Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Final Campaign Thoughts III

We've covered social issues and foreign policy. Today I'm talking about what some on the right have been trying to present as Obama's weakest point, Israel.

On a personal note, this is only slightly adapted from an email sent to my grandmother, Bubbe Yid, this morning:

First, Obama has received a high rating from AIPAC. He received a standing ovation when he spoke there, and emphasized repeatedly that Israel's security was sacrosanct. Not only that, he recognizes that neither party in the Arab-Israeli conflict gains anything through continued violence and wasn't afraid to talk about both Jewish and Palestinian suffering in front of some potentially hostile crowds, which suggests a different perspective than what we've seen the past eight years where Bush paid little less than lip service to Israeli suffering and not even that to the Palestinians. AIPAC has repeatedly said that they are more than satisfied with Obama's record of support of Israel and think he would continue to do so if elected President.

Second, a lot has been made of different Obama positions over the past months. Dividing Jerusalem has been a big one I've seen brought up again and again. What people aren't talking about is that not only would Obama (or McCain) obviously not be the final decider on big issues like Jerusalem, but that nothing Obama has said is at all surprising or new to Israelis. There are many people in Israel on the left and even center who believe that there will need to be some division of Jerusalem as part of a final settlement. Even Olmert admitted it recently. The same goes for talking with our enemies, which some people have jumped all over Obama for, not realizing that first, talking with your enemies neither requires you to agree with them nor actually legitimizes them (Nancy Pelosi met with the President of Syria six months ago and I haven't noticed anyone saying that we all respect Syria now), but also that there are plenty of countries, including Israel, that have never had such a strict policy because they recognize that it shoots them in the foot. Israel has been
meeting with Syria for decades trying to get rid of the Golan. It met with the Palestinians when the PLO was still exiled and it was technically illegal. It is even sending feelers to talk to Iran. If Israel isn't afraid to talk to its enemies, why should the US? As an interesting note, even conservative thinkers like William Kristol have admitted that, except for having a timetable on Iraq and on potentially talking with Iran, Obama and McCain's Middle East positions are essentially the same- this includes that both are highly supportive of Israel.

Third, I've seen some commentary about how Obama's associations and advisers are troubling when it comes to how he will look at the Middle East and Israel specifically. While some of his advisers, such as Brzezenski, have not been the best friends of Israel, most of them have very strong pro-Israel records, such as Dennis Ross, chief Clinton Advisor at Camp David II and Daniel Kurtzer, former ambassador to Israel under Clinton and Bush. My understanding is that Obama's group of advisers reflects his belief that the best way to understand an issue is to have a lot of different perspectives on it. However there is also no reason to assume that the handful of people critical of Israel will drown out the majority who support it. I also think that by including different voices on the Israel issue, Obama is more likely to be focused on how to solve the conflict and place it higher on his agenda than someone like McCain, who seems more interested in maintaining the status quo with Israel and the rest of the region, or perhaps like Bush, putting all his eggs in one basket to engage with it and then throwing up his hands when it all falls apart.

Think back to the Clinton years. Camp David II may have failed but at least it was on Clinton's to-do-list. He was motivated to try to negotiate a settlement, he was knowledgeable about the personalities and issues behind the conflict, and no one can say he didn't try to solve it. Bush effectively ignored the conflict for most of his first term, letting the Israelis try to solve the Intifada on their own (which didn't work out too well) and letting the Palestinians throw themselves on their own swords. Obama, like Clinton, seems interested in engaging with other countries and helping them do the right thing, even if they don't necessarily want it . McCain seems to prefer the laissez-faire approach. My worry is that on Israel McCain will decide that "Israel should take care of its own problems with the Palestinians." Yeah, because that's worked so well over the last eight years. Exactly what has Israel accomplished during Bush's term? What has it achieved? Ok, we have a wall through the West Bank and have reduced the ammount of terrorists getting through dramatically; that's awesome. But is there anything happening which will prevent more people from BECOMING terrorists? You've got more radicals than ever and now they're becoming more creative thanks to things like super-long-range Qassams and bulldozers. If America is really Israel's friend it should be helping it solve what has been the continually biggest existential problem since its creation. Not bringing it up because we don't want to seem critical does not consitute "friendship." That's like saying friends don't make friends go to the oncologist to get that tumor checked. America cannot settle the conflict independent of the two sides, but it can sure do its hardest to push them to the table and show them that a deal benefits them.

Lastly, despite all the noise about how bad Obama will be for Israel, there are plenty of Israelis who think differently. Many in the Israeli press who have been following Obama for the last couple of years are thoroughly convinced that he believes in supporting Israel's right to exist and defend itself. I think it's interesting that a lot of people who actually live in Israel and have a lot more to lose if an "anti-Israel" President was elected not only support Obama, but have positions very similar to his, including wanting to come to a final agreement with the Palestinians, clamping down on terrorism, and being honest about what concessions it might involve. Clearly, not everyone in Israel (or the American Jewish community) supports Obama, and that's ok. But the Israeli left is not suicidal. They would not support a candidate they thought would actually be likely to harm their country. That a large number of them think Obama is the right man for the job, to me at least, speaks volumes.

So there you go. AIPAC supports Obama thinks Obama is just as good as McCain, a lot of Israelis support Obama, and when you really look at their positions, Obama and McCain's differences are really only about degree, not kind. Obama is not going to negotiate about Israel's right to exist or defend itself, though he may be more interested in trying to solve the mess with the Palestinians. There may be other reasons to not vote for Obama, but Israel isn't one of them.

Edited for clarity.


PAUL J said...


PaulJ said...

Here are the REAL facts:

90% of American Muslims are voting for Obama, beating even the figures that James Zogby was using when he gloated about how Democratic Jews boost objectively anti-Israel policies.

UN employees are overwhelmingly pulling for Obama.

Hamas is setting up phone banks and individual Israeli-hating Gazans are launching personal, impromptu pro-Obama GOTV efforts.

Qaddafi? Check. Farrakhan Check.

The Speaker of the Parliament of the Iranian Republican, which as a matter of fundamental national policy will never stop trying to wipe out Israel? Check.

Israelis, of course overwhelmingly support McCain.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

Hola Paul,

Sorry about the confusion, support may have been the wrong choice of words. I didn't mean AIPAC thought- or said- that they preferred Obama to McCain. AIPAC said both of them were strong on Israel and they were satisfied with their stances. Of course, they don't endorse either.

You say a lot of Muslims support Obama, as if this should disqualify Jews from supporting him. Please explain this to me. There are all sorts of reasons Muslims are supporting Obama- the fact that he actually seems to care about trying to help the Israelis and Palestinians solve their mess (something plenty of Jews and Muslims would also like) is only one of them.

UN employees! Heaven forbid! Help connect the dots for me here, I've lost you.

I haven't read anything that indicates that the Palestinians calling for Obama are affiliated with Hamas. Do you have any proof? Since Hell, apparently Al Qaeda supports McCain, what do you say we split the difference when it comes to terrorist endorsements?

Farrakhan supports Obama? What do I care? I'm sure there are some white supremacists supporting McCain if only because he's not part-black. As if that makes any difference. It's not like any of these groups are going to have a chance to advise the candidates or implement their crazy policies.

Since when is it a "fundamental national policy" of Iran to try to wipe out Israel? Someone should let the present Ayatollah know- he told Mahmoud to shut up when he said he'd wipe Israel off the map.

Israelis, of course overwhelmingly support McCain.

Got a poll? I'd love to see it.