Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tobin - “Unity Pledge” for Israel Doesn’t Pass the Political Smell Test

Jonathan S.Tobin
24 October '11


Israel’s foes understand the greatest obstacle to their efforts is the existence of a broad bipartisan consensus in the United States on behalf of support for the Jewish state of Israel. This fact has inspired conspiracy theories about a vast organized cabal whose goal is to subvert American foreign policy for the sake of the Jews that is a thinly veiled recycled version of traditional anti-Semitism that most Americans rightly reject out of hand. But the existence of this consensus is no reason for friends of Israel to stifle discussion about the alliance or to grant some politicians an exemption from scrutiny about their records on the issue.

Yet unfortunately that appears to be the one of the purposes of a new “National Unity Pledge for Israel” that is being circulated by both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. While the cause of Jewish unity is noble and much of the language of the pledge is unexceptionable, certain elements of it as well as the way it has been promoted by ADL head Abe Foxman seems aimed more at silencing any effort to hold the Obama administration accountable for some of its attacks on Israel’s government and determination to tilt the diplomatic playing field in favor of the Palestinians.

Foxman’s statement in support of the pledge is damning evidence of a desire to squelch the debate about the administration’s record:

We want the discourse on U.S. support for Israel to avoid the sometimes polarizing debates and political attacks that have emerged in recent weeks, as candidates have challenged their opponents’ pro-Israel bone fides or questioned the current administration’s foreign policy approach vis-à-vis Israel. The last thing America and Israel need right now is the distractions of having Israel bandied about as a tool for waging political attacks.

For years, Democrats have been angry at the efforts of some Jewish Republicans to highlight the strong support of Israel by the Bush administration and the GOP and contrasting it with the fact that some elements of the Democratic Party are not so friendly to the Jewish state. They have claimed that injecting the question of support for Israel into election campaigns is both counterproductive and a threat to the bipartisan consensus Israel has relied upon. But the effort to impose a ban on discussions of whether certain candidates or even the current administration has done right by Israel is itself something of a partisan argument. Since the overwhelming majority of Jews are Democrats, it is in that party’s interest to stifle debate on Israel, as that removes the GOP’s best argument for attracting Jewish votes.

It would be wrong, if not crazy, for Republicans to claim all Democrats are not friends of Israel. As President Obama learned to his sorrow in the aftermath of his ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu last May, some of the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate were just as eager to distance themselves from the White House on Israel as the GOP. But to impose, as this pledge seems to hint, a gag rule on all discussion of Israel in a political context simply allows those politicians, be they Republican or Democrat, impunity for any destructive stands or behavior. To demand, as the pledge does of those who support it that “U.S.-Israel friendship should never be used as a political wedge issue” is to effectively remove the question of whether policies enacted by a particular administration or individual politicians are helping or hurting Israel from the public square.

That would be bad enough in the abstract. But coming as this does on the eve of a presidential campaign in which the often-troubling record of Barack Obama on Israel will necessarily be subjected to scrutiny, the inclusion of that language in the pledge seems a shameless ploy by liberal supporters of the administration to pre-empt any effort to hold the president accountable for three years of squabbles and controversies. Obama supporters can and should make their arguments that shows his record is not as bad as some would say, but given the growing disgruntlement with the president’s handling of Israel, those who point out his determination to distance the United States from Israel and to undermine the Jewish state’s hold on Jerusalem must also be given a fair hearing. It is up to the voters and not the ADL or the AJC or anyone else to judge who is in the right.

The consistent rejection of peace by the Palestinians renders the traditional left-right arguments about the peace process moot. Under these circumstances, this is exactly the moment for Americans to unite behind a platform of support for Israel and opposition to the international campaign to delegitimize and isolate it. That ought to mean that we should welcome not only pledges of support for Israel from office seekers but accountability on the issue from those in power. The clear intent of the petition’s backers to shut down the latter means this doesn’t pass the political smell test.

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