What really makes a pro-Israel president?
Personally, as an American Jew, I don’t vote for president on the basis of who will be the strongest supporter of Israel. I vote for who will make America strongest. It’s not only because this is my country, first and always, but because the single greatest source of support and protection for Israel is an America that is financially and militarily strong, and globally respected. Nothing would imperil Israel more than an enfeebled, isolated America.
I don’t doubt for a second President Bush’s gut support for Israel, and I think it comes from his gut. He views Israel as a country that shares America’s core democratic and free-market values. That is not unimportant.
But what matters a lot more is that under Mr. Bush, America today is neither feared nor respected nor liked in the Middle East, and that his lack of an energy policy for seven years has left Israel’s enemies and America’s enemies — the petro-dictators and the terrorists they support — stronger than ever. The rise of Iran as a threat to Israel today is directly related to Mr. Bush’s failure to succeed in Iraq and to develop alternatives to oil.
Does that mean Mr. Obama would automatically do better? I don’t know. To me, U.S. presidents succeed or fail when it comes to Arab-Israeli diplomacy depending on two criteria that have little to do with what’s in their hearts.
The first, and most important, is the situation on the ground and the readiness of the parties themselves to take the lead, irrespective of what America is doing. Anwar Sadat’s heroic overture to Israel, and Menachem Begin’s response, made the Jimmy Carter-engineered Camp David peace treaty possible. The painful, post-1973 war stalemate between Israel and Egypt and Syria made Henry Kissinger’s disengagement agreements possible. The collapse of the Soviet Union and America’s defeat of Iraq in the first gulf war made possible James Baker’s success in putting the Madrid peace process together.
What all three of these U.S. statesmen had in common, though — and this is the second criterion — was that when history gave them an opening, they seized it, by being tough, cunning and fair with both sides.
Which is why American Jews like my parents (and myself) will have no problem voting for Obama should he be the Democratic party nominee.
NB: To the several folks who’ve been emailing me stuff about Jews and Obama and to whom I haven’t always responded: Friedman pretty much says it all for me in the full column and I’ve felt that way pretty much all along. The security of Israel vis a vis the American president is a non-issue for me when it comes to presidential options, and many Jews I know who support Obama (and there are many) feel the same way. That’s not to say there aren’t numerous Jews who fear the destruction of Israel so much that they say they’ll vote for McCain, but, well, like every other group, American Jews simply are not monolithic on Israel. Anyone who tries to portray them as otherwise is stuck in a bygone era – or listening too much to AIPAC. Which is never a good thing.