There must be a better way to elect a President.
The interminable campaign – I think the candidates for the 2020 election are already organizing – becomes a little more serious in a few weeks when real live Americans actually start voting. It is bizarre that so many candidates have already dropped out, long before even a single ballot has been cast, but not as bizarre as the fact that there were so many candidates to begin with.
It is a good time then to look at each of the Republican candidates for president and their attitudes towards Israel. Three caveats are in order. First, I am among those who believe that the Israel factor should not be the sole determinant of a person’s voting patterns. It goes without saying that an anti-Israel candidate could never win my vote. Nonetheless, if a candidate rated 90% support (however that is measured) and another candidate measured 80% support, it is not unreasonable to examine his/her positions on other issues. This is especially so since those other issues will tend to influence their dealings with Israel.
Second, it cannot be underscored enough that, fortunately, Israel is not a major issue in this campaign, or, for that matter, in the world today. An analysis published last week of the anticipated global hot spots in 2016 did not even mention Israel. Israel would benefit inordinately from the benign neglect of American diplomacy, which would certainly be an improvement over the hostile American diplomacy of the Obama-Clinton-Kerry era and also allow Israel – if it can summon the will – to take the elementary and effective security measures needed to stem the rising tide of Arab terror.
Third, any of the Republican candidates – and I mean any – would be an improvement over the current occupants of the White House and Foggy Bottom. Like many erstwhile American allies, Israel has been treated by the Obama administration more like a nuisance and an irritant than as a friend and ally. Of course, it hasn’t been completely negative; that can never be given Israel’s strong support in Congress and with the American people. But Obama has been an annoyance to Israel since the beginning of his tenure, and that is manifest not only through the strengthening of Israel’s enemies (Iran’s nuclear bomb is at the top of that list, along with US support for the Muslim Brotherhood) but also through PM Netanyahu’s persistent fear of taking the initiative against Arab terror and changing the dynamic of the conflict, both in order to avoid provoking Obama.
None of the Republican candidates bear that animus, or at least that ill-concealed contempt for Israel and its leaders that Obama and his acolytes have had, and that Obama spent 20 years listening to his pastor’s sermons.
That being said, the Republican candidates on Israel break down into three different categories: superstars, establishment and ciphers.
There are four superstars in the Republican galaxy on the Israel question, in no particular order: Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio. It is not just the kishke factor that excites some Jews but rather their essential worldview. They see Israel as a friend, not just an ally. They see Israel’s fight against Arab-Islamic terror as identical to America’s fight. They would not – as John Kerry does every time – rattle off the egregious Islamic terrorist acts across the world (from Bali to San Bernardino) and never mention Israel as a victim of Arab-Islamic terror. They do not share the Obama-Kerry opinion that “Islamist terror” (strike that – Obama-Kerry never attribute Muslim terror to Muslims; call it “violent extremist man-made disasters”) in Paris, Madrid, London, New York, etc., etc., is unconscionably evil, whereas Arab terror in Israel against Jews has a rationale, is understandable, and really all Israel’s fault anyway.
That is a completely different worldview. Added to that, these superstars have no illusions about a “peace process,” have no interest in the creation of an irredentist Palestinian state that will serve as a base for radical Islam, and are rightfully content to let Israel handle its diplomacy and settle in its heartland as many Jews as it deems feasible. Strangely, they do not wish to dictate to the sovereign State of Israel where Jews should live! It is impossible to imagine that any of these four gentlemen would become more enraged by the building of a few homes in Samaria than by the detonation of a nuclear bomb in North Korea.
For years, Mike Huckabee has become a fixture at banquets of pro-Israel Jewish organizations and delivered speeches that could shame Israeli prime ministers with his unabashed support for a strong, confident Israel, the fulfillment of Biblical prophecies. Ironically, Cruz and Rubio’s foreign policy approaches differ markedly – except when it comes to Israel. All three – and Ben Carson - root their love for Israel and their appreciation of Israel’s historic rights and unparalleled struggles to the Bible. That depth of understanding and commitment is not subject to change. It is hard to imagine any of them lambasting Israel for defending itself against Arab terror, calling for restraint and “proportionate” (and thus ineffective) responses, or pressuring Israel to make more concessions to purchase ephemeral “good will” from its Arab enemies.
Then there are the establishment candidates, those who are pro-Israel, support Israel, want a strong Israel, but are also wedded to the traditional American diplomatic posture that supports the “peace process” – notwithstanding how ludicrous the phrase, much less the process, has become. They seek to balance support for Israel with alliances with Arab nations as well. That is not inherently bad, except when it leads the United States into the quagmire of double standards – castigating Israel for trifles while ignoring extreme violence, abuses and corruption in those Arab allies.
Numbered in this group are Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich. They are all what we would traditionally call “pro-Israel” – make no mistake about that – but they differ with the superstars in being grounded more in realpolitik than in a heartfelt attachment to Israel based on values and policy. In truth, we have never really had a President of the first category. Even Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, both motivated by good instincts, were still bound to the machinations of their diplomatic corps – some of whom served, it seems, for many years, and in both Democratic and Republican administrations. George Bush I was clearly in this “Scowcroft” mold, and further slanted by the execrations of James Baker.
The giveaway in all this is any reference to the phrases “revive the peace process” or “good will gestures.” These reveal that a candidate is beholden to Arabists at the State Department, has based his diplomatic goals on hackneyed clichés unrelated to reality, and will conduct the usual push and pull with Israel even as Israel tries to navigate through the treacherous waters of the hostile, barbaric neighborhood in which it is situated.
That notion of “reviving the peace process” leads to the third category – the ciphers. They are candidates whose positions are difficult, if not impossible to discern, and in this category we find Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul. A cipher is not bad, just risky, because it is really unknown how they would respond to any situation. Rand Paul is an admitted isolationist, and therefore long perceived as hostile to Israel. That is untrue, as he has made clear and without compromising his values. Even Rand Paul has come around to accept the importance of military aid to Israel, not only because it benefits the US economy (70% of that aid is spent in the US helping American companies) but also because he recognizes Israel’s role in furthering US interests in an unstable part of the world. He lost favor years ago because of his opposition to foreign aid (again, he has backtracked on military aid to Israel) but it is hard to quibble with his comment that it is nonsensical for the United States – broke and indebted to the tune of $19,000,000,000,000 (nineteen trillion dollars; that’s a lot of zeroes) – “borrowing money from the Chinese to give to foreign countries.” There is something quite sensible about that.
Carly Fiorina is an excellent candidate – talented, articulate, grounded, and capable. But support for Israel must be based on something more than “I’ve met Bibi.” I’ve met Bibi too, but he has also met a lot of other people too. Carly will be a cipher until she addresses these issues more explicitly.
Which brings us to Donald Trump. (If elected, will he be referred to as “The President” or “The Donald”?) As a New Yorker, he certainly has a long and positive history with Jews. Many Jews – religious Jews also – have worked and still work for him. Famously, he was once the Grand Marshal of the Salute to Israel parade. But his campaign has been based on being the “anti-politician,” not bad per se(others have been elected running on that platform, like U.S. Grant), but rendering his stance on the issues, even on other issues, unknowable. He has boasted of his “unpredictability,” that he will not reveal his positions in any depth or detail so as not to give our adversaries any advantage.
That sounds better that it actually is, and what it is – is ludicrous. No one would buy a suit of “unpredictable” size, order “unpredictable” food in a restaurant, or marry someone of “unpredictable” character. Why then would anyone vote for a president who rejoices in his unpredictability? He needs to become slightly more specific on the issues. It is not enough to answer questions about specifics – the Middle East too – by saying “they won’t know what hit them,” “their heads will spin,” or “I’m rich and successful.” Indeed, not all of his deals were successful, as the WSJ reported last week, as a number of his companies went into bankruptcy and he teetered on the brink of personal bankruptcy himself.
Does anyone know how Trump relates to the Middle East? To Israel? To the settlements? To the “peace process”? To the Iran nuclear deal (except that it is the worst ever)? If Israel annexed Judea and Samaria, how would he respond? He hinted that he is not averse to the re-division of Yerushalayim or asking Israel for “sacrifices” for peace. I would state clearly my feelings for Trump as President – he is entertaining to be sure – but I too choose to remain unpredictable.
To quote Donald Trump, both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton would be “disasters” on the Israel factor. Sanders is a hard-core leftist whose sympathies are not with the Jewish state. And all we need to remember about Hillary Clinton is this: as the world burned, ISIS expanded and Islamic terror metastasized across the globe, Iraq fell and North Korea further developed its nuclear program, she chose to harangue – in most personal, insulting and undiplomatic language – Israel’s Prime Minister because a minor municipal official in Yerushalayim announced that day tenders to build apartments in the northern part of Yerushalayim. That is treatment that she never afforded any rogue, any scoundrel, or any terrorist across the world, and only those who don’t wish to see it will fail to see it.
As most of her Jewish supporters care more about abortion rights than Israel’s survival, this should not trouble them. But it does give us an insight into her mindset and worldview going forward. Voter beware!
Of course, any leader can change while in office, so we can only rely on current assessments. At this point, any and all Republican candidates would be far superior, for the United States and Israel to the alternatives.