocent. Called out for comments made during a Round Table Global Diplomatic Forum held at the House of Commons last week, Straw insists that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about raising points that he says are merely matters of genuine concern. As the Times of Israel reports, former Labor Party Knesset member Einat Wilf, who took part in the debate, described Straw’s presentation in the following manner:

Wilf participated in the debate and posted some of what she said were Straw’s comments on her Facebook page, saying she nearly fell off her chair when she heard them: “Listing the greatest obstacles to peace, he said ‘unlimited’ funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s ‘obsession’ with defending Israel were the problem. I guess he neglected to mention Jewish control of the media….”

The British politician is right when he says criticizing Israel’s policies is not anti-Semitic. But, like many others who want to bash Israel without being branded as Jew-haters, he crossed a very important line when he injected traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish money and insidious attempts to control the policy discussion into the question of how best to advance the cause of peace. That’s why someone like Wilf, who opposes the Netanyahu government, was so outraged. In doing so, he not only demonstrated ignorance of how American politics works as well as insensitivity to Israel’s position, but also showed the way disagreements with the Jewish state quickly morph into conspiracy theories that are thinly veiled new versions of traditional myths about Jews. While Straw is neither the first nor the last member of Parliament or prominent Briton to play this game, the fact that someone who was a former foreign minister would not only feel free to vent this nasty stuff, but also think there’s nothing wrong with it, tells you all you need to know about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

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Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is pleading innocent. Called out for comments made during a Round Table Global Diplomatic Forum held at the House of Commons last week, Straw insists that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about raising points that he says are merely matters of genuine concern. As the Times of Israel reports, former Labor Party Knesset member Einat Wilf, who took part in the debate, described Straw’s presentation in the following manner:

Wilf participated in the debate and posted some of what she said were Straw’s comments on her Facebook page, saying she nearly fell off her chair when she heard them: “Listing the greatest obstacles to peace, he said ‘unlimited’ funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s ‘obsession’ with defending Israel were the problem. I guess he neglected to mention Jewish control of the media….”

The British politician is right when he says criticizing Israel’s policies is not anti-Semitic. But, like many others who want to bash Israel without being branded as Jew-haters, he crossed a very important line when he injected traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish money and insidious attempts to control the policy discussion into the question of how best to advance the cause of peace. That’s why someone like Wilf, who opposes the Netanyahu government, was so outraged. In doing so, he not only demonstrated ignorance of how American politics works as well as insensitivity to Israel’s position, but also showed the way disagreements with the Jewish state quickly morph into conspiracy theories that are thinly veiled new versions of traditional myths about Jews. While Straw is neither the first nor the last member of Parliament or prominent Briton to play this game, the fact that someone who was a former foreign minister would not only feel free to vent this nasty stuff, but also think there’s nothing wrong with it, tells you all you need to know about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

As for Straw’s charges, they are easily dismissed. Contrary to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” conspiracy theory thesis, the vast, wall-to-wall bipartisan coalition that supports the Jewish state is a function of American public opinion, not Jewish money. As frustrating as it may be for Israel’s critics, support for Zionism is baked into the DNA of American politics and is primarily the function of religious attitudes as well as the shared values of democracy that unite the U.S. and Israel. Other lobbies (such as the one that promotes the oil interests or pharmaceuticals) have far more money. Hard as it is for some people to accept, the reason why American politicians back Israel’s democratically elected government is because opposing them is bad politics as well as bad policy.

Making such accusations is offensive rather than just wrong because, as Straw knows very well, talking about Jewish money buying government policy is straight out of the anti-Semitic playbook of the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The purpose of such claims is not to argue that Israel’s supporters are misguided so much as that they are illegitimate.

That Straw is similarly frustrated with German refusals to try and hammer the Israelis is equally appalling. While Germany’s government has, contrary to Straw’s comment, often been highly critical of Israel, if Berlin has some sensitivity to Israel’s position as a small, besieged nation, it is because they understand that the underlying factor that drives hostility to Zionism is the same anti-Semitism that drove the Holocaust.

But the main point to be gleaned from this story is the way Straw has illustrated just how mainstream anti-Semitic attitudes have become in contemporary Britain. It is entirely possible that Straw thinks himself free from prejudice. But that is only possible because in the intellectual and political circles in which he and other members of the European elite move, these ideas have gone mainstream rather than being kept on the margins as they are in the United States. The ease with which Western European politicians invoke these tired clichés about Jewish power and money is a reflection of the way attitudes have changed in the last generation as the memory of the Holocaust fades and people feel empowered to revive old hate. Chalk it up to the prejudices of intellectuals, especially on the left, as well as to the growing influence of Muslim immigrants who have brought the Jew-hatred of their home countries with them.

Straw may not be alone in not liking the Netanyahu government, but he can’t get out off the hook for the anti-Semitic rationale for his views that he put forward. The pity is, he’s speaking for all too many Europeans when he speaks in this manner.

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Rand Paul’s Israel Problem

Anyone doubting that Rand Paul has become one of the Republican Party’s most influential figures need only look at the way he helped influence the abortive congressional debate about Syria. While the decision of House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor to back a strike on the Assad regime swayed few in their caucus, there was little doubt that the libertarian/isolationist wing of the GOP that Paul has led had made it unlikely that a majority could be found for supporting a resolution authorizing the use of force. But there is a difference between rising influence and a workable coalition that could elect Paul president.

Paul’s problem is that while he may have the support of the party’s growing libertarian wing, those who assume that the party’s conservative majority will fall into place behind the Kentucky senator in 2016 seem to have forgotten that social and Christian conservatives still represent a more powerful voting bloc than the movement Rand inherited from his father Ron. And the gap between the Paul franchise’s views on several issues and those of the religious right is not inconsiderable. Bridging the gap on some social issues may not be a big problem, as Paul is reliably pro-life. But his foreign-policy views—in particular his attitude toward Israel—may be a much greater obstacle. Paul made a concerted effort last winter to woo supporters of Israel that paid off with some initial success. But since then it appears that most of those who initially swooned when Paul showed interest have sobered up and realized his visit to the Jewish state didn’t alter his isolationist views. While the senator continues to insist he is a good friend to Israel, some of his comments in a piece in BuzzFeed published last Friday undermine that claim:

“I think some within the Christian community are such great defenders of the promised land and the chosen people that they think war is always the answer, maybe even preemptive war. And I think it’s hard to square the idea of a preemptive war and, to me, that overeagerness [to go to] war, with Christianity.”

It was possible for Paul to make the case against intervention in Syria without dragging Israel into the argument, let alone the fervent evangelical backing for the Jewish state. But the ease with which he shifted from his distaste for the Syrian conflict to mischaracterizing pro-Israel views in such an extreme fashion is telling. That’s the kind of comment that smacks of Ron Paul’s distaste for Israel and its supporters more than the attempt by his son to take their family franchise mainstream. But if Paul thinks these kind of remarks in which such evangelicals are labeled anti-Christian warmongers will help him allay the doubts of that community about his suitability for the presidency, he’s dreaming.

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Anyone doubting that Rand Paul has become one of the Republican Party’s most influential figures need only look at the way he helped influence the abortive congressional debate about Syria. While the decision of House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor to back a strike on the Assad regime swayed few in their caucus, there was little doubt that the libertarian/isolationist wing of the GOP that Paul has led had made it unlikely that a majority could be found for supporting a resolution authorizing the use of force. But there is a difference between rising influence and a workable coalition that could elect Paul president.

Paul’s problem is that while he may have the support of the party’s growing libertarian wing, those who assume that the party’s conservative majority will fall into place behind the Kentucky senator in 2016 seem to have forgotten that social and Christian conservatives still represent a more powerful voting bloc than the movement Rand inherited from his father Ron. And the gap between the Paul franchise’s views on several issues and those of the religious right is not inconsiderable. Bridging the gap on some social issues may not be a big problem, as Paul is reliably pro-life. But his foreign-policy views—in particular his attitude toward Israel—may be a much greater obstacle. Paul made a concerted effort last winter to woo supporters of Israel that paid off with some initial success. But since then it appears that most of those who initially swooned when Paul showed interest have sobered up and realized his visit to the Jewish state didn’t alter his isolationist views. While the senator continues to insist he is a good friend to Israel, some of his comments in a piece in BuzzFeed published last Friday undermine that claim:

“I think some within the Christian community are such great defenders of the promised land and the chosen people that they think war is always the answer, maybe even preemptive war. And I think it’s hard to square the idea of a preemptive war and, to me, that overeagerness [to go to] war, with Christianity.”

It was possible for Paul to make the case against intervention in Syria without dragging Israel into the argument, let alone the fervent evangelical backing for the Jewish state. But the ease with which he shifted from his distaste for the Syrian conflict to mischaracterizing pro-Israel views in such an extreme fashion is telling. That’s the kind of comment that smacks of Ron Paul’s distaste for Israel and its supporters more than the attempt by his son to take their family franchise mainstream. But if Paul thinks these kind of remarks in which such evangelicals are labeled anti-Christian warmongers will help him allay the doubts of that community about his suitability for the presidency, he’s dreaming.

By talking about pre-emptive war, Paul was already staking out the isolationist position on Iran in which it is clear he will oppose any action to avert the nuclear threat from that Islamist regime. But even if we restrict the discussion to Syria, Paul’s animus for the pro-Israel community is hard to disguise. There was a reasonable case to be made for staying out of the Syrian conflict, but his willingness to smear Christians in this manner is a sign of just how great the gap is between Paul’s positions and those who worry about the implications of his isolationist views on the Jewish state.

War should always be a last resort. But Paul’s ideological opposition to a pro-active American policy aimed at backing our friends and limiting the influence of our enemies is one that undermines U.S. security as well as making life more dangerous for Israel is already considerable. As it turns out, President Obama, whose feckless retreat from half-hearted intervention to a position that, in a strange echo of Ron Paul’s beliefs, abandons the Middle East to Russia and Iran, is giving us a limited preview of what a Paul presidency would be like for the region.

It is one thing, as Paul acknowledged to BuzzFeed, for Republicans to oppose intervention when advocated by President Obama. But it will be quite another thing when the senator is forced to defend these views and his pot shot against Christian friends of Israel in a GOP primary in 2016. Isolationism may have taken root among some Tea Partiers, but it will be a hard sell for Paul to convince Evangelicals that he can be trusted to defend the U.S. against Islamists and to maintain an alliance with Israel that he has never been that enthusiastic about.

Paul’s lukewarm Jewish charm offensive last winter made it clear he understands that it would be impossible for anyone to win the GOP nomination by sticking to his father’s foreign-policy views, which are in many respects indistinguishable from the far left. But flushed with the success of his campaign to expand the isolationist wing of the party on issues like drones, the NSA intercepts, and Syria, Paul has gotten sloppy. That quote about Christians won’t be forgotten when those voters must choose the next Republican presidential candidate. 

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Not News: The U.S. and Israel Cooperate

On her blog today, Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of the New York Times, took issue with her paper’s news judgment. Responding to complaints from readers, she said she disagreed with the paper’s decision not to run a piece following up on a Guardian article alleging that the United States and Israel have shared intelligence that might be derived from intercepts of communications by the National Security Agency. Though I rarely concur with many if not most of the choices made by the Grey Lady’s editors, in this case I think managing editor Dean Baquet was right: the Guardian, which is the main conduit for stories stemming from the leaks of classified U.S. material by Edward Snowden, had hyped a detail gleaned from the stolen material that was neither “significant or surprising.” Though those hostile to Israel (such as Snowden’s journalistic partner Glenn Greenwald) may think this is worth treating as if it were a scandal, the notion that the two allies share data about terrorist suspects or related material is not news. Nor is it anything for anyone who cares about protecting either country from Islamist terrorists to worry about.

While Sullivan apparently thinks anything about the NSA intercepts is newsworthy and may well have succumbed to the cliché about Jews being news, this mini-controversy about what the Times publishes should give us insight into much of the breathless hype about the government’s data mining. Though libertarians, isolationists, and critics of big government have been feeding public paranoia about the NSA, this particular nugget of information tells us just how uncontroversial much of the agency’s activity has been. Just as the intercepts are both legal and a reasonable use of resources, so, too, is the NSA’s sharing of some of material with a country that shares much of its own considerable intelligence resources with the United States. The attempt to render this useful cooperation controversial or, as the Guardian implies, illegal does nothing to protect civil liberties while potentially damaging U.S. national security.

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On her blog today, Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of the New York Times, took issue with her paper’s news judgment. Responding to complaints from readers, she said she disagreed with the paper’s decision not to run a piece following up on a Guardian article alleging that the United States and Israel have shared intelligence that might be derived from intercepts of communications by the National Security Agency. Though I rarely concur with many if not most of the choices made by the Grey Lady’s editors, in this case I think managing editor Dean Baquet was right: the Guardian, which is the main conduit for stories stemming from the leaks of classified U.S. material by Edward Snowden, had hyped a detail gleaned from the stolen material that was neither “significant or surprising.” Though those hostile to Israel (such as Snowden’s journalistic partner Glenn Greenwald) may think this is worth treating as if it were a scandal, the notion that the two allies share data about terrorist suspects or related material is not news. Nor is it anything for anyone who cares about protecting either country from Islamist terrorists to worry about.

While Sullivan apparently thinks anything about the NSA intercepts is newsworthy and may well have succumbed to the cliché about Jews being news, this mini-controversy about what the Times publishes should give us insight into much of the breathless hype about the government’s data mining. Though libertarians, isolationists, and critics of big government have been feeding public paranoia about the NSA, this particular nugget of information tells us just how uncontroversial much of the agency’s activity has been. Just as the intercepts are both legal and a reasonable use of resources, so, too, is the NSA’s sharing of some of material with a country that shares much of its own considerable intelligence resources with the United States. The attempt to render this useful cooperation controversial or, as the Guardian implies, illegal does nothing to protect civil liberties while potentially damaging U.S. national security.

The Guardian’s attempt to blow this detail about Israel into a major aspect of the NSA falls flat. The lede of the piece centers on the fact that some of what is shared with Israel is “raw intelligence” without “sifting it to remove information about U.S. citizens.” The implication is that the NSA is not only wrongly spying on American citizens but that it is facilitating Israel’s efforts to do the same thing. It then goes on to repeat gossip about Israel spying on the U.S. government and attempts to imply that the relationship between the two countries is lopsided in favor of the Jewish state even if it acknowledges further down that many allies, including the U.S., spy on each other.

First, it is far from clear that any sharing of intelligence data with Israel is illegal or even violates government guidelines. As even the article notes, anything shared with Israel is done under strict rules that prevent any targeting of U.S. individuals and limits use of the information.

Moreover, while there is some understandable concern about the broad-based nature of the NSA intercepts that could occasionally cause them to scrutinize material that is not pertinent to their mission, this story illustrates just the opposite of what most people were worried about. After all, the U.S. is not handing over billions of files but rather individual cases that clearly merit a closer look. Anyone whose “privacy” is intruded upon in such cases is not a random average citizen but most likely someone with clear connections to suspicious if not dangerous foreign contacts. Giving the Israelis a closer look at such information merely enhances the ability of the U.S. to defend our homeland and is not merely a gift to Jerusalem.

While in the anti-Zionist universe in which the Guardian operates any kind of cooperation with Israel is suspect, even the editors of the Times know that the intelligence agencies of the two countries have worked closely together to fight terrorism for many years. Israel has long punched far above its weight in terms of the strategic assistance it gives the United States. While Israel cannot compete with the vast technological resources that the U.S. can bring to bear on the problem, its Mossad is renowned for its skill in ferreting out information about Arab and Muslim radicals. It is obviously in the best interests of the West that the two cooperate, and that is exactly what they should be doing. 

As for any of this being such a big secret, as anyone who paid attention to the presidential campaign last year knows, President Obama and his surrogates spent a disproportionate amount of time bragging about how much he had improved security cooperation between the two countries.

As for the talk about spying, again none of this is new or surprising. All countries, even allies, spy on each other and that includes U.S. spooks that do what they can to learn all of Israel’s secrets.

At the heart of the outrage about the Snowden leaks is a belief on the part of some, especially Greenwald and the Guardian, that there is something inherently wrong with the work of the NSA in fighting Islamist terror. Those who wish to criminalize legal activity that is aimed at enemies of the United States speak of civil liberties being violated, but their main agenda might well be termed counter-counter-terrorism. If that effort dovetails with the anti-Israel agenda of others on the left or the far right, that suits them just fine. But if they succeed, it will be the safety of Americans that will suffer.

The U.S.-Israel alliance is based on common values but also on an understanding that they share common enemies as well. That the Times sees nothing remarkable in this shows that for all of their demonstrated anti-Israel bias, they are still light years removed from the hardened anti-Zionist prejudice that is business as usual at the Guardian and other British papers.

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Israel’s Effective New Advocate

The official announcement that Ron Dermer is to be appointed Israel’s new ambassador to the United States is only a few hours old but the brickbats being prepared by the Jewish state’s critics are already starting to fly in his direction. Dermer, a close aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had long been rumored to be the successor to Michael Oren when that COMMENTARY contributor left his office this summer after four years in Washington. But while Oren largely escaped much negative scrutiny during his time as Israel’s most important foreign envoy, Dermer should expect to find himself in the cross hairs of left-wing attacks even before he arrives in his new office. As Haaretz’s story on the appointment put it, Dermer is seen by the left as the worst of all possible creatures: a “right-wing neo-con with close ties to the Bush family.”

But rather than seeking to pre-emptively sandbag Dermer in this fashion, the Jewish left should understand that he is ideally suited to be Israel’s ambassador to its superpower ally. Oren, a historian with a better grasp of America’s attitudes toward Israel than virtually anyone else in the Jewish state, was an outstanding diplomat. But Dermer brings to his job the one element most necessary to ensure that misunderstandings between Washington and Jerusalem are kept to a minimum in the coming years. As the person who is as close to Netanyahu as anyone currently working in the prime minister’s office, Dermer will be seen as a direct conduit to Israel’s leader thereby enabling him to play a vital role the U.S.-Israel relationship as efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program come to a head and Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to revive the peace process continue.

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The official announcement that Ron Dermer is to be appointed Israel’s new ambassador to the United States is only a few hours old but the brickbats being prepared by the Jewish state’s critics are already starting to fly in his direction. Dermer, a close aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had long been rumored to be the successor to Michael Oren when that COMMENTARY contributor left his office this summer after four years in Washington. But while Oren largely escaped much negative scrutiny during his time as Israel’s most important foreign envoy, Dermer should expect to find himself in the cross hairs of left-wing attacks even before he arrives in his new office. As Haaretz’s story on the appointment put it, Dermer is seen by the left as the worst of all possible creatures: a “right-wing neo-con with close ties to the Bush family.”

But rather than seeking to pre-emptively sandbag Dermer in this fashion, the Jewish left should understand that he is ideally suited to be Israel’s ambassador to its superpower ally. Oren, a historian with a better grasp of America’s attitudes toward Israel than virtually anyone else in the Jewish state, was an outstanding diplomat. But Dermer brings to his job the one element most necessary to ensure that misunderstandings between Washington and Jerusalem are kept to a minimum in the coming years. As the person who is as close to Netanyahu as anyone currently working in the prime minister’s office, Dermer will be seen as a direct conduit to Israel’s leader thereby enabling him to play a vital role the U.S.-Israel relationship as efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program come to a head and Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to revive the peace process continue.

Like Oren, Dermer is a native of the United States who immigrated to Israel as an adult. He may be best known here for being the co-author of the best-selling The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror with Natan Sharansky. The book, which puts forward the position that democratic reform is the necessary prerequisite for both peace in the Middle East and any hope for a better life for the Muslim and Arab worlds, was famously embraced by President George W. Bush who said it put into words exactly how he felt about the issue. While this “neo-con” testament is, among other influences, blamed for America’s unsuccessful attempts to bring democracy to the Middle East in the last decade, the truth is, the book is actually quite prescient about the failures of premature experiments in democracy in Iraq, the Palestinian Authority and now in Egypt. Unlike those who fetishize elections as the sole determinant of freedom, Dermer and Sharansky understood that there was more to the concept than casting ballots in the absence of a culture that fostered consensus about democratic values.

But Dermer’s critics dislike more than this one excellent book. They see him as having ties with Republicans that could offend the Obama administration. He was widely, and wrongly, blamed for what many in the press claimed was Netanyahu’s attempt to support Romney in the U.S. presidential election last year. But the spat that erupted between the two countries last September over Netanyahu’s plea that Obama establish “red lines” over the Iranian nuclear threat was more the president’s doing than the prime minister’s. Moreover, Dermer, an American with broad knowledge of the politics of both countries knows, as Oren did, that the primary duty of his new job will be to ensure that the alliance functions smoothly. Anyone who thinks he will be picking fights with the administration, or that the White House and the State Department won’t be smart enough to understand that having direct access to someone with Netanyahu’s ear is in their best interests, knows nothing about diplomacy or how Washington works.

But it should be noted that Dermer’s reputation as a staunch and pugnacious advocate for Israel will be a major asset for him and his country, not a drawback. Dermer has shown over the past few years that he isn’t afraid to speak up about the unfair treatment to which Israel has been subjected. As his famous rebuke in 2011 to the New York Times—in which he refused an offer to have Netanyahu write for its op-ed page because it would have been a fig leaf of fairness after a deluge of critical pieces about the Jewish state—showed, Dermer understands that staying quiet about media bias or distorted views about the conflict doesn’t help. As his own writing illustrates, clear-headed and bold advocacy that isn’t afraid to speak truth to power serves Israel far better than apologetic efforts that don’t address the real problems.

Dermer won’t be as confrontational with Obama and Kerry as he was with the New York Times, but that incident as well as his body of work shows that he understands Israel’s problems in dealing with the world far better than the overwhelming majority of those who work for his country’s Foreign Ministry. In contrast to many of the charming and utterly ineffective persons who have represented Israel abroad, Dermer gets it when it comes to dealing with attacks on his country and the justice of his cause. His eloquent advocacy for Israel’s rights may upset some who see it as always in the wrong, but it’s doubtful that Netanyahu could have made a better choice for this important position.

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Admin OK with Leaking Israeli Secrets

We’ve heard a lot in the last few weeks from the Obama administration about their duty to protect the nation’s secrets. To that end, Attorney General Eric Holder has not only pursued an unprecedented wave of prosecutions of alleged leakers of classified information but also authorized spying on journalists that threatens the ability of the press to do its job. But apparently the administration isn’t that worried about the spilling of an ally’s secrets. As McClatchy reported earlier this week, a Defense Department website has published top-secret details about a new Israeli army base where the next generation of the Arrow missile defense system will be installed. And while the impact of the leaks prosecuted by Holder on U.S. national security is debatable, there doesn’t appear to be much doubt that the publication of the Israeli information could endanger that nation’s ability to defend the facility.

As McClatchy reports:

“If an enemy of Israel wanted to launch an attack against a facility, this would give him an easy how-to guide. This type of information is closely guarded and its release can jeopardize the entire facility,” said an Israeli military official who commented on the publication of the proposal but declined to be named because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the facility. He declined to say whether plans for the facility have been altered as a result of the disclosure.

“This is more than worrying, it is shocking,” he said.

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We’ve heard a lot in the last few weeks from the Obama administration about their duty to protect the nation’s secrets. To that end, Attorney General Eric Holder has not only pursued an unprecedented wave of prosecutions of alleged leakers of classified information but also authorized spying on journalists that threatens the ability of the press to do its job. But apparently the administration isn’t that worried about the spilling of an ally’s secrets. As McClatchy reported earlier this week, a Defense Department website has published top-secret details about a new Israeli army base where the next generation of the Arrow missile defense system will be installed. And while the impact of the leaks prosecuted by Holder on U.S. national security is debatable, there doesn’t appear to be much doubt that the publication of the Israeli information could endanger that nation’s ability to defend the facility.

As McClatchy reports:

“If an enemy of Israel wanted to launch an attack against a facility, this would give him an easy how-to guide. This type of information is closely guarded and its release can jeopardize the entire facility,” said an Israeli military official who commented on the publication of the proposal but declined to be named because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the facility. He declined to say whether plans for the facility have been altered as a result of the disclosure.

“This is more than worrying, it is shocking,” he said.

Apparently, the leak was not so much the result of malice but bureaucratic inertia. The information on the Israeli base that will house the Arrow 3 system that the U.S. will help build contained specifications about every conceivable aspect of the place including the heating and cooling systems and the thickness of the walls. But according to the Pentagon, making this information public was just routine since they are required to publish details of construction projects in order to help contractors estimate costs for bids. But it seems that it occurred to no one in the Defense Department that spilling that much information could compromise Israel’s security.

The controversy illustrates the danger to Israel of its dependence on the United States. But the reason for their decision to involve the U.S. in construction of the new base says more about their fears about a nuclear Iran than it does about a desire to remain in thrall to the Americans.

Whereas the current version of Arrow is oriented toward stopping missile attacks on Israel from Gaza or Lebanon, the Arrow 3 is a system that is capable of intercepting attacks from as far as 1,500 miles away, i.e. Iran. With the Iranians moving closer to nuclear capability every day with no sign that diplomacy or sanctions will cause them to halt, the decision to fast-track construction of the Arrow 3 and the consequent heavy U.S. involvement in Israeli security is entirely understandable.

There are two conclusions to be drawn from this story.

One is that the hypocrisy of the U.S. government about leaking knows no bounds. We already knew that leakers of the most sensitive national security secrets aren’t likely to be prosecuted if those revealing the information do so in order to puff the reputation of President Obama. The leaks of stories about the president’s involvement in cyber warfare against Iran and the hunt for Osama bin Laden to newspapers like the New York Times don’t seem to have attracted much attention from prosecutors. We now know the security establishment is also asleep at the switch when it comes to the revelation of classified information about Israel.

The second is that Israel is still not at the point where it can rely only on itself for national defense.

As much as many Israelis and their friends would like to think the country is wealthy enough to develop and pay for all of its defense projects, without aid from the United States those efforts would not be able to be expedited as much as they are now. There is a high price to be paid for this dependence both in terms of having to defer to American policy initiatives and also lack of control over all aspects of the endeavor. There will be those who point to the leak of the Arrow base information as proof that it is time for Israel to separate itself from the U.S. in this regard. But the need to provide a viable missile defense system against Iran can’t wait. Like it or not, Israel still needs its only major power ally. As much as the Arrow 3 leaks are troubling, the strategic alliance between the U.S. and Israel is still a necessity, not an option. 

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Mourning and Freedom

Today, Israelis are mourning their dead in the wars their country has been forced to fight to secure and keep their freedom. Tomorrow they will celebrate that freedom on their nation’s 65th Independence Day since its modern rebirth in 1948. The juxtaposition of these two days on the calendar tells us a lot about the country’s history but also the meaning of the price of liberty that its people have continued to pay in the face of an ongoing siege that is still not lifted.

Americans do well to pay notice to these observances. For one, it is because they highlight how lucky we are in live in a country where Memorial Day is more about car sales and three-day weekends than grief over the fallen. But is also because our freedom, though always in need of vigilance, is not quite so precarious as that of the citizens of a small country whose neighbors are still largely bent on its destruction. These insights should make us more grateful to our veterans and those who currently serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, but they should also inform our discussion about foreign policy at a time when the voices of isolationism are getting louder.

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Today, Israelis are mourning their dead in the wars their country has been forced to fight to secure and keep their freedom. Tomorrow they will celebrate that freedom on their nation’s 65th Independence Day since its modern rebirth in 1948. The juxtaposition of these two days on the calendar tells us a lot about the country’s history but also the meaning of the price of liberty that its people have continued to pay in the face of an ongoing siege that is still not lifted.

Americans do well to pay notice to these observances. For one, it is because they highlight how lucky we are in live in a country where Memorial Day is more about car sales and three-day weekends than grief over the fallen. But is also because our freedom, though always in need of vigilance, is not quite so precarious as that of the citizens of a small country whose neighbors are still largely bent on its destruction. These insights should make us more grateful to our veterans and those who currently serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, but they should also inform our discussion about foreign policy at a time when the voices of isolationism are getting louder.

The most striking thing about Yom Hazikaron—the Day of Remembrance—that is being solemnly observed today in Israel is that it is not marked by parades or chest-thumping military observances. Rather, it is a day of intense national mourning for the fallen.

The experience of having to deal with the heavy toll of dead that Israel has incurred in the last six and a half decades—comprising more than 23,000 military dead and 75,000 wounded as well as more than 3,000 civilian casualties of terrorism–is something unknown here since World War II. Indeed, when you consider it as a percentage of population, it is probably more accurate to say that Americans have not had to deal with casualties on the scale that Israel has suffered since the Civil War.

In a small country where military service is compulsory for most sectors of the population, these dead aren’t merely statistics but deaths in the family. Thus, when the country stopped early today in solemn commemoration for the fallen, the grief is real and the emotions raw.

But at the end of day of solemn mourning, the national mood is reversed as Israelis plunge into a day of flag-waving Independence Day barbecues and frivolity. There is a touch of schizophrenia in this, but the country’s leaders knew what they were doing by placing these days next to each other rather than separating them, as well as by putting them only a week after the day set aside for remembering the Holocaust (a topic that Rabbi Daniel Gordis explains in the Jerusalem Post).

While Americans rightly think their freedom is an inalienable right bestowed upon them by their Creator, in recent generations we have come to think of it as just another entitlement for which most citizens should never be required to pay. Such complacence is understandable. The sacrifices of previous generations have made the United States not only free but the world’s only superpower. Its defense is a function of oceans and continents rather than a few hilltops and a narrow and vulnerable coastal plain, as is the case with Israel. Our neighbors are both friendly and militarily weak. Though some of that feeling of invulnerability was shaken by the terrorist assaults of 9/11, the feeling that nothing can touch us remains, even if it is a bit less confident than before.

But in Israel, the connection between the ultimate sacrifice and the life of the nation is not remote. It is immediate and quite real.

For all of the talk about Israel being the superpower of the Middle East, it remains a tiny sliver of land in a sea of hostility. It faces Palestinians in Gaza who have used their independence to create a terrorist state that is nothing more than a launching pad for missiles sent into Israel. In the West Bank, it must deal with Palestinians who still refuse to negotiate peace and have rejected offers of statehood because they find it impossible to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

In Egypt and Jordan, Israel faces neighbors that are formally at peace with it but whose populations and many of whose political leaders reject coexistence. The rest of the Middle East is equally unwilling to live in peace. While most of the nations may not have the capability to act on their hate, the clock continues to count down toward the day when Iran will have the nuclear weapons with which to make good their threats to destroy the Jewish state.

To state this is not to discount Israel’s amazing achievements and strengths. The accomplishments of the last 65 years are so great that it is little wonder that many think them miraculous rather than merely the product of hard work, ingenuity and sacrifice. Israel is economically and militarily strong and it is, as President Obama said last month, not going anywhere in spite of the flood of hatred and anti-Semitism that is directed at it.

Israel’s many enemies foolishly think that a day will come when they will grow weary of the struggle and give up. They are wrong. For all of its problems, and they are not inconsiderable, the overwhelming majority of Israelis understand the connection between mourning and freedom. Unlike most Americans, they know their existence has not been bought cheaply. Nor will it continue to be secured at no cost.

This is something that Americans, who share the values of democracy with Israelis as well as an understanding of the connection of the Jewish people with their ancient biblical homeland, need to keep in mind. While Israelis first mourn and then celebrate today, their American allies should watch with admiration and a renewed commitment to doing their part to ensure that Islamist terrorists and tyrants will never be allowed to extinguish this beacon of freedom in the Middle East.

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New Hagel Story Could Alter the Equation

Last week brought a new revelation of more proof of Chuck Hagel’s prejudicial attitudes toward Israel. But most observers concluded that the statements made over the weekend by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham that they would not support further delays as a vote on his nomination as secretary of defense as evidence that he would easily be confirmed once Congress returns from its recess next week. However the publication of yet another story today in which Hagel is reported to have made disparaging comments about Israel could alter that equation.

Our former colleague Alana Goodman broke last week’s story about a contemporaneous account of a 2007 speech given by Hagel at Rutgers University in which he made the outrageous charge that the U.S. State Department was being run by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Today Goodman is at it again as she reports that there was yet another Hagel speech at the same venue three years later in which he again offended Israel and its supporters.

Secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel said Israel is on its way to becoming an apartheid state during an April 9, 2010, appearance at Rutgers University, according to a contemporaneous account by an attendee.

Hagel also accused Israel of violating U.N. resolutions, called for U.S.-designated terrorist organization Hamas to be included in any peace negotiations, and described Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “radical,” according to the source.

Like the 2007 speech, no tape of these remarks has yet surfaced making it easy for Hagel to dismiss the controversy by saying he “doesn’t recall” them as he did in a letter to Senator Graham. Graham was willing to say that he would take Hagel at his word about that. But can he, or any other pro-Israel senator of either party, really believe any further denials or disavowals from Hagel?

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Last week brought a new revelation of more proof of Chuck Hagel’s prejudicial attitudes toward Israel. But most observers concluded that the statements made over the weekend by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham that they would not support further delays as a vote on his nomination as secretary of defense as evidence that he would easily be confirmed once Congress returns from its recess next week. However the publication of yet another story today in which Hagel is reported to have made disparaging comments about Israel could alter that equation.

Our former colleague Alana Goodman broke last week’s story about a contemporaneous account of a 2007 speech given by Hagel at Rutgers University in which he made the outrageous charge that the U.S. State Department was being run by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Today Goodman is at it again as she reports that there was yet another Hagel speech at the same venue three years later in which he again offended Israel and its supporters.

Secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel said Israel is on its way to becoming an apartheid state during an April 9, 2010, appearance at Rutgers University, according to a contemporaneous account by an attendee.

Hagel also accused Israel of violating U.N. resolutions, called for U.S.-designated terrorist organization Hamas to be included in any peace negotiations, and described Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “radical,” according to the source.

Like the 2007 speech, no tape of these remarks has yet surfaced making it easy for Hagel to dismiss the controversy by saying he “doesn’t recall” them as he did in a letter to Senator Graham. Graham was willing to say that he would take Hagel at his word about that. But can he, or any other pro-Israel senator of either party, really believe any further denials or disavowals from Hagel?

It may be that without a tape or official transcript of these events, the mainstream media will ignore the controversies as some have done with the 2007 Rutgers speech. Others will say it doesn’t meet their standard of a genuine bombshell since Hagel can deny them. Of course, some sectors of the media will find nothing wrong with these insults just as many continue to be amazed that anyone is bothered by Hagel’s boasts about standing up to the “Jewish lobby.”

But this latest story does make it clear that the person who has been chosen to lead the Pentagon in the second Obama administration is someone who is willing to parrot the ravings of the most radical anti-Israel figures in the Democratic Party. In effect, what the president has done is to nominate someone who is not only outside of the mainstream of either the Republican or Democratic Parties on Israel, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran but is another Jimmy Carter.

This development once again puts the onus on Democrats to explain why they are willing to rubber stamp the president’s choice of someone whose views are antithetical to the maintenance of the U.S.-Israel alliance. Senators like New York’s Chuck Schumer spent the weeks prior to Hagel’s disastrous confirmation hearing saying they couldn’t oppose the nominee so long as mainstream and generally liberal Jewish groups were silent about his record. But that changed over the weekend when the American Jewish Committee demanded that the Senate not act on Hagel’s nomination without more debate about his questionable statements and even the Anti-Defamation League demanded an explanation. Even if the New York Times isn’t interested in Hagel’s statements, Jewish Democrats ought to be.

But before Democrats can act, Senate Republicans must not signal that they will give Hagel a pass on his own recognizance. Both Graham and McCain need to say that they will not accept any further disavowals from Hagel of what is a pattern of offensive statements that can’t be washed away by his post-nomination conversion to a position of support for Israel and a tough stand on Iran.

Hagel and the White House may feel they still have the odds in their favor. But if the GOP stands its ground, it will allow Democrats who were never happy about Hagel to start edging away from an unqualified and unsuitable nominee.

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Israel Doing West’s Dirty Work in Syria

American officials are now confirming that Israel launched an attack on a Syrian convoy transporting sophisticated weaponry into Lebanon. As expected, the Israelis had no comment about the incident. But the squeals of outrage from both Syria and its ally Iran about the attack, as well as their furious threats of retaliation, show that the operation was probably a success. It’s not clear whether the transfer of what was allegedly anti-aircraft equipment to Hezbollah is a sign that the Assad regime is falling or whether the shipment was a payment for the extensive help it has received from both Iran and its Lebanese proxies. But the question of the disposal of the massive arsenal, including chemical weapons, that Assad still possesses raises an a important point about this latest twist in what has become a Syrian civil war.

As that struggle increasingly looks like one between a bloody tyrant and Islamist rebels rather than a democratic alternative, the American decision to lead from behind in Syria rather than to take action earlier when a better result might have been possible is looking even worse than it did a year ago. Though much of the discussion about Israel’s actions has centered on how far it will go to defend its interests, the bottom line here is that, as it has done in the past, the Jewish state is doing the Americans’ dirty work for them in Syria.

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American officials are now confirming that Israel launched an attack on a Syrian convoy transporting sophisticated weaponry into Lebanon. As expected, the Israelis had no comment about the incident. But the squeals of outrage from both Syria and its ally Iran about the attack, as well as their furious threats of retaliation, show that the operation was probably a success. It’s not clear whether the transfer of what was allegedly anti-aircraft equipment to Hezbollah is a sign that the Assad regime is falling or whether the shipment was a payment for the extensive help it has received from both Iran and its Lebanese proxies. But the question of the disposal of the massive arsenal, including chemical weapons, that Assad still possesses raises an a important point about this latest twist in what has become a Syrian civil war.

As that struggle increasingly looks like one between a bloody tyrant and Islamist rebels rather than a democratic alternative, the American decision to lead from behind in Syria rather than to take action earlier when a better result might have been possible is looking even worse than it did a year ago. Though much of the discussion about Israel’s actions has centered on how far it will go to defend its interests, the bottom line here is that, as it has done in the past, the Jewish state is doing the Americans’ dirty work for them in Syria.

The United States has cautioned Syria about its cache of chemical weapons both in terms of their use against insurgents and their possible export to safe havens in either Lebanon or Iran. But when it comes to brass tacks, it is the Israelis and not U.S. forces that are being counted on to act to ensure that those threats have teeth.

The administration has spent the last two years punting on a deteriorating situation in Syria. Initially Obama was reluctant to turn on a dictator that he and his new secretary of state may have thought was a moderate. But eventually he switched and started claiming that Assad’s fall was imminent. Had the West moved swiftly on Syria, as it did in Libya, that might have been true even though such action would have been fraught with risk. But what we have learned is that sometimes inaction can be even more dangerous than interventions.

Syria is a crucial lynchpin in Iran’s strategy for expanding its influence throughout the Middle East. By largely standing aloof from the bloody struggle there, the United States has not only been complicit in the slaughter there but has allowed Tehran to save its ally, which it has propped up with “volunteers” and arms. This has led to a worst-case scenario in which the Assad regime is still holding on while Syria is convulsed in chaos and violence. That not only endangers Israel’s security, but also creates the danger that Assad’s arsenal will either fall into the hands of unsavory insurgents or be given to Hezbollah.

Though Israel will be criticized for having its forces cross an international border, in acting to interdict Syrian arms convoys or to attack chemical weapons stored there, it is doing something that is as much in the interests of the United States as it is their own. At a time when critics continue to attack Israel as a liability for American foreign policy, this attack ought to bring home just how important the strategic alliance with the Jewish state has become.

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Rand Looking for Cheap Pro-Israel Dates

Back in November, I wrote that Rand Paul’s presidential hopes would be a difficult sale to pro-Israel conservatives and Republicans. Paul’s opposition to U.S. aid to Israel and an isolationist mindset that was highly reminiscent of the views of his extremist father, the former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, would seem to make his potential ascent in the GOP a troubling development for Jewish Republicans. While the exchange between us on the question of his attitude toward Israel may not have changed many minds, his recent trip to Israel is a clear indication that the Kentucky senator is serious about running for president.

Paul’s visit to the Jewish state was part of an effort to reposition himself as a friend of Israel, and there are some pro-Israel voices that seem inclined to take him at his word. There’s a lot to like about his criticism of President Obama’s attempts to dictate security policy to the Netanyahu government as well as the fact that he seems to be moving in the right direction on ties between the two countries. Yet it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that anyone inclined to buy into the idea that he should be thought of as a reliable friend of Israel is acting like a very cheap date for the presidential wannabe. Rand Paul may not exactly be a chip off the old block when it comes to the expressions of hostility and willingness to demonize Israel. But his positions on aid and, even more importantly, on broader foreign policy concepts are still far away from anything that the pro-Israel community would recognize as acceptable.

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Back in November, I wrote that Rand Paul’s presidential hopes would be a difficult sale to pro-Israel conservatives and Republicans. Paul’s opposition to U.S. aid to Israel and an isolationist mindset that was highly reminiscent of the views of his extremist father, the former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, would seem to make his potential ascent in the GOP a troubling development for Jewish Republicans. While the exchange between us on the question of his attitude toward Israel may not have changed many minds, his recent trip to Israel is a clear indication that the Kentucky senator is serious about running for president.

Paul’s visit to the Jewish state was part of an effort to reposition himself as a friend of Israel, and there are some pro-Israel voices that seem inclined to take him at his word. There’s a lot to like about his criticism of President Obama’s attempts to dictate security policy to the Netanyahu government as well as the fact that he seems to be moving in the right direction on ties between the two countries. Yet it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that anyone inclined to buy into the idea that he should be thought of as a reliable friend of Israel is acting like a very cheap date for the presidential wannabe. Rand Paul may not exactly be a chip off the old block when it comes to the expressions of hostility and willingness to demonize Israel. But his positions on aid and, even more importantly, on broader foreign policy concepts are still far away from anything that the pro-Israel community would recognize as acceptable.

As the Jerusalem Post reported last weekend, Paul criticized President Obama’s statements about the building of new Jewish homes in Jerusalem. Saying Israel’s policy was “none of our business,” the senator also made it clear that “I came here to show that I am supportive of the relationship between Israel and America.” As Seth Lipsky wrote in the New York Post on Sunday, Paul’s stand is noteworthy:

There hasn’t been such a supportive comment on Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and in Jerusalem since Sarah Palin last spoke on the subject. Her comments drove the left up the wall.

Lipsky is right and that’s very much to Paul’s credit. But it should also be understood that his “let the Israelis decide things for themselves” stand comes in the context of a longstanding position that treats everything that happens in the Middle East as being none of America’s business. So while his expressions of friendship are welcome and far more acceptable than the sort of stuff we had come to expect from his father, it’s difficult to argue that a person who has never believed the U.S. has vital interests in the region is the sort who can be relied upon to have Israel’s back in a crisis.

Paul also seeks, as he did in our exchange, to spin his position opposing aid to Israel as not synonymous with hostility. It is true that, as he argues, Prime Minister Netanyahu told Congress back in 1996 that he wanted to phase out U.S. aid. But Netanyahu was referring to economic assistance, not military aid. In fact, Netanyahu’s goal of eliminating economic aid has already been accomplished. For years, Israel has only gotten military aid. But Paul still wants to cut it–although he now says he wants to do it gradually and that countries that burn our flag rather than friends like Israel should get the axe first.

Israel is better off without having its economy subsidized by foreign friends, but in a region where oil money helps fuel an arms race with the nation’s foes, American assistance is vital. Paul told the Washington Post that he admires the Iron Dome anti-missile system that helped save Israeli lives during the recent fighting with Hamas and would even like to see the U.S. develop its own version. But does he think Iron Dome would have been built without extensive U.S. support from both the Bush and Obama administrations? Israel’s ability to act independently in its own interests would be enhanced if it didn’t have to rely to some degree on its one true ally. But the fact remains that American military aid remains necessary to ensure the country’s security. If you don’t get that, then you don’t get the alliance.

It is possible to argue that what we are witnessing with Rand Paul is similar to the process whereby a once-hostile figure like the late Jesse Helms eventually became a devoted friend to Israel in the latter half of his senatorial career. If so, then it may be that Paul will become a bridge between the pro-Israel community and libertarians and will help the latter understand that backing the Jewish state is a natural fit for those who believe in the cause of liberty. If his position continues to evolve, it may actually be possible for him to run in 2016 as an ardent backer of Israel even though some will always see him as his extremist father’s son.

But it is just as possible that Rand Paul’s odyssey to Israel and outreach effort to pro-Israel conservatives is analogous to Barack Obama’s path in the years before he was elected president. Obama had few ties with pro-Israel groups, and was known as the friend of pro-Palestinian activists and other radicals. But with the help of some in the Jewish community, he worked hard to change his image. He, too, said it was all a misunderstanding to see him as anything but a friend to Israel, albeit one that didn’t like the views of the Likud. Those who vouched for his pro-Israel bona fides have had a lot of explaining to do during his presidency.

Those who are allowing themselves to play that same role for Rand Paul need to think long and hard not just about being cheap dates but about the likelihood that the candidate whose positions they are rationalizing may have a very different agenda if he ever got into the White House.

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What it Means to Be a Pro-Israel Democrat

A lot of the drama was taken out of the battle to confirm Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense today when New York Senator Chuck Schumer endorsed the nomination. Schumer said he had made the decision after a long conversation with his former Senate colleague in which he was, he said, reassured that the new Pentagon chief had changed his mind about the relationship between Israel and the United States as well as his previous views about Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Schumer directly addressed the concerns that members of the pro-Israel community have expressed about Hagel’s sudden change of heart by saying this:

“I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Mr. Schumer said. “But I don’t think so. Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago.”

Such faith in Hagel’s conversion from a politician who bragged about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and an opponent of sanctions against Iran as well as an advocate of engagement with Hamas and Hezbollah is remarkable. How is it possible that in the space of only a few months that Hagel could have had such a dramatic change of heart? Given Hagel’s disdain for the current government of Israel and the fact that only last fall he was signing letters expressing opposition to any mention of the use of force against Iran, only the most cynical of partisans could believe for a minute that the Nebraskan’s new positions are a sincere expression of his actual opinions. While Schumer, a powerful senator who has no fear about possible challenges to his seat, may think his seal of approval of Hagel will have no consequences, it is the sort of thing that, at the least, ought to raise the question of what it actually means to be a pro-Israel Democrat these days.

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A lot of the drama was taken out of the battle to confirm Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense today when New York Senator Chuck Schumer endorsed the nomination. Schumer said he had made the decision after a long conversation with his former Senate colleague in which he was, he said, reassured that the new Pentagon chief had changed his mind about the relationship between Israel and the United States as well as his previous views about Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Schumer directly addressed the concerns that members of the pro-Israel community have expressed about Hagel’s sudden change of heart by saying this:

“I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Mr. Schumer said. “But I don’t think so. Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago.”

Such faith in Hagel’s conversion from a politician who bragged about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and an opponent of sanctions against Iran as well as an advocate of engagement with Hamas and Hezbollah is remarkable. How is it possible that in the space of only a few months that Hagel could have had such a dramatic change of heart? Given Hagel’s disdain for the current government of Israel and the fact that only last fall he was signing letters expressing opposition to any mention of the use of force against Iran, only the most cynical of partisans could believe for a minute that the Nebraskan’s new positions are a sincere expression of his actual opinions. While Schumer, a powerful senator who has no fear about possible challenges to his seat, may think his seal of approval of Hagel will have no consequences, it is the sort of thing that, at the least, ought to raise the question of what it actually means to be a pro-Israel Democrat these days.

Let’s specify that many Democrats are sincere and ardent backers of Israel. They are a vital element in the across-the-board bipartisan coalition that has made the U.S.-Israel alliance an integral part of American foreign and defense policy. That is why the tepid response from so many Democrats to the president’s choice of Hagel is so disappointing.

It’s time for a little honesty about Hagel. Were someone with his record and history of incendiary comments about fighting the influence of the “Jewish lobby” and tender-hearted concern for radical Islamists put forward by a Republican president there’s little doubt that Democrats would be fighting each other to get face time in front of network cameras denouncing the nomination, with a publicity hound like Schumer at the front of the line.

After all, this is the same Chuck Hagel that even the National Jewish Democratic Council—a group that is generally blind to the shortcomings of anyone in their party no matter how egregious their transgressions—denounced as unsuitable for high office in 2009 when his name was put forward for a place on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Democrats who have spent the last four years rationalizing Barack Obama’s inclination to pick fights with Israel and attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians enjoyed the election-year Jewish charm offensive in which the administration dropped its previous antagonism toward the Jewish state. But the decision to choose Hagel calls into question whether a second term will mean that the president plans to abandon his pledges on Iran or whether the 2012 cease-and-desist order about U.S. pressure on Israel will expire.

Hagel’s nomination gave politicians like Schumer a chance to show that they had no intention of allowing the president to make fools of them by policy reversals that would contradict his campaign promises on which they had staked their own good names.

But instead of showing some independence as well as common sense about the likelihood that Hagel could be trusted to do the right thing at the Pentagon, Schumer has shown that they will not stick their necks out if it means opposing the president.

As I stated earlier today, Hagel’s 180 does show that he had to disavow the views that made him the darling of the Israel-bashers if he wanted to be confirmed. Like the president’s campaign pledges, that will make it difficult, although not impossible, for the administration to abandon its stands on opposing containment of Iran or recognition of Hamas.

But the willingness of heretofore pro-Israel Democratic stalwarts to be willing accomplices to Hagel’s charade also tarnishes the reputation of their party on this issue. Whatever else this nomination has accomplished, it has made it more difficult for Democrats to assert that they are every bit as solid on Israel as their GOP foes.

That may not trouble Barack Obama or even Chuck Schumer, but it should worry rank-and-file Democrats who wonder what has happened to their party.

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Did Hagel Backtrack on Iran?

Though many friends of Israel are dismayed at the prospect of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel being the next secretary of defense, an effort is underway to portray the longtime critic of the Jewish state as having shifted his position, particularly on the Iranian nuclear threat. Anti-Defamation League chief Abe Foxman told the Times of Israel today he thinks a Washington Post op-ed co-authored by Hagel back in September shows that the former senator “is now in sync with the president’s position on Iran.”

But a close look at the piece published on September 28 and signed by Hagel, retired admiral William J. Fallon, Lee Hamilton and former Marine general Anthony Zinni, should give those counting on the administration doing what is necessary to stop Tehran little comfort. Though it pays lip service to the idea that force should be contemplated if all other attempts to persuade Iran to stand down fail, the main thrust of the article is to oppose any idea of military action. If this is indeed proof that Hagel and the president are on the same page on Iran, it makes it very likely that a second Obama administration with Hagel at the Pentagon is unlikely to scare the Iranians into giving up their nuclear ambitions.

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Though many friends of Israel are dismayed at the prospect of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel being the next secretary of defense, an effort is underway to portray the longtime critic of the Jewish state as having shifted his position, particularly on the Iranian nuclear threat. Anti-Defamation League chief Abe Foxman told the Times of Israel today he thinks a Washington Post op-ed co-authored by Hagel back in September shows that the former senator “is now in sync with the president’s position on Iran.”

But a close look at the piece published on September 28 and signed by Hagel, retired admiral William J. Fallon, Lee Hamilton and former Marine general Anthony Zinni, should give those counting on the administration doing what is necessary to stop Tehran little comfort. Though it pays lip service to the idea that force should be contemplated if all other attempts to persuade Iran to stand down fail, the main thrust of the article is to oppose any idea of military action. If this is indeed proof that Hagel and the president are on the same page on Iran, it makes it very likely that a second Obama administration with Hagel at the Pentagon is unlikely to scare the Iranians into giving up their nuclear ambitions.

Hagel’s reputation as a critic of the U.S.-Israel alliance is well deserved. As Rick, Alana and the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens noted earlier today, his history of quotes raising dual loyalty charges against supporters of Israel, his equivocal positions on Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists as well as his open opposition to a tough stand on Iran ought to take him out of the running for any position of influence in an administration that calls itself “pro-Israel.”

It may be that Hagel will be prepared to mouth platitudes about Israel in his confirmation hearings as part of what Foxman calls a “pragmatic change” in order to gain a place at the Cabinet table. But the significance of the positions he has taken on Iran makes his presence at the Pentagon a particular problem. To assert, as Foxman does, that Hagel would be obligated to obey Obama’s orders misses the point. If there is anything that we have learned about the president’s governing style in his first four years in office it is that he is not likely to appoint anyone to a crucial post that is likely to differ from his views on important issues. Putting Hagel in charge of the defense establishment is a clear signal that the president has no interest in ever coming to grips with the Iranian threat.

Foxman’s unwillingness to take a stand on Hagel’s appointment is troubling. The ADL chief has been a stern critic of the infamous Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that sought to demonize Jews and others who support the Jewish state. While Hagel has not gone quite as far as those two academics and their supporters, he has engaged in loose talk about the “Jewish lobby” intimidating critics and has publicly postured about being an American senator rather than an Israeli one–a not-so-subtle attempt to raise the dual loyalty canard against Jews.

Yet Foxman won’t join those protesting Hagel’s nomination:

“His positions on Israel could be much better; they are problematic,” Foxman said. “But here again, he will concur with the administration’s views and policies. He has evidenced tendencies which would give us pause for concern, but not enough to oppose him for a high-level position.”

In backing down on Hagel, Foxman is perhaps telling us that he thinks any attempt to derail the nomination would be futile. Given the unwillingness of Republican leaders such as John McCain to stop a former colleague the way they did Susan Rice’s hopes for the State Department, he’s probably right about that, but that doesn’t make this cynical calculation on the part of the ADL chief right.

But the bottom line here is not so much about Hagel as it is about Obama. Putting a man with his views about Israel and its enemies in charge at the Pentagon gives the lie to the election-year Jewish charm offensive that helped the president win re-election. The sounds of celebrating among Israel’s American foes as well as in Tehran makes it clear that any idea that this president will go to the mat on Iran was wishful thinking on the part of Jewish Democrats.

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Did Romney Exploit a Jewish Holiday?

For those who wish the Republican presidential candidate ill, there is really nothing he can do to avoid criticism. Case in point was Mitt Romney’s visit yesterday to Jerusalem. At the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg accuses him of being “vulgar” for showing up at the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av. Predictably, Peter Beinart goes even further in the Daily Beast and accuses Romney of “misusing Judaism” to bolster his campaign.

Both are dead wrong. Nothing Romney did was in poor taste or in any way showed disrespect for Jewish sensibilities. In fact, the truth was quite the opposite. Their real problem with Romney is that what he said in Israel illustrated President Obama’s shortcomings. Romney rightly expressed a more realistic assessment of the Iranian nuclear threat than the Obama administration as well as reaffirmed his commitment to reverse the president’s policy in which the U.S. has distanced itself from Israel (at least in those years in which he is not running for re-election).

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For those who wish the Republican presidential candidate ill, there is really nothing he can do to avoid criticism. Case in point was Mitt Romney’s visit yesterday to Jerusalem. At the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg accuses him of being “vulgar” for showing up at the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av. Predictably, Peter Beinart goes even further in the Daily Beast and accuses Romney of “misusing Judaism” to bolster his campaign.

Both are dead wrong. Nothing Romney did was in poor taste or in any way showed disrespect for Jewish sensibilities. In fact, the truth was quite the opposite. Their real problem with Romney is that what he said in Israel illustrated President Obama’s shortcomings. Romney rightly expressed a more realistic assessment of the Iranian nuclear threat than the Obama administration as well as reaffirmed his commitment to reverse the president’s policy in which the U.S. has distanced itself from Israel (at least in those years in which he is not running for re-election).

Goldberg’s post has an inflammatory headline, “Temple Mount Tackiness,” which seems to imply that Romney went up to the site of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which is now occupied by mosques. Any visit to the Temple Mount is fraught with symbolism and controversy (think Ariel Sharon’s 2000 stroll there which was falsely represented as the second intifada). Though the place is truly the most sacred spot in Judaism, Jews are forbidden to pray there lest Muslims think they are plotting to blow up or move the mosques. But Romney did not go up there. He merely joined the throngs praying at the Wall on the anniversary of the Temples’ destruction.

Goldberg seems to think it is wrong for a candidate to go there for a photo op on that day. Had Romney and his entourage barged in and disrupted prayer services, Goldberg might have had a point. But he did not. There was no service going on there at the time, just the usual milling crowds of tourists and the faithful who can be found there on any day. Romney’s behavior was exemplary. To speak of vulgarity is absurd and says more about Goldberg’s crush on Barack Obama than it does about Romney.

More to the point, the symbolism of an American politician going to the Wall on the day that Jews remember the tragedies that have befallen them throughout history is particularly apt. Given the existential threats that still face Israel, the reaffirmation of the U.S. alliance seems to be exactly the sort of thing Jews ought to welcome.

But, of course, that reaffirmation is exactly what troubles Beinart.

Beinart is offended by Romney’s belief the United States ought not to show any public daylight between its positions and Israel. Doing so, as President Obama has done, damages the already dim hopes for peace because such actions encourage the Palestinians to become even more intransigent. Obama’s pressure on Israel has led the Palestinians to believe they don’t have to negotiate with the Jewish state because they think the U.S. will hand them Israeli concessions on a silver platter without them having to give an inch.

But, of course, Beinart doesn’t want any politicians, be they Democrats or Republicans, to show the kind of heartfelt support that Romney expressed. He wants the U.S. to run roughshod over the democratic will of the Israeli people in order to further his unrealistic vision of peace with a Palestinian people who have little interest in such a scheme.

Beinart backs up this point of view, but assuming the pose of a scholar of Judaism and Jewish history is the conceit of his laughably inept book about saving Zionism.

From his perspective, the comments of Romney and Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tisha B’Av in which they noted the need to ensure that the Jews are saved from future catastrophes, are “bad Judaism.” Beinart is right to note that one of the keynotes of the observance of the ninth of Av is introspection in which Jews should learn to avoid the mindless hatred that tradition tells us caused the fall of the Temples. A cynic would note that if anyone is in need of lessons on “introspection and humility” it might be an author who presumes to preach to Israelis while demonstrating little understanding of their concerns. But leaving Beinart’s shortcomings aside, that is not the only perspective on the holiday. It is certainly not the only thing those tasked with dealing with the geo-strategic realities of the Middle East should be thinking about.

It is all well and good to say, as Beinart does, that we all have a little bit of evil within us. But according to him, this insight should lead Israelis not to obsess about the fact that much of the Muslim and Arab world still wishes to wipe them out. Even worse, he thinks that on the day that Jews contemplate the crimes and atrocities committed against them during the last three millennia, they should worry more about the sensibilities of those who are still plotting such evil. Indeed, he thinks the mere fact that Romney failed to mention the Palestinians in a speech devoted to the U.S.-Israel alliance and the need to stop Iran from making good on its genocidal threats “denied the humanity” of the Palestinians.

The most charitable thing that can be said about such an analysis is that Beinart is about as much of an expert on Judaism as he is representative of American Jewish opinion. President Obama’s election year Jewish charm offensive shows he understands the overwhelming majority of American Jews reject Beinart’s view that Israel must be saved from itself or that selective boycotts and brutal pressure should be employed to bring it to its knees so as to facilitate his vision of its future. Tisha B’Av is an apt day for Jews and all people of good will to remember the stakes in the Middle East conflict and of the need to ensure that Jerusalem never again falls to those who would destroy the Jewish people.

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Obama Still Not Fooling Anyone on Israel

When foreign policy “realists,” pseudo-realists, and leftists claim that the pro-Israel establishment is preventing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, their argument fails to account for one aspect of recent Mideast history: During the administrations of American presidents seen as favoring Israel, the Jewish state’s leaders made serious offers for a final-status agreement.

So the argument that more “daylight” is needed between the U.S. and Israel is generally met with proper skepticism. So is the declaration that President Obama is just as pro-Israel as his predecessors, he’s just showing his friends a bit of tough love–heavy on the tough, light on the love. Aaron David Miller, part of Bill Clinton’s Mideast negotiating team, doesn’t think there’s any reason to fool yourself about that last point. He has written an article for Foreign Policy’s website detailing the six most damaging myths of the U.S.-Israel relationship. No. 6 is: “Barack Obama is just as pro-Israel as Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.” Miller writes:

There’s no question that Obama understands and appreciates the special relationship between Israel and the United States. But Obama isn’t Bill Clinton or George W. Bush when it comes to Israel — not even close. These guys were frustrated by Israeli prime ministers too, but they also were moved and enamored by them (Clinton by Yitzhak Rabin, Bush by Ariel Sharon). They had instinctive, heartfelt empathy for the idea of Israel’s story, and as a consequence they could make allowances at times for Israel’s behavior even when it clashed with their own policy goals. Obama is more like George H.W. Bush when it comes to Israel, but without the strategy…

If Obama had a chance to reset the U.S.-Israel relationship and make it a little less special, he probably would. But I guess that’s the point: He probably won’t have the chance.

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When foreign policy “realists,” pseudo-realists, and leftists claim that the pro-Israel establishment is preventing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, their argument fails to account for one aspect of recent Mideast history: During the administrations of American presidents seen as favoring Israel, the Jewish state’s leaders made serious offers for a final-status agreement.

So the argument that more “daylight” is needed between the U.S. and Israel is generally met with proper skepticism. So is the declaration that President Obama is just as pro-Israel as his predecessors, he’s just showing his friends a bit of tough love–heavy on the tough, light on the love. Aaron David Miller, part of Bill Clinton’s Mideast negotiating team, doesn’t think there’s any reason to fool yourself about that last point. He has written an article for Foreign Policy’s website detailing the six most damaging myths of the U.S.-Israel relationship. No. 6 is: “Barack Obama is just as pro-Israel as Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.” Miller writes:

There’s no question that Obama understands and appreciates the special relationship between Israel and the United States. But Obama isn’t Bill Clinton or George W. Bush when it comes to Israel — not even close. These guys were frustrated by Israeli prime ministers too, but they also were moved and enamored by them (Clinton by Yitzhak Rabin, Bush by Ariel Sharon). They had instinctive, heartfelt empathy for the idea of Israel’s story, and as a consequence they could make allowances at times for Israel’s behavior even when it clashed with their own policy goals. Obama is more like George H.W. Bush when it comes to Israel, but without the strategy…

If Obama had a chance to reset the U.S.-Israel relationship and make it a little less special, he probably would. But I guess that’s the point: He probably won’t have the chance.

Miller has made this point before. And when he says “He probably won’t have the chance,” that’s because the American public and their representatives in the Congress don’t want to downgrade the U.S.-Israeli relationship, so they will work to prevent Obama from doing so. The problem for the president is that he cannot argue that his way is more effective—he thus far has moved the parties in the conflict further away from where they’ve been in the past—or that he is the victim. After all, even Clinton—who never hid his disdain for Benjamin Netanyahu–got Netanyahu to sign a deal, and with Yasser Arafat no less.

Under the previous two administrations—one Democratic, one Republican–the Israeli right, left, and center have all signed agreements, made final-status offers, or led Israel to make unprecedented sacrifices for the peace process. As Yossi Klein Halevi wrote recently: “Israelis still recall with disbelief how Obama refused to honor Bush’s written commitment to Ariel Sharon—that the U.S. would support settlement blocs being incorporated into Israel proper. And never has an American president treated an Israeli prime minister with such shabbiness as Obama has treated Netanyahu. Indeed one gets the impression that of all the world’s leaders, Obama most detests the prime minister of Israel.”

Read that last sentence again and understand why it matters that Obama thinks less of Israel than his predecessors did, and why he has failed both the Israelis and the Palestinians because of it.

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