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Abortion, Gay Marriage, Gun Control … and Israel

September 29, 2012

If you haven’t yet watched the YouTube video of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa trying to get the delegates at the Democratic National Convention to approve two changes to the party’s platform, you must. It lasts but a few short minutes, yet will quickly dispel any notion (a notion to which our prime minister still clings) that support for Israel is solid across America. It isn’t.

Jerusalem, as most people know by now, was omitted from the initial draft of the Democratic platform. That unleashed an appropriate outcry, and party leadership quickly worked to revise the platform, adding God (who, like Jerusalem, had been omitted) and Israel’s capital back into the text. All Villaraigosa needed was a two-thirds majority of the assembled delegates. He clearly expected not just a majority, but virtual unanimity.

But he didn’t get it. On the first call, when he said “All those opposed say ‘nay,’” he was clearly surprised to hear the loud chorus of opposition. Stunned, he tried again. Yet the “no” grew louder. He consulted, tried a third time, and this time, those in opposition were clearly as loud as those in favor. So he did the only thing that could be done in a functioning democracy – he declared the motion passed by the required two-thirds margin.

The clear disregard of the intent of the delegates was almost humorous. But only almost. Our prime minister and those advising him would do well to take note. The idea that there exists a solid blanket of support for Israel across America is simply no longer true.

Had that vote been taken at the Republican National Convention, it would have passed virtually unanimously. At the DNC, however, it really didn’t pass at all. Sadly, Israel is now one of those classic American issues – like gun control, abortion, gay marriage and others – on which, increasingly, one’s position can be predicted on the basis of party affiliation.

That is a terrible thing for those of us who care about Israel and the future of Israel’s relationship with its most important ally, because our focus ought to be not on this coming election, but on the long-term relationship.

Years from now, when both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are but memories, the legacy of Israel as a wedge issue may well remain, and it will haunt us.

Some of the shift in American sensibilities is beyond our control, of course. But our government has unwittingly made matters much worse than they could have been. By doing everything short of explicitly endorsing Mitt Romney’s candidacy, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has insinuated Israel into American domestic politics in a way that has many people on both sides of the aisle perturbed at a minimum, and in some cases, disgusted and angry.

As Alon Pinkas, former Israeli consul in New York and today a commentator on the US-Israel relationship recently noted, “Israel has always tried to refrain from… superimposing itself onto the political process in the US… Inserting Israel as… a wedge issue…

politicizes Israel and that is not only bad for bipartisanship on Israel, it is bad for Israel.”

But the prime minister’s camp decided not to heed that cautionary advice.

“We can say it very clearly: President Obama was not a friend of Israel in the past four years,” opined Danny Danon, deputy Knesset Speaker and a member of the Likud party. “We tell the American people, elect whomever you want but regarding Israel we want to see a different kind of relationship with the White House.”

As if that were not sufficiently clear, the prime minister now figures centrally in a new TV ad set to air in Florida. In the ad, Netanyahu is seen saying, “The fact is that every day that passes, Iran gets closer and closer to a nuclear bomb. The world tells Israel wait, there’s still time. And I say wait for what? Wait until when? …The world needs American strength, not apologies.”

The ad mentions neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama, but between Danon’s remarks and Netanyahu’s new cameo appearance, this Israeli administration has done everything short of explicitly endorsing Romney.

Obviously, they have not done so without thinking. Netanyahu is hoping that by getting Jews to vote for Romney in swing states like Florida, he can tip the election and get a better friend for Israel into the White House.

But that is a bit of a Hail Mary pass. As president, Romney might or might not do what Netanyahu hopes for on Iran. Furthermore, Romney may well lose anyway. And if Obama wins, Netanyahu is going to face an angry incumbent, with no worries about reelection, waiting to settle a score. If this gambit fails, we may pay a steep and long-lasting price.

Already, you can see the pushback. Michael Desch, in an article in Foreign Affairs entitled “Netanyahu’s Chutzpah,” noted that Netanyahu has said that “those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”

“But,” Desch responded, “it is Americans who ought to be incensed with Netanyahu.

By insisting on red lines and threatening to launch a unilateral strike on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, Netanyahu is trying to commit the United States to fighting a preventive war on Israel’s behalf… Netanyahu is also inserting himself into a US presidential campaign to a degree unprecedented for the leader of a close American ally.”

Desch is wrong on several counts, most important of which is his claim that the Iranian issue is only an Israeli issue. Were the US to attack Iran, it would not be “on Israel’s behalf,” but on behalf of the future of the free world. There was an era, less than a century ago, when the West knew what it believed and was willing to fight for it. It’s tragic that there are no Churchills around these days.

Yet be that as it may, Desch’s accusation that “Netanyahu is also inserting himself into a US presidential campaign to a degree unprecedented for the leader of a close American ally” is going to be repeated by many others, on both sides of the aisle. Especially if Obama wins.

Our prime minister is quite right to be desperately concerned about America’s pathetic response to Iran, about the West’s unwillingness to defend itself and about the specter of an Iranian regime armed with a nuclear weapon. One can readily understand his wish that America would be different.

But there’s a huge difference between wishing that something were true, and trying to make it true. In crossing that line, Netanyahu has taken an enormous gamble.

If, as seems probable, Obama wins, both we and Netanyahu will pay the price for a long time to come.

Netanyahu is probably too busy preparing for his next appearance in a thinly-disguised Romney video to have much time for the study of Talmud. But if he manages to grab a few moments, he might begin with the famous aphorism based on Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 2: “Who is wise? He who can foresee the consequences of his actions.”

For if ever there was a time for wisdom, it is now.

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